Book Review: Winter – an anthology for the seasons
*This post originally appeared on the A Focus On Nature blog*
Thus far the Season anthologies from E&T and The Wildlife Trusts have been wonderful reads, and when Winter alighted on my doormat, I had my fingers crossed for more literary delights.
I always struggle with winter as a season. Suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder for years, and more recently, year-round depression, winter is a difficult time. The light is minimal, the temperature bitter and there are no insects to cheer me up. I was hoping that the Winter book would help to remind me of why this frosty season is actually worth appreciating, and perhaps even worth looking forward to.
I am sure that the editor, Melissa Harrison, spent a long time deciding which order to put the chapters in. However, as with the previous books, I couldn’t resist dipping into a random chapter within the book each time I picked it up. Each chapter is an aforementioned literary delight, and there are different styles throughout the book – diary entries, letters, poetry and prose.
“The wind made whips of the dwarf willows … The spines of the marram grasses scratched wildly at the rushing air, which passed over the hollows where larks and linnets crouched with puffed feathers”
Reading through the chapters, there were sentences that struck a chord. Be it amusing, or philosophical in tone, each of these phrases resonated within me. Some brought memories to the fore – when reading the passage featured above by Henry Williamson (Tarka the Ottter), I was transported back to exploring the sand dunes of Kenfig NNR in south Wales, hearing the wind whistling through the grass and the dunes. In contrast, Richard Adams’ phrase about wild flowers made me smile and almost laugh out loud, even though I was on public transport at the time. And how true his words are, I remember taking part in BSBI’s New Year Plant Hunt and the pleasant surprise of flowers in bloom despite the frosty cold spread across the landscape.
“Wild flowers are like pubs. There are generally one or two open somewhere, if only you look hard enough.”
One particular sentence that resonated was this by Elizabeth Guntrip; “In nature, in solitude, I find an inner strength.” With recent turnabouts in my own life, I was struck by how true this sentence was for me, and how often I have turned to nature in the past few months for that strong feeling of connection that grounds me and firms my resolve.
One of the most enthralling delights of this book (and those before it), was discovering the creative talents of friends. I read with intrigue and suspense as Lucy McRobert (Founder and former Creative Director of AFON) writes “Then, without pomp or fanfare, the spectre appears unannounced, materialising from the marsh”. A few pages before, I had giggled to myself trying to imagine the self-described “pimply over-excited teenage naturalist in the summer of 1985” of her husband, Rob Lambert, when meeting Sir Peter Scott. In other chapters, I stepped beneath the boughs and met woodland creatures accompanied by Tiffany Francis, and felt warmed by a mug of soup and the marine treasures with Sophie Bagshaw.
In case you hadn’t guessed, I have vastly enjoyed reading Winter and in doing so, I have been reminded that this season of cold sunlight and long nights is actually a beautiful season in its own right. I look forward to going into this coming winter now, in the knowledge that there is interesting wildlife and stunning landscapes to find and appreciate – as long as I remember to wrap up warm!
A look back at all four books
Suffice to say, the Seasons anthologies are different amongst my favourite books and not just because I have chapters in two of them. Each one is a world to enter and explore, to read about familiar and unfamiliar experiences.
I can’t help but compare the chapters within these anthologies to wine tasting. The initial opening of the book to a chapter, is that swirl of the wine in the glass, odd words catching the light within the depths of the text. Your eyes settle on the first paragraph, and you visually drink in the words, discovering the aroma of the particular chapter chosen. The following paragraphs are the sips, where you swirl the words around in your mouth, certain phrases seemingly like the deep fruity notes of wine. Here the analogy falls down slightly, because you don’t spit out the final part of the chapters as in wine tasting. However, I dislike spitting out wine anyway so on a personal note, this analogy still works for me with the final paragraphs swallowed enthusiastically, leaving the aftertaste on your tongue. You long for more, perhaps going back to try out that chapter again, or moving on to something with a different flavour.
When reading these books, especially if I’m in the city at the time, I ache to be outside somewhere wild and glorious – be it running through wildflower meadows or dipping my toes in the sea. Reading other reviews, and discussing the anthologies with friends, I know that I’m not the only one to feel this way and I am thoroughly impressed by everyone involved for creating such wonderful books. And I am grateful to them for doing so.
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