Memorious Earth is a beautifully presented slice of Cumbria, a Cumbria both under our feet but often overlooked and a Cumbria lost and remembered only in name.
Reading this book was like stepping into a cool bath on a hot day, like stepping off of an over packed tube train and walking through a clean, airy museum of beauty and thought. Throughout the pages ordinary bits of the countryside are bottled and presented as things of importance, as museum exhibits, ordinary life, which could be lost just as the raven and the lapwing and the wolf has been lost from the landscape.
This book mixes scientific facts with folklore and poetry. It felt like a justification for my own relationship with the countryside. So often, those working in conservation can look at things in isolation and be terribly level headed. If, when out doing my survey work, I come across a really amazing plant filled river, I know I am meant to be sensible and scientific and start working out the names of everything and their relative importance, when what I really think is “wow, that’s how the past looked,” and this is often followed by a desire to engage, to slip into the river and discover it with fingers and toes, to taste it, to entwine myself in it. Am I odd? undoubtedly. Afterwards I will pull myself out and discover the names of things. The names can be a wonder in themselves but they can also be dry. Science can increase knowledge but reduce wonder. Science can both expand and diminish.
Autumn Richardson and Richard Skelton in Memorious Earth take the science but also create wonder. Tree rings created from ancient languages felt like reaching in and touching the trees memory of all the people who have stood next to it and spoken its name. A photograph of a bone. A wolf bone? (please don’t tell me if i’m wrong) seemed like a holy relic, a reminder that the English wolf was once real and walked the earth.
There is something in this work that makes it tangible, that makes it reach out and place a finger on you. It unsettles you, it affects you. It is the heavy weight of absence. This becomes particularly clear in the last section, The Medicine Earth, when you sense the tred of ‘the harmful one that throughout the land roams.” you feel the unseen presence that flickers just out of sight and you feel the overwhelming sadness and hopelessness behind the words ‘this shall be whole again.’ a mantra, as if by saying it enough times, it might make it true.
The book is a beauty, a puzzle, a riddle to slip into.
Memorious Earth is available from Corbel Stone Press