Outdoor Discoveries

What originally was a news section for the rest of the website soon became a place for me to write about human-powered wanderings in the countryside. Photography inspires me to get out there, mostly on foot these days, though cycling got me started. Musings on the wider context of outdoor activity complete the picture, so I hope that there is something of interest in all that you find here. Thank you for coming!

Journeys of others

15th November 2018

Before my career break, I found it difficult time to read a book and often lapsed into watch television documentaries on the BBC iPlayer. The situation got reversed after a book called Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi encouraged the practice. Whenever I feel an emotion that I do not want to remain, a TV watching binge never helped but reading a book causes movement and the feeling can be left in the past. It is as if someone else’s journey brings you along too.

Currently, that is taking on the shores of the Aran Islands in the company of Yorkshireman Tim Robinson. Reading his two part work on the islands has lain on my reading list for far too long and I started Stones of Aran: Pilgrimmage back in the noughties only never to get very far with it. My paper copy may be gone but I made a new start on its digital counterpart and it is reading well so far.

Handily, I visited Inishmore (Árainn, as Gaeilge) so the localities are not all that lost to me. If another visit were to happen, then Iaráirne could see an encounter as could the opposite end of the island if I feel sufficiently adventurous. Sightings of Inishmann (inis Meáin, as Gaeilge) or the Brannock Islands could be additional rewards for such endeavours. Before such things, more of Robinson’s works like Stones of Aran: Labyrinth and his Connemara Trilogy await and who knows what they might inspire?

The world described by Tim Robinson is not dissimilar in ambience to that described in Chris Townsend’s The Munros and Tops, another of this year’s reads. After that came John McPhee’s Coming into the Country and it proved to be a book in three very different sections. The first section features the Brooks Range with a narrative split in two with the second part preceding the first. It still hangs together well with the second and third sections featuring more of the folk that are attracted to the idea of a wild place away from the strictures of everyday living.

That unleashes tensions when trying to find a new state capital or dealing with the encroaching bureaucracy keen on keep a wild landscape as it is when you fancy exploiting its resources on a small scale. The act of taking a Caterpillar D9 bulldozer into wilderness oddly aroused my concern for the machine and not the landscape as might be expected. Maybe it reminded me of of abandonment in a big hostile world and there could be a wider theme there. In the end, McPhee finds himself siding with industrious Alaskans earning a living rather than others solely following their perhaps unrealisable dreams. They might fancy abandonment much like Christopher McCandless only to find that they still need humanity or that it continues to intrude on their world.

Stepping away from humanity awhile is a recurring theme in my own wanderings and it is why such places as the Scottish highlands and islands are as amenable to my ends as the wilder parts of other places. That also explains a certain interest in North America that was accompanied by perusal of writings about Lewis and Clark crossing the continent though that was a very dry read that I was happy to finish.

There is another recurring theme in all of this: you often find Robert Macfarlane appearing in these with either a recommendation or a foreword. That applies to the McPhee and Robinson works as much as that by Nan Shepherd on the Cairngorms. It might be that he is using his fame to restore older books to our notice but I reckon that I might be reading them anyway given how I have been collecting them onto a reading list in recent months.

Speaking of those older books, it is unlikely but if I ever were to wnat more but I might be tempted by the Gutenberg project if I wanted eReader files of works from a very different era by Heny David Thoreau or Raplh Waldo Emerson. They are out of copyright but a visit to either AbeBooks, The Literature Network or Scribd could serve a use if I fancied a wider selection of those still covered by such restrictions. With more new tomes that appeal to me, that is unlikely to happen just yet. Usefully, the time taken to complete any single volume should put a brake on any overspending. After all, it is better to acquire for reading than to decorate a bookshelf and horde more than you need.

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