Robert Macfarlane. Landmarks. Penguin, 2016.
Robert Moor. On Trails. Simon & Schuster, 2016.
Peter Wohlleben. The Hidden Life of Trees. Greystone, 2016.
We are too insurmountably human to know how cultural, how intentional, how meaningful, the nonhuman world might be.
Hunting with the hawk took me to the very edge of being a human. Then it took me past that place to somewhere I wasn’t human at all. . . . I felt the curt lift of autumn breeze over the hill’s round brow, and the need to tack left, to fall over the leeward slope to where the rabbits were. I crept and walked and ran. I crouched. I looked. The world gathered about me. It made absolute sense. But the only things I knew were hawkish things, and the lines that drew me across the landscape were the lines that drew the hawk: hunger, desire, fascination, the need to find and fly and kill.
Forms of life, in other words, must first be ordinary to support the genuinely fantastic.
Regular users of a trail, like users of a grammar, are unlikely to find it astonishing. Cherokee trails crossed land whose shape figured in their creation myths; these trails also stitched together all the Cherokee settlements of the Southeast, like the Roman roads for a pedestrian nation. Walking them might conjure the story of a monster whose dying battle formed a series of peaks, even while the point of the walk might be trade, diplomacy, or just a visit.