I am just coming to the end of a very interesting and beautiful book by John Lister-Kaye called Song of the Rolling Earth: A Highland Odyssey. It is an autobiographical account of the authors time with nature, principally the setting up and development of the Aigas Field Centre in the Highlands of Scotland.
One of the delights of reading it was recognising so much of my own experience, beliefs and understandings of nature in the text. He even uses quotes from other writers I’ve used on my website and other places. His passion and deep connection to the natural world comes though on every page using a lively and poetic style of writing. It is not sentimental and you feel the words are chosen with real precision to convey a particular mood or insight into how this landscape, plant, animal or person is right now. At times I felt there were too many words and some editing out of alternative ways of describing something would have kept the flow going. But that in a way is like a pot boiling over, the soup itself is delicious to taste.
The sense of place is multi-layered in a way that reminded me of Barry Lopez. The ecological interrelatedness of everything is expressed wonderfully by coming at Aigas from many different angles. The living people, history, geology, weather, animate beings and his internal thoughts are all intertwined in a way that strengthens the whole. He draws on science to amplify an observation but always returns to acknowledging his sense of awe and wonder at the natural world.
Here is a taste of Lister-Kayes writing.
‘On the first occasion I stayed our an hour to watch the night stalk the glen, a pale summer moon trailing its coat up the gleaming river. I watched the purple heather at my feet close up shop, and shadows merge to the blackness of thunder before the moonlight crept into them, pale edged and chill. The night was drawing me in, marshalling my attention, as though something important were about to happen. The high moors echoed with the hollow fluting of curlews. Rowdy oystercatchers alarmed the wet meadows far below. A coven of hooded crows rowed furtively past, about some fell business I wasn’t meant to witness, evil and apocalyptic, better undercover of darkness. And then, as the cloud thinned to nothing, white stars began to emerge in blocks, like someone turning on streetlights on a vast galactic grid. That first night I had difficulty leaving, and kept looking back over my shoulder. I thought then that I should return here, and I often have.’ p140
Writing like this only comes from spending a great deal of time outdoors and aware.
The WIN walk last week focused on picking the first blackberries of the year. And this year is a good one. The bushes were covered in big fat juicy blobs of fruit. While we were eating I talked a bit about how fruits have evolved to get their seeds spread about. We and other animals and birds are drawn to eat fruit because it is sweet and sugar is not easy to come by in the wild. The blackberries are distinctly coloured so we can spot the ripe ones easily. If fruit were green it would be harder to find (in case it crossed your mind, green apples are cultivated, wild apples are red or yellow). So in effect the bramble bush is seducing us to eat its fruit. It is exploiting us, not the other way round.
Many fruits also want us and other creatures to spread the seeds only a short distance from where the parent plant is growing in an appropriate habitat. They do this by adding a laxative which makes sure the seed soon leaves an animal or bird’s body. Think about that the next time you eat a few figs.