Caught by the River

The Stubborn Light of Things

Melissa Harrison | 26th November 2020

An extract from Melissa Harrison’s latest work, which is our Book of the Month for November. With illustration by Joanna Lisowiec.

In London, during a mild December, winter can be hard to see and feel. The grass of the parks and verges remains green, the easy-care Photinia, laurels and privets in the housing estates, car parks and roundabouts keep their leaves, and in air-conditioned office blocks the temperature holds steady until spring. Where you can see it is in the trees, though, whose bare black branches spend the short days etched against a dull midwinter sky.

Mature London planes are decorated for the season with seed balls like dangling baubles; leafless ash trees are distinguishable by their recurved twigs that bow and beckon up. The silhouettes of sycamores and oaks can look similar from a distance, until you draw close enough to see the bark: scaly and flaky for sycamores, vertically fissured for oaks.

In the naked trees, birds can be more easily seen: coalblack crows hunched and cawing, fat wood pigeons grey as clouds, dapper magpies angling the levers of their tails between twigs. Living and lovely, they dress the city’s winter branches like the bird-shaped ornaments that hang on my Christmas tree at home.


‘The Stubborn Light of Things: A Nature Diary’, charting Melissa’s move from London to the Suffolk countryside, is out now and available here, priced £14.99 (very limited signed bookplates available while stocks last). See it reviewed here.

Joanna Lisowiec is an illustrator and printmaker based in Yorkshire. Prints and commissions are available here. Follow her at @joannalisowiec.