The spirit of place
An ode to animals

True places

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Another aspect of the "spirit of place," this time from The Wild Places by Robert Macfarlane:

"In so many of the landscapes I reached on my journeys, I had found testimonies to the affection they inspired. Poems tacked up on the walls of bothies; benches set on lakesides, cliff-tops or low hill passes, commemorating the favourite viewpoint of someone now dead; a graffito cut into the bark of an oak. Once, stopping to drink from a pool near a Cumbrian waterfall, I had seen a brass plaque set directly beneath a rock: 'In memory of George Walker, who so loved this place.' I loved that 'so.'

"These were the markers, I realised, of a process that was continually at work throughout these islands, and presumably throughout the world: the drawing of happiness from landscapes both large and small. Happiness, and the emotions that go by the collective noun of 'happiness': hope, joy, wonder, grace, tranquility and others. Every day, millions of people found themselves deepened and dignified by their encounters with particular places.

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"Most of these places, however, were not marked as special on any map. But they became special by personal acquaintance. A bend in a river, a junction of four fields, a climbing tree, a stretch of old hedgerow or a fragment of woodland glimpsed from a road regularly driven along -- these might be enough. Or fleeting experiences, transitory, but still site-specific: a sparrowhawk sculling low over a garden or street, or the fall of evening light on a stone, or a pigeon feather caught on a strand of spider's silk and twirling in mid-air like a magic trick. Daily, people were brought to sudden states of awe by encounters such as these: encounters whose power to move us was beyond expression but also beyond denial. I remember what Ishmael had said in Moby-Dick about the island of Kokovoko: 'It is not down in any map. True places never are.'

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"Little is said publicly about these encounters. This is partly because it is hard to put language to such experiences. And partly, I guess, because those who experience them feel no strong need to broadcast their feelings. A word might be exchanged with a friend, a photograph might be kept, a note made in a journal, a line added to a letter. Many encounters would not even attain this degree of voice. They would stay unarticulated, part of private thought. They would return to people as memories, recalled while standing on a station platform packed tightly as a football crowd, or lying in bed in a city, unable to sleep, while headlights of passing cars pan around the room.

"It seemed to me that these nameless places might be in fact more important than the grander wild lands that for so many years had gripped my imagination. Taken together, the little places would make a map that could never be drawn by anyone, but which nevertheless existed in the experience of countless people. I began to make a list in my head of what would be on my own map of private or small scale wild places."

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I, too, have an internal map of "true places," including many of the small-scale wild places that I share in the photographs on this well as one or two special spots, I admit, that I keep just for myself.

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And you? What are some of your "true places"? Are they spots you re-visit in daily life...or memories of places and moments past that retain a talismanic potency?

Comments, poems, stories, links to photos or artworks, or any other way that you might care to answer these questions are welcome.

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While we're speaking of Robert Macfarlane, if you haven't yet read his article "The World-hoard: ReWilding Our Language of Landscape," published in The Guardian last week, I highly recommend it. It's based on his new boom, Landmarks, which sounds intriguing indeed. If you're in London on March 13th, you can hear Macfarlane talk about it here.

Books by Robert Macfarlane

Books by Robert MacfarlanePhotographs above: Trees growing on top of the old boundary wall at the edge of the woods, so covered in vegetation that you can barely see the stone wall beneath. The top of the wall is just wide enough to form a little woodland pathway for the Hound, and a nesting place to read, write, or dream for me. The winter woods surrounding us are green with holly, lichen, and moss, lit by an early morning light as thick and sweet as golden syrup.