Newsletter 11th November 2022
I have just finished reading a book called Landmarks by Robert Macfarlane – it’s going back to the Pontesbury library this week if you want to grab it. It’s very good. In it he talks about the loss of words used in naming things, and criss-crosses these islands to explore old names and descriptions, there are hundred of them, words like “rafty“- misty/damply cold – Essex, or “roke” – fog that rises in the evenings off marshes and water meadows – East Anglia or “kleef” – field on the steep side of a hill – Northamptonshire or “crool” – to huddle miserably together from the cold – Herefordshire or finally “griggles” – small apples left on the tree – SW England. I wonder what words we have from around here in Shropshire to describe things?
Macfarlane is worried at the loss of these words to generic, bland replacements like “hill”, “field”, “valley” or “wood” and he suggests that this loss has a direct impact upon our ability to locate or place ourselves and ultimately to affect our ability to relate to the land around us. He writes “It is not, on the whole, that natural phenomena and entities themselves are disappearing, rather that there are fewer people to name them and that once they go unnamed they go to some degree unseen”.
It struck me that in Genesis, God brought every animal of the field and bird of the air to the man to see what he would call them and “whatever the man called every living creature; that was its name” (Gen 2:19). I assume that the man also named the countryside around him as well including any notable features and that for many generations this has been a continuing and flourishing activity. Not anymore – we live in a statist, generic, bland time and our ability to provide nuance or detail in many things let alone the names of places is fading – a kind of reverse evolution if you like and I wonder to what extent our cultural demotion of God creates or allows for a reverse progression in our humanity and whether in a (perhaps short) period of time we will be reduced to grunting at one another. And on that cheery note this weekend I encourage you to think of old names for things, names your granny used to tell you and allow yourself to reconnect to the earth on which you stand and see with fresh eyes where God has placed you.