By Claire Thompson
Leaping Hare Press, 2013
I declare an interest. This is not an impartial review, because the author is Claire Thompson, who was an intern at World Land Trust (WLT), and then joined the staff (we couldn’t let her go). She finally managed to escape and went to work for BirdLife International.
This, her first book is exceptional, and reminds me that I am out of touch, not with nature (which is what the book is about) but with the ‘real world’ of today. So much of what she writes is self-evident and fundamental to the way I live that I cannot believe that it is not widely understood. But then if I pause to think, particularly when I am crammed into a London underground train, the natural world is clearly something that most people (in England at least) are unaware of.
Every morning, I have to feed my animals – chickens, llamas and alpacas. This involves going out in all weathers, after taking the dogs for a walk. As it is generally around dawn, the birds are active. In the spring rooks in the rookery are cawing and establishing territories, and I start noticing migrant birds including male blackbirds over from Scandinavia looking for local females and pillaging the hedgerows.
Then in the evening Viv and I take the dogs for a walk, whatever the weather and whatever the time of day. We may talk, but nature will always take precedence. A Barn Owl hovering across the fields, a Muntjac Deer barking in the distance. This is always a time for taking stock and thinking.
And then at the weekend, patrolling the ditches to see if there are any otter footprints. Checking under sheets of corrugated iron to see if there are voles and shrews, or in summer slow worms and grass snakes.
And while gardening, this is the prime time to use one’s brain to ‘commune’ with nature. When others tell me about meditation I usually ask why not take a dog for a walk? (And you don’t need to go to the gym either.)
(John Burton, Chief Executive, WLT)
Claire Thompson writes with great clarity and insight, but is also very factually based, and like a good scientist, Claire often quotes her sources. And the aphorisms scattered throughout are apt, and relevant. Claire writes: “I am not aiming to turn everyone into a nature conservationist. However, I am sure of one thing: the natural world is an infinite source of wonder.” The book may not aim to create conservationists, but will certainly point the readers in the right direction.
Aging cynics like me have probably found their own equivalents of what is now known as mindfulness. We don’t need to meditate, we don’t need to go to the gym. We can get the same effect, the same benefits simply by getting closer to nature: taking long country walks, volunteering with a local wildlife trust to clean a pond, doing some hedging and ditching, taking kids pond dipping. Nonetheless, this is a book that will make an ideal gift for a friend who is stuck in the rut of urban living. It might make them realise, as most naturalists instinctively know, that there is far more to life when we allow ourselves to be open to the natural world.