I am wary of the dangers of fetishizing dialect and archaism – all that mollocking and sukebinding Stella Gibbons spoofed so brilliantly in Cold Comfort Farm (1932). Wary, too, of being seen to advocate a tyranny of the nominal – a taxonomic need to point and name, with the intent of citing and owning – when in fact I perceive no opposition between precision and mystery, or between naming and not-knowing. There are experiences of landscape that will always resist articulation, and of which words offer only a remote echo – or to which silence is by far the best response. Nature does not name itself. Granite does not self-identify as igneous. Light has no grammar. Language is always late for its subject. Sometimes on the top of a mountain I just say, ‘Wow.’
But we are and always have been name-callers, christeners. Words are grained into our landscapes, and landscapes grained into our words. ‘Every language is an old-growth forest of the mind,’ in Wade Davis’s memorable phrase. We see in words: in webs of words, wefts of words, woods of words. The roots of individual words reach out and intermesh, their stems lean and criss-cross, and their outgrowths branch and clasp.
‘I want my writing to bring people not just to think of “trees” as they mostly do now,’ wrote Roger Deakin in a notebook that was discovered after his early death, ‘but of each individual tree, and each kind of tree.’ John Muir, spending his first summer working as a shepherd among the pines of the Sierra Nevada in California, reflected in his journal that ‘Every tree calls for special admiration. I have been making many sketches and regret that I cannot draw every needle.’