For five thousand years we have used darkness as the metaphor of our mortality. We were at the mercy of merciless death, which is darkness. When we died, they sent a beam of midwinter light in among our bones. What a tender, potent gesture. In the Christian era, we were laid in our graves to face the rising sun. We’re still mortal, still don’t want to die, don’t want our loved ones to die. That’s why the surveyors waved so heartily – if I’d spent ten days working in the house of the dead, dammit, I’d come out waving, too. We have not banished death, but we have banished the dark. We have light, we have oil-fields and electricity and lasers. And by the light we have made, we can see that there are, metaphorically speaking, cracks. We are doing damage. The surveyors poring over the tomb are working in an anxious age. We look about the world, by the light we have made, and realise it’s all vulnerable, and all worth saving, and no one can do it but us.
Kathleen Jamie, Findings – as excerpted by the Guardian here.
Findings isn’t one of my favourite collections of travel writing essays just because it opens with Orkney, although I’m far from immune to the charm of that. It’s not because it challenges our modern prejudice against the dark – the very thing we spend the first 9 months of our lives in, comfortable and safe, until everything turns to noisy, terrifying light. It’s not just because it’s gorgeously written, or because Jamie has the same gift as Alain de Botton for interrogating the “simple”, “obvious” things everyone looks past.
It’s this: she wanders. She goes for walks, throws her eyes and ears and mind wide open, and collects as much as she can. There’s no clear itinerary or agenda. She just observes and thinks and writes. Good travel writing happens when you pay attention to what the world is telling you and when you allow it to surprise you and change you. This book is a beautiful example of the power of that approach.
I’m saying all this right now because this gorgeous book is an absurd £0.99 on Kindle today. Less than a pound. Go get!
Further reading: “Kathleen Jamie: A Life In Writing” – Sarah Crown, Guardian.
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