This is my 3rd. book for the 20 Books of Summer '22 which is being hosted by 746 Books. I've had it on my tbr pile a couple of years now and it seemed like a good book for the summer reading challenge.
Lev Parikian sets out to discover what us Brits really mean when we say we love nature. Are we serious ramblers and campers, donning all the kit, grabbing the Kendal Mint Cake and marching off for days into the Scottish Highlands (and ending up having to be rescued by the Mountain Rescue people - sorry, me being cynical)? Do we just like a stroll along the coast, around a National Trust property or a local park? Or do we just love sitting in front of the telly watching David Attenborough commune with gorillas or the Spring Watch people having a jolly time?
It's a very interesting question. The author begins his investigations in his own home:
'Whether we like it or not, we share our homes with other species: dust mites lurking in our mattresses; silver fish feeding off food scraps and scuttling off behind the skirting board; fruit flies, appearing as if from nowhere at the first sign of a half-mushy banana; daddy-longlegs, flapping about melodramatically near light bulbs; house flies, buzzing around aimlessly and failing to go out through the window you've pointedly opened for just such a purpose..,'
As he points out,we're fascinated by all manner of creepy crawlies outdoors but find them indoors and we're not quite so enamoured. (My own particular aversion being house flies... although I'm not mad about spiders the size of your hand trotting indoors in September either.)
The garden is his next port of call, followed by his 'local patch'. Lev was a keen birder in his teens, then life happened, as it tends to, but now in his 40s he has returned to the hobby with renewed interest. Birders tend to have a 'local patch' where they do the majority of their bird watching and his is Norwood Park. But he also investigates other local patches, in one case, Gilbert White's in Hampshire. It's somewhere I've always fancied and I'm even more determined now as the countryside around the house sounds wonderful. (It's not far from Jane Austen's house at Alton so here's me dreaming of killing two birds with one stone. Not sure that's a good comparison to make when reviewing a nature book...)
Chapter by chapter Parikian deals with subjects such as nature programmes on TV and does this raise our expectations too much when we actually go out to view nature? Nature in captivity, zoos, Slimbridge wildlife reserve and how Peter Scott brought that into being. How the RSPB began... it was started by women who weren't allowed into the mens' bird watching clubs so they started their own. He takes a trip to the Isle of Skye (envy, envy, envy) and to Skokholm off the coast of Wales.
What I was really taken with in this book is the humour. He describes in one chapter how he tries to draw the birds he sees (as birders are supposed to be able to do), in one case a heron, and it's hilarious. To be honest the writing is superb and the best bit about it is his very British turn of phrase. Wonderful dry humour and I chuckled all the way through. Some of the references might only be understood by Brits but I can't imagine anyone giving up because of that.
The final chapter took quite a turn for the unusual as the author turns to astronomy. I'm still not quite sure why but it was fascinating. He visits the International Dark Sky Park in Northumberland - one the darkest places in Europe - and goes to Joderall Bank in Cheshire to view the moon and our part of the galaxy. He concludes:
'We are an impossibly tiny speck. And that's fine. And if it scares the bejeezus out of people, I happen to find it somehow reassuring. Because all these encounters - the butterfly on the flower, the eagle over the water, the light from a distant star and all the rest of it - represent the slotting-in of a tiny piece of our universe jigsaw. We'll never come close to finishing it, but nonetheless we persevere, constructing our own little corner of it in the hope that one day we'll be able to stand far enough away for some of it to make sense.'
Wonderful. If you have any interest in nature, the UK countryside, human nature, birds, insects, history and so on and so on, try this book. It will certainly be one of my favourite non-fiction books of the year.