Yesterday I was in the marvellous Etches Collection in Kimmeridge. Along the walls are examples of marine fossils and explanations about what we know about the lives of the animals that left such traces and how we came to know anything at all. A dad was assiduously following an educational guide to the museum on an iPad and trying to interest his young son in it. His son’s attention, however, was constantly drawn to the computer-generated Jurassic ocean that runs high up along both sides of the room. He was much more interested in the plesiosaurs, ichthyosaurs and ammonites that occasionally appeared in the synthetic ocean. An elderly gentleman came in, leaning heavily on his stick. Having uttered a few fanciful remarks about the Loch Ness monster being a plesiosaur to his politely sceptical wife he sat down and joined the boy, and myself, in scanning the wall for glimpses of long-extinct sea creatures. All our faces had a similar expression of curiosity and wonder.
In his superb new book, Rhythms of Nature, Ian Carter argues that such inter-generational fascination with the ‘ more than human world’ is rooted in our evolutionary history and traces how it has changed in the lived memories of his own family. One of the most appealing qualities of Ian’s writing is that he draws constantly on everyday experience to explore the big issues and ideas that shape our relationship with‘ Nature’ today. The routine of mowing the grass leads to a reflection on the challenges and merits of rewilding and keeping chickens turns into a meditation on ecology and landscape management.
It is difficult to do justice to the range of matters that are covered in this book, but I found it a hugely enriching read. It benefits, I think, from being a collection of essays, each one of which melds personal experience, lightly worn expertise and consideration of things we are all, or should be, concerned about, with information and details that encourage curiosity and wonder too. Each chapter is eye-opening and provides pause for thought. It also goes against the grain of a lot of contemporary nature writing by being intentionally funny- ‘ forest bathing’ being described as a ‘ fancy term for a stroll in the woods’!
Finally, it needs to be said that Pelagic Publishing has produced a beautiful book, that will fit into a pocket. As Lev Parisian says in the blurb, Rhythms of Nature, ‘ is like a conversation with a clever friend’, and so it seems to meet that Ian’s book can easily be taken with you, like the field guides that so inspired him.
- Rhythms of Nature by Ian Carter is published by Pelagic Publishing (£14.99). To order a copy go to pelagicpublishing.com
Ian Tattum is a priest in the Church of England who writes occasional pieces about the people who shaped the history of science and human and animal travel-real and fictional.