A Wild Read: Feral


I don’t know why I’m always reluctant to pick up non-fiction. When I finally do I inevitably devour it. Feral was no exception. I uncovered this book from one of the many must-read piles and was quickly captivated by Monbiot’s call to ‘rewild’ our natural spaces.

I imagined the possibility of wolves, lynx and elks amongst our wilder corners of the land, felt frustration over the choices of the land-owning few, and surprise at the picture of a country stripped bare by grazing animals. Given that the grazing problem is mainly of the woolly variety I felt torn over my love for this fibre.

Monbiot describes many of our wild open spaces as ecological monocultures, often actively maintained as such due to popular belief that this is how these hills should look. Certainly my dad holds with this perspective; as a geologist he prefers the beauty of bare rock to the rich biodiversity of a forest. We’ve had much heated discussion on the matter. I doubt either of us will be swayed from our view.

After the sobering experience of reading This Changes Everything, I was buoyed up by Monbiot’s cautious optimism and practical possibilities for reconnecting with the natural world around us. Whatever your own aesthetic preferences, there’s no doubt we need to view ourselves less as custodians, more as respectful observers, or polite guests of the world around us.

Daily Habits

Parkhurst Forest Walking the Dog

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about daily habits.  I wish I’d stuck to my daily yoga, and I kick myself for not spending more time cooking from scratch in the kitchen. Small things I surely should be able to fit in to my day.  But, a few daily habits have managed to stick.  Black coffee for starters (there was that one time I had a nutribullet instead but is was scary green and had no caffeine.)

With Rolo’s reproachful eyes, there’s no skipping the routine of a daily dog walk.  The forest feels different every time.  Even when it starts as a chore, once I’m standing under the sway of those tall trunks, navigating fallen branches and searching for badly thrown balls, it can’t fail to improve my mood.

I’ve also been sticking to a daily diet of at least 25 pages a day.  I’ve taken to the habit easily, steadily consuming some great books. Reading Lolita in Tehran was a surprise find in Oxfam and an unexpectedly compelling read.  Look out for it; seriously good.   The Orenda was equal parts brutal and beautiful, one of those books that leaves you a little wrung out at the end.

Right now I’m reading See You Tomorrow, but cheating on it with the odd chapter of Rebecca (because this weather), The Zombie Survival Guide (essential reading, of course) and Children’s Speech Sound Disorders (for the day job).

In our days of speedy information, eyes flicking over the tl;dr summaries of endless useful articles, it feels an expansive luxury to spend time with a book, to listen to just one story.  This year I’ve challenged my die-hard digital-age brother to read a real book.  He often has to bear me harping on about the beauty of books.  I think there’s something special about holding bound paper in hand, carrying it around with you everyday, spilling coffee on it, breaking its spine or bending a corner to save that thought.

Meanwhile, Brother has inadvertently set me the challenge of knitting with cobweb lace weight yarn, thanks to a beautiful silk bundle of the stuff he gifted at Christmas.  I’ve found a pattern that suits itself to TV-watching attention levels so here’s hoping I can squeeze in another daily habit.

Roadtripping with a Poodle

My mutt is way too much of a crazy pup to be a good #vandog (yet!) so I lived vicariously through Steinbeck’s drive across America with Charles de Chien in their purpose-built truck. Though Travels with Charley was published over forty years ago, I was struck by how relevant his musings remain. He complained about overcrowding, gridlocked traffic and mounds of rubbish (then one page later extolled the virtues of single-use frying pans!) Perhaps every age feels that they are suffering a great demise.

Steinbeck’s spare but incisive observations of people and places was an absolute delight. His description of the quiet hush of solo breakfast diners was perfect. He balances quirky musings on his dog with beautiful insights into the places he visits. I was thrilled to read his description of my own little home corner of the west coast:

I stayed two days close to the bodies of the giants, and there were no trippers, no chattering troupes with cameras. There’s a cathedral hush here. Perhaps the thick soft bark absorbs sound and creates silence. The trees rise straight up to zenith; there is no horizon. The dawn comes early and remains dawn until the sun is high. Then the green fernlike foliage so far up strains the sunlight to a green gold and distributes it in shafts or rather in stripes of light and shade.

Now, it’s probably appropriate to end this post with some summery puppy spam, right?

PS – Here is another perfectly-formed slim read.

A Little Weekend Read

A Whole Life by Robert Seethaler book

I planned to take a photo of this book out in the forest today. But, as the dog is curled up with a poorly paw, I’ve had to settle for a coffee shop pose. Such hardships!

With a wet and windy weekend ahead of us, I wanted to share a little one-sitting read. One to read start to finish in your favourite chair, complete with fluffy blanket and hot chocolate. I’ve fallen in love with slim editions recently; perfectly proportioned, carefully crafted, saying so much with so few words.

A Whole Life is a perfect example: a story of one man’s life living in the mountains of Germany. The small but significant moments (lying next to his wife asleep, watching the snow) are given as much attention as the large (work or war).

I’m an easily distracted reader, so it was a strange treat to sit down and finish a book. I’ll be keeping an eye out for other little gems. If you have any suggestions, I’d love to hear them over on twitter.

Wild Summer Reading

Feral book by George Monbiot, sitting in the grass

June’s read became July’s, readily interrupted by the growing pile of ‘how-to-sort-your-dog’ books (embarrassing, I know). Once I recovered from my brief hiatus into behaviour modification theory, I relished returning to the Appalachian woods where Kingsolver’s ‘Prodigal Summer’ is set.

If you want a dose of fresh air and organic thinking, I’d heartily recommend this book. It weaves ideas on our relationship and responsibilities to the natural world in to some very readable fiction. Kingsolver creates beautiful sentences and charming characters (the grumpy old man being my favourite).

Tom and I are off this weekend to indulge in a fresh pile of books for the summer break. We’ll be out in the Island countryside for much of the holiday so I’m sticking with the wild theme and choosing Feral for one of this month’s read. I also want to buy a book on log cabins; I won’t be building one any time soon, but it’s fun to entertain the thought.

Any holiday reads to recommend? Let me know on Twitter or Instagram. Join in with Laura’s Year in Books here.