Elevate Difference

Findings: Essays on the Natural and Unnatural World

Jamie writes with sobriety, sensitivity and grace about the natural world and our human place within it. Her book is sparsely illustrated with delicate black-and-white photographs that picture many of her topics. She chronicles visits to places ranging from her own backyard to the Orkney Islands to Edinburgh and beyond, with a marked preference for those wilder spots where the human imprint may still be seen, but nature prevails.

In the Central Highlands she explores a glen scattered with “abandoned shielings,” small stone huts used by villagers for thousands of years as summer homes while they pastured their cattle on the fresh upland grass, and she reflects on a by-gone way of life. “Up here they made milk, butter and cheese, and it was women’s work. What a loss that seems now: a time when women were guaranteed a place in the wider landscape, our own place in the hills.” Living on and with the land is important to her; she pays attention to the seasons, the birds and fish, the trees and other plants, going about in all kinds of weather, walking, biking or sailing. At times she is with her children or friends; often she is alone. Always she strives to be alert, to catch that moment of revelation, “to glance up from my own everyday business, to see the osprey or the peregrine going about hers.”

The book opens with a chapter called “Darkness and Light” about the winter solstice, magical scenes of the half light of northern Scotland, her own desire “to enter into the dark for the love of its textures and wild intimacy,” and her pilgrimage to Maes Howe, a Neolithic stone cairn built with a long passageway arranged so that each evening, for a few days around the solstice, a ray from the setting midwinter sun shines through to light the chambered vault, like a promise, like a kiss. Nearly a dozen chapters later Jamie’s book closes with a joyous dolphin sighting off the coast of Tobermory, a celebration of life. Along the way she helps us see the value and vulnerability of an ancient, yet ever new, world now threatened by contemporary technology and human carelessness.

Buy this book, read it, scribble down lines you want to share with others, talk about them, reflect on them, enjoy a renewed connection with nature as well as a heightened awareness of our need to protect it.

Written by: Kittye Delle Robbins-Herring, July 28th 2007