I wanted to do a quick tour of the nature books that kept me company in 2020, as much as a record for myself as anything else. I don’t get as much time to read now that Pig is here so all of these books were dipped-into and rediscovered as the year went by.
- The Wood for the Trees: A Long View of Nature by Richard Fortey
There were two books that kept me company as we moved through the year. I read them alongside the changing months. The first of these was The Wood for the Trees: A Long View of Nature by Richard Fortey. Richard Fortey is a scientist who bought a small beech wood when he retired. The book is a monthly chronicle of the wood, beginning in April. It is very charming and full of excellent details. His passion for the living things in his wood – the micro-creatures and the tallest tree – is evident in the care he takes when writing about them. There are some quite boring passages about the human history of the area which I must confess to skim-reading as I am a sleep deprived mother with no time for that nonsense. My most favourite sections were about spiders, the beech canopy and fungi. I think this book was a wedding present. Isn’t that a nice gift?
2. Janet Marsh’s Nature Diary
The second of my monthly companions was Janet Marsh’s Nature Diary. Published in 1979 this book is the diaries and observational watercolours of naturalist and painter Janet Marsh. What I liked about it is that it is a detailed record of the living things in one specific spot (the Itchen Valley in Hampshire). The author clearly knows the verges, fields and rivers around her house in intricate detail. She knows where to pause to look for water voles, where to check for a dormouse nest, when various wildflowers should bloom. It is an impressive collection. It left me feeling inspired to notice more of the natural world around me but also a little sad that some of the diversity that Janet saw in the 1970s was depleted. The artwork in my copy is a bit faded and yellow but I think that added some extra charm. This book was a particularly good companion during lockdown no.1 when Ross was furloughed and I had time to spend in the woodland recording the wildflowers as they emerged. I want to be Janet Marsh when I grow up.
3. Listen, Listen by Phillis Gershator (illustrated by Alison Jay)
This is one of our most-read books. Pig loves it. It is a wonderful journey through the sights and sounds of the four seasons – from buzzing, whirring, chirping summer through winter’s crackling snow and the popping of spring flowers. It is such a nice one to read out loud and the illustrations are filled with details for little people to spot. A hopeful book. We were given this book as a gift when the Piglet was born and have gifted it to several little ones since.
4. Lines from Nature by John Busby
Ross bought me this book for my birthday. He saw an exhibition of the late John Busby’s work somewhere in Edinburgh last year. I absolutely LOVE the freedom and life in his mark-making. Each line tells so much about the subject. There’s something fresh and vibrant about his composition that I find quite inspiring. It is his fieldwork sketches and quick drawings that are the most compelling. These long tailed tits on a feeder and the little fox pulling it’s mother’s tail are just completely delicious.
5. The Lost Words Spell Book by Robert Macfarlane (illustrated by Jackie Morris)
Last, but definitely not least, is this collection of poems and illustrations. The idea is that it is a ‘book of spells’ that seeks to conjure back the near-lost magic and strangeness of the nature that surrounds us. It is a reclaiming of the names for nature that are no longer in common use. Robert Macfarlane explains: “We’ve got more than 50% of species in decline. And names, good names, well used can help us see and they help us care. We find it hard to love what we cannot give a name to. And what we do not love we will not save.” I have really enjoyed this book as a meditative down-time. There’s something immersive and luxurious about Jackie Morris’s illustrations. They use rich colours like gold and emerald and reds. They take up double page spreads. The book feels like a very loving tribute to something we should cherish more. This poem and illustration combination on the Heron is one of my favourites.
I’ve received some lovely looking books for Christmas this year that I am excited to get tucked into in 2021. I shall report back!
Wishing you all a very happy new year. May it be wild and beautiful! Hx