These are the song-lines I will walk

I wrote this post three years ago, when my world—the whole world—looked so very different. I’m reposting it, slightly revised, because I need a reminder: These are the song-lines I will walk. Walk with me?

Theresa Kishkan, writing on the edge of the world, writes about places she has loved, what they have meant to her as

“loci of interconnected histories. Relationships. How people are shaped by plant communities and vice versa. How stories are told and held in memory, not just our own but the earth’s. What is held in the layers of stone and sediments. How bird song is part of that. Pollen records. Grass distribution. The architecture of honeycomb.”honeybee song-lines

Her words evoke Derrick Jensen, who writes about

“a language older by far and deeper than words. It is the language of bodies,

hands clapping song-lines

of body on body,

potter's hands on wheel song-lines

wind on snow,

snowdrift songlines

rain on trees,

rainstorm song-lines

wave on stone.

waves crashing onto rocks song-lines

It is the language of dream, gesture, symbol, memory.”

We have forgotten this language, Jensen says. We don’t even remember it exists.

Martin Shaw remembers it exists. It’s the language he speaks, a language composed of “slow words, words flushed deep with water and boulder vast.”

Shaw is the author of Scatterlings: Getting Claimed in the Age of Amnesia (White Cloud Press, 2016) which, in his words, is a book about the dream time of Dartmoor—his home—a place he says is “not just mineral deposits and old bones, [but] the flank of a dreaming animal.”

(Watch the video promo for the book here. It’s lovely.)

At a time when we were all confronted daily with seemingly endless opportunities for “growth,” Shaw wanted depth. To go deep, he “effectively drew a chalk circle” encompassing about ten miles around the place where he lives, and said “these are the song-lines I will walk; these are the stories I will explore.”

Scatterlings tells what happened when he walked this land, listened to its stories, “walked out of this century altogether.” The stories he tells in Scatterlings “have the ghost-memory of when we were still caught in a deep courtship with the earth.”

Shaw says his book is a rallying cry to hold up the corner of the earth that has claimed you.

misty mountain song-lines

Seven Sisters song-lines

golden field song-lines

Readers of this blog are familiar with the corner of the earth that claimed LW and me, seventeen years ago now. I’ve said that I came here to write a book, that I was lured by a story. My former teacher, the late Alan Hedley, cautioned me, when I was leaving Victoria to come here, not to rush into writing my book. (Alan would be glad to know I haven’t!) Wait, he said, until you are of the place and not just from it. Martin Shaw makes this same distinction about stories that are not just from a place, but of it.

“Of a place means that you are tuned, or listening, or in service to it. To be of a place is that moment where, for a brief pocket of time, you are the eyes of that place looking back on itself when it is pleased with itself. You’re no longer the landlord, but you are caught in a delightful stewardship and entanglement with that place.”


“We’re not here for long,” says Martin Shaw. “We’re not. So find the place that has claimed you. Dig in.”

That’s what I’m doing today, this month, this year. I’m digging in and telling the stories that have claimed me. I’m walking the song-lines of the land that claimed me, seventeen years ago.

Has a place claimed you? What song-lines are you walking?

4 Responses to “These are the song-lines I will walk”

  1. Sheila Peters

    Leslie, this is so timely for me. I feel like I was doing what Martin Shaw suggests all those years (or the last several) years I lived in Driftwood; now I’m struggling to find my way into this place, the place I grew up. It’s so different, so worked over. But it’s something I have to do. And I thought you might be interested in Alice Oswald’s long poem, Dart, a book published in 2002 that follows the length of the river. It begins at the beginning, and like the wonderful film of Ali swimming the Skeena, the river begins “in the reeds, a trickle coming out of a bank, a foal of a river…” Isn’t that wonderful? A foal of a river. Thanks so much!

    • commatologist

      Thanks so much for pointing me toward Alice Oswald’s Dart, Sheila. The idea of it fascinates me, and I’ll look for it. (In fact, looking for it already, I discovered a great poetry podcast I didn’t know about, so thank you for that, too!) Dart makes me think of a short film I heard about years ago, which I mentioned in a post: Impossibility whispers. The film, Swimmer, was commissioned for the 2012 London Olympics and it “follows a lone swimmer through the wild waters of the UK on a poetic and visual journey, framed by a soundtrack of seminal British music, combined with a sound tapestry of hydrophonic recordings and snippets of bankside conversations” (from a source that doesn’t seem to be online anymore). I’d love to see the film (I still haven’t see the one about Ali Howard and of course I want to see that too) and I will look for Dart. As for my own little fantasy about swimming the river (which was never about swimming the whole length, I can assure you!) it seems to have passed. Miss you.

  2. Theresa

    I think you will love Dart, Leslie. All the interpenetrating voices and stories…And what a beautiful post. (I’ve just come inside from a few hours of cutting down a forest of tomato vines and that smell, so green and earthy, is on my hands as I type this.)

    • commatologist

      Thanks, Theresa. I’ve just roasted the last batch of our tomatoes for the freezer. There’s nothing quite like that green, earthy smell, is there?


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