Thursday, September 01, 2011


I see in the Irish Times that the life and work of the Connemara-based writer and cartographer Tim Robinson is to be celebrated this month with a series of events -- symposia, lectures, readings, exhibitions -- at the National University of Ireland Galway, the University of Exeter in England, and Dublin. Robinson was one of the best things I discovered in Ireland -- his maps and books -- and I'm pleased to have played a small role in getting him included in the Norton Book of Nature Writing. His exquisite maps of the Aran Islands, the Burren, and Connemara remain endless sources of pleasure. His books on the same regions never stray far from my hand.

Robinson is a Yorkshireman who went to Ireland's Aran Island in 1972 to write, think, and otherwise jolt his life out of an urban rut. In 1984, he moved across Galway Bay to Roundstone, Connemara, where he remains.

I can't remember what, if anything, I have written about Robinson on this blog, but he was acknowledged as an influence in my book The Path: A One-mile Walk Through the Universe for his concept of the "adequate step." The "adequate step" is a step worthy of the landscape it traverses. It takes note of the geology, biology, myths, history, and politics of the landscape, as well as the state of consciousness of the walker. I've tried to make of my life a journey of adequate steps.

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 physical and human geography of Aran in space and time filled two fat volumes and a big-sheeted map.

Even that, he knew, was not enough. No step or series of steps can 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."

When I read Robinson's first book, Stones of Aran: Pilgrimage 20 years ago, I was blown away by the intensity of attention that he paid to the landscape. A crushing backload , indeed; exhausting -- and exhilarating -- to follow in his footsteps.

There's one other notion of Robinson's that you will have encountered here. Miracles are explainable, he says in one of his books; it's the explanations that are miraculous.

Thanks, Tim. And congratulations.