Suddenly I came out of my thoughts to notice everything around me again-the catkins on the willows, the lapping of the water, the leafy patterns of the shadows across the path…when you give yourself to places, they give you yourself back; the more one comes to know them, the more one seeds them with the invisible crop of memories and associations that will be waiting for when you come back, while new places offer up new thoughts, new possibilities. Exploring the world is one the best ways of exploring the mind, and walking travels both terrains.
― Rebecca Solnit, Wanderlust: A History of Walking
In this recent article in The Guardian, Robert Macfarlane describes his efforts to collect and catalog the language of nature and place, seeking out “the users, keepers and makers of place words.” The article is a beautiful read, and worthy of your time spend considering its implications. Macfarlane describes his “word hoarding” project as follows:
“…a new edition of the Oxford Junior Dictionary was published. A sharp-eyed reader noticed that there had been a culling of words concerning nature. Under pressure, Oxford University Press revealed a list of the entries it no longer felt to be relevant to a modern-day childhood. 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 taking their places in the new edition included attachment, block-graph, blog, broadband, bullet-point, celebrity, chatroom, committee, cut-and-paste, MP3 player and voice-mail. As I had been entranced by the language preserved in the prose‑poem of the “Peat Glossary”, so I was dismayed by the language that had fallen (been pushed) from the dictionary. For blackberry, read Blackberry.”
Macfarlane argues that language shapes our sense of places—and without the fine detail of words for our surroundings, we risk losing our connection to nature. He has compiled a glossary of nature terms in his book Landmarks, “a field guide to the literature of nature, and a glossary containing thousands of remarkable words used in England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales to describe land, nature and weather.” He also continues to collect terms through the hashtag #LivingLanguage on Twitter. Here are some of his favorites.
Who better than poets to “rewild” language? We are also wanderers and word hoarders, but yet in many ways we are just as susceptible to being estranged from our surroundings as anyone else. Your prompt this week is to work exclusively with the language of place. Seek out “those scalpel-sharp words that are untranslatable without remainder.” You may use the terms found in #LivingLanguage as a jumping off point, and/or peruse other texts related to describing flora and fauna or other particularities of place.
I leave you with this very “language of place” oriented song written by Chas Hodges & Dave Peacock and covered by Tori Amos: “That’s What I Like, Mick (The Sandwich Song)”.
Hat tip to Winston Plowes for sharing the Guardian piece!