Tuesday, 31 March 2015
Today's reading was about A H Baker who wrote The Peregrine about the ten years he spent following and watching - and entwining his life and senses - with passage peregrine falcons in the south east of England in the 1960s. An incredible piece of writing that compressed the decade of observation and obsession into a poetic narrative set within one winter's turning.
Of the process behind researching and writing the book, Macfarlane writes: '...Baker resigned from his job at the Automobile Association in order to commit to the falcons and to work on the book he was starting to compress out of his field journals. By day he watched and by night he wrote. It was a frugal, focused life. He and Doreen [his wife] lived off savings, a meagre pension and national assistance. The house had no telephone and he seems to have communicated little with friends. These were the circumstances he needed to convert the sprawling journals into a crystaline prose poem. The style he created up in his Chelmsford spare room was as sudden and swift as the bird to which it was devoted.'
I first read The Peregrine in the alien world of a hospital ward and it provided the promise of a natural world outside to return to as quickly as possible. At the same time its brave, harsh poetry had an even greater force and effect read through a cocktail of drugs and as an antidote to pain.
For the coming weeks you can hear the Radio 4 piece here:
The Peregrine, by J A Baker (NYRB Classics, introduction by Robert Macfarlane) is available in paperback. Landmarks by Robert Macfarlane (Hamish Hamilton) is a recent hardback publication. (Do try and buy from an independent bookshop before resorting to the internet).
Sunday, 21 December 2014
reflected glow of the city behind me. In front of me i could see the
shadows of forests and fields against the sky. The wet road shimmered as a slightly less dark darkness. I loved it. There was a full moon that night - obscured behind clouds but just once or twice shining through a rip in the sky.
started walking into the night from choice. Long marches through old forests. Trotting through silent, darkened villages. Following roads as the traffic slowed. My senses became sharper. I often didn't need to snap on my torch for several hours at a time.
ground or in my hammock, with a light sleeping bag and all my many layers of clothing, under the tarp. Were they oppressive? Not at all. I often fell asleep within minutes of getting into the bag - sometimes as early as five in the evening just as the light faded. Sometimes past midnight. But i always woke up in the early hours. But not in the worried in the black dark hours' way i had feared, but in a floating lightness. Tawny owls love cold clear nights and they were the soundtrack for the nearly the whole trip. But i heard foxes. Muntjac deer. A much larger owl - the deep booming of an eagle owl. Wild boar crashed around me on several nights. But it all seemed perfectly natural.
importance - and the normality - of 'segmented' sleep in traditional
and pre-Industrial peoples, and that's the pattern that i was
naturally falling into. My second 'day' in the middle of the night,
untroubled by activity or the need to do anything physical was a time of happy reflection and wake-dreaming and memories; sometimes it was almost trance-like. I could remember friends and people close to me in every detail, but also unexpected events came back to me in total recall. Various things i had been troubled by during the days - and in a few cases - over far far longer periods would seem simpler and solutions obvious when awake in the middle of the night. I would go so far as to say that sharing my walk between hours of dark and hours of light made it easier not harder.
clouds revealing and hiding its light.
Friday, 12 December 2014
I carried an MP3 player but apart from listening to a few podcasts -
one on solitude, and a series on night walking and darkness subjects
by Jarvis Cocker - didn't use it once to play music. The battery ran
out in the first few days, of course, and it stayed buried in my pack
from then onwards.
In bars - especially the French 'sports and lotto and tabac' cafes'
there were often TV screens playing music videos. I heard Chandelier
by Sia, and David Ezra' Budapest' over and over, as well as random
rap, chanson, flamenco (?), and Europop.
But overall i sang.
My subconscious seemed to provide a random play list of suggestions
for songs that popped into my head, onto my lips and from thence
echoed around the hills and forests (old broadleaf woodland has a
wonderful, and unsuspected, echo that beats any shower).
There were mornings of early Dylan - Tangled up in Blue, One Too Many
Mornings, She Belongs to Me and Song to Woody came up a lot.
Long Beatles sessions - i'd pick an album and sing my way through from
beginning to end.
West Coast rock.
Many days of folk songs - for obvious reasons many fitted with the
pace and sentiments of walking and of the rural life around me. A
world of tramps, pilgrims, rakes, soldiers, solitude, bunches of
thyme, fairs, horses, dark woods and birds fitted nicely. High Germany
was a favourite. And Ewan McColl's Travelling People. And Brendan
Behan's The Captains and the Kings.
Every one of the five Sundays i was walking i sang Kris
Kristofferson's Sunday Morning Coming Down over and over. A little
ritual, if you like.
I sang my own songs. Ones i've already written and sing onstage and
with bands or solo. I finished off or added or improved verses for
songs that needed them.
And i came up with new songs. I've Grown A Beard for Christmas -
sample lyric '....just like Santa Claus, it's not a thing of beauty,
but it keeps me warm outdoors' is one that i probably won't be singing
a lot in the future; it was of its time and place. But Bird Of Passage
might trouble a few ears in the future - especially when i next get my
fingers on my guitar. And faux-Gospe/Work Holler/Sea Chanty number
Climb, Climb, Climb To The Top Of The Hill was created whilst puffing
my way up to the 800 metre high point of my route across the Black
Forest heights (the actual highest peak, Feldburg is 1,500 metres) and
so is ideal as a mantra for exactly that kind of short-breathed,
spirits-up plodding, and was sung lustily across France's Vosges
mountains and beyond.
I had a 'concept album' of road songs that could fill several hours of
rambling-time singing. Further On Down The Road, He Ain't Heavy He's
My Brother, The Long and Winding..., and Walk On were mainstays - but
there were many more.
And themes often provided me with a quiz like game as i tried to
remember and sing as many songs about subjects such as birds, cars,
Gypsies, fires or coffee.
Simple pleasures. And one of the least offensive, really.
One song that i sang a lot - both because of its aptness, and - more -
because it's a great song, was Jimmy Buffet's 'He Went To Paris.
I quoted a few lines in an earlier post. '...warm summer breezes and
French wine and cheeses...' but the end of the song (here's a link
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XGmERAWVdWM - the accompanying video
is a bit close to the most testing parts of the walk. Or better buy
the album, A White Sport Coat and a Pink Crustacean; it's all good.)
was especially apt for the walk...
'...some of it's magic, some of it's tragic but i had a good time on the way.
Thursday, 11 December 2014
Monday, 8 December 2014
I got to Notre Dame cathedral in Paris late yesterday evening. A totally arbitrary finish point. But not as corny, nor quite as far, as the Eiffel Tower. The last day was a 14 hour non-stop forty mile hike. There was frost, wind, sun, rain. My ankle, though complaining, held out. Some eejit tried to mug me on the quais in the last mile to Notre Dame and was most surprised by my spirited response. And having missed the night bus back to London I slept in a patch of brambles in the Bois de Boulogne. And got on the bus to london this morning. I think, all in all, it was a joyful month of walking, but to be honest, at the moment, it feels like it never happened. But then it's a funny old world out there.
Saturday, 6 December 2014
Working my way across the cheese-board, I'm in - security conscious - Brie. Less than forty miles from the centre of Paris, and if it wasn't for my pesky ankle within a long day's walk. I'm still striding along and it doesn't seem to be getting worse - just stiff and painful. I've cut up a sock to make a padded cuff which helps. Herzog had a similar problem at this point and roughly the same solution.
He then walked through the night and well into the next day to finish his walk. A bit too extreme for me. And besides I'm still enjoying the walk - despite the hobbling and sudden drop in temperature.
Last night I walked on from Carlos' bar and up into the huge Villefermoy forests. A comfy bed of beech and oak leaves, tawny owls calling, soup in bed and deep sleep. A bit of rain in the night, and dry again by dawn. Instead of rushing off I lay in bed writing, brewing coffee, looking at routes on the map and mulling over the trip so far. Slightly saddened it was so close to an end (chicken counting if ever).
When I emerged from the forest and back onto the road I found a slew of warning signs along the next twenty kms of dead straight walking meant to deter my kind of trespassing, and particularly poaching deer. Rabies, traps, prosecution, live ammunition etc. (Actually the one I've liked best was in a previous stretch of forest; 'process verbal.' - a good shouting, I suppose.). Probably my biggest risk was being shot by the tens of hunters out on a big drive for wild boar. Jeeps and Land Rovers shot by along the roads dropping of gunmen on the long open tracks through the woods. They were all dressed in the drabs and camouflage colours of the outdoors, an effect rather spoilt by covering the lot with high-viz orange waistcoats. Prudent though. There were frequent barrages of shots and high-velocity bullets must have been twanging through the trees like hail. In dark colours and made lumpen and boar-like by my rucksack I felt amusingly vulnerable.
Next is another of those dusk trudges along the verge of a busy road for three miles - the only way forward - and then I'm into the patchwork of dormitory towns, scattered fields and forests and parks that run into central Paris. Like an urban wolf I'm trying to find a corridor that though straight avoids busy roads, built up areas and farm land. I'll need to find a hidden spot in a wood to sleep in tonight. And then tomorrow...
- jasper winn
- I'm an independent writer on wilderness activities, slow adventures, traditional horsemanship and odd stuff. I'm the author of Paddle; A long way around Ireland (Sort Of Books), and i was the story consultant on the IMAX documentary on cowboy cultures across the globe, Ride Around The Word. The Slow Adventure sends reports back from the front-line of a slow and simple life; horses, kayaks, guitars, long walks, travel, books, simplicity, trains, travel, wildlife and the occasional thrill.