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Look Closely, Closer Still...

Not A Travel Writer
In which I discuss the micro. With added swear words.

The days are lengthening in the north and, by now, the extra light is just about noticeable. This is a very good thing, as is the return of some sunshine, after a period of grey and cloud. That said, I loved it when it snowed recently, and snowed those vast crystalline fluffy flakes the size of small saucers, each drifting dustily down to catch with another, forming sculpture never before seen by any eye.
I recently sorted out my craft materials and this made me think on a micro scale. I have pieces of antler, bone, shell, wood of many varieties, seeds, beads, stone — worked and unworked, feathers, leather, material, cork in abundance, and much more. It is now neatly packed and ready for use.
As I sorted these items, I found myself looking closely, examining a bead made of Picasso jasper (which is not actually jasper at all) and marvelling at the simple beauty of the thing, so different to the next one, and the next, yet all the same material. The world is full of variety and wonder.
Scale, whether global or micro, is a theme I return to again and again. It can be humbling to examine something tiny like that bead, then consider the path which led to my holding it. The vast forces and time behind that path. Then repeat, over and over. 
There is an entire world within that bead, the colours surprise and thrill as I turn it in my fingers and, no matter how many times I examine it, it seems to display a different palette with every view. The world is like this bead, full of colour and swirling depth, each tiny particle a continent, each streak of colour a sea.
Too often we do not take the time to examine either the trees or the forest, let alone the bark, the needles or leaves, the roots and trunk, twigs, buds or branches. We do not look at the other life on the tree, the nanoclimates it can support, life straining for light, life clinging to the dark.
Before Christmas I was handed a small stone by my tiny human friend, Agathe. I kept it in my jacket pocket for nearly a month, taking it out to occasionally look at and examine, or feeling the contours and angles as I walked, all the wear and the tear, the chips and surfaces. I would think about where it had come from, was it carried by glacier, or dug from a quarry, was it a younger rock or something more ancient? How had it been shaped? Yesterday I felt I knew the stone enough to let it go, transplanted from one corner of France to another, laid down to continue its journey.
I have done similar ever since I can remember. My mum would forever be extracting stones or twigs, small pieces of this and that, debris, detritus, and debitage. I still have some of the stones I could not part with and only I know their personal history. When I am gone back to dust, those stories will be released back into the world, each history shed as a snake loses its skin, or the leaf which falls back to earth. This is not a sad thing, but instead I find it strangely joyous — how many stones you pass have a similar history? How many times has that pretty pebble been collected and lost or released? What tiny hands held it for a moment, before passing to an adult? Was it kept in a pocket or pouch, was it cherished?
Scale and depth, story and wonder — we would be wise to consider these things from time to time. They ground us, they add to our connection with the earth.
Perhaps, next time you take a walk, keep an eye on the tiny things and maybe pick one up, think of its story, feel those contours. Then, when you are ready, let it go again.
I’m sure there’s some sort of lesson here. Or is it magic? Look closely, closer, do not blink, what do you see? What do you really see?
Hello
I do hope you all had a safe and peaceful festive season, and I do hope it was full of stories and books and new-to-you words to devour. 
I have yet to finish (or, if I’m honest, even get halfway) the recap of 2021 and I suspect I might end up shelving this. The problem I have is that I am currently very much looking forward and, to look back, even on very, very good things indeed, seems too much like a pause, too much like the wrong direction. This is a new sensation to me — normally, I’m very happy to ponder the past, dissect and disseminate, share what I think is important in a way I find engaging. I am guessing my subconscious knows just how much there is to do this year and is acting accordingly, which is not a bad thing.
I am getting back to work, slowly moving forward on projects and trying to get others finished — or started, in some cases. It has been difficult to find any time recently, and the time I have never seems long enough and I end up feeling stressed and concerned about all the emails going unanswered, or those things which were left floating some weeks or months ago, to yet be finished. Fingers crossed this will get a little better in the coming weeks. For now, though, I’m scheduling blocks of time for different things and tracking these blocks on an app and in my journal — or I am trying to. Sometimes I forget. But I am happy to cut myself a little slack — habits take time to develop, and I am moving in the right direction.
Free Books!
Only One Death, the permafree novella which began The Lesser Evil series, is available as part of Science Fiction and Fantasy Feast, over at Bookcave. There are nearly fifty free books to choose from, from all manner of subgenres, and I’ve not seen a lot of these before. Definitely worth checking out.
I am also enrolled in a group promotion entitled New Year, New Worlds, at StoryOrigin. There are an astonishing number of free books to choose from here, over 120 of them, again from all manner of subgenres, so head on over to StoryOrigin and have a look. I’m sure you’ll find something interesting.
There is no Kindle Unlimited promotion this month. I did find one which sounded perfect for Death In Harmony, all about difficult journeys, whether physical or mental (DIH is, of course, both) but when I looked into the details the organiser really didn’t want novels with swearing in them. It wasn’t in the title, like other ‘clean’ promotions, which is perhaps why it irritated me a little. And, to be honest, there’s not a LOT of swearing and what there is seems justified to me. I also deliberately placed most of the fucks within the first few pages, simply to let any reader who is sensitive to these things know this book contains real words. Fuck, incidentally, is so old a word that we aren’t exactly sure where it came from. Perhaps, seeing as it’s been around for hundreds of years, it may be time to make our peace with the poor old dear?
I am not a fan of too much censorship in reading. It is all too easy to say a book is Adult or Young Adult, Middle Grade or otherwise, but that doesn’t really help everyone. I was certainly reading what would now be called Adult fiction when I was rather young. To limit something due to swearing doesn’t really sit well with me, especially when the promotion stated the age range was Young Adult to Adult. If adults can’t, or aren’t supposed to read certain words, it makes me worry.
Language is constantly evolving, constantly growing — and no more so than in words which are so often banned. These words are often re-purposed, reused and recycled; one day, something which has been benign and perfectly fine to use in every possible situation suddenly carries a new meaning, one which the adults often lag behind in perception, causing much merriment and amusement amongst the young. 
I have also noticed a tendency for certain groups in society to shout the loudest about banning those awfully rude words. In my experience, those are the very same groups who also shout the loudest about freedom and liberty. You can be free, as long as you conform to a definition of the word provided by someone else? Freedom seems to mean different things to different people, doesn’t it?  
To conclude, when you get to a certain age (different for everybody), I personally think it is best to let you, the reader, decide on your level of tolerance, not someone else.
You can, however, still get Death in Harmony over on Amazon, or read it for free if you have Kindle Unlimited. And don’t forget, Tales of the Lesser Evil, Volume 1 is also available. I’m very hopeful this series will be wrapped up in the next few months…
I would also like to say a big, giant, huge thank you to any of you who have read my books — to know that my stories are being read is a strangely beautiful thing. And if you have left a review, or just a starred rating somewhere, then I will be forever grateful (yes — I wish the algorithmic gods didn’t exist but, for more people to be able to read my stories, they really do need those stars and reviews — so thank you, very, very much).
Also Words
For several years now I’ve chosen a word for the year, something to think about, concentrate on, use as a frame of reference and a wide goal. It can be difficult to remember to use this, so this year I’m going to add the word to the top of each monthly tracker spread in my journal, so I remember to remember on a daily basis.
However… I have yet to actually settle on a word. Previous years have included a lot of words beginning with C, such as ‘completion’, ‘consistency’, and ‘concentration’. One year, I also had ‘publish’.
This year, I initially considered ‘ticking’ as it seemed to carry dual meaning, something which would remind me to tick things off a list, actually finish work (which certainly seems to be a theme with the previous years’ words), and it would also remind me of the ticking of a clock, how time has a habit of disappearing if it is not carefully tended. Yet it also seemed a little banal and, amusingly (?), the word reminds me of ticks, who are my mortal wilderness enemy.
I then considered some light cheating, using two words instead of one — ‘full’ and ‘fill’. These, rather than fulfil, seem to add something, reminding me that to live a full life, I have to fill it. However, I am still not settled on them. 
I suspect there is the right word, just waiting to appear. This year, I think I shall give myself until the Lunar New Year to choose a word. Which leaves me just a few weeks…
Finally. Sort of.
This is a shorter newsletter than normal, not because I’ve decided to split them into two or three, but simply because of time. There’s a lot I’ve had to skip, but here are a few notes:
I’m progressing with the Mesolithic bushcraft project. It is mostly notetaking and revision of the first and second parts, but it’s getting there.
The fourth (or seventh, if you include the bonus tales) of The Tales of The Lesser Evil has had a fresh 3147 words crafted. There are already 37k words, and I will definitely keep or rework many of them, but the story has altered a little since I first started (and redrafted) it. Some things happen which didn’t happen before, others disappear into a word oubliette. It is still as yet untitled, but a few potentials are beginning to whisper their way into the foreground. Once this novel and the bonus are complete, it is back to The Greater Good, and The Care Industry. I am excited by that — it’s about time I finished it and, perhaps even more importantly, it’s about time other people have a chance to read the story which has been living with me for well over a decade now. I am also looking forward to the longer novels of The Lesser Evil; they are going to be truly epic.
Ailsa is somehow three months old this Friday. How is that, exactly?! She is taking a keen interest in her world around her, she loves to sing along, and has recently discovered a love of being read to. Earlier, Aurélie read three of Ailsa’s books to her, but she wanted more, so she switched to reading John Gwynne’s Valor: Book Two of The Faithful and the Fallen, out loud. I was happy to hear this. Words are magic through syntax and rhythm, grammar and tone, and a thousand other subtleties. 
We have found a nounou (no idea if this is capitalised or not, it’s the French for nanny) for Ailsa, for when we move house at some point in March. She lives about a minute’s walk from our door, has two cats, a dog, rabbits, fish, and chickens. This is excellent, as it means Ailsa gets to experience the joys of animals, without us having to feed, walk, clean, and generally look after them. It helps that the nounou herself also seems perfect of course, probably good to have a human look after her too, right? (Ailsa met her first cat at the meeting with the nounou — and didn’t quite know which end to look at, whether the tail was the head, or vice-versa.)
It is entirely possible that I might be learning to ski, at the venerable age of 44, some time soon. I imagine I will become intimate with the snow on many occasions.
I haven’t really been on social media much of late, and I have been trying my best to avoid much of the news. There is a tendency for me to get sucked into that constant-clicking on stories, checking for anything new and horrible, which really doesn’t do much to help. Better to use that time wisely.
Wordle. Yes. It reminds me very much of those heady early days of the internet, before vast monetisation, advertising, and Big Data, when people made things simply for love and fun and then shared them for free. I am very grateful for this.
I was a bit frustrated by the end of the Wheel of Time, as the big confrontation which we get in the books was just…not there. I do think they managed to cope rather well with the sudden absence of one of the major characters (brought on by an actor leaving the show unexpectedly, two episodes before the end). There were some good things, and some which were mildly annoying, but I still think it was a relatively solid start to the saga. We shall see.
The second season of The Witcher, however, has left me with few things to complain about. Although Geralt really also needs a bushcraft consultant. And maybe should learn to cover up his forearms in subzero temperatures? Wool! Geralt! Wool! Overall, a powerful second season, with a particularly superb script.
La Casa de Papel — we finished this recently too, which was sad, as it’s been a fun journey. At times ridiculous, at times moving, this is a show which I heartily recommend. Try and watch it with subtitles, rather than a dubbed version (I don’t bother with dubbing, it detracts far more than reading the words for me. That said, maybe the dubbing is excellent, I wouldn’t know.).
I have set myself two culinary goals for the year — to make a perfect mayonnaise, and to make a perfect kraprao moo. For the former, I have tried twice (okay, two batches on the same occasion), the first was too olive-oily, but the second wasn’t too bad. I now have the recipe that Aurélie’s maman uses, who makes a wonderful mayo. I will try that next and, if I’m daring, try a few other variations later. For the kraprao I will need to source Thai Holy Basil or, more likely, grow it myself. Quite frankly, although we are hoping (covid/health/travel/situation in the world -willing) to visit Thailand at some point around New Year (ish), that’s just too long to be without the tasty spicy goodness of a decent kraprao (not the tourist version). I am open to suggestions for a third (or even more) culinary challenge (besides starting growing things again in our new home, especially herbs), any ideas are welcome, just hit reply.
Fiction reading of late has been slow. I go through stages of reading lots, and quickly, then a fallow period of readjustment, often at this time of winter, when I like to read more non-fiction (on which front: I’ve been working my way through Mors Kochanski’s works, not just his seminal Northern Bushcraft, but also the pamphlets I’ve slowly been collecting, his Grand Syllabus, and many of the articles he wrote.).
However, I am enjoying and nearly finished Nora Robert’s Chronicles of The One, which is an interesting and superbly crafted take on post-apocalyptic (or apocalyptic, followed by post) fiction. It has magic. The writing style is polished and personal, and even before I checked exactly how many, I knew Roberts (or J.D. Robb, I discovered) had already written a LOT of words. You don’t get to that level of craft without putting one word after another, millions and millions of times. (The only thing which sat a little strangely for me was her very occasional use of parenthesis [yes, I know I use these a lot here — but it always feels out of place to me in fiction, taking me away from the tale and making it seem like the narrator is whispering too loudly], but that is not a big thing, at all — more me struggling to find something I would change, were I editing these stories. Recommended if you like post-apoc. fiction and/or urban fantasy with strong characters who feel real.)
For now, I think I shall leave this here. Although I said it was going to be a short newsletter, it turns out it is still nearly 2000 2500 3000 3500 words long.
Stay safe my friends. Keep looking for the wonder.
Photos
The photos in this newsletter are those of the smaller scale, close ups, details, the building blocks, or the tiny things.
And, in case anyone is remotely interested, the tracks and signs in the photos from the previous newsletter are as follows:
Photo One: Badger, fox, and roe deer, melting water from branches above. And my foot for scale.
Photo Two: Dog otter — once upon a time, I thought this was a Scottish wild cat print. I had definitely seen wild cat (or wild cat/feral cat hybrid) prints where I was, and did not study these well enough to note the presence of the fifth toe — tracking is all about learning, and knowing when you’ve made an error.
Photo Three: Beaver. This was very exciting, finding this in Highland Perthshire, Scotland, then finding many more signs too. This animal was extinct in the UK for a long time.
Photo Four: Badger latrine/poop/scat, showing the distinctive traces of crunched and munched beetles. Mmmm.
Photo Five: Red squirrel, bounding along on the shore of the river Garry.
Photo Six: Grey, or harbour, seal. This was interesting — the seals had been scared into the water by another person walking a dog, which gave me the chance to see what tracks they had left. They had also left a distinctive smell. Stupid past me didn’t take as many photos of the tracks as I should have, simply because the seals themselves were more fun to watch (especially when my sisters started to sing to them — animals love music, and seals love to sing).
Photo Seven: Badger, roe deer (I think it is a roe deer, but I’m still not good enough to tell roe deer tracks apart from eg young red deer).
Photo Eight: Otter latrine. They mark their territory this way, similar to the badger poop in photo four. The difference is otter poop really DOES smell a bit like jasmine.
Photo Nine: Red deer, roaring in October, right before it turned and walked away after issuing myself and my friend a warning/challenge. This happened in the dark and the next morning, knowing exactly where it had been, I carefully examined the tracks. You could actually see from the trail the point when it had roared, as it had thrown back its head to do so, pushing with its legs in a different way to when it walked before. You could also see the twisted grass and plants where it had started to turn away. An excellent training exercise and, seeing as I was swinging in my hammock, only four metres away when it roared, also a memory which sticks. This was precisely the point where I knew I was hooked on the science/art of tracking. (Do you see where the grass stem has been pushed into the earth? Middle top of the photo.) 
Maybe one day I’ll subject you to ‘animal poops I have known/met/photographed’…? Maybe not.
Did you enjoy this issue? Yes No
Alexander M Crow
Alexander M Crow @alexandermcrow

Not a travel writer, but a writer who travels: stories, nature, culture, kindness and, secretly, travel writing. A writer's notebook of sorts, often with special offers and news on tales available and to come. A little bit Snufkin.

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