The Living Mountain by Nan Shepherd

I have seen this book in passing for many years of my life as it was always on the bookshelf at home but a recent twitter book-club initiative by Robert McFarland (a beautiful nature writer and poet) prompted me to get hold of a copy and read along. This book has been a favourite of my mum’s so she also decided to revisit it and we shared it together at this time of lockdown.

Nan’s book completely captured me from the word go. I haven’t really spent much time in the Cairngorm Mountain range but all I had to do was get lost in her vivid depictions and I could hear the wind whistling, see water flowing and smell the heather underfoot. I don’t think i’ve ever read depictions of landscape filed with such poignancy and beauty before. Each tender moment of her encounter with the landscape drops you into a very particular sensation or feeling which seems to organically swell into an existential metaphor of  the beauty and strength of mother nature and the humility of each of us to be in her presence. Each page moved with such flow that one minute I was trudging through the Lairig Ghru to  catch sight of the Pools of Dee (p.24) and the next contemplating how “one hears without listening as one breathes without thinking” (p.26) before being whisked back into a chilly morning (-2°C) nestled in the Slugain Valley (p.29)

The final two chapter on ‘The Senses’ & ‘Being’ perhaps brought me the most joy. Here I found my pencil working double time to underline those phrases which stood out to me and in many occasions brought a tear to my eye. Nan seemed to capture something within me which I cannot quite put words to… only tears will flow. I’ve included some of my favourite passages/quotes below and hope to elaborate further on these in a separate blog: 

  • Such silence is not a mere negation of sound.p.96)
  • The eye brings infinity into my vision (p.98)
  • So, simply to look on anything, such as a mountain, with the love that penetrates to its essence, is to widen the domain of being in the vastness of non-being. Man has no other reason for his existence. p102)
  • Here then may be lived a life of the senses so pure, so untouched by any mode of apprehension but their own, that the body may be said to think. Each sense heightened to its most exquisite awareness is in itself total experience. This is the innocence we have lost, living in one sense at a time to live all the way through. (p.105)
  • I was not interested in the mountain for itself, but for it’s effect upon me (p.107)
  • To know Being, this is the final grace accorded from the mountain (p.108)

You don’t need to know the Cairngorms or be familiar with walking to pick this book up. I urge you to journey with Nan and really drop into the great depth of awareness she has for her surrounding landscape. It is by her example of authentic awareness and presence that we too enter into a deeper sense of what it means to truly ‘be’ within our own lives. This is the grace which Nan & The Living Mountain bestows. 

Read in: April 2020 

Review Written: June 2020

Rating: 5*