Landmarks by Robert Macfarlane
Haze-fire, smeuse, tarn, ghyll, hoarhusk, gruffy ground, af'rug... for years now, Robert Macfarlane has been collecting place-words: terms for aspects of landscape, nature and weather, drawn from dozens of languages and dialects of Britain and Ireland.
For years, too, he has been fascinated by the connections between literature and landscape. One of the signatures of his work, from Mountains of the Mind to The Old Ways, has been the fine precision of his prose; another has been in his engagement with those writers who have paid close attantion to the natural world.
In this, his fifth book, Macfarlane brilliantly explores the linguistic and literary terrain of our archipelago, from the Shetlands to Cornwall and from Cumbria to Suffolk. Landmarks is a book about the power of language - 'strong style, single words' - to shape our sense of a place. It is both a field guide to the literature he loves (Nan Shepherd, Roger Deakin and many others) and a 'word-hoard', gathering an astonishing archive of place-terms from Old Norse to Anglo-Romani, living Norman to Hebridean Gaelic.
Over the book's course - via its chapters, its glossaries and the surprise of the postscript - we come to realize that words, well used, are not just a means to describe landscape, but also a way to know it and love it. If we lose the rich vernacular lexis of these two islands, developed over centuries, then we also risk impoverishing our relationship with nature and place. What we cannot name, we cannot in some sense see.
Landmarks is a celebration of language and landscape. It offers us fresh ways of experiencing the natural world, and allows us to glimpse through other eyes - quickening our sense of wonder and sharpening our sight.