My Place

‘People exploitwhat they have merely concluded to be of value, but the defendwhat they love and to defend what we love we need a particularizing language, for we love what we particularly know.’ Wendell Berry

Robert Macfarlane quotes Berry in his book Landmarks, drawing attention to the moral dimension of looking closely and naming carefully. 

We could begin with a list of names and terms that we know which are particular to the place where we live. My list might begin with some names: Hobbies Lane, Wash Lane, The Wimble, Middy Close; there might be natural features that I can describe with commonly used words: ditch, path, wood, field, meadow, copse, and there might be local words: pightle, crinkle-crankle, tod, breck. There may also be invented words, used by a single family or maybe local people – ‘round the backs’, ‘the bendy gate’, ‘Sarah’s’.

Think about where you live, and write the list of words you need and use to describe it. You might even find out about scientific words or local words for parts of the landscape. 

Here’s a small taste from the glossaries in Landmarks:

breck              breach, blemish or failing, thus ‘Brecklands’ the name given to the broken sandy heathlands of Norfolk and Suffolk      Middle English

clogsum          heavy wet land           Suffolk

gnitig               pejorative for slope with a ‘scowl’ or ‘surly’ expression  Gaelic

hassock          tuft of coarse grass growing on boggy land  Northamptonshire

lode                 fen drain                     Fenland

loess                deposit of wind-blown dust    geological

rake                 steep path or track up a fell or cragside, oftrn leading to the summit  Cumbria

scarp               steep face of a hill   English

soft estate       natural habitats that have evolved along the borders and verges of motorways and trunk roads  Highways Agency

The next step is to write a description of the landscape, the place. I think that could include buildings and pavements, growing things and man made things, evidence of animals – yesterday, I noticed horseshoe marks printed in the dried mud. In the woods, I heard a green woodpecker and a greater spotted woodpecker and the first chiffchaff of my year.

You could try writing about the view from a window, or a walk you regularly take. You could try writing about a bigger area, aiming to give a sense of the whole place. Remember that it is the detail that will bring  the place alive. Write so that you show the place itself.

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