First experiences of nature
Guest blog by children’s author, Nicola Davies, on our duty to instill in the next generation the importance of protecting the natural world. Nicola supports World Land Trust (WLT) through the Green Ink programme
It’s taken almost five years but at last A First Book of Nature is launched, out, real. It was published on my birthday last week. I don’t think I’ve ever cared about a book more.
It’s the subject matter that makes this book so important to me: our first experiences of nature, gathered from my own memories and from conversations with friends, colleagues, family, about their own first adventures. Those tiny little moments that shape us, and show us where we fit.
They can seem so trivial, those first encounters, so obvious to us as adults. But for little persons new to the world, that fact that it’s ‘wind’ that’s blowing your hat off, or that you can press your foot into wet sand and it leaves a print, constitutes important new information. Being four or five at the time of course means that you assimilate this information holistically - not just with your brain or you senses, but with everything - mind and body, heart and soul, working all together.
Those simple first encounters with nature can be profound; young children may not have the command of sophisticated means of communication, but they experience a connection with the world around them that runs very deep.
One of my earliest memories is of sitting in a field by the sea in Pembrokeshire on a summer evening. I was maybe six? And I know I felt the Earth going round, and felt my self on it, very small and finite. I knew in that moment that I would die, but that the world would still turn and the sun would sink over sea and barley fields without me. And I felt that was OK.
So when I came to write about all this, there was really only one way to do it. Only poems could carry the complex weight of emotion, observation and information. It was tricky, packaging all I wanted to say in a holder of language lyrical enough to sound good read aloud, simple enough to be intelligible to younger readers whilst keeping adults engaged too. I hope I’ve succeeded, but the proof is in the reading...
One thing I know is that Mark Hearld’s pictures in this book are ravishingly lovely. Mark has captured all that I wanted my words to do, the joy of the tiny details of leaves and shells and feathers, the sweeping scope of the biggest tides and currents that can flow when we look at a night sky or at waves crashing onto a beach. I can’t believe how beautiful his work is.
I think both Mark and I had the same aim with A First Book of Nature, which is to encourage parents to remember their own first experiences of nature and seek them out again, for themselves and for their children. To help remake that contact, that contract, between humans and the natural processes that sustain us all. It’s a big and important aim because there is a growing body of evidence to suggest that contact with nature is absolutely vital for individual health and well being.
But establishing a relationship with nature has a bigger context. Without that personal, intuitive understanding, how can we hope to have a population who can make intelligent decisions about how we produce food, how we safeguard biodivesity and what we can do to combat global climate change.
I recently flew over the Amazon rainforest for the first time in my life. It was like opening a body and seeing the lungs inflate - there was one of the engines of our planet’s climate operating right in front of my eyes. So mighty and yet utterly fragile, completely dependent on the communication from one generation of humans to the next. If we fail to establish in our children a sense of the value of natural systems they will not be protected.
The dream, the idea, the story of nature is something we must tell and retell to keep its reality safe in the world.