The Living Mountain is like no other book I've read before. It's a poetic homage to The Cairngorm mountain range in the eastern Highlands of Scotland. "Poetic homage" sounds very dramatic, but the book really is just that.
Written in the late 1940s, during the last years of the second world war, The Cairngorms were Nan Shepherd's safe place during these turbulent, unpredictable years. It's a piece of nature writing that reads like a poetry, but it's also a philosophical text, a metaphorical essay, a diary, a personal journey, a story of love and respect. I've never come across another book quite like it.
The Living Mountain was far ahead of its time. It was short, it had no "normal" structure, it wasn't a traditional style, and perhaps this is why, after one failed attempt to get the manuscript published, Nan seemed to lose all hope and put it in a drawer. It lay in that drawer untouched for 30 years.
Eventually published by the Aberdeen University Press in 1977, The Living Mountain slowly started to gain the recognition it deserved. Still, it was many years before it would truly be considered a classic.
As I was transported to Nan's world, at a time when I was so unsure about my own, I realised that there was more to this woman than I had first thought. She was witty, courageous, clever and seemed to live her life the way she wanted to. When I asked people if they had heard of her, the woman who wrote as The Guardian claim, "the finest book on nature and landscape ever written in Britain", the woman who is now the face of the new Scottish £5 note, hardly anyone knew who she was.
This is what pushed me to decide where I would take this project next. I would need to go to Scotland and re-read the book in the depths of the mountains, to try and understand Nan's world as best I could, and to celebrate a woman who, I believe, should be a part of all our lives.