Dr Julie Carter




“Knowing that you love the earth changes you, activates you to defend and protect and celebrate. But when you feel that the earth loves you in return, that feeling transforms the relationship from a one-way street into a sacred bond.”

― Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass.

For anyone who hasn’t read braiding Sweetgrass—put it on your list. And if you are thinking the above quote might be indicative of a sentimental but unfounded notion that the earth may care about us, then initially I would share that suspicion. The Lakeland fells I love so much don’t care about me. They don’t stand there looking resplendent in the springtime dawn for my pleasure. And on a dark winter afternoon in hail and high winds, as I struggle to keep upright, the fells don’t empathise with my floundering feet and calm down for me. They wouldn’t care if I died out there. And they wouldn’t mourn for me either. “[…] when you feel the earth loves you”— can we, should we, take a comment like this seriously?

For me what Robin is saying here is not that the earth loves us; that fells or rivers or woods are invested with emotional connections in the same way that we are. I think what she is alluding to is that deep within our animal beings we have evolved to feel loved by the places which nourish us. And when we feel this bond, we care. We care with the fierceness of a parent defending their child. But we also care in the way a child cares, not just cares but needs and depends upon its parent. The fell I see every day that I’m at home, and the one that I am most in the presence of, is Skiddaw. And it isn’t just for this reason that I call Skiddaw “my mother mountain”. Many of you are familiar with my story of how the hills rescued me when I visited Derwent Hill Outdoor Centre when I was thirteen years old and only just surviving. Skiddaw is my mother mountain, she took care of me, and when I run up there, I’m not daft enough to think that the Skiddaw the hill has a discreet consciousness and a knowledge of me. And yet that said, unless there is such a thing as a soul transplant, it will never be possible to destroy my bond—and yes—I’d go so far as to use the word sacred.

In my intellect I muse on these ideas but I know the feeling of what we are attempting to describe here goes beyond words. It’s not just that I’m not a good enough writer but that I doubt the very ability of a word-based language to encompass what we are failingly calling a “sacred bond”. This isn’t surprising really because I think the ability to feel this type of bond is so deep within us that it evolved long before language. It probably evolved when we were worms—in and of the earth. But like all aspects of biology, this capacity for relationship with place did evolve. Traits are only preserved during millennia of evolution if they have survival value. Which brings me to the point of writing this. If we lose our capacity to feel the bond, what then? Let’s not—is what I want to say. Let’s not.

sharp edge sit2

Now here’s another quote from the brilliant Braiding Sweetgrass:

“Even a wounded world is feeding us. Even a wounded world holds us, giving us moments of wonder and joy. I choose joy over despair. Not because I have my head in the sand, but because joy is what the earth gives me daily and I must return the gift.”

And a poem from me:

It was Blencathra that was my first ever fell race and two decades later, I run there often. I always feel nurtured by this place—

It’s the way the thin path winds and wiggles

over Souther Fell where the Legion marched.

The way it runs along the grassy ground

until Sharp Edge sheers up, a grey rock-blade

glinting in the morning’s glare and the way

we are careful, not to be cut.


The way Scales tarn sits like a well-pool

it makes you want to dive down into the water

because it looks a passage that will emerge

somewhere else, miles away

and you don’t know where, but it beckons,

and you feel it, right in the dip of your ribs.


The way the thin half-mist came over

and our lungs pulled and pushed the damp air through our bodies

and the way the light played tricks of scale,

and Arthur’s Pike looked Himalayan,

and the way our legs were happy and busy,

cacked in bog juice, good for the skin.


The way we were made-up, making it up—

authors of a work of art which lasted for three hours only.

How Bannerdale Fell made us dance round swamps,

how we took off over tussocks and found a trod,

a steep little secret to Bowscales tarn and who knew

that pool gives poetry readings, echoed from the fell walls.


The way we stopped and sat down

by the bronze river amongst the bronze leaves

bathed in bronze light and how everything

was bronze but nothing was a statue

and the way we wondered, after we got home

if this had been a run, or a song.


Photographs on Blencathra by Jessie Leong