MacFarlane, Robert “The Old Ways” (Viking 2012)

‘As I watch [the world],’ wrote Nan Shepherd in 1945, ‘it arches its back, and each layer of landscape bristles.’ It is a brilliant observation about observation. Shepherd knew that ‘landscape’ is not something to be viewed and appraised from a distance, as if it were a panel in a frieze or a canvas in a frame. It is not a passive object of our gaze but rather a volatile participant–a fellow subject which arches and bristles at us, bristles into us. Landscape is still often understood as a noun connoting fixity, scenery, an immobile painterly decorum. I prefer to think of the word as a noun containing a hidden verb, landscape scapes, it is dynamic and commotion causing, it sculpts and shapes us not only over the courses of our ives but also instant by instant, incident by incident. I prefer to take ‘landscape’ as a collective term for the temperature and pressure of the air, the fall of light and its rebounds, the textures and surfaces of rock, soil, and building, the sounds (cricket, screech, bird cry, wind through trees), the scents (pine resin, hot stone, crushed thyme) and the uncountable other transitory phenomena and atmospheres that together comprise the bristling presence of a particular place at a particular moment (254-255).

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