Reading, like speech, is an ancient, preliterate craft. We read the tracks and scat of animals, the depth and lustre of their coats, the set of their ears and the gait of their limbs. We read the horns of sheep, the teeth of horses. We read the weights and measures of the wind, the flight of birds, the surface of the sea, snow, fossils, broken rocks, the growth of shrubs and trees and lichens. We also read, of course, the voices that we hear. We read the speech of jays, ravens, hawks, frogs, wolves, and, in infinite detail, the voices, faces, gestures, coughs and postures of other human beings. This is a serious kind of reading, and it antedates all but the earliest, most involuntary form of writing, which is the leaving of prints and traces, the making of tracks.
[Robert Bringhurst, A Story as Sharp as a Knife (1999)]
I wrapped my tears in an ellum leaf
And left them under a stone…
[From Ezra Pound’s “La Fraisne” (1909). Some editions preface the poem with a note: “Scene: The Ash Wood of Malvern.” Fraisne = mod. French Frêne (Latin Fraxinus, English Ash). All of the trees mentioned in the poem are found in the Malvern Hills.]
Alii faciunt ex viminibus rotundas, alii e ligno ac corticibus, alii ex arbore cava, alii fictiles, alii etiam ex ferulis quadratus longas pedes circiter ternos, latas pedem, sed ita, ubi parum sunt quæ compleant, ut eas conangustent, in vasto loco inani ne despondeant animum.
Some make round hives out of withies, some make them of wood and bark, some from a hollow tree, some of earthenware, and others again from the fennel plant, making them rectangular, about three feet long and one foot across, except that, when the bees are too few to fill them, they reduce the size, so that the bees do not lose heart in a wide empty space.
[Marcus Terentius Varro, De re rustica 3.16.15 (trans. A.J. Graham)]