I hope and feel sure that classrooms still have Nature Tables.
Ours was a place to deposit all those things we had found on the way to school...nothing very exciting in the grand scheme of things but treasures all the same to us...pristine conkers, or some shells from a hatched bird's egg. One poor soul had kept a bird's nest warm and watered and ended up with a house overrun with fleas that then had to be fumigated, so bird's nests were banned.
My Nature Table now of the bookish variety, and thanks to all your suggestions and a few additions of mine own I am building up a wonderful selection of books I can't wait to read. Notes From Walnut Tree Farm by Roger Deakin is now in its third year of reading so I probably do need to visit somewhere else.
There was precariousness involved in taking this picture, and a pile of very soggy mud beneath just waiting to receive, but it seemed worth the risk...
Robert Macfarlane's book The Old Ways is starting to make me aware in ways I wouldn't have thought possible. Suddenly I have the urge to know more about the actual land beneath my feet, and I have had The Hidden Landscape by Richard Fortey biding its time for ages.
'...this enthralling exploration of time and place....peels away the top layer of the land to reveal he hidden landscape - the rock which contains the story of distant events, which dictate not only the personality of the landscape, but the nature of the soil, the plants that grown in it and the regional characteristics of the buildings....'
Here in the Tamar Valley the ground is oozing with minerals, copper and tine, arsenic, wolfram...an entire Periodic Table beneath the soles of my boots; mine surveys were compulsory when we bought this house (which wasn't the case everywhere then.) Now I am not sure whether I am likely to get bogged down (sorry) in the Palaeozoic and the Jurassic, and whether this book will be accessible enough for me, but I am going to dip in and have a dig around... I'll stop now before I start on about 'mining rich seams of writing'...it can only get worse.
Robert Macfarlane quotes Tim Robinson's Stones of Aran as one of those seminal books which kicked off the whole psycho-geography, 'looking at landscape differently' trend in writing, and thanks too to John Self's prompt in comments I immediately ordered a copy. This is one man's fifteen year epic work on the exploration of the islands of Aran, off the west coast of Ireland... I've owned up already to being the embarrassed numpty who had somehow assumed they were off Scotland, though I'm not sure where 'off Scotland' I thought they might be.
In this seemingly small world of landscape writing it is Robert Macfarlane who has written the introduction, firmly locating the islands thirty miles offshore from Connemara, where big Atlantic storms prevail, and Tim Robinson immediately comes across as pretty keen to do his work. Circumnavigating the island and in bad weather (of which there must have been plenty) apparently holding his book and pencil inside a clear plastic bag tied shut at his wrists, I am immediately worried about what happens if he trips and falls. I expect to find out and I also expect I shall want to visit Aran once I've read it and it will be but a short hop from there to wanting to knit something.
I haven't worn an Aran jumper for years...since 1977 when my mum knitted me one actually, and I mistakenly wore it to do a video assessment of my teaching skills on my health visitor training course. Please don't do this unless you want the whole class to fall off their chairs laughing on playback, because you will fill the screen and resemble a well-cabled polar bear....and if proof were needed...
A Wilder Vein and In Her Element are anthologies of women's writing on landscape. In Her Element, published by Honno, has 'mountaineers, amblers, star-gazers, river-watchers, cavers, climbers, farmers, artists, sailors and ecologists' all contributing their thoughts on the Welsh landscapes that have shaped their lives, whilst A Wilder Vein (with another introduction by Robert Mac) 'focuses on relationships between the people and the wild places of Britain and Ireland.' Dipping in I spy Ardnamurchan, Skokholm, the Yorkshire Dales, Humber and the Highlands to name a few.
I wonder how women may see and write this differently, in a genre that seems to be well-populated by men??
I am new to the writing of Richard Mabey but my thanks to Profile Books who wrote to me about something else but responded to my pleas with a parcel of books which included The Perfumier and the Stinkhorn, a series of meditations on sensory responses and how they influence our interactions and attitudes towards nature. It is a small book which I suspect contains far more than one reading will reveal, and will doubtless have me going around sniffing things next. I will have no trouble finding specimens to relate to when I have read Weeds The Story of Outlaw Plants. We have long given up the battle and instead learned to live alongside and amongst weeds as a 'flower by any other name' ...you cannot fight nature when you live slap bang in the middle of it as we do, and nor would an immaculately manicured garden look real in the middle of that environment...or so we tell ourselves in its absence, especially after the recent landscaping escapade. I love the idea of this book, a cultural history of weeds, these 'indomitable, opportunist plants which thrive best where we may want them least.'
I had snuck back to Notes From Walnut Tree Farm one night last week, it is a book which feels like an old friend now and came across a quote that I immediately had to write down.
'I want all my friends to come up like weeds, and I want to be a weed myself, spontaneous and unstoppable. I don't want the kind of friends I have to cultivate...'
Doesn't Roger Deakin have a wonderfully direct and uncompromising way of saying what he means.
And finally several of you mentioned The Sea Room by Adam Nicolson and you are in great company because our friend Robert mentions it too in The Old Ways. One of the ancient routes he travels is by sea from Lewis to the Shiants, (pronounced Shants) the three islands inherited by Adam Nicholson at the age of twenty-one.
Described as 'one of the most beautiful places on the planet' I can't disagree having found this picture, and as a celebration of island life the book will apparently fill me with homesickness for a place I have never been to.
It might be the one I read next after Kathleen Jamie's Sightlines, which currently has my undivided attention and I will have much to say about it.
And bookmarks...I almost forgot.
I ordered some cards from Janis Goodman a regular commenter here and Janis kindly included some postcards of her etchings...what's not to love.