For an aspiring nature writing I am able to identify shamefully few birds. Of course there is an argument to be made for not knowing the names of things. Names are weighted and change the way we think about an object or creature. However, as a writer it is good to be able to tell the reader that I saw a blue tit in the garden this morning, rather than I saw a ‘blue and yellow’ bird, which is what I typed in to Google when I spotted the bird through my binoculars. Continue readingThe Names of Birds
“…a culture’s most cherished places are not necessarily visible to the eye – spots on the land one can point to. They are made visible in drama – in narrative, song, and performances. It is precisely what is invisible in the land, however, that makes what is merely empty space to one person a place to another. The feeling that a particular place is suffused with memories, the specific focus of sacred and profane stories, and that the whole landscape is a congeries of such places, is what is meant by a local sense of the land.”
— Barry Lopez, Arctic Dreams.
My MA was called Writing, Nature and Place. The ‘writing’ and ‘nature’ parts are always fairly easy to explain to people, but they are generally a little more unclear about the ‘place’ part. Usually, for convenience, I just say that it was a nature and travel writing course. However, travel writing doesn’t really cover what is meant by writing about place. Isn’t place just location? someone asked me. I agreed that it probably is, but on reading the above quote from Barry Lopez’s Arctic Dreams I began to realise that I had been wrong. Location is just space, place is something that belongs to that space and yet is much more subjective. Continue readingA Sense of Place
In the January/February 2012 issue of Orion there is an article about artist Dan Shepherd’s project, Draw Me a Tree, in which Shepherd asked people to tell him about a tree that means something to them. This got me thinking about trees that mean something to me, and about one tree in particular. Continue readingIn The Cherry Blossom Tree
Into The Wild recounts the life and death of Christopher McCandless, whose decomposing body was discovered on 6 September 1992 in bus 142 on the Stampede Trail, a seldom travelled trail in the wilderness north of Mt. McKinley, Alaska. The cause of death was starvation. Krakauer begins his book with this incident and then attempts to answer the question what was Christopher McCandless doing alone in the Alaska wilderness and why did he die? Continue readingReview: Into The Wild by Jon Krakauer
When I was doing my MA I wrote a lot about urban nature, partly on the basis of advice to write about what you know. I have lived in a city all my life, it is what I know, so urban nature seemed like the obvious thing to write about. It turns out I know very little about urban nature. This is partly because I have not been observant enough in the past and partly because the places where nature abounds in the city are the sort of places I tend not to go. The very thing I seek when I’m out in the countryside – to be alone – is the very same thing I avoid when I’m in the city. Continue readingAlong the Mersey
I’ve been reading Caught by the River a lot at the moment and I was quite taken with their Shadows & Reflections posts – brief reviews of the past year by various people – and decided it would be a good idea to do a similar thing on my own blog.
All in all I’d say 2011 was a good year. It was a year of travels and new places. On 1st January I was in a quiet corner of Maine and enjoyed more snow than I have probably ever seen before. I had the chance to go sledging with real sledges (as opposed to tea trays), but didn’t build any snow men. As if one trip to the US wasn’t enough I also had the chance to go over again later on in the year. On my second trip I saw Baltimore and Washington D.C. The White House was smaller than I expected, but the Lincoln Memorial was bigger. Continue readingGoodbye 2011
The Peregrine is written in the form of a diary that spans from October to April and purports to chart a single wintering season of the peregrines in a small corner of Essex. However, The Peregrine is in fact the culmination of 10 years of stalking and observing on the part of Baker. Baker is a monomaniac, he is obsessed and hypnotised by peregrines, and his level of dedication to them is what makes this book so intriguing and worth the read.
I was sceptical about how interesting a book about one man following a single species of bird could be, and to be honest it is a slow read, but then The Peregrine is a book that demands to be read slowly and savoured. Time and again I found myself re-reading sentences over and over, not because I kept getting distracted or because I didn’t understand them, but because of the beauty of Baker’s language and the clarity with which he portrays the life of the world around him. Continue readingReview: The Peregrine by J.A. Baker