Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Second Walk, Trees and Macfarlane

This past weekend I went on two long walks.  First, the second walk:  I walked up the road and put on my boots when I entered the farmer's field, since my sneakers would have drowned.  I crossed several more fields, went through some woods, and visited the abandoned barn and house.  No sign of activity beyond some more slow decline, especially the house.  Though sunny, it was quite breezy and cold.  I found a spot on the edge of a field that was dry, in the sun, and out of the wind.  Seated I drew what I saw in front of me, a stand of trees with mountains in the background, and then turned 90 degrees, and drew the large tree.  I mention all this because I was thinking of the Robert Macfarlane book The Wild Places.

He writes: "Single trees are extraordinary; trees in number more extraordinary still... Time is kept and curated in different ways by trees, and so it is experienced in different ways when one is among them.  The discretion of trees, and their patience, are both affecting.  It is beyond our capacity to comprehend that the American hardwood forest waited seventy million years for people to come and live in it, though the effort of comprehension is itself worthwhile.  It is valuable and disturbing to know that grand oak trees can take three hundred years to grow, three hundred years to live and three hundred years to die.  Such knowledge, seriously considered, changes the grain of the mind."

Then he continues, and this part is more difficult: "Thought, like memory, inhabits external things as much as the inner regions of the human mind.  When the physical correspondents of thought disappear, then thought, or its possibility, is also lost.  When woods and trees are destroyed--incidentally, deliberately--imagination and memory go with them.  W. H. Auden knew this. 'A culture,' he wrote warningly in 1953, 'is no better than its woods.'"

Later in the book he writes: "We have come increasingly to forget that our minds are shaped by the bodily experience of being in the world--its spaces, textures, sounds, smells and habits--as well as by genetic traits we inherit and ideologies we absorb.  A constant and formidably defining exchange occurs between the physical forms of the world around us, and the cast of our inner world of imagination.  The feel of a hot dry wind on the face, the smell of distant rain carried as a scent stream in the air, the touch of a bird's sharp foot on one's outstretched palm: such encounters shape our beings and our imaginations in ways which are beyond analysis, but also beyond doubt.  There is something uncomplicatedly true in the sensation of laying hands upon sun-warmed rock, or watching a dense mutating flock of birds, or seeing snow fall irrefutably upon one's upturned palm."

Certainly I am not tempted by his constant desire to sleep in 'wild places' but I can appreciate the deep relationship between natural things in the world and the imagination that he describes so well.   The first walk will be my next topic.


SamArtDog said...

Thanks, Bob.
Hard to know which picture, charcoal or prose, I like the most.
I look forward to the next.

Bob Lafond said...

Sam, Thanks.