Thursday, 1 May 2008
Book Review: White River by Jamie Whittle
The Findhorn River rises in the remote heart of the Monadh Liath (grey hills) in the Scottish Highlands and flows 62 miles east to Findhorn Bay. Over its course this beautiful wild river runs from vast rolling heather and bog moorlands to lowlands rich with forests and meadows. I live some 10 miles from the Findhorn and often cross it on the A9 road as I head for Inverness and the hills of the north-west. I visit Findhorn Bay regularly too, my closest stretch of coast and a wonderful place for watching birds and seals and the great expanse of the sea and sky. And I’ve walked close to the Findhorn’s source when climbing rounded, boggy, isolated and little-visited Carn na Saobhaidhe and strolled along the gentler wooded banks at Randolph’s Leap much lower down the river. But I’ve never explored the Findhorn closely, never walked very far along its banks or thought much about its place in the landscape. Jamie Whittle, who was brought up close to the Findhorn and knows it well, has done both and describes two journeys along the river, by foot from sea to source and by canoe down the lower river to the sea, in this thought-provoking and interesting book. Whittle uses the journeys to discuss humanity’s relationship with nature and some possible solutions to the problems caused by dislocation from wild places and blends together history, myths, ecology, geology, psychology, philosophy, economics, politics and culture, all interspersed with snippets of poetry. Other writers are brought into the mix and he quotes widely - from obscure local history books to luminaries of wilderness thinking such as John Muir, Henry David Thoreau and, especially, Aldo Leopold. It is encouraging to see Leopold’s Land Ethic – “a thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise” – applied to the question of wind farms in the Monadh Liath, and by implication the whole of the Scottish Highlands. Rightly, Whittle concludes that “these mountains are too fragile to absorb heavy industry” and answers the charge that biodiversity and wild land must be sacrificed in order to combat climate change by saying that this is a false choice and that “if in order to tackle the climate we destroy natural capital then we have failed”. At the same time that serious issues are discussed and faced the author also describes the joy in travelling through the wilds and camping out at night. His affection and closeness to the land shines through. There’s no need to have heard of the Findhorn or know where it is to enjoy this very readable book. For any one who loves wild nature and is concerned about what is happening White River is highly recommended.
The picture shows storm light over Findhorn Bay. Photo info: Canon EOS 300D, Canon EF-S 18-55 mm@ 18mm, f5.6@1/251, ISO 100, raw file converted to JPEG in DxO Optics Pro.