Monday, September 17, 2007

Campfire Questions with Cameron McNeish

We wired Cameron McNeish, Wilderness speaker, editor of TGO Magazine and WFUK Trustee, to hear a bit more about what's going on in his end of the UK.

Here's the Q&A:

• You recently wrote on the TGO blog about 'The Wild Places', the new book by Robert Macfarlane – Could you tell us a little bit more about why our readers should check it out. Also, could you maybe give us an insight into what you discussed with Robert in your forthcoming podcast interview with him?

Cameron McNeishMany folk will be familiar with Robert Macfarlane's book 'Mountains of the Mind'. It was published to wide critical acclaim a few years ago.

His new book, The Wild Places, was published earlier this month. Rather than focus on the kind of person who climbs mountains Rob has placed the spotlight on the landscape itself. In that sense it's the kind of book that Americans tend to write much better than we do, people like Barry Lopez, Edward Hoagland, Ed Abbey and Annie Dillard, not to forget, of course, the earlier writers like Muir, Emerson and Thoreau. In the UK we have a good legacy in mountaineering literature - We also have a reasonable legacy in "nature" or "wildlife" writing - I can think of people like Gavin Maxwell and Frank Fraser Darling, although today's wildlife writers are but a pale copy of these people.

Very few people, with possibly the exception of WH Murray and Jim Perrin, and perhaps one or two others, have ever written evocatively about our relationship with wild places, and why such landscapes are important to us, spiritually and emotionally, not to forget any bio-vidersity role they have.

I discussed these issues with Rob and also a little about his background - his grandfather, who lives in the Scottish highlands, was a very enthusiastic mountaineer and is a superb botanist. Rob was brought up in these traditions. We also discussed the need for writers like Rob to remind readers that wild places are a dwindling commodity, and that it is incumbent on all of us to protect them.

• What are the main lessons you’ve taken away from both book and interview?

Robert very gently reminded me of my own role as a conservationist.

In particular he shared a thought that very much resonated with me. He told me he'd had some criticism from natural history scientists and academics who claimed that he focused too much on the emotional/spiritual side of the great outdoors, rather than work to a stricter scientific analysis.

That thought reminded me of a conversation I once had with the late WH Murray, whose first book, 'Mountaineering in Scotland', had been returned to him by a prospective publisher because it was “too spiritual.”

I’m very aware of such criticism, much of which comes from academia and science-based naturalists. It’s as though the emotional, spiritual or experiential side of the outdoors is almost worthless and yet such emotions, I would suggest, are inherent in all of us.

They are, as the wilderness poet Gary Snyder once said: "perenially within us, dormant as a hard-shelled seed, awaiting the fire or flood that awakens it again." Perhaps we can be the fire or flood that has that affect on people?

• Is it right that you’re thinking of doing more video – and if so, where will our readers be able to find it?

I've made a couple of DVDs - The Wasdale Round and The Howgills, for a company called Striding Edge, run by my old friend Eric Robson. I'm also making a series of Wild Walks for a BBC Scotland monthly programme called the Adventure Show. That series will eventually appear on a DVD.

I've also been pretty involved in making audio podcasts for my own website at cameronmcneish.co.uk and for my magazine's website at tgomagazine.co.uk so it seems logical to move on from those audio podcasts to video podcasts. I've just bought a pro video camera and have been working hard trying to master the video editing software so hopefully, within the next 2 or 3 weeks, we'll have videos running on both websites.

• Now you’re a wild places not to mention wilderness speaker in your own right – where would we be able to hear you this autumn?

Yes, the lecture season is just about to start and I'm off to the Isle of Arran for the Arran Walking Festival at the end of this month. That'll be followed with a talk in New Galloway, the Inverness Book Festival, two lectures for the Royal Scottish Geographical Society in Dunfermline and Edinburgh, the Edinburgh Mountain Film Festival. On top of that lot I'm giving the annual Snowdonia Society lecture in Bangor and I've been honoured to be asked to give the annual Wainwright Lecture on this the centenary of Wainwright's birth. All the dates and venues are on my website.
• Give us a couple of top autumn reads that’ll broaden our mind.

Well, you must read Robert Macfarlane's book, The Wild Places and I would urge anyone to look out the books of an American/Welsh writer called Colin Fletcher.

Colin died earlier this year but his book, The Man Who Walked Through Time, is the finest outdoor book I've ever read. It's about the first on-foot traverse of the Grand Canyon before it was flooded.

Read it and it will open your mind to the amazing geological timespan that formed one of the world's natural wonders, the Grand Canyon.

Thanks Cameron - and best of luck with that hectic schedule!

A couple of quick extra links not covered above:

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