‘Gifts of Gravity and Light: A Nature Almanac for the 21st Century’, an anthology edited by Anita Roy and Pippa Marland and published by Hodder & Stoughton, invites its readers to experience Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter through fourteen different voices. Ameena Rojee delves in.
To write about the natural environment is to craft messages of awe and wonder. To read it is to let yourself open up to those significant and sometimes overwhelming feelings and find a unique harmony with the world that surrounds you.
These writers weave words into a language that translates to images in our minds and emotions in our bodies. This ability they have, it’s not giving us a connection to nature; that connection exists the moment we come into existence. The gift they give us is a hand on our back and a point in the right direction, showing us the tools – words, lessons, history – which empower us to open (or reopen) that connection to the natural world ourselves.
However, for a long time there have been too many people who haven’t had that opportunity to connect. The voices which have dominated the nature writing kingdom have traditionally been a select few, empowering only a select few.
Gifts of Gravity and Light is a book that seeks to contribute to the change we are beginning to see in this space. This book, and others like it, are crucial. There are so many varying ways of living and being, experiences, philosophies, ways of understanding the natural world around us, and so many of these have been cast aside, disregarded as unimportant and “other”.
So it’s thrilling to be reflected and represented, to feel familiarity in these words, the experiences and memories, and it’s wildly exciting to see all kinds of writers claiming space in the nature writing world.
This book gives a much-needed taste of the width and breadth of nature writing, and for that I especially recommend it for those who are not sure where to start with reading about nature. Though that’s not to say it won’t appeal to anyone else; there are several layers within the book and each of its stories, and there’s something in there for everyone.
Led with a foreword by Bernardine Evaristo, it features a blend of prose and poetry, essays, stories, deep dives into language, memory and history, and more, with contributions from Jackie Kay, Kaliane Bradley, Pippa Marland, Testament, Michael Malay, Tishani Doshi, Jay Griffiths, Luke Turner, Anita Roy, Raine Geoghegan, Zakiya McKenzie, Alys Fowler, Amanda Thomson and Simon Armitage.
The chapters are curated wonderfully, three for each season, and the words flow gently from season to season as if we’re floating on our backs in the sea on a gentle day. Each contribution captures the feeling of each part of the year so fully that I can almost feel the overpowering heat of summer, the bittersweetness of autumn, the rawness of winter, the hope of spring.
I find that while I enjoyed the book immensely, it’s also a book I needed to read. It’s going to be like this for a while, I think, as the nature writing landscape changes and becomes more representational, a truer reflection of the earth as a whole.
Raine Geoghegan encapsulates this feeling perfectly in her chapter It’s Hopping Time:
‘For me, everything comes back to Nature. I look upon her as a mirror and I see the reflection of who I am, or who I want to be.’
I finish reading Gifts of Gravity and Light during the recent July heatwave here in the UK. Now, as I write this review on an afternoon between midsummer and the beginning of autumn, the wind is so fierce that the rain, the heaviest I’ve seen for a long time, is forced horizontal and the stabbing gales bring the pattern of the wind into visibility.
As each year passes, the seasons warp and shift as a result of the climate emergency: summers getting hotter, more extreme, the changes between seasons becoming unfamiliar. This book – an almanac created with 2021 in mind – could not be more necessary.
‘Gifts of Gravity and Light’ is out now and available here (£16.98). You can read an extract from Michael Malay’s eel-centric essay, published at the end of July, here.
Ameena Rojee is a writer and photographer who enjoys telling stories about adventure, the outdoors, and our relationship with the natural world. She’s also the editor of Black River Journal. Visit her website here / follow her on Twitter here.