For the past several months, I've been drawn back to nature writing, a genre that, to my opinion, has declined over the past decade or so. As with so much of what passes for literature nowadays, I'm seeing way too much identity politics, too much narcissm, too many instances of "at the intersection of ..." in books and essays peddled as nature writing. I don't object to these approaches in principle. Rather, I'm tired of the obsessions.
A work succeeds, in my opinion, when it makes me want to go at once to the places described or to get out into wild or semi-wild places close to home. A quarter of the way through The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot, I ordered a new rucksack to replace my worn-out 1990s pack, and a twig/alcohol stove to replace the hateful, noisy, wasteful cannister stove I've carried for thirty years.
Alone and with friends, Macfarlane walks the old foot and cart paths, the livestock trails of the British Isles, and sails to the bird islands of northwest Scotland. As much as I enjoyed his treks in Spain, Palestine and Asia, being a homebody (with exceptions), I most enjoyed his walks on his beloved chalk downs. Along the way, we meet writers who came before: Edward Thomas, Nan Shepherd, and others I look forward to reading.
The Old Ways sat on my shelf for several years before I picked it up and settled in. Had I gotten to it sooner, that new rucksack would've been well broken-in by now.