Landmarks by Robert Macfarlane

  • ‘Where lies your landmark, seamark, or soul’s star?’ – Gerard Manley Hopkins (1886)
  • ‘The hardest thing of all is to see what is really there.’ – A. Baker, The Peregrine (1997)

  • The substitutions made in the [Oxford Junior] dictionary – the outdoor and the natural being replaced by the indoor and the virtual – are a small but significant symptom of the simulated life we increasingly live. Children are now (and valuably) adept ecologists of the technoscape, with numerous terms for file types but few for different trees and creatures. For blackberry, read BlackBerry.

    The deletions included acorn, adder, ash, beech, bluebell, buttercup, catkin, conker, cowslip, cygnet, dandelion, fern, hazel, heather, heron, ivy, kingfisher, lark, mistletoe, nectar, newt, otter, pasture and willow. The words introduced to the new edition included attachment, block-graph, blog, broadband, bullet-point, celebrity, chatroom, committee, cut-and-paste, MP3 player and voice-mail.

  • Ammil: A Devon term for the fine film of silver ice that coats leaves, twigs and grass when freeze follows thaw
  • ‘Language is fossil poetry,’ wrote Ralph Waldo Emerson in 1844, ‘[a]s the limestone of the continent consists of infinite masses of the shells of animalcules, so language is made up of images, or tropes, which now, in their secondary use, have long ceases to remind us of their poetic origin.’ Emerson, as essayist, sought to reverse this petrification and restore the ‘poetic origin’ of words, thereby revealing the ordinary role of ‘nature’ in language. Considering the verb to consider, he reminds us that it comes from the Latin con-siderare, and thus carries a meaning of ‘to study or see with the stars’.
  • Books, like landscapes, leave their marks in us. Sometimes these traces are so faint as to be imperceptible – tiny shifts in the weather of the spirit do not register on the usual instruments. Mostly, these marks are temporary: we close a book, and for the next hour or two the world seems oddly brighter at its edges; or we are moved to a kindness or a meanness that would otherwise have gone unexpressed. Certain books, though, like certain landscapes, stay with us even when we have left them, changing not just our weathers but our climates.
  • ‘I knew when I had looked for a long time that I had hardly begun to see,’ – Nan Shepherd, The Living Mountains
  • Wolfsnow: dangerously heavy and wind-driven snow; a sea blizzard – Gerard Manley Hopkins

  • ‘Raptor’ comes from the Latin rapere, meaning ‘to seize or take by force’.
  • Hummadruz: a noise in the air that is unidentifiable, or a sound in the landscape whose source is unlocatable. The white noise of a place, an ambient murmur that lacked referent or source.
  • ‘A little stone jetty in still water: water like pewter, extraordinary water.’ – Peter Davidson

  • It was, he explained, a cabinet of curiosities of his own devising, in homage to the great Wunderkammern or ‘wonder-rooms’ of the Renaissance and the Baroque, jn which examples of natural history (naturalia), precious artifacts (arteficialia), scientific instruments (scientifica), findings from distant realms (exotica) and items of inexplicable origin and form (mirabilia) were gathered and displayed.

    He reached into the cabinet and retrieved object after object, explaining to me the skein of stories that each drew behind it. For the individual compartments of the cabinet held remarkable things, among them a little dog modelled in unfired clay, Babylonian in origin; a sixteenth-century armourer’s trial piece of a long face framed by a helmet in the form of a wolf’s head with open jaws; an engraved brass box of seventeenth-century Low Countries manufacture, which once held one of the straws which fell drops of the blood of the Jesuit Henry Garnet, executed in London on 3 May 1606, bloodstains which were said to have formed a likeness of his face; a slice of marble from a quarry near Bristol, in which the veinery had, by geological chance, formed into a perfect facsimile of a sad Victorian landscape of misty ploughlands at evening; and the oval case of an original Claude glass, the small, blackened pocket mirror designed to reproduce in its reflection of any landscape the softened tones and single focal point characteristic of the art of Claude Lorrain.

    [This reminds me of Aunt W.’s cabinet of curiosities – little bourgeois objets d’art she would purchase in every country that she visited – animal figurines fashioned out of glass swirling with aquamarines and yellow and vermillion, frozen to represent the 12 Chinese zodiacs; ornately patterned and bejewelled sterling or pewter Turkish jewellery boxes that opened to reveal stones of undeterminable origin, folded pieces of paper with nothing scribbled on it; Japanese good-luck pouches that were red or pink and fastened with little tinkling bells; a huge jar of key chains with many different countries’ names on every one of them, sometimes two or three of the same ones; little vials of unopened liquor embellished with French or Russian names we were too young then, to pronounce; magnets propped along the back of the cabinet with the decorative plates depicting green landscapes dotted with the odd sheep and cottage; a plastic Sphinx that lit up and changed colours; a wooden Dutch shoe; a paper umbrella like those you find in tropical cocktails – touristy knickknacks that we loved to pore over and wonder at, if more to while away the boring hours that my parents would spend at her place discussing nothing at all, than sheer curiosity, for it always appeared like a showcase, when all the lights were on inside, something that you can only gaze at through the dusty glass, as if all my aunt’s travel memories were too precious to be handled and marvelled at with the discovery of touch. I remember how my sisters and I would point and she would lift each item out and give a short recount of where she had gotten it and what it meant in its native country, and we would be thrilled at the rare times when she handed to us a memorabilia to hold and feel – the treasure box, the colourful cloth Indian elephant, the Tibetan hat.]

  • Atmospheric duct:
    In telecommunication, an atmospheric duct is a horizontal layer in the lower atmosphere in which the vertical refractive index gradients are such that radio signals (and light rays) are guided or ducted, tend to follow the curvature of the Earth, and experience less attenuation in the ducts than they would if the ducts were not present. The duct acts as an atmospheric dielectric waveguide and limits the spread of the wavefront to only the horizontal dimension.

    Atmospheric ducting is a mode of propagation of electromagnetic radiation, usually in the lower layers of Earth’s atmosphere, where the waves are bent by atmosphericrefraction.[2] In over-the-horizon radar, ducting causes part of the radiated and target-reflection energy of a radar system to be guided over distances far greater than the normal radar range. It also causes long distance propagation of radio signals in bands that would normally be limited to line of sight.

    Normally radio “ground waves” propagate along the surface as creeping waves. That is, they are only diffracted around the curvature of the earth. This is one reason that early long distance radio communication used long wavelengths. The best known exception is that HF (3–30 MHz.) waves are reflected by the ionosphere.

    The reduced refractive index due to lower densities at the higher altitudes in the Earth’s atmosphere bends the signals back toward the Earth. Signals in a higher refractive index layer, i.e., duct, tend to remain in that layer because of the reflection and refraction encountered at the boundary with a lower refractive index material. In some weather conditions, such as inversion layers, density changes so rapidly that waves are guided around the curvature of the earth at constant altitude.

    Phenomena of atmospheric optics related to atmospheric ducting include the green flash, Fata Morgana, superior mirage, mock mirage of astronomical objects and the Novaya Zemlya effect.

  • John Muir epigrams:
    ‘The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness.”
    ‘Writing…is like the life of a glacier; one eternal grind.’
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