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Dying Words and our Relationship with Nature

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"Under pressure, Oxford University Press revealed a list of the entries it no longer felt to be relevant to a modern-day childhood. The deletions included acorn, adder, ash, beech, bluebell, buttercup, catkin, conker, cowslip, cygnet, dandelion, fern, hazel, heather, heron, ivy, kingfisher, lark, mistletoe, nectar, newt, otter, pasture and willow. The words taking their places in the new edition included attachment, block-graph, blog, broadband, bullet-point, celebrity, chatroom, committee, cut-and-paste, MP3 player and voice-mail. As I had been entranced by the language preserved in the prose���poem of the ���Peat Glossary�۝, so I was dismayed by the language that had fallen (been pushed) from the dictionary. For blackberry, read Blackberry."

For a decade, Dr Robert Macfarlane has been compiling a dictionary of terms for nature in Britain and Ireland.

Have you noticed these phenomena?

Ammil ammel, meaning ���enamel�۝,caochan, the Gaelic term for ���the shadows cast on the moorland by clouds moving across the sky on a bright and windy day�۝F̬ith Pirr: Shetlandic meaning ���a light breath of wind, such as will make a cat�۪s paw on the water�۝ an onomatopoeic term -Exmoor dialect for 'the noise made by a covey of partridges rising in flight'; a Yorkshire term for 'the steam that lifts from moorland when hot sun shines after hard rain'),: Northamptonshire dialect for 'the sound and action of open water as it freezes', andS: Shetlandic for 'an earth-fast boulder on the shoreline'. ��� n., smoke-like mist that rises in the evenings off marshes and water meadows; also very faint rain. With so much standing water and wet ground, the epiphenomena of moisture have been well represented in East Anglian dialects, with numerous words for kinds of mist (mug), dew (dag), heavy soil (clogsum, clunch, clag) and mud (slab, slip, slub). Roke is thought to come from the Old Swedish r̦kr, meaning smoke or vapour, has memorable regional counterparts and variations in, for example, Yorkshire (summer geese, meaning the steam that rises from the moor when rain is followed by hot sunshine) and Shetland (grumma, meaning a mirage caused by mist rising from the earth).��� n., a raised bank or ridge of silt in the Fens, formerly the bed and sides of a river or tidal creek; roddamy land is rolling or undulating land. Most rodhams (also known as roddons) are thought to have formed between 1500 and 6000 years BP, during periods of extensive silt deposition in Fenland rivers. ��� n., rustling noise produced in grass by petty agitations of the wind. Fizmer is a fabulously onomatopoeic wind word, and therefore kindred with better-known terms such as susurrus. John Clare relished words concerning the sounds of air, and sounds travelling through air, and his poetry includes references to suthering (a heavy sighing or rushing sound) and crizzling (the action of frost forming on water: ���And the white frost gins crizzle pond and brook�۝). Fizmer also puts me in mind of zwer, a wonderful Exmoor term for the sound a covey of partridges makes when taking flight. ��� adj., of weather or atmosphere: cold, damp, chilly, dull, foggy. Anyone who has studied at Cambridge will have experienced a rawky day, in which the cold feels much keener than the air temperature suggests it should. Typically, this is because of the notorious east wind, more recently christened the ���wind from the Urals�۪, but in the early 19th century known as the ���red-wind�۪ ��� and blamed for bringing the blight with it. A contemporary student version of rawky is , n., a hole in the base of a hedge caused by the repeated passage of a small animal; a hare�۪s track through a hedge. ��� n., ice that has been cracked and crazed by fissures, usually produced by the pressure of walkers or skaters. East Anglian dialect is unsurprisingly poor in words for aspects of high ground (where Gaelic and Scots excel), but it does do well with terms for snow and ice, including windle (a snowdrift), blunt (a heavy fall of snow), stivven (filled with drifted snow), and the beautiful ungive,meaning to thaw. ��� n., the malaise induced by sustained exposure to flat terrain; the sudden feeling of fright brought about by contemplation of an intensely lateral terrain.honeyfurthe soft seeds of grasses and rushes. ��� n., regional names for the song thrush (Turdus philomelos).exploit what they have merely concluded to be of value, but they defend what they love, and to defend what we love we need a particularising language, for we love what we particularly know.�۝

A chapter in the book is dedicated to the Scottish-American John Muir, whose writings inspired the US president Theodore Roosevelt to create the country�۪s first national parks. ���Muir gives me hope,�۝ Macfarlane said in his talk at Hay. ���His writing changed the course of landscape history. It�۪s the idea of hope in the dark.�۝ He described the seeds of the bristlecone pine, which lie dormant in the soil and are germinated by forest fire. ���Individual actions in culture ��� art, writing ��� can be dropped, like the pine seeds. They seem dead but decades later they can flare into life.�۝

Subtitled a ���field guide to the literature of nature�۝, Landmarks is a work of great scholarship ��� but also a call to action. It explores ���how reading can change minds, revise behaviour and shape perceptions�۝. And it fits within a wider resurgence of nature writing in Britain, including Costa award-winning H is for Hawk and The Shepherd�۪s Life, the memoir of a sheep farmer.

Macfarlane believes there is an ���astonishing surging cultural energy that�۪s working across photography and art and in literature�۝. He credits it to an acute sense of loss. ���It�۪s because we live in the shadow of destruction and damage, because we are a generation that�۪s grown up conscious of climate change, and that internalised anxiety at the world�۪s ongoing peril is a really powerful imaginative force that we don�۪t quite register in its full form but is deeply in us,�۝ he says.

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