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.

Winter cover.indd

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.

Megan Shersby is a naturalist, blogger and (amateur) pan-species lister. She is a committee member of A Focus On Nature, working as their Online & Social Media Manager. She is currently living in London, but will soon be moving to Bristol to start a new and exciting job. She is passionate about inspiring others to explore the natural world. You can follow her on Twitter at: @MeganShersby, or via her blog at: mshersby.wordpress.com

Making friends with dragons

Everything is beginning to calm down and sort itself out in my life, which is wonderful and also means that I may just have some time to write my blog again! Fingers crossed! There is a lot I could write about in this post, but I am going to focus on a nature walk I took recently – the first in ages and it was wonderful!

(c) Andrew Kerwick-Chrisp

A friend and I decided to use a weekend day to visit Irthlingborough Lakes and Meadows in Northamptonshire. This was a new nature reserve for me so I didn’t know what to expect, but it is on his doorstep so he knows it quite well. However, he isn’t wildlife-mad/obsessed like myself so it turned out to be a learning experience for him too. Not to mention that he hasn’t seen me in wildlife-mad/obsessed mode before, so that also turned out to be a learning experience for him! (Yes, I do actually associate with people outside the world of natural history!)

I managed to find quite a few plump and juicy blackberries to snack on, although we are beginning to near the end of their season sadly. We even found a dragonfly – which I believe to be a Common Darter (Sympetrum striolatum) though I am completely out of practice, so do let me know if I’m wrong! We watched it for a minute or two, and I tried to get a decent photo of it. I think I did quite well, though not an amazing photo. It then flew off and we didn’t see where it landed, until we went to walk on again at which point my friend noticed that it had landed on my hair! It actually stayed there for about 5 minutes or so, and only flew off when I went to carry on walking. On an unrelated note – how fantastic does my plait look in the photos?!

Further along the way, we were intrigued by the sight of a lady crouching down in the grass by the side of the path. What could she be up to? Something nefarious or was she, like I usually do, looking at something interesting? It turned out that she was photographing Shaggy Ink Caps (Coprinus comatus), a lovely fungus that it is one of the easier species to identify. Apparently it is edible and quite tasty, but before the black ink begins to appear. I wouldn’t take my word for it though, as I don’t know much about foraging for mushrooms!

What with there being lakes at this nature reserve, there were a fair few birds about – Grey Heron (Ardea cinerea), Lapwing (Vanellus vanellus), Black-headed Gull (Chroicocephalus ridibundus), Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos), etc etc. I had my duck identification skills tested, after quite a few months of not even attempting any duck ID. Racking my brains, I managed to remember that they were Wigeon (Anas penelope) and Teal (Anas crecca). It shouldn’t have been quite so difficult to remember, but I am very out of practice with ducks! Must work harder!

We almost passed by this female Blackbird (Turdus merula) without noticing her, she was sitting ever so still and quietly in the Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna) tree. A little later, we spotted another Blackbird, this time a male who was not so still but instead was enjoying some haw berries.

Our last find was a good one – a grasshopper! I had wondered if it would be too late in the year or too chilly to find any Orthoptera, but I was not to be disappointed it seems. With the side keels of the pronotum being so straight and almost parallel, my guess would be Lesser Marsh Grasshopper (Chorthippus albomarginatus)?

All in all, a rather nice nature walk. I bet it is even better in late spring and summer when I am sure it is buzzing with even more Orthoptera, and filled with exciting wildflowers and other insects!

In other news, I have left National Trust’s Wimpole Estate (though not before finding a rare fungus!), moved house, and have exciting plans for the near future. Watch this space! For now, a few tweets of what else has been happening recently: