Caught by the River

Nature Book Reader Update

17th June 2020

After a far-too-extensive period of neglect, we are very happy to say that we have revived our Nature Book Reader — a document of favourite nature books chosen by our writers and friends. Brand new contributions from Darran Anderson, Luke Turner, Jessica Andrews, Mat Bingham and Jill Crawford come in addition to existing entries from the likes of Bill Drummond, Laura Beatty, Frank Cottrell-Boyce and Tracey Thorn. Read as Jill Crawford gives some context to her selection – Rachel Carson’s The Sense of Wonder – below.

This evening, alongside the puff and jangle of the oven, I am listening to the shimmer and tinkle of bird voices; the window is open to let out the cooking. This morning, I found an ethereal fish of sunlight on the ceiling; it had swum through a cranny in the curtains. Last night, as I shut the curtains before bed, I looked just in time to snag the scarper of a fox, who paused, knowing I watched, then ran away to continue his dark raking. On the windowsill are four plant pots: two contain orchids that are dead or sleeping in bark, one contains a peace lily which blooms salmon flowers, and the fourth is a whiskery fern that cost a pound somewhere in a supermarket. The fern’s abundant, spindly hair scratches the underside of my arm when I yank up the sash to allow in the sky’s breath and let in all the sounds of outer life. On the Heath earlier today, the air smelt of fruiting and blossoming bushes, of zingy nettles, of new hay, of sliced undergrowth, of dogshit, of soil, of rank water, and when the dog and I came home, her fur and my ponytail had a wild earthy scent muddled through them. My head and mood were clean. My body was tired, fresh. I don’t get mobile phone coverage up there. The living earth had conspired to rescue me and restore my senses. 

The world is dispiriting and cruel, but an hour in a swarming green space, a window ajar, disrupts the encroaching of cynicism. Today, even the group of boys, who were smoking and drinking in a shaded patch of wood, knew that. Today, even the rascals, who were chased out of the closed pond by police, felt it too. It’s good to be out, as someone used to say in my childhood.  

The Sense of Wonder, innate to children, is a deep and clear lens to look through. Nature’s ‘many transmutations, from sea to air to earth’, as Rachel Carson put it, generate in me at least an inexhaustible and non-destructive energy. I have carried this inspiration into adulthood, but sometimes I forget. Now, in my adopted city, in a period of unusual confinement, I am back in possession of what is essential and I have remembered the ‘unnoticed beauty’ that surrounds us, if only above in the black night, where I look and see a tiny pool of radiance: Venus.   


Read more of Jill’s words on Rachel Carson, plus loads of other writers’ favourite nature book selections, here. Enthusiastic thanks to Louise Mason, now and always, for making our stuff look nice. We are aiming to update the Nature Book Reader with new entries on a monthly-ish basis from here on in.

You can visit Jill’s website here, and follow her on Twitter here.