Passages from Nan Shepherd’s The Living Mountain

“So back one climbs, to the sources.”

“Place and mind interpenetrate till the nature of both is altered. I cannot tell what this movement is except by recounting it.”

“It is necessary to be sometimes exclusive, not on behalf of rank or wealth, but of those human qualities that can apprehend loneliness.”

“The talking tribe, I find, want sensation from the mountain – not in Keats’s sense. Beginners, not unnaturally, do the same – I did myself. They want the startling view, the horrid pinnacle – sips of beer and tea instead of milk. Yet often the mountain gives itself most completely when I have no destination, when I reach nowhere in particular, but have gone out merely to be with the mountain as one visits a friend with no intention but to be with him.”

“Yet so long as they live a life close to their wild land, subject to its weathers, something of its own nature will permeate theirs. They will be marked men.”

“Why some blocks of stone, hacked into violent and tortured shapes, should so profoundly tranquilize the mind I do not know.”

“So, simply to look on anything, such as a mountain, with the love that penetrates to its essence, is to widen the domain of being in the vastness of non-being. Man has no other reason for his existence.”

“Walking thus, hour after hour, the senses keyed, one walks the flesh transparent.”

from Paul Willems’ “Reading”

“And so the naturalist’s almanac, one of this library’s oldest inhabitants, witness to our nights of reading at Missembourg, tells us of events that have resounded in the walls of this old house, of meteors that have streaked through the skies, of trees struck by lightning, flowers startled by frost, of hailstorms, showers, and drought. But here, in the library, time has stood still for 108 years. Only the fine gray snow of dust commingled with moments gathers slowly on the edges of books in the almost geological strata by which time in libraries is measured. For these books measure time. Some here have an embarrassed air from still being white along the edges. Others, in addition to the dust that makes them seem dressed in comfy old suits, retain traces of each reading, and commemorate its events…”

Translated by Edward Gauvin




“The natives, they [John Fenwick and his family] looked upon as savages in a literal sense, and dreaded the necessity of any intercourse with them; regarding the wild beasts of the forest with less fear, and more easily controlled. Under these circumstances did our ancestors turn their ship from the ocean into Delaware bay and ascend the river, ignorant of where should be their abiding place.” — Thomas Shourds, History and Genealogy of Fenwick’s Colony, New Jersey (1876)

from J.A. Baker’s The Peregrine

“Like the seafarer, the peregrine lives in a pouring-away world of no attachment, a world of wakes and tilting, of sinking planes of land and water. We who are anchored cannot envisage this freedom of the eye. The peregrine sees and remembers patterns we do not know exist: the neat squares of orchard and woodland, the endlessly varying quadrilateral shapes of fields. He finds his way across the land by a succession of remembered symmetries.”