I can’t take any credit for the title of this post. Thanks for its grace and power and immediacy—even divorced from its context as it is here—belong to Nan Shepherd, a Scottish hill-walker, teacher, and writer who composed her luminous The Living Mountain during another crisis in the modern history of humankind: the Second World War. Shepherd walked in and wrote about the Cairngorms, “Britain’s arctic,” a landscape I have yet to set my senses to meet—though I hope to, someday.
Indeed, these mountains infuse her writing so completely that I feel I may know them just a little when we do meet. I felt as I read that if mountains could write, they have done so through Shepherd. Though this is undoubtedly too Romantic for Shepherd herself to countenance.
For the past few weeks, I and rather a wonderful slice of Twitter have been reading this gorgeous short work together, chapter by chapter, led by Robert Macfarlane, himself a writer of prose with great depth and beauty. I’ve been so nourished by the discussion, by the sense of both community and communal longing for connection with the elemental—rock and air and water, animal and plant, weather, and our mysterious human senses and being.
In a time of physical isolation, we come together to explore the worlds we love: the physical worlds we may have lost for a little while, and those made of image and word that lift them up in memory. And we come to cherish the places and systems on this earth that are changing beyond our recognition—even as we, on another scale, are forced (or perhaps invited) to a similar shift.
Many folks have made art in response to Shepherd’s. I’ve loved finding reflections in my inbox from Chris LaTray and Craig Mod, writers and walkers I always read with pleasure; it was a delight to discover them walking the living mountain alongside. On Twitter, I’ve met Angela Hennessy, beautifully illustrating her copy as she reads, and Anna Bertolini, creating lovely text drawings with Shepherd’s words.
I’ve made a little mini-art of my own, inspired by my daily practice in The Florilegia Project. Shepherd’s prose sparkles perhaps more than any book I’ve read this year. I scribbled so many sparklets in my tiny notebook, I quickly decided each chapter deserves its own found poem.
Here they are, in order from 1 to 12. I promise they’re short. You can also find them on Instagram, if you prefer that format.
As ever with florilegia, none of the words are my own, only their arrangement. I hope they bring you a little joy— perhaps inspire you to make a little art of your own, or savor someone else’s.
Maybe they’ll encourage you to walk into your own living mountain—wherever that is, whether you walk there now in memory, or live within its borders—to “set out on [your] journey in pure love.”