Journeys Into Darkness We Have Made

Emergence Magazine is one of my favorite publications for thoughtful work about the intersections of human culture, spirituality, and ecology. They produce a print edition, as well as beautiful multi-media work online. (Check out their recent in-depth story on the tensions playing out so publicly right now at Mauna Kea: Born Was the Mountain.)

Robert Macfarlane, who explores the human relationship to place in his thoughtful and multi-layered books, is a long-time favorite author.

Emergence recently interviewed Macfarlane about language and landscape. You can just read it, but it’s a nuanced listen if you’re so inclined, with some bonus very cool musical interpretations you probably need your headphones to fully appreciate.

At the end, Macfarlane reads a couple of his own spells (he says they’re not poems, but they taste and sound very much like poetry) from the gorgeous “children’s” book The Lost Words, which he wrote and Jackie Morris lushly illustrated. And which I have to read on the floor, because it’s huge. This delights d’Artagnan the tuxedo cat, who, like all cats I’ve met, enjoys artistically sitting on any and all human reading material. His Lost-Words-sitting the other day was unusually suited to the content of his resting place:

D’Artagnan impersonates Otter

Macfarlane’s latest book is Underland, an exploration of territories beneath the earth’s surface, of how the human psyche maps onto these buried spaces through time. It’s a tome, and you’ll want to read it with paced attention. (Imagine yourself slowing toward geologic time. The subject matter helps.)

In the interview, Macfarlane speaks of it as his “last decade of Anthropocene thinking, and thinking about language and place and journeys into darkness we have made.” It’s a dark book in more ways than one; also beautiful* and compelling.

Entering the underland has never been my main jam (I’m claustrophobic, for one thing), but I do feel the pull of the concept. And having finished the book (not for the last time), I’m keen to re-visit a cave or two, to see how perceptions there might be changed and charged. Might change. Might charge.

Descent to Dream

*The jacket and endpaper design is as beautiful as the content. Some dear friends recently brought me a signed first edition of the British version, and I’m just so impressed with how much diverse and collaborative art goes into creating literature as a physical phenomenon.

Also I’m impressed with my friends’ perception of exactly the present I would most like, if it ever occurred to me to think about presents. Gift-giving is an under-celebrated talent. (Skill?)


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