Caught by the River

Nature Book Reader Update

30th April 2016

The lovely little compilation of reading recommendations we refer to as the Nature Book Reader has just been updated. We’ve added new entries from Laura Cannell, Kate Feld, Nick Morgan, Kevin Parr and Anna Wood. Read Anna’s contribution below for a taste of what the Nature Book Reader has to offer.


One of my favourite pieces of writing – Walt Whitman’s long poem Song Of Myself, from his collection Leaves Of Grass – is about nature in the most ordinary and also the most infinite sense. It has a whole beautiful verse about what grass is, and a description of having sex with the sea (kind of, you have to read it really) that makes me swoony and horny and thrilled. Song Of Myself embraces the whole glorious cosmos, celebrates every inch of your flesh and mine. And it introduced me to words and phrases like ‘pismire’, ‘omnific’, ‘gneiss’, ‘kelson’ and ‘mad for it’ (I read this long before I heard anything from the Gallagher brothers). Also, you can read out loud almost any line from this poem and it will make you feel good. Try it: “And a mouse is miracle enough to stagger sextillions of infidels”, or “The spotted hawk swoops by and accuses me, he complains of my gab and my loitering”. Or what about: “I tucked my trowser-ends in my boots and went and had a good time”, or “I know I have the best of time and space – and that I was never measured, and never will be measured.”

There is such pleasure in Song Of Myself, such carnal delight, and such joy at the universe and being part of it. Whitman is all connectedness and curiosity – there is no glimpse of meanness or fear of the unknown. To me he shows how society, people, pleasure and nature all belong together, part of the same whole. You don’t need to read up on cosmic consciousness or transcendentalism to work that out; you don’t even need to spend a few days round a campfire under the stars with friends and whisky – although you should, obviously. It nourishes a feeling, a worldview (my own, in case you haven’t guessed), where if something benefits me then it benefits you, and vice versa. As Whitman puts it, right at the start of the poem: “Every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.” This view of life is not worthy or ascetic, it is abundant and rich. He is also, you might say, a sexy bastard – as he puts it in Song Of Myself, “Walt Whitman, an American, one of the roughs, a kosmos / Disorderly flesh and sensual, eating drinking and breeding” – and that is part of this fleshly wonderfulness too. Read any chunk of Song Of Myself and you will feel the pleasure of life, the delight of stuff, the desire of the world.

This and many more top nature book tipoffs can be found here.