Authors were horrified, and Margaret Atwood and Andrew Motion joined Robert MacFarlane and Helen MacDonald in decrying the OJD's piecemeal erosion of a vocabulary for nature. For MacFarlane there's a particular poignancy: his latest book Landmarks contains a glossary of thousands of old words used to describe aspects of landscape and weather. His point is that language is not passive; it does not merely describe what is there, but enables us to see what would otherwise go unremarked, unnoticed, forgotten. Without the word bugha, who would otherwise note 'a green, bow-shaped area of moor grass formed by the winding of a stream'? Would it occur to us that such a thing was witnessed by previous generations for so long that we even gave it a name?
Over time the names began to fade, upstaged by other terminologies - historical, psychological, anthropological - but they were waiting, seared into my ten-year-old memory, to come to life when I paid them some attention. The joy of my early wildflower education hit me with particular potency this summer, when, after an intense period of computer screens, concepts and ideas, long days and short nights, I decided that I was on holiday. I piled my books in an unkempt pile on my desk, abandoned all attempts to organise my emails and looked out into the world to see what was there. I saw wildflowers.
|Hawkweed at the Nuneaton Arboretum|
Whether stuck in traffic, delayed on a train, carsick from reading, or my iPhone's battery fading, I settled back into my seat and watched the wildflowers go by, the names popping into mind many years after I first pored over my Collins Gem wildflower book. I'm in the MacFarlane camp: language is always more than language; it's history, knowledge, and power, a force in itself, and as children forget clover and cauliflower it seems ever more likely that the co-arising phenomena of nature poverty and food poverty will seep into the next generation. I sometimes wonder whether I might have been one of the last to be sent packing into the outdoors not for teamwork or self-improvement, charity mud-runs or weight loss, but for wildflowers.
|Birds' Foot Trefoil|
Instructions for living a life.
Tell about it.