Monday, March 13, 2017

Cairngorm see-er

If I teach the Sacred Mountains class again, Nan Shepherd's The Living Mountain will be the reading after the essay assignment on the the perils and advantages of seeing mountain from a distance. Shepherd never went "up" but always "into" her beloved Cairngorms.

[C]hanging of focus in the eye, moving the eye itself when looking at things that do not move, deepens one's sense of outer reality. Then static things may be caught in the very act of becoming. By so simple a matter, too, as altering the position of one's head, a different kind of world may be made to appear. Lay the head down, or better still, face away from what you look at, and bend with straddled legs till you see your world upside down. How new it has become! From the close-by sprigs of heather to the most distant fold of the land, each detail stands erect in its own validity. In no other way have I seen of my own unaided sight that the earth is round. As I watch, it arches it back, and each layer of landscape bristles - though bristles is a word of too much commotion for it. Details are no longer part of a grouping in a picture of which I am the focal point, the focal point is everywhere. Nothing has reference to me, the looker. This is how the earth must see itself.

How sweet a riposte to the hubris of "To see the greatness of a mountain one must keep one's distance from it" is this:

No one knows the mountain completely who has not slept on it.

Nan Shepherd, The Living Mountain (Edinburgh and London: Canongate,
2011 [1977, but actually written 30 years before that]), 11, 90

No comments: