Recently I’ve been pushing my nose into books about nature. A little as a way to escape the skyscraper shadows of central London and also to try and connect myself with the country side that I get glimpses of on the way into and out of work.
I just wanted to write up a quick blog post to rave about a couple of the books I’ve read and found have begun a slow-burning ache in my chest to get ‘back to nature’. I think that part of this ache is in part due to the wonderful writing of these books.
First: Landmarks by Robert MacFarlane.
This is the first book that I’ve read by Robert MacFarlane, an academic and travel writer, and I think for me it might have been the perfect one to start with.
The book is a collection of glossaries of place words; words and phrases that have very specific meanings and definitions related to the natural world. The glossaries are split between the kinds of terms, for example a glossary for the ‘flatlands’ or ‘uplands’, ‘coastlands’ and ‘wetlands’.
Robert MacFarlane’s writing captures, celebrates, and defends the use of these place terms and their enchanting specificity. Accompanying each glossary is an essay exploring one or two other nature writers who have written something on that particular subject (which has also added a sizeable list of books to be purchased) and here Robert MacFarlane comes into his own with his absolutely fantastic prose.
I absolutely urge everyone to take a look at his book and here are a couple of links to give you a sneak preview:
The second: Consolations of the Forest by Sylvain Tesson (translated from the French by Linda Coverdale)
This book is a journal for Sylvain Tesson as he lives on the edge of Lake Baikal in southern Siberia. Tesson begins his stay at the edge of the lake, living in a cabin on his own and miles from any other person, in March and continues through to July. The writing is broken up into journal entries for each day which provide a mosaic view of life nestled in nature where the influence of civilisation is minimal at best and non-existent almost everywhere else.
Tesson’s writing really captures the magnificent power and dangerous beauty of the natural world (and here I would like to also comment that Linda Coverdale has done a wonderful job translating as the magic of the phrases still shines through). There is clearly some resentment for the busy, technologically saturated modern world which feeds into how the entries are written but they really convey the wonderful feeling that can come from solitude in the wilderness (along with perhaps a wary caution of spiralling into a comfy stupor inside a warm cabin with a large supply of vodka).
The beauty in this books comes, not only from the prose, but in the glorious simplicity of a life reduced to its core components. I think that the entry from the fourth of April sums it up very well:
Today I read a lot, skated for three hours in a Vienesse light while listening to the Pastorale, caught a char and harvested a pint of bait, looked out of the window at the lake through the steam of my black tea, chopped up a tree trunk nine feet long and split two days of wood, cooked and ate some good kasha, and reflected that paradise was right there for the taking in the course of my day.