Newsletter No. 7: ‘Hacked and hurt by time’

Rich Text

30 JUNE 2017


Although I appreciate I should be getting On the Moor out there first, I’ve recently been ruminating on the theme of my next book. True to style, I have a number of vague, interweaving ideas in mind. Nothing concrete yet, but, believe me, I’m working in it.

During my ruminations, I came across a wonderful quote from the nineteenth-century scientist, mountaineer, and friend of Charles Darwin, John Tyndall. Tyndall features in two chapters of On the Moor. The quote I found, which was inspired by a view looking down on the Matterhorn, links the themes of thermodynamics, evolution, and erosion, all of which also feature in On the Moor:

As long as the temperature of our planet differs from that of space so long will the forms upon her surface undergo mutation, and as soon as equilibrium has been established we shall have, not peace, but death. Life is the product and accompaniment of change, and the self-same power that tears the flanks of the hills to pieces is the mainspring of the animal and vegetable worlds. Still, there is something chilling, if not humiliating, in the contemplation of the irresistible and remorseless character of those infinitesimal forces whose summation through the ages pulls down even the Matterhorn. Hacked and hurt by time, the aspect of the mountain from its higher crags saddened me. Hitherto the impression it had made was that of savage strength, but here we had inexorable decay.
—John Tyndall. ‘Old Alpine Jottings’ in New Fragments (1892).

I’m pretty sure I would have liked Tyndall, had I ever met him.

Some stuff I thought worth sharing:

This time, I have a veritable ennead of recommendations:

  1. How an Icon of Evolution Lost Its Flight
    Scientists have discovered some of the genetic changes behind the useless wings of Galápagos cormorants.

  2. English is not normal
    A fascinating article about how and why English is so odd.

  3. Thoreau’s debt to Darwin
    On his bicentenary, how Thoreau was reinvigorated by Darwin.

  4. Three new discoveries in a month rock our African origins
    An analysis of some important recent anthropological discoveries.

  5. Earth Is Not in the Midst of a Sixth Mass Extinction
    Our species is wreaking terrible damage on our planet, but easy with the mass-extinction hyperbole.

  6. W. G. Sebald, Humorist
    How an eccentric sense of playfulness runs through W.G. Sebald’s four major books.

  7. Daylight robbery in the grasslands
    It was quite a surprise to turn to the Guardian’s Country Diary feature to find it had been written by someone I’ve known since I was 11. Jeremy Dagley on yellow rattle: a parasitic plant that grows in abundance in my farmer friend’s top meadow.

  8. This moving London Review of Books Diary piece by Inigo Thomas about the death of his father.

  9. This NASA video celebrating 20 years of continuous Mars exploration.

Shameless plug

You might like to check out my recent article entitled Orion’s belt-buckle about the star I ‘adopted’ in my early teens.

Borrowed dog update

Millie the borrowed dog is with us for a couple more weeks. She is doing well, despite the perverse enjoyment she seems to derive from walks in the rain.

Now remind me… Which one of us ABSOLUTELY INSISTED on going for a walk, and which one of us thought to bring an umbrella?

Feel free to contact me with any feedback. And please forward this newsletter to any friends you think might enjoy it, suggesting in the politest possible terms that they really ought to subscribe for themselves.

As you were.


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