Chad Alice Hagen

Life, Books, Resist Dyeing & Writing

coffee and itchy eyes

Today we write, my coffee and me.  We write despite the lawn mower crunching song of a neighbor who seems to delight in challenging any stick, tree limb or rock outcropping in his way. We write with pollen blowing across the keyboard.  I could stop and vacuum and then wash this porch, washing the floor, curtains, furniture and shelf with its dusty plants and rocks but all that work would interfere with blowing my nose and trying to aim eye drops into reddened eyeballs.

I have made an agreement with myself to write a post once a week, even circled it in red on the calendar I spent 3 hours making last week. So here I am, day three, spending more time brushing pollen pile-up off the keyboard than poking at those letters. This morning I was thinking about Prairie Home Companion and admiring Garrison Keiller’s use of that wonderful opening line each week…”Well, it’s been a quiet week in Lake Woebegone.” It leads so easily into stories about various characters and activities in that quaint imaginary village. I’d like to have a weekly opening like that but I realize that other than the stick-killer lawn mower guy and the silent fall of pollen there really isn’t too much character development going on here in Screen Porch-landia.

So I look around and I see books.  Piles of books on the kitchen table (with tiny napkin for wet G&Ts.) Piles of books next to my bed out here in screen porch wilderness (damn the glass rings).  And I remember then that I did have an idea for this blog since I wrote the title a few days ago.  Yes. Books.

Books to Read: Robert Macfarlane

British nature writer Robert Macfarlane is one of my favorite authors.  Since all of his books are exceptional it would be hard to choose just one to recommend, so I’m going to mention three.  I was introduced to his writing through The Wild Places (2007), his journey of researching, mapping and exploring remarkable wild landscapes.  Although I have read many wonderful books on traveling through the landscape of our world, my breath was constantly taken away by Macfarlane’s use of language. I would have to stop, breathe, maybe wipe tears away and then re-read that page.  It took me a long time to get through the book. The pages are now spotted with water drops, coffee and hummus.

Then I read Landmarks (2015) which is again about language and in particular, words which were used to describe the natural world. Those old but wonderfully useful words which have been lost or are in danger of disappearing due to lack of use. Certain words do change over time but the disappearance of words used to describe natural objects or events may also serve to hide those objects or events from our notice.  It’s easier to forget and ignore things if they have no name. It’s like using only one word – green to describe all greenish objects. I was shocked to read on page 3 of the introduction about the changes made to a new edition of the Oxford Junior Dictionary.  

…(it) revealed a list of the entries it no longer felt to be relevant to a modern-day childhood. The selections included acorn, adder, beech, bluebell, catkin, conker, cowslip, cygnet, dandelion, fern, hazel, heather, heron, ivy, kingfisher, lark, mistletoe, nectar. newt, otter, pasture and willow.  The words introduced to the new edition included attachment, blog, broadband, celebrity, cut-and-paste and voice-mail…

The book consists of 10 essays on landscape each accompanied by remarkable glossaries of lost descriptive words.   

The case for disused words continues in The Lost Words: A Spell Book  (2017) which features evocative poems created from those lost words with amazing illustrations by British artist Jackie Morris. By reading these poems aloud, the sound of each word (lost or endangered) is lodged in memory of both the reader and listener. The spell poems then became spell songs and were put to music on an album (The Lost Words: Spell Songs) which will be released July 2019.

And finally on this trip through Macfarlane-world, his latest and already acclaimed book for which I am standing at the mailbox awaiting, Underland: A Deep Time Journey  will be released June 4th.  Read this  “Books and More Books” Review.  http://

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