Friday, August 28, 2009

An adequate step?

Tim Robinson is an Englishman who went to Ireland's Aran Island in 1972 to write, think, and otherwise jolt his life out of a London rut. In 1984, he moved across Galway Bay to Connemara, where he remains. His long sojourn in those rocky landscapes has led to several wonderful books and maps of surpassing loveliness.

In the first chapter of Stones of Aran, he defines something he calls the "adequate step," a step worthy of the landscape it traverses. The adequate step takes note of the geology, biology, myths, history, and culture of the landscape, Robinson says. It also includes the state of consciousness of the walker.

On the day when Tim Robinson first arrived on the Aran, he met an old man who explained the basic geography: "The ocean," he said, "goes all around the island." By the time Robinson had stepped along every shore, cliff, field and boreen (little road), the geography of Aran in space and time filled two fat volumes and a big-sheeted map.

And even that, he knew, was not enough. No step or series of steps can ever be fully adequate. "To forget the dimensions of the step is to forgo our honor as human beings," he writes, "but an awareness of them equal to the involuted complexities under foot at any given moment would be a crushing backload to carry."

I tried to incorporate Robinson's notion of the adequate step into my books The Path and Climbing Brandon, teasing out of those two landscapes as many layers of discovery and meaning as were possible to carry without being crushed under their weight. And still those landscapes yield their treasures. The ocean of mystery goes all around the island.

No step or series of steps can ever be fully adequate. "Knowledge of [the natural environment] is a magic well," writes E. O. Wilson in The Creation, "the more you draw from it, the more there is to draw."