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The Living Mountain: A Celebration of the Cairngorm Mountains of Scotland (The Grampian Quartet Book 4)

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Everyone in Scotland knows what Nan Shepherd looks like. Her face, complete with bejewelled bandanna, stares out from the Scottish five-pound note. Yet how people many have read her books? It is a short book, originally written during the Second World War, containing 12 chapters centred around aspects of the mountain range. She writes about the quality of the light up in the mountains, the water, how the landscape changes when it snows. There are chapters on the plants that scratch out a living and the animals and birds, in particular the eagle, and even though it is a harsh place the impact that man still has had. I had spent nearly 20 years exploring them on foot and ski: winter-climbing in the gullies of their corries, camping out on the high tundra of their plateaux. But Shepherd’s prose showed me how little I really knew of the range. Its combination of intense scrutiny, deep familiarity and glittering imagery re-made my vision of these familiar hills. It taught me to see them, rather than just to look at them. In The Living Mountain, Shepherd describes making a similar discovery when she began walking in Scotland. She writes: “At first, mad to recover the tang of height, I made always for the summits and would not take time to explore the recesses.” A turning point came when a friend took Shepherd to Loch Coire an Lochain, a stretch of water that lies hidden in the hills. It was a September day, following a storm, and “the air was keen and buoyant, with a brilliancy as of ice”. Unfortunately, though, these important debates are being spoiled by a vocal minority of trolls who aren’t really interested in the issues, try to derail the conversations, register under fake names, and post vile abuse.

The clear water was at our knees, then at our thighs. How clear it was only this walking into it could reveal. To look through it was to discover its own properties. What we saw under water had a sharper clarity than what we saw through air. We waded on into the brightness, and the width of the water increased, as it always does when one is on or in it, so that the loch no longer seemed narrow, but the far side was a long way off. Then I looked down; and at my feet there opened a gulf of brightness so profound that the mind stopped. We were standing on the edge of a shelf that ran some yards into the loch before plunging down to the pit that is the true bottom. And through that inordinate clearness we saw to the depth of the pit. So limpid was it that every stone was clear. By setting foot sideways to the growth of the heather, and pressing the sprays down, one can walk easily enough. Dried mud flats, sun-warmed, have a delicious touch, cushioned and smooth; so has long grass at morning, hot in the sun, but still cool and wet when the foot sinks into it, like food melting to a new flavour in the mouth. And a flower caught by the stalk between the toes is a small enchantment." Shepherd was a keen hill-walker. Her poetry expresses her love for the mountainous Grampian landscape. While a student at university, Shepherd wrote poems for the student magazine, Alma Mater, but not until 1934 was a collection of her poetry, In the Cairngorms, published. [5] This was reissued in April 2014 by Galileo Publishers, Cambridge, with a new introduction by Robert Macfarlane. [8] Non-fiction [ edit ]

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Nan Shepherd | Justin Marozzi | Slightly Foxed literary review". Slightly Foxed. 1 December 2018 . Retrieved 24 November 2019. Out of this awareness arises an enlargement of both the mind and the senses, of the very self, beyond the body and yet intensely of the body: Just as Rachel Carson was preparing to sound her courageous clarion call for protecting nature from political and commercial exploitation across the Atlantic, Shepherd adds a cautionary lamentation: And some, most movingly, related to the experience of being human and fully engaged in a living landscape: The essays are loosely themed (water, light, plants, sleep), meandering both physically and introspectively all over the Cairngorms and highlighting Shepherd's favorite sights, sensations, events. From the chapter on water:

Light in Scotland has a quality I have not met elsewhere. It is luminous without being fierce, penetrating to immense distances with an effortless intensity. So on a clear day one looks without any sense of strain from Morven in Caithness to the Lammermuirs, and out past Ben Nevis to Morar. At midsummer, I have had to be persuaded I was not seeing further even than that. I could have sworn I saw a shape, distinct and blue, very clear and small, further off than any hill the chart recorded. The chart was against me, my companions were against me, I never saw it again. On a day like that, height goes to one’s head. Perhaps it was the lost Atlantis focused for a moment out of time.

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Most probably, Shepherd began composing it sometime in the final years of WWII, drawing on her lifelong love and intimate knowledge of mountains in a masterpiece of observation and contemplation, both precise and spacious. But something stopped Shepherd from publishing it. Instead, she rested it in a drawer, where it was to remain for more than four decades, until it finally entered the world in the final years of her life as The Living Mountain ( public library) — a most unusual braiding of memoir, field notebook, and philosophical inquiry irradiated with the poetic and endowed with what geologist Hans Cloos celebrated as the rare art of hearing Earth’s music. Art by Toshikado Hajiri from You Are an Echo by Misuzu Kaneko In one memorable passage, Shepherd describes looking at a croft during a rain shower. The wet air acts as a lens, multiplying and redistributing her sightlines, so that she seems to view all sides of the barn simultaneously. Shepherd's own style possesses a similar stereoscopic quality. Reading The Living Mountain, you experience a curious visual dissonance. Your sight feels . . . scattered, as though you've suddenly gained the compound eye of a dragonfly. This effect is created by her refusal to privilege a single perspective. The prose watches now from the point of view of the eagle, now from that of the walker, now from that of the creeping juniper. In this way we are brought to see the earth "as the earth must see itself".

This was gorgeous, short, and profound. It's like a long prose poem, based on numerous trips into the mountains. Shepherd, Nan (2019). The living mountain. Robert Macfarlane, Jeanette Winterson. Great Britain. ISBN 978-1-78689-735-0. OCLC 1084507268. {{ cite book}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher ( link) The Cairngorm Mountains are a mass of granite thrust up through the schists and gneiss that form the lower surrounding hills, planed down by the ice cap, and split, shattered and scooped by frost, glaciers and the strength of running water. Their physiognomy is in the geography books – so many square miles of area, so many lochs, so many summits of over 4000 feet – but this is a pallid simulacrum of their reality, which, like every reality that matters ultimately to human beings, is a reality of the mind.Around the same time, ten latitude degrees north, Nan Shepherd (February 11, 1893–February 23, 1981) — another woman of immense literary talent and altitudinal ardor — was reverencing another mountain range and gleaning from it abiding wisdom on the art of living.

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