The Old Ways is ‘the third book in a loose trilogy about landscape and the human heart’, the other two being Mountains of the Mind and The Wild Places. They offer a lucid and often beguiling mix of sustained reflection, social, cultural and historical contexts, natural history and wide reading, all strung along first-person narrative episodes.
At the outset Macfarlane leaves his desk after heavy snowfall, walks out of the suburb, by lanes and paths across golf courses and open fields, into the snow-lit, animal-tracked night. It is the familiar world made strange, vivid and new. ‘The moonlight, falling at a slant, deepened the dark in the nearer tracks so that they appeared full as inkwells’ – the observation is precise, the simile earned. He notes that rabbit prints in snow ‘resemble a Halloween ghost mask, or the face of Edvard Munch’s screamer’, and once they are described, we see it is so.
These are the first of many prized images, and this opening walk is among the most haunting of the many trails that comprise the book. Its presentation is highly, perhaps overly, schematic. Divided into ‘Tracking’ (England), ‘Following’ (Scotland), ‘Roaming’ (Abroad) and ‘Homing’ (England), each part is further divided by the