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Surfacing

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In this remarkable blend of memoir, cultural history, and travelogue, poet and author Kathleen Jamie touches points on a timeline spanning millennia, and considers what surfaces and what reconnects us to our past. From the thawing tundra linking a Yup'ik village in Alaska to its hunter-gatherer past to the shifting sand dunes revealing the impressively preserved homes of n In this remarkable blend of memoir, cultural history, and travelogue, poet and author Kathleen Jamie touches points on a timeline spanning millennia, and considers what surfaces and what reconnects us to our past. From the thawing tundra linking a Yup'ik village in Alaska to its hunter-gatherer past to the shifting sand dunes revealing the impressively preserved homes of neolithic farmers in Scotland, Jamie explores how the changing natural world can alter our sense of time. Most movingly, she considers, as her father dies and her children leave home, the surfacing of an older, less tethered sense of herself. In precise, luminous prose, Surfacing offers a profound sense of time passing and an antidote to all that is instant, ephemeral, unrooted.


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In this remarkable blend of memoir, cultural history, and travelogue, poet and author Kathleen Jamie touches points on a timeline spanning millennia, and considers what surfaces and what reconnects us to our past. From the thawing tundra linking a Yup'ik village in Alaska to its hunter-gatherer past to the shifting sand dunes revealing the impressively preserved homes of n In this remarkable blend of memoir, cultural history, and travelogue, poet and author Kathleen Jamie touches points on a timeline spanning millennia, and considers what surfaces and what reconnects us to our past. From the thawing tundra linking a Yup'ik village in Alaska to its hunter-gatherer past to the shifting sand dunes revealing the impressively preserved homes of neolithic farmers in Scotland, Jamie explores how the changing natural world can alter our sense of time. Most movingly, she considers, as her father dies and her children leave home, the surfacing of an older, less tethered sense of herself. In precise, luminous prose, Surfacing offers a profound sense of time passing and an antidote to all that is instant, ephemeral, unrooted.

30 review for Surfacing

  1. 4 out of 5

    Hugh

    Kathleen Jamie's previous two essay collections Findings and Sightlines were wonderful, luminous books that mixed landscape and nature writing with memoir to produce something very personal, and this one is to a degree more of the same. The difference is that apart from three long pieces, the essays in this one are very short, sometimes only two or three pages long. The long pieces left the strongest impression, and all three relate trips. In Quihagak relates an archaeological visit to North-East Kathleen Jamie's previous two essay collections Findings and Sightlines were wonderful, luminous books that mixed landscape and nature writing with memoir to produce something very personal, and this one is to a degree more of the same. The difference is that apart from three long pieces, the essays in this one are very short, sometimes only two or three pages long. The long pieces left the strongest impression, and all three relate trips. In Quihagak relates an archaeological visit to North-East Alaska, where the Yu'pik people try to maintain elements of their distinct lifestyles against modern pressures - the site they are investigated is a few centuries old but remarkably well preserved by ice. Links of Noltland relates a recent summer that Jamie spent with another archaeological dig, this time investigating a neolithic village on the Orkney island of Westray, which was discovered due to erosion of the sand dunes which had been covering and preserving it. The Wind Horse is based on her diaries from a much earlier trip she made as a recent graduate, to a province of China near Tibet and a village with a largely Tibetan populations at the time of the Tiananmen Square protests, which put Tibet itself off-limits to Westerners. This is another fine collection.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Rebecca

    I’m a big fan of Kathleen Jamie’s work, prose and poetry. Like her two previous essay collections, Sightlines and Findings, both of which I read in 2012, this fuses autobiography with nature and travel writing – two genres that are too often dominated by males. Jamie has a particular interest in birds, islands, archaeology and the oddities of the human body, all subjects that intrigue me, too. The bulk of Surfacing is given over to three long pieces set in Alaska, Orkney and Tibet. She was drawn I’m a big fan of Kathleen Jamie’s work, prose and poetry. Like her two previous essay collections, Sightlines and Findings, both of which I read in 2012, this fuses autobiography with nature and travel writing – two genres that are too often dominated by males. Jamie has a particular interest in birds, islands, archaeology and the oddities of the human body, all subjects that intrigue me, too. The bulk of Surfacing is given over to three long pieces set in Alaska, Orkney and Tibet. She was drawn to Quinhagak, Alaska, a village that’s about the farthest you can go before crossing the Bering Sea into Russia, by her fascination with the whaling artifacts found along the UK’s east coast. Here she helped out on a summer archaeological dig and learned about the language and culture of the Yup’ik people. Alarmingly, the ground here should have been frozen most of the way to the surface, forcing the crew to wear thermals; instead, the ice was a half-meter down, and Jamie found that she never needed her cold-weather gear. On Westray, Orkney (hey, I’ve been there!), there was also evidence of environmental degradation in the form of rapid erosion. This Neolithic site, comparable to the better-known Skara Brae, leads Jamie to think about deep time and whether we’re actually much better off: Being on site often left me freighted with thoughts about time, how it seems to expand and contract. I kept having to remind myself of the ages that passed during what we call the Neolithic or the Bronze Age. How those people’s days were as long and vital as ours. … We all know it. We can’t go on like this, but we wouldn’t go back either, to the stone ploughshare and the early death. Prehistory fits the zeitgeist, as seen in two entries from the recent Wainwright Prize shortlist: Time Song by Julia Blackburn and Underland by Robert Macfarlane. It’s a necessary corrective to the kind of short-term thinking that has gotten us into environmental crisis. A cancer biopsy coincides with a dream memory of being bitten by a Tibetan dog, prompting Jamie to get out her notebook from a trip to China/Tibet some 30 years ago. Xiahe was technically in China but ethnically and culturally Tibetan, and so the best they could manage at that time since Tibet was closed to foreigners. There’s an amazing amount of detail in this essay given how much time has passed, but her photos as well as her notebook must have helped with the reconstruction. The depth and engagement of the long essays are admirable, yet I often connected more with the very short pieces on experiencing a cave, spotting an eagle or getting lost in a forest. Jamie has made the interesting choice of delivering a lot of the memoir fragments in the second person. My favorite piece of all is “Elders,” which in just five pages charts her father’s decline and death and marks her own passage into unknown territory: grown children and no parents. What will her life look like now? There is beautiful nature writing to be found in this volume, as you might expect, but also relatable words on the human condition: What are you doing here anyway, in the woods? … You wanted to think about all the horror. The everyday news … No, not to think about it exactly but consider what to do with the weight of it all, the knowing … You are not lost, just melodramatic. The path is at your feet, see? Now carry on. Originally published on my blog, Bookish Beck.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Tommye Turner

    In her essay, ‘The Wind Horse,’ Kathleen Jamie says, “often I wished I would draw, like the art students. I’d have drawn those yaks chewing the cud, their animal patience.” For anyone who reads that essay, let alone the whole book, they will see as I do: Jamie has no need for drawing when her words bring to life the image she wishes for us to see. This short collection of essays is a beautiful collection. Two of the larger essays cover Jamie’s time working on archaeological digs, and the others In her essay, ‘The Wind Horse,’ Kathleen Jamie says, “often I wished I would draw, like the art students. I’d have drawn those yaks chewing the cud, their animal patience.” For anyone who reads that essay, let alone the whole book, they will see as I do: Jamie has no need for drawing when her words bring to life the image she wishes for us to see. This short collection of essays is a beautiful collection. Two of the larger essays cover Jamie’s time working on archaeological digs, and the others are more like thoughts whilst traveling. There is a deeper purpose to all these essays than just showing us what Jamie has seen. In the first essay, Jamie talks of the erosion that will destroy what is left of a community’s history; in ‘Links of Noltland’ we hear of erosion once again eradicating a long-lost history. In ‘Links of Noltland,’ Jamie thinks about what an alien race might ask of us: “‘Was your world once wild?’ a distant intelligence might ask. Yes, we’d say. Till it went under our ploughs and the hooves of our cattle. Under the weight of our stuff.” We are constantly reminded of how we have made our presence on this planet toxic. Not just to the land but to the people too. This book is a collection of stories that will stay with you forever, and make you wonder what life might be like if we started to love our planet once again. I will end on this quote: “You are not lost. You followed your map. There is a path – there is always a path through the wood; there has been since the dawn of time. The trees step aside to make one… You are not lost, just melodramatic. The path is at your feet, see? Now carry on.”

  4. 5 out of 5

    Paul

    Life feels like one headlong rush at times. The phone squeaks constantly with notifications, demanding attention now, the 24 hour news fills our lives with politics and despair and yet time goes no faster than it did 5000 years ago. It grinds ceaselessly on, covering memories and objects with its gossamer-thin seconds. To go back in time, we need to unearth our landscapes and memories. Time is a spiral. What goes around comes around. The book opens with her in Alaska helping at an archaeological d Life feels like one headlong rush at times. The phone squeaks constantly with notifications, demanding attention now, the 24 hour news fills our lives with politics and despair and yet time goes no faster than it did 5000 years ago. It grinds ceaselessly on, covering memories and objects with its gossamer-thin seconds. To go back in time, we need to unearth our landscapes and memories. Time is a spiral. What goes around comes around. The book opens with her in Alaska helping at an archaeological dig in a Yup’ik village. The site is normally frozen most of the year, but in the summer the cold relents, normally allowing the top four or five inches to be uncovered, however, climate change means that the permafrost is thawing to a depth of half a metre allowing more secrets of its hunter-gatherer past to be revealed. The objects that they are finding are enabling the village to re-discover their past. They found dance masks that were discarded after missionaries told them it was devil worship and for the first time in a very long time performed a dance that was pieced together from the elder’s memories. The landscape was astonishing. There was nothing I wanted to do more than sit quietly and look at it, come to terms with its vastness. Her next excursion to the past is at the Links of Noltland, up in Orkney. This Neolithic site has been covered by dunes and what they have found here was last seen by human eyes thousands of years ago. The need to excavate and understand just what is there, is urgent as it is subject to erosion from the storms that the Atlantic brings, as well as the other pressure of funding to carry out the work being stopped because of budget pressures. These people were only a step away from the wild and had short brutal lives and yet they were skilled enough to have devised a method when they built their homes to keep out the relentless wind. They fill your hands, these fragments, these stories, but with a wide gesture, you cast them back across the field again. Jamie writes of time spent in Xiahe in Tibet in her younger days, at the time of the student protests and the clampdown of martial law in the region and the palpable tension in the area. They explore as much as they can, but because they are foreigners, they have an undue amount of attention directed towards them, including the inevitable night raid by the police. There are other essays in here too, almost short interludes between the longer pieces. She stops her car to watch the mastery an eagle has over the air and consider the timelessness of a woodland. Some of the essays are more personal too, she recalls the moment of her fathers passing and struggles to hear her mother and grandmothers voices in her mind. A new Kathleen Jamie book is a thing of joy, and Surfacing does not disappoint at all. Her wonderful writing is layered, building images of the things that she sees, until you the reader, feel immersed in the same place that she inhabited. Some of the essays are very moving, Elders in particular, but also The Wind Horse where you sense the tension in the town from what she observes. Her skill as a poet means, for me at least, that her writing has a way of helping you seen the world around in a new and different light, revealing as much from the shadows as from the obvious and this book is no different.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Claire

    In her first book of essays Findings, she talks about her attempts to observe better, to stop naming things, to really see. She wants to move away from labelling and identifying, towards painting a picture with words. Surfacing is her third collection and it’s brilliant, practiced in the art of observation she takes us with her on a voyage, helps us see with the eye of a naturalist, sharing her experience with respect for the environment, acknowledging the privilege. The Reindeer Cave In the first In her first book of essays Findings, she talks about her attempts to observe better, to stop naming things, to really see. She wants to move away from labelling and identifying, towards painting a picture with words. Surfacing is her third collection and it’s brilliant, practiced in the art of observation she takes us with her on a voyage, helps us see with the eye of a naturalist, sharing her experience with respect for the environment, acknowledging the privilege. The Reindeer Cave In the first essay, written in the second person ‘You‘, the author has hiked up a glen to the cave, thinking about the Ice Age and the preciousness of life, as she observes six red deer on the hillside opposite, equally startled no doubt. Not half an hour ago you were walking beside the burn in a narrow ravine further up the glen. You heard something, glanced up to see a large rock bounce then plummet into the burn twenty five yards in front of you. The echo faded but your heart was still hammering as you backed away. Deep within the hillside, in the passage of an underground stream, the bones of a bear were found by cave-divers. Carbon dated, they were found to be forty-five thousand years old. A long sleep, even for a bear: sixteen million days and nights had passed in the upper world. Long enough for the ice to return, then yield again, then return in one last snap, then leave for good – or at least for now. At the cave mouth she wonders whether the ice will ever return, a natural cycle, or if we’re too far gone with our Anthropocene. Next to the last page is a black and white photograph of a valley, mist in the distance; as I look closely I see something appear out of the mist. This is a book you must read the printed version, or you will miss the apparition. A Reflection The second essay begins as Jamie is taking a train north (in Scotland), sitting on the landward side she watches wintry fields pass by, passengers on the opposite side have a sea view. Drifting in and out of daydreaming she notices the sea superimposed over fields of brown earth. Then disappear. A moment later it flashed back again, a stretch of sea, silvery over the land, but only for a few seconds. By now I was sitting up, interested in this phenomenon. The fields on the left gave way to pinewoods, the train tilted a little and, yes, the sea’s reflection flashed on again, this time above the trees. If I narrowed my eyes I could see both sea and trees at once. And now there was a ship! A ghostly tanker was sailing over the pine trees. She continues to Aberdeen and visits a museum. Interested in Arctic artefacts, it is at the Aberdeen University museum she first hears about archaeologist Rick Knecht and his work in Alaska, the subject of the next essay. In Quinhagak Jamie takes a six-seater plane from a small airport in Alaska, where pilots enter the waiting area, call out the name of their village then lead passengers across the tarmac. Nervous because the name is so unfamiliar, she hears the call for Quinhagak and follows two other passengers behind the pilot to the plane. The pilot had long red hair tied in a loose bun with a biro stuck through it. In the plane she readied herself, then half turned in her seat. ‘You guys definitely going to Quinhagak? Just checking! Okay. There’s emergency supplies in the back.’ The village is the home of the Yup’ik, indigenous people of the circumpolar north; an archaeological site Nunallaq (meaning old village) sits at the edge of the tundra, a couple of miles away near the beach. As the sea erodes the land, it is slowly revealing the 500 year old village and its cultural heritage, its resilience. The dig is in it’s fifth season, at the end of every season all the finds are air freighted to Aberdeen to be cleaned, preserved and catalogued. At the end of the excavation, however, there would be a great return. All the thousands of artefacts would go home to the Yup’ik land where they belonged, legally and morally. The dig is revitalising traditional skills that had been lost, local people interested in the items found are beginning to make replicas, relearning old techniques. They are people who have learned to adapt. Their houses stand on stilts due to thawing of permafrost. Nothing can be buried. Any warm structure on the ground would cause the ground to melt and heave, collapsing the structure. Between walks with her binoculars and helping out at the dig, sometimes facing seaward, other times landward, she observes life. At the end of each day people gather at the shed to view the days finds; on the last day of the season there will be a grand ‘show and tell’. I noticed that people notice. George had noticed me looking. They notice the bog cotton and its passing, an influx of owls, that there are bears around. The whole place must be in constant conversation with itself, holding knowledge collectively. Near the end of her stay, she is invited to a birthday party with a couple of others. They arrive, there are introductions, they gave their names. As we did so, Sarah looked at us from head to toe appraisingly, and then bestowed on each of us a Yup’ik name several syllables long. It seemed to delight her, matching us to these names by I don’t know what qualities. I understood that these names, which we now bore as well as our own, were the names of family members who had died. So it was as revenants, rather than strangers that we were welcomed into Sarah’s home. Later when they are introduced to one particular elder with their new Yup’ik names, the mention of those lost people affects the old lady deeply, she hugs them each warmly. Links of Noltland I, II, III The second lengthy essay finds the author at another dig, one whose archaeology has been buried for five thousand years on the island of Orkney. 'What's happening is significant really to...well, to archaeology, but also to us, the human race.' It is a Neothilic and Bronze Age settlement site that has been in operation for a number of years and could go on for many more, if they had the surety of funding. They do not. 'There's enough here for thirty PhDs on bone alone,' said Graeme, 'Decades worth of work.' 'If HES really pull out what will happen?' 'We'll have to look elsewhere and make all kinds of promises. We can't look to the EU anymore.' There is not just the work on site, but a Victorian building stacked with their findings, she visits and is shown beads bones and stones and imagines who those people were. For a moment, out of the twenty-first-century plastic boxes stacked in the gloomy Victorian store, there emerged a vision of people clothed in animal hides, bearing spiral-designed pots, with hair braided, hanging with beads, people crazy about cattle, young people prematurely old, as we would think now. The most famous find, discovered in 2009 is kept in the Heritage centre, where they have a small section, most of the centre given over to the more recent Viking finds. The 'Westway wife' is the earliest representation we have of a human, in the UK, and she has become a motif for the site, almost a tourist attraction, if toursits can be drawn to a sandstone figure not four centimetres high on a faraway island. Jamie asks about local interest in their ancient dig and is surprised by the response. 'They're interested but not connected. It's only the Viking they're interested in. It's the Vikings the Orkney and Shetland islanders identify with. They're not British, not Scottish, they're Norse. Not prehistoric. Viking.' 'But the Vikings are so recent, relatively.' 'The Vikings "won",' said Hazel with a shrug. 'What do you mean the Vikings "won"?' I asked reluctantly, thinking of the ancient burial mound I could see from my window, which the Vikings had chosen to use as a fishing station. 'Just that. After the Vikings arrived, all traces of the older culture ceased. That's what the archaeology is suggesting.' Some years ago the team found cows' skulls set into the walls of one of the buildings they'd excavated, a complete ring of cattle skulls, all placed upside down with the horns facing into the room. The wall had been built up over them, no longer visible, but presumably their presence had been felt by whoever built it. There are other sites over Europe where cattle skulls have been found and often a rush to come to conclusions, resulting in dramatic headlines of massacre or sacrifice, but this team have a different take on it, believing them to have had symbolic or aesthetic significance. 'Remember', said Graeme, 'these animals would have had biographies. They would have been known as individuals. As personalities. Spoken about.' 'Named?' 'Maybe.' 'You think they revered their cows?' 'Worshipped!' Hazel Laughed. She goes to meet a couple who are organic cattle farmers, it seems like the only living link to the Neolithic people. They moved onto the farm one day and ploughed up the ryegrass the next, to plant a species-rich herbal lay, with thirty varieties of grass, which has seen a great increase in insects and wormcasts. They now have a herd of twenty-three milking cows. With names. And personalities. And a bull named Eric. 'Lots of bulls here are called Eric. I think its a Viking thing.' The couple make an artisan cheese in the style of alpine French cheeses called 'Westray Wife' a little picture of the Neolithic figurine features on their labels. In the second part of the essay she returns for the end of the season, the closing of the site and in the third part she writes the story of the Neolithic people, the culmination of observation and imagination. Surfacing Although 'Surfacing'is a metaphor which aptly describes the book's theme and is appropriate for narratives about archaeological digs, it is also the title of a vignette about the author's mother and grandmother. Your losing their voices. When did that happen? You're forgetting the sound of your mother's voice,and your grandmother's. They died within eighteen months of each other a decade ago and today you realise you can't quite bring their voices to mind. A Tibetan Dog A wonderful little essay that recounts an experience with a little terrier in a Tibetan town and his return in a dream many years later, a symbol she interprets on awaking, like a message from the subconscious she immediately understood. The Wind Horse The final longer essay is one pulled from old notebooks and memories of her twenty-seven year old self, travelling far from home, a woman who wanted to become a writer, starting out. It is notably different to the earlier essays, more of a travelogue, less present, more self-conscious, there's a passivity to travelling through a place without purpose. I realise what is missing. I could look and smile, but what did I learn of their lives, the prostrating Tibetan pilgrims, the stallholder deftly working an abacus, the ice-cream girl with her barrow, who sat with her chin in her hands when business was slack? Nothing at all. A tall monk who wore brown robes and a topknot was staying at their hotel. He may have been a Taoist, he may have been Japanese, I don't know, and I regret that I didn't try to speak to him. This reticence confirms for me what has become one of her strengths in the earlier long pieces. The thing that has also surfaced, Jamie's generosity and respect for those she interacts with, she gives voice to others, her observations are an amalgam of her own observations and insights and those of the many other passionate participants or locals she encounters in her meanderings. I so enjoy and value how the essays draw you in to her experience, she achieves just the right balance of nature and humanity, of observation and interaction, of imagination and reality. Her work is like a patchwork quilt, made up of different colours and textures, bringing in all the elements that make a community, whether its 5,000 or 500 years old or from the present. This could well be her best collection yet.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Peter Tillman

    Nice WSJ review: https://www.wsj.com/articles/surfacin... (paywalled). Excerpts: "At an archaeological dig in coastal Alaska, where Ms. Jamie is helping to excavate a buried village settled by natives some five centuries earlier, she thinks she smells “mince and tatties,” a hearty Scottish dish of meat and potatoes. Is she having some sort of olfactory hallucination evoked by her childhood? The scent, Ms. Jamie discovers, is from a part of the freshly unearthed site where seals and walruses were Nice WSJ review: https://www.wsj.com/articles/surfacin... (paywalled). Excerpts: "At an archaeological dig in coastal Alaska, where Ms. Jamie is helping to excavate a buried village settled by natives some five centuries earlier, she thinks she smells “mince and tatties,” a hearty Scottish dish of meat and potatoes. Is she having some sort of olfactory hallucination evoked by her childhood? The scent, Ms. Jamie discovers, is from a part of the freshly unearthed site where seals and walruses were once skinned. “The air is so clean and sharp,” she writes, “you can smell seal-meat from five hundred years ago.” . . . Listening to an Alaskan tribal member tell of the uncanny homing instinct of sled dogs, Ms. Jamie confesses that “I was unsure whether the event [he recounted] happened to him, or his grandfather, or someone else entirely. I don’t know whether it matters.” For a student of nature, she hints, time becomes a casual continuum, much like the fabled temporal stream in which Henry David Thoreau went a-fishing. Ms. Jamie appears more gregarious than Thoreau and most other nature writers. While the genre is deeply populated by solitaries, her essays brim with people. “Surfacing” also chronicles her travels in Tibet, but some of the book’s most memorable essays grow from her native soil in Scotland, including “Elders,” an affectionate portrait of her aged father, who passes away in a “chair turned toward the window.”

  7. 4 out of 5

    Michael Livingston

    Ridiculous that I didn't buy this as soon as it came out - Jamie is one of the best nature writers there is, and this is a beautiful collection of essays. There are three long pieces - two on archaeological digs and one on a youthful trip to Tibet(ish) - interspersed with beautiful short observational essays. She's interested in nature and landscape, but also people and history and life.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Marcus Hobson

    Four-and-a-half, almost five, stars. Upfront confession. This book is full of things that I love. There are ancient artifacts, archaeology, and birds. Up close and personal with all of those are real human emotions that deal with our ancestors and how we treat them, whether they are simply our father, getting by on his own, or our more distant forefathers five hundred or five thousand years ago. All of it is very real. I love the way that birds drop into all these stories, just like they do, unnot Four-and-a-half, almost five, stars. Upfront confession. This book is full of things that I love. There are ancient artifacts, archaeology, and birds. Up close and personal with all of those are real human emotions that deal with our ancestors and how we treat them, whether they are simply our father, getting by on his own, or our more distant forefathers five hundred or five thousand years ago. All of it is very real. I love the way that birds drop into all these stories, just like they do, unnoticed, in real life. Travelling the narrow roads of Orkney there are pipits and wagtails. Often there is a lark overhead. Along the shore lines of Orkney and Alaska there are waders like turnstones or sanderlings, geese overhead or loons calling. Things not everyone notices, but things I always see. For me they set my place and season, spring or autumn movements, summer or winter visitors. They give me a whole other story, little changed, going on as it has in the background, for centuries. Surfacing is a collection of twelve very different stories. Most are very short, but three are long and complex. In those three we travel around the globe, from the Alaskan coast on the Bering Sea, to the Orkney Islands off northern Scotland and finally to China and the boarders of Tibet. Our timeframe is no less expansive, visiting the five-hundred-year-old remains of ancestors in Alaska to five thousand year old settlements in Orkney. In China we drop back into the author’s more distant past of the late 1980s. Sitting beneath the stories are the underlying concerns about the impact of climate changing on the planet. The reason that archaeologists are digging is the melting of the permafrost, or the changing winds and tides that have removed the sand dunes of Orkney. In Quinhagak, Alaska, we listen to the difficulties of perspective: “In a place with no rocks and no trees, the shape sat squarish, dark, prominent. I stood on the top of a clump of earth and trained the binoculars. Even so, the animal was at the edge of my vision. How many miles away, I couldn’t say. Now I was fixated, waiting for the moment the creature moved and revealed its nature. It could be a woman picking berries, as it was berry season. Perhaps even a bear. We had been warned against walking down that way, alone. They kept a gun at the sight, just in case. I wanted this distant creature to be a bear. It was surely large enough. A bear eating berries on the tundra – how thrilling! I watched till my eyes strained. But then after long minutes, my woman-or-bear spread two black wings and took to the air. A raven! A raven, visible as an event on the landscape…Clearly there was work to do with scale…The past can spill out of the earth, become the present.” As the permafrost melts, the objects of daily life from a five-hundred-year-old settlement are thrown to the surface and need to be quickly gathered in the short summer, before the tides wash them away or the sun dries them out. Jamie joins the archaeologists on their dig, watches as finds are gathered and then again as the items are shown to the Yup’ik elders who can place them in context and give them meaning. Past and present feel very close together. Everyone feels close to nature. “I liked that people talked so readily and unembarrassedly about animals and birds and the land. They didn’t give ‘information’, instead they told incidents, anecdotes. Like coming at a subject sideways, not straight on.” Moving to the Orkney Isles, the weather has removed the dunes to expose a settlement that was first made by the Neolithic peoples, five thousand years ago. When Jamie arrives on the site and joins this second group of diggers, she gives us this wonderful introduction: “Hazel led me round, introducing me to the team as they worked. In truth I saw their motley garments before I registered their faces, as they unbent from the ground: earth-caked jeans and fluorescent jackets, knitted headbands and piratical scarves, everyone seemed weather-worn under the Orkney light and salt winds. Archaeologists are accustomed to appraising what turns up; I felt duly appraised.” Kathleen Jamie is a poet, and that keen eye for observation and language shines through in these twelve stories. Take your time though, because there are deeper, subtler themes running through this book, waiting to be unpicked.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Jillian Doherty

    With a need for calm and focus, that only quality nature writing can offer, Jamie shares ecology insight through a poets voice. Opening with her daydreaming on train, reflecting on artifacts she's seen in local museums and how they transform you back to her original experiences with them. It's an effortless transition to beautiful passages about landscape, discovery, and awakening, with a deep cultural and climate understanding. Jamie characterizes herself in Robert Lewis Stevenson words 'a stro With a need for calm and focus, that only quality nature writing can offer, Jamie shares ecology insight through a poets voice. Opening with her daydreaming on train, reflecting on artifacts she's seen in local museums and how they transform you back to her original experiences with them. It's an effortless transition to beautiful passages about landscape, discovery, and awakening, with a deep cultural and climate understanding. Jamie characterizes herself in Robert Lewis Stevenson words 'a strong Scott's accent of the mind'. Galley borrowed from the publisher.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Ruth Brookes

    An astonishing book, Kathleen Jamie’s Surfacing is a collection of essays predominantly about our collective past and the objects which shape & bind us to our land and homes. Roaming from archeological digs on an Alaskan shore and a Scottish island, to travels through China, a woodland walk and thoughts on a train. Overarching all this is a book about looking and seeing; examining space, light, nature, pondering history and the remembering of that which has been forgotten. Jamie takes everyday ob An astonishing book, Kathleen Jamie’s Surfacing is a collection of essays predominantly about our collective past and the objects which shape & bind us to our land and homes. Roaming from archeological digs on an Alaskan shore and a Scottish island, to travels through China, a woodland walk and thoughts on a train. Overarching all this is a book about looking and seeing; examining space, light, nature, pondering history and the remembering of that which has been forgotten. Jamie takes everyday objects, our own and archeological finds, she takes the quiet moments of her days, aging, the loss of parents, children grown, memories of youthful travels, fleeting moments of freedom, life and all its precious, transitory rush. Throughout is conveyed a deep rooted sense of connection and the weight and passage of time. Aware of our place in the world, Jamie holds both the fragility and resilience of humanity up to view with a clear eyed patience. Tactile, visceral, and grounded in place Surfacing is a kind of homecoming, fascinating, powerful and moving.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Laura

    Surfacing is Kathleen Jamie’s third collection of nature-writing essays, following Findings and Sightlines, both of which I enjoyed immensely. Unlike her previous two collections, Surfacing is dominated by two novella-length pieces on archaeological digs and their relationship with the landscape around them – ‘In Quinhagak’ explores the University of Aberdeen’s excavations at the Nunalleq site near the Yup’ik village of Quinhagak in Alaska, while ‘Links of Noltland’ focuses on the excavation of Surfacing is Kathleen Jamie’s third collection of nature-writing essays, following Findings and Sightlines, both of which I enjoyed immensely. Unlike her previous two collections, Surfacing is dominated by two novella-length pieces on archaeological digs and their relationship with the landscape around them – ‘In Quinhagak’ explores the University of Aberdeen’s excavations at the Nunalleq site near the Yup’ik village of Quinhagak in Alaska, while ‘Links of Noltland’ focuses on the excavation of Neolithic remains on Orkney. The former essay is especially interesting because of the presence of the Yup’ik community, who support the archaeological dig because it’s uncovering evidence of their pre-contact culture. As Jamie writes, ‘It’s about saying, this is yours. Everything you feared you lost, or never even knew you had. Look. It’s here. It’s back.’ The Links of Noltland dig, exploring a time unfathomably more ancient, has no such direct living connection, but the meticulous work of the archaeologists builds up a sense of what the community must have been like. At one point, Jamie is helping two of the researchers, Dan and Anna, explore a particular patch: '[Dan] had the enclosure wall to deal with and, in its lee, many flints. His patch was covered in little polythene bags, each containing a bit of flint. Anna and I, just a metre further into the enclosure, had only brown earth which yielded occasional small morsels of bone. I pretended outrage when Hazel came by. “Miss! It’s not fair! He’s getting all these finds, and we’re not.” Hazel’s answer seemed visionary. She glanced and said, “They must have been sitting on the wall, flint-knapping.” Sat right there on their village wall in the afternoon sunshine, working and chatting. I almost saw them.' Jamie’s writing is as clear and brilliant as ever, but this collection felt slightly unbalanced by the dominance of these two long pieces. None of the very short pieces interspersed throughout worked for me, although I enjoyed a couple of the medium-length pieces; ‘The Wind Horse’, a bit of a departure from Jamie’s usual work, evocatively returns to her travels as a young woman in Xiahe, which is formally part of China but ‘ethnically and culturally Tibetan’, and ‘Elders’ is a moving piece about the ageing and death of her dad. Unlike Sightlines, Surfacing is also less successful at pulling together Jamie’s travel-writing with her emotional reflections on her own life; both are present in this book but tend to be explored in separate essays. Nevertheless, I would recommend this thoughtful, beautiful collection, especially if you are interested in questions of historical and cultural preservation.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Nick Swarbrick

    My review -of sorts: really some reflections- of this magical book, so full of amazingly vivid turns of phrase, is to be found here: https://nicktomjoestory.news.blog/202... Personal and yet looking somehow beyond Jamie as narrator, this is moving, well crafted and enlightening. My review -of sorts: really some reflections- of this magical book, so full of amazingly vivid turns of phrase, is to be found here: https://nicktomjoestory.news.blog/202... Personal and yet looking somehow beyond Jamie as narrator, this is moving, well crafted and enlightening.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Maggie Duval

    Archaeology, cultural history, prose poetry. I love the essay form and I especially love when poets explore the world and document their impressions. Timeless, ephemeral, and transcendent. I felt deeply connected and present, witnessing the experiences through her senses.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Patricia

    A poet in her essays too, Jamie potently evokes Alaska, the Orkneys, Tibet, the local woods where she goes for release. An archaeologist, her essays delve through layers on layers of time and perspective. I stretched the reading to last over several Sundays and look forward to reading it again.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Chantal Lyons

    Kathleen Jamie does NOT get enough attention. This is her third book of essays that I've read, and they are gorgeous - they make me smile, and pause in wonder. The nature-writing scene is a crowded one these days. There are very well-known authors, like Robert Macfarlane. And I enjoy books like his - but unlike him and others, Kathleen Jamie's writing is always without pretension. She never feels the need to dress her thoughts up in florid language - she writes the moment. There are so many love Kathleen Jamie does NOT get enough attention. This is her third book of essays that I've read, and they are gorgeous - they make me smile, and pause in wonder. The nature-writing scene is a crowded one these days. There are very well-known authors, like Robert Macfarlane. And I enjoy books like his - but unlike him and others, Kathleen Jamie's writing is always without pretension. She never feels the need to dress her thoughts up in florid language - she writes the moment. There are so many lovely parts to this book. Sentences I've had to read out to friends, ones I wish I'd written. There are the surprising funny bits, too - the author isn't afraid to add the occasional irreverent comment (seals watching Netflix...). I wait with whetted appetite for her next masterpiece.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Florence Lacey

    I loved Findings and Sightlines but this is even better. Surfacing follows the same format of beautifully crafted essays that link in unusual, almost subterranean ways but the frame of the collection is vast, spanning millennia and taking us from the edge of the Bering Sea to the borders of Tibet, to the sand dunes of the Orkneys to a window in Fife. And the last essay, ‘The Voice of the Wood’ is so moving, quietly so. This is a book that will linger long in the mind. I know now what I’m giving I loved Findings and Sightlines but this is even better. Surfacing follows the same format of beautifully crafted essays that link in unusual, almost subterranean ways but the frame of the collection is vast, spanning millennia and taking us from the edge of the Bering Sea to the borders of Tibet, to the sand dunes of the Orkneys to a window in Fife. And the last essay, ‘The Voice of the Wood’ is so moving, quietly so. This is a book that will linger long in the mind. I know now what I’m giving everyone for Christmas.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Kathleen Gray

    It's hard to characterize this- it's a memoir, it's nature writing, it's a call to make changes in how we treat the world- but it's beautifully written. It's also educational. There are three settings- Alaska, Orkney, and Tibet- and each proves important to Jamie's life. There are also smaller essays which touch on a variety of issues but which tie the major essays together. In Alaska, Jamie worked on an archeological dig and learned not only about the Yup' ik people, but also the effects of cli It's hard to characterize this- it's a memoir, it's nature writing, it's a call to make changes in how we treat the world- but it's beautifully written. It's also educational. There are three settings- Alaska, Orkney, and Tibet- and each proves important to Jamie's life. There are also smaller essays which touch on a variety of issues but which tie the major essays together. In Alaska, Jamie worked on an archeological dig and learned not only about the Yup' ik people, but also the effects of climate change. In Orkney, she worked on a neolithic site. I was most interested in Xiahe, ethnically Tibetan but technically in China but most affected by "Elders". Thanks to Edelweiss for the ARC. I'd not read Jamie before but I'll look for her writing in the future.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Catie

    Recommendation on Tea & Tattle Podcast Recommendation on Tea & Tattle Podcast

  19. 5 out of 5

    Anthe

    Loved this all around, but the last chapter/essay really hit me. I might never read anything but nature autobiography again.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Parvathy

    Another lovely collection of essays from Kathleen Jamie, who is fast becoming my favourite contemporary writer. Alaska, Orkney, Tibet... exotic places that Jamie writes about here, quietly observant, deeply engaged. The archeology parts in this collection are long and can get tedious. But Surfacing continues the gorgeous work of Jamie that we discovered in Findings and Sightlines.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Eduardo

    About what comes and goes, appears and disappears in the ever-changing flow of space-time..., about the connections, disconnections and re-connections of elements flowing along..., the shifting, the overlaying, the juxtaposing, the lost and found, the fleeting and flitting..., youths who become old, old who pass away, skies bone-white, bones built in stone walls..., otherness rendered as self. Here's about close attention, about pausing, sensing, attuning... Here's a prose collection of subtlety a About what comes and goes, appears and disappears in the ever-changing flow of space-time..., about the connections, disconnections and re-connections of elements flowing along..., the shifting, the overlaying, the juxtaposing, the lost and found, the fleeting and flitting..., youths who become old, old who pass away, skies bone-white, bones built in stone walls..., otherness rendered as self. Here's about close attention, about pausing, sensing, attuning... Here's a prose collection of subtlety and measured pathos - plain storytelling, contained lyricism, a compassionate eye..., honest, humble, credible, graceful, empathetic..., down to earth, up from it. A book I will re-read in due course.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Donna

    Another lovely selection of essays revolving around things coming to surface. Things get buried; artifacts, garbage, history, youth, life. Then they surface, whether through arduous digging or a fleeting moment that recalls a memory and then there it is, what we’ve been hiding from. I love the journeys that Ms. Jamie shares with us who read .

  23. 5 out of 5

    Caroline

    3.75 stars I found this book of mostly nature & anthropology essays to be quite pleasant, but not particularly satisfying. I wanted more, especially from the third essay on Tibet. I did appreciate the way Jamie ties all of her essays together with the overarching theme of what can surface when we dredge up the past, as well as connecting her topics to climate change. I realized that I already have one of her poetry collections on my Goodreads TBR shelf, and I really would like to get to that soon 3.75 stars I found this book of mostly nature & anthropology essays to be quite pleasant, but not particularly satisfying. I wanted more, especially from the third essay on Tibet. I did appreciate the way Jamie ties all of her essays together with the overarching theme of what can surface when we dredge up the past, as well as connecting her topics to climate change. I realized that I already have one of her poetry collections on my Goodreads TBR shelf, and I really would like to get to that sooner rather than later because I think her writing is best when she's digging into poetic language. Recommended if you're interested in archeology, indigenous peoples reclaiming their culture, and/or nature writing.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Doug Beagrie

    There are not enough stars for 'Surfacing'. Kathleen Jamie is brilliant.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Jim Folger

    Surfacing is one of the more difficult books to characterize. The dust jacket’s description as a “blend of memoir, cultural history, and travelogue” is a good start. For me, the first 100 pages devoted to Jamie’s trip to the village of Quinhagak in Alaska and learning about the Yup’ik natives was very interesting. The people were richly described. Insights were provided into hunter gatherers who have survived for centuries and will change their habits to survive in the future. As one described: Surfacing is one of the more difficult books to characterize. The dust jacket’s description as a “blend of memoir, cultural history, and travelogue” is a good start. For me, the first 100 pages devoted to Jamie’s trip to the village of Quinhagak in Alaska and learning about the Yup’ik natives was very interesting. The people were richly described. Insights were provided into hunter gatherers who have survived for centuries and will change their habits to survive in the future. As one described: “Why go someplace? We got the river, salmon, trout, fresh water.” The next sections of book proved progressively less and less interesting. The Links of Noltland, and the archeological dig that discovered the Westray Wife in 2009 devoted too much time to discussing the daily lives of the archaeologists. The author had an interest in the topic which could have been satisfied with a good article in National Geographic or Smithsonian. After leaving northern Scotland Jamie “surfaces” to discuss her mother and then a bout with cancer, which encouraged a re-visiting of her time as a young adult, when she traveled to Tibet, probably seeking an escape from an impending divorce. Here we spend too much time reading her travelogue memoirs, and not learning quite as much as we would like about the different personalities involved. For example, there is the enigmatic Elena – an Italian who speaks Chinese, English, Tibetan and spent two years in Lhasa. She comes and goes we no not where, during a time of rebellious protests. Only at the end do we discover she is a former heroin addict. The author is to be commended on a great job in keeping a diary of her life during these different interludes. She could recall the detail of eating a cookie. Her poetry background is evident on some of the descriptions and observation she makes. The book could have been improved through some better photos. The grainy black & white photos most certainly did not do justice to the real places she visited. The memoirs should have included dates when things were transpiring – it was very difficult to understand what years were being described. To conclude, before I read this book for the first time, I would have been well served to do some Google research to get background on Kathleen Jamie, Quinhagak, Alaska, the Links of Nortland, Scotland and Xiahe, Tibet in 1989.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Angela Young

    The sea was calm. No one else was on the beach, only some birds and two seals watching me from a few yards out on the water. I stood at the water's edge and sang the seals a song about time and change, and the seals, out of courtesy, listened.This comes at the end of Links of Notland 1 from Kathleen Jamie's Surfacing. She's been taking part in an architectural dig that revealed Neolithic dwellings and Viking dwellings and much more besides. But because Jamie is a poet, when she writes prose she The sea was calm. No one else was on the beach, only some birds and two seals watching me from a few yards out on the water. I stood at the water's edge and sang the seals a song about time and change, and the seals, out of courtesy, listened.This comes at the end of Links of Notland 1 from Kathleen Jamie's Surfacing. She's been taking part in an architectural dig that revealed Neolithic dwellings and Viking dwellings and much more besides. But because Jamie is a poet, when she writes prose she writes poetically. What better way to sum up the times and existences revealed from the digs at Links of Noltland (which, roughly translated, means: The Sandy Dunes of the Land of the Cattle) than with a song about time and change sung, flung perhaps, out towards the seas across which these peoples first travelled? To read about far-flung places in the middle of one of the world's largest metropoles (there are pieces from the West Highlands of Scotland, eastern Scotland, the Orkneys: the suffixes ey, ay and a mean island in old Norse, as in Westray, Ronaldsay, Hoy; Alaska, Tibet and from the interior of the human mind) is to travel in the mind and to travel large, without moving, through Jamie's inspired and inspiring prose. All manner of things surface from the earth, from the mind, from conversations, from sights unfamiliar. There are two companion volumes Sightlines and Findings, both of which were published before Surfacing; both of which I've been dipping into (all three were 2019 Christmas presents) and I'll continue to dip into because I'd like Jamie's prose to keep surfacing in my own mind.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Robin

    My favorite of all the books I’ve read in 2019, Surfacing engages both heart and senses, and does so without pretension. This series of essays can be categorized as memoir or travelogue, but also informs us both historically and on very current events. Jamie uses language beautifully and directly, with no wasted words. She filled my imagination with vivid images and told stories that I easily related to, even though I’ve never been to any of the places she describes. “In Quinhagak,” my favorite e My favorite of all the books I’ve read in 2019, Surfacing engages both heart and senses, and does so without pretension. This series of essays can be categorized as memoir or travelogue, but also informs us both historically and on very current events. Jamie uses language beautifully and directly, with no wasted words. She filled my imagination with vivid images and told stories that I easily related to, even though I’ve never been to any of the places she describes. “In Quinhagak,” my favorite essay, takes place in Alaska where the author assists archaeologists on a unique quest to save and catalog artifacts from a 500 year old civilization. Buried for centuries, climate change is thawing the site and exposing it to ocean waves. As native Yu’piks examine the artifacts, elders remember, and children experience for the first time their antecedents and traditional ways of life. “Links of Noltland” describes a decades-old archaeological dig in Jamie’s native Scotland. In brilliant contrast to the Quinhagak dig, funding is drying up for Noltland. Workers exhaust themselves, working long hours excavating as much of the Bronze Age and Neolithic Era civilizations as possible, knowing the probability that their work will necessarily end soon. Other stories include an attempted trip to Lhasa during a time when the Chinese government oppressed both its citizens and foreigners, poignant visits with family elders, and the simple observation of an eagle in flight. Arranged in a pleasing order, these stories form a satisfying whole. Highly recommend for fans of memoir, short stories, archaeology and culture, and poetic language that is direct and non-flowery.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Timothy Neesam

    A friend recently made a face when I described Kathleen Jamie's latest collection of essays as being about mortality. It is, but it's not. I think it's more a book about time, and how the past, particularly personal belongings, can make its presence significant in our present lives. We begin with explorations of people living in and affected by archaeology sites, the first in Quinhagak, on the west coast of Alaska, the other on Westray island in the Scotland's Orkneys archipelago. Jamie also rec A friend recently made a face when I described Kathleen Jamie's latest collection of essays as being about mortality. It is, but it's not. I think it's more a book about time, and how the past, particularly personal belongings, can make its presence significant in our present lives. We begin with explorations of people living in and affected by archaeology sites, the first in Quinhagak, on the west coast of Alaska, the other on Westray island in the Scotland's Orkneys archipelago. Jamie also recounts the plight of a pair of young Chinese artists and an Italian traveller who disappears during a visit to China around the time of the Tiananmen Square massacre, her cancer diagnosis, the death of her father, and a poem sent to Mars in 2018 is cause for reflection about belongings and humanity. Like her other essay collections, Sightlines and Findings, Jamie's essays are down to earth but also highly evocative, thoughtful and thought-provoking. One of the best books I've read this year.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer

    More of the same from Kathleen Jamie - and that's good. Her locations and themes vary but are linked and the collection is varied in mood and length too, with her opening essay about her experiences at an Alaskan archaeology site forming a substantial part of the book. Her work is itself a kind of archaeology - I've used the word fossicking of a previous book and it is the right one here too - into her own past as well as that of locations and communities without writing a memoir exactly. So cle More of the same from Kathleen Jamie - and that's good. Her locations and themes vary but are linked and the collection is varied in mood and length too, with her opening essay about her experiences at an Alaskan archaeology site forming a substantial part of the book. Her work is itself a kind of archaeology - I've used the word fossicking of a previous book and it is the right one here too - into her own past as well as that of locations and communities without writing a memoir exactly. So clever to quietly team up a piece on her children preparing to launch themselves into the world with another about her own disturbing journey to Tibet many years before. The pairing of the melting permafrost discoveries and the indigenous community with the work being done in Orkney works especially well. It never feels as though Jamie is doing more than offering her observations and thoughts, she's not telling you what to think.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Alexandra

    Surfacing is a set of autobiographical essays reflecting about the past, on the timescale of one life and also of human history. Climate change is shifting rocks and soil across the global and the relics of ancient cultures are resurfacing. Jamie documents her time on archeological digs, making sense of what is left from cultures past and what was lost. The information about how to live and perhaps also an easier way of life. She explores the change in perspective given by time, but also priorit Surfacing is a set of autobiographical essays reflecting about the past, on the timescale of one life and also of human history. Climate change is shifting rocks and soil across the global and the relics of ancient cultures are resurfacing. Jamie documents her time on archeological digs, making sense of what is left from cultures past and what was lost. The information about how to live and perhaps also an easier way of life. She explores the change in perspective given by time, but also priority and values. In each of her essays there is stillness. Without being preachy, Jamie manages to reflect on how the earth and humans are changing, as if it is just the turning over of soil. She inhabits each essay without overpowering the characters she’s met within. Thus, each one becomes a vignette of character, place and time. As readers, we are offered a place by her side as she takes in her surroundings and grows. In that way, reading each essay is like receiving gift — a chance to experience a meditative grace — which we didn’t earn. And thus, Jamie redefined what poetic writing really is.

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