“The Living Mountain: A Celebration of the Cairngorm Mountains of Scotland” by Nan Shepherd

The Living Mountain: A Celebration of the Cairngorm Mountains of Scotland (Canons)

I discovered Nan Shepherd when a friend passed along a poem of hers, dated 1934 and entitled “Summit of Corrie Etchachan”. Fortunately my friend provided some context – a “corrie” is what we call a cirque, a glacial erosion feature in mountain terrain, a “steep-sided hollow…on a mountainside…” (Google Dictionary). The poem is written in that demanding form, the sonnet. The poet compares the corrie to the human mind. One reviewer refers to Shepherd’s writing as being “geo-poetic”

Curious about Nan Shepherd, we promptly found her in Wikipedia, learned about her books, and downloaded The Living Mountain on Kindle.

Shepherd, categorized as a “Scottish Modernist”, published three novels between 1928 and 1933, but The Living Mountain was rejected and finally saw print in 1977, six years before Shepherd died. A biography by Charlotte Peacock was published in 2018.

The Living Mountain is nature writing at its best, a series of sketches describing the landscape Shepherd loved so well and her reflections (both scientific and emotional) on what she experienced. She hiked in all seasons and weathers, accepting the risks of rough terrain and changeable weather. She loved solitude and silence.

The Living Mountain reminded me of The Outermost House by Henry Beston, published in 1928 and situated on Cape Cod. Like Shepherd, Beston emphasizes the physical aspects of nature (wind, water, light) as well as living organisms. 

The Living Mountain is a classic and will be enjoyed by many.

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