Although I had heard of this creative effort by Robert Macfarlane, Stanley Donwood & Dan Richards before, it took a chance encounter with it at the Quaker Meeting House in London to compel me to buy it. Sitting down to a coffee (which is quite reasonable, and in spacious and agreeable surroundings, surrounded by quiet souls and the wisdom of the shelves of contemplative books), the slender volume had an instant tactile and visual appeal, especially on account of the dark artwork of Stanley Donwood. Contrary to what you might think (it being London), the book is not about the district of Holloway, but instead the ancient hedgerowed tracks- a hollow way, a sunken path. A route that centuries of foot- fall, hoof hit, wheel- roll & rain run have harrowed deep into bedrock. Of course such tracks are not much use to the tarmac generation, but that adds to their overgrown appeal. Out of character, and charmed by the endeavour, I paid full whack for the book with some satisfaction, rather than trying to hawk it second hand.
Late that night, we cycled back up to the holloway in fierce silver rain, skidding on wet mud, raindrops showing in our headlamp beams & the eye- glow of unknown animals glinting in the hedgerows.
The eyes of creatures shine in low light because of the presence of the tapetum lucidium, the bright carpet, a mirror- like membrane of iridescent cells that sits behind the retina. Light passes first through the rod and cone cells then strikes the membrane & rebounds back through the retina towards the light source. Any available light is used twice to see with; perception is thereby doubled.
So heavy was the rain and so thick the blackness of the night, that we soon became separated, each invisible to the other & yet when we later spoke, each of us had the experience of being pursued by another who was not of our group- someone holding a bright light and following in our tracks.
We slept that night down in the depths of the Holloway. In the darkest hours of the night a rain storm came, the water falling so hard it left drill- holes in the leaf litter. Walking at dawn I found that I had left my copy of Edward Thomas’s poems unsheltered. The rain had plumped it and driven gobbets of earth & shards of leaf in between the pages.
The path, winding like silver, trickles on,
Bordered and even invaded by thinnest moss
… and the eye
Has but the road, the wood that overhangs
And underyawns it, and the path that looks
As if it led on to some legendary
Or fancied place where men have wished to go
And stay; till, sudden, it ends where the wood ends.
by North Utsire