‘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.