4x4th Estate: An ode to nature

• Mar 2, 2016 • Tags: , , ,

4x4Four brilliant books that open our eyes to the wonders of the natural world.



Raptor, by James Macdonald Lockhart


First and foremost a journey, and an ode to the fifteen birds of prey species that nest and breed in the British Isles. Lockhart takes us on a winding route – over the wind-ravaged isles of Orkney and the Outer Hebrides, across the border to the waterlogged Fens, down through the New Forest, to Dorset and Devon, and further – all the while alert to the majestic raptors who call these shores home. Accompanying Lockhart on his journey south is the echo of William MacGillivray, early ornithologist, author and inspiration to Lockhart.

By weaving MacGillivray’s pilgrimage into his own journey, Lockhart taps into a rich heritage of British bird enthusiasts and the early writings, photographs and discoveries that inspired and shaped his own experience. Not just concerned with what he sees around him, but with how it came to be that way, Lockhart’s book is far more than an account of his own observations – it is also a poetic, insightful and sensitive history of shifting landscapes and habitats, and man’s often turbulent interactions with the natural world.

The Living Mountain, by Nan Shepard


‘To those who love the place, both are good, since both are part of its essential nature. And it is to know its essential nature that I am seeking here.’ Nan (Anna) Shepard wrote this slim book on the Cairngorms in Scotland. It is at once so rich and lyrical, and at the same time, witty and tender. It’s not a journey up the mountain, but more a journey into it and into ourselves. She does not strive for the summit, but dwells in its peaks and troughs, appreciating the texture, the size, the splendour, the rugged beauty of the stubble-like grass. ‘To apprehend things – walking on a hill, seeing the light change, the mist, the dark, being aware, using the whole of one’s body to instruct the spirit … it dissolves one’s being. I am no longer myself but part of a life beyond myself.’

Otter Country: In Search of the Wild Otter, by Miriam Darlington


The best ode to the otter. Darlington has an atmospheric, engrossing journey to find the British river otter, smaller and less robust than its sea-faring counterpart. It is light-heartedly written and in places comical, as she wades into icy waters with tinfoil clad feet and sniffs otter poo – which turns out, is very fragrant and floral, like jasmine tea. But it is also a tender love story of a little girl and an elusive creature; it seems to have guided her life up until the point she can do nothing, but pursue it and try to understand it. It has moments of sadness and self-doubt, although these do not cloud the sparks of joy and resolution. Love is memorably conveyed in the beautiful description of the otter as a ‘pretzel of fur’.

Findings, by Kathleen Jamie


Kathleen Jamie’s first collection of essays defies categorisation. They are firmly rooted in place – Scotland, the author’s native country – and so don’t sit entirely comfortably in the travel writing section. They have the natural world at their heart but can’t strictly be called nature writing as they also focus on the everyday, the humdrum and the human. Findings has been described as ‘landscape literature’, but perhaps the best way to describe this magical collection is that it brings the outside in, makes you notice – in the way Jamie does, as you go about your business – the shapes, sights and sounds of the natural and the wild, as well as the human impact on the world. John Berger described Jamie as ‘A sorceress of the essay form’ – perhaps better known for her poetry, Jamie infuses this collection with her ability to sculpt language, and the result is beautiful and evocative.

Words by Lottie Fyfe

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