This post was prompted by my finishing Kathleen Jamie’s Findings which seems to me to be a perfect example of what I’ve been calling in my head the ‘new nature writing’. Jamie is an acclaimed poet and it shows in her wonderfully pared back descriptions of tracking the elusive corncrake on the island of Coll, contemplating salmon jumping on a Highland river and the joy of a rare and strange sighting of a crane flying in the Scottish sky. Her writing is both beautiful and down to earth. Hard to resist a writer who starts her chapter: ‘I hacked off the gannet’s head with my penknife, which turned into one of those jobs you wish you’d never started’. It was already dead, by the way.
I’m not entirely sure that there is a new nature writing but in my years as a book reviews editor I noticed more of it being published by the likes of Granta, Sort of Books, Faber and Penguin and found myself drawn to it, starting with Roger Deakin’s beautifully evocative Wildwood which led me to Notes from Walnut Tree Farm and Waterlog. Miriam Darlington’s Otter Country took me all over the UK in search of wild otters while naturalist Stephen Moss’s Wild Hares and Humming Birds brought me back home to Somerset. Moss moved his family from London to the village of Mark in the Levels and his book is made up of a year’s observations of the surrounding natural world. One of its most heartening aspects is the joy and enthusiasm with which his children embrace nature. There’s much more to explore here, I know – I’ve already added Jamie’s Sightlines to my list – but one writer I have read and will not be revisiting is Robert Macfarlane, a bit too self-consciously literary for me. While Kathleen Jamie is a fine example of a poet writing about nature letting its qualities shine out, uncluttered by ornamentation, Macfarlane can never seem to resist over-egging the pudding. If you’ve come across any Jamie-like gems I’d love to hear about them.