A Walk in Nizza

Exploring history, food, and culture between the Belbo river and the vineyard hills of Monferrato

Seeing Nature or, on the illusion of “nothing”


One of the things we hear more often, hereabouts, is

there’s nothing here!

especially applied to the countryside and nature thereof.
People go for a walk in the hills, and yes, ok, there’s the fields, and the woods, and the vineyards, but apart from that, many say, there is nothing.

The statement is debatable for two reasons.
The first is, there’s a lot of interesting stuff hidden away in the shrubbery: the occasional Romanic remains, the odd isolated chapel, small shacks lost among the vineyards, etc.
The second reason is, people fail to see the forest for the trees.
Or vice-versa.

I am an urban animal – I was born and raised in Turin, a 1-million people industrial city.
I learned at a tender age how to read the signs – traffic lights and bus-stops, graffiti and rusted fences.
I learned to navigate and read the urban landscape.

Being also a geologist, I also learned how to read and navigate the rural and wild landscape. Due to my professional upbringing, when I look at a mountain valley, I don’t just see the scenery, but also the processes going on.
This way of looking at the landscape can be extended to the plants, the fields, and every other little piece of that “nothing” that we perceive as such because of the fact that we learned to navigate a different environment.

Back in 2009, when I moved in these hills from the city, I had half an idea of writing a book, a small, pocket-sized book, the sort of book a father might carry along on a picnic with his family, and providing the answers to the questions children are wont to ask.

For reasons long to explain I never got around to write that book, but now I might as well take the opportunity and publish a few excerpts here on this blog.

The Natural NavigatorIn the meantime, I discovered the books by Tristan Gooley, and I can’t recommend them enough.
Currently, I am re-reading The Walker’s Guide to Outdoor Clues and Signs, (that in the USA is known as The Lost Art of Reading Nature’s Signs: Use Outdoor Clues to Find Your Way, Predict the Weather, Locate Water, Track Animals and Other Forgotten Skills) and an ebook version of The Natural Navigator is permanently loaded on my Kindle.
Gooley tends to be somewhat UK-centric in some of his books, but he is always informative and stimulating. His hands-on, practical approach to the observation of nature is excellent as it helps the reader memorize his instructions and suggestions. The countryside seen through the filter of Gooley’s books is everything but “nothing”.
Highly recommended for hikers, bicycle tourists and anyone with an interest in seeing the sights and getting in deep.
In the Belbo Valley, or anywhere else.


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