Saturday, February 9, 2013


In chapter 13, Macafarlane and David Quentin follow the Ridgeway, a track over the chalk downs of Neolithic origin, using cross-country skis. They ski past two great Neolithic sacred sites, Silbury Hill (a giant mound) and Avebury, a giant stone circle that rivals Stonehenge. Macfarlane describes some vivid scenery - black horses against the white snow, a white horse that looks grey against its snowy white background. At the end of the trip, he and David Quentin meet a huge black cat with gold eyes that they are convinced is a panther as they are heading back to the Ridgeway. Since they are in a van and not on skis, they survive to tell the story.

What I found fascinating about the snow chapter is that although Macfarlane is walking over an extremely ancient landscape and he sees animals - hares, horses, buzzards- that have existed in that area for centuries. He also sees hawthorns, ancient bushes that have been used for hedges for hundreds, if not thousands of years. Their red berries not only nourish birds but are supposed to guard witchcraft and evil. Macfarlane does not fully concentrate on this timeless landscape, but instead muses on the career of British painter Eric Ravilious.

Ravilious, who died in WWII, spent much time walking the Downs, which he depicted in his watercolors and woodcuts. He was fascinated by paths, which appear in many of his paintings. I had never heard of him, and searched online to find images of his art. I find his woodcuts to be charming depictions of country scenes- snow, birds on wires - but his paintings to be disquieting due to his choice of color and depiction of light. Macfarlane describes the Down light as a flat light like the light of the polar regions (p.297). Ravilious, who was fascinated by the poles and the extreme north, loved the light and tried to show it in his art. I find the flattening effect to be a little eerie.

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