4 out of 5 stars
A copy of this was provided free of charge from the publisher in return for an honest review.
Stephen Rutt was visiting family in Bedfordshire when the national lockdown was announced in March 2020. What was supposed to be a short visit became a much longer stay as they could not return to his home in Dumfries. It was a time of anxiety for many people and in particular for Rutt and his partner as they are medically vulnerable people too. It felt like his spring had been stolen and the book he was originally going to write on warblers became this on summers past and future.
He like so many others during the pandemic sought some solace in the natural world. You would expect that from a nature writer, but Rutt has a keener eye than most and one of the things that he begins to notice is the way that the seasons are being changed and moulded by the growing disaster that is climate change. In the past, there was a sense of order to things, cold winter days reset life each year and as the light increased during spring warmth and life flooded back into the world. Now we can get days in December that are as warm as July and rain in June that can be as bad as the worst of the winter storms.
How much the season and blending into each other was brought home in two instances he recounts. In the first he is in a friends garden with and that friend spots a browncap in the mahonia. It is the first he has seen overwintering in the UK. The second instance is on a break in Cornwall in February. The sky turned from grey to pewter and then the snow started to fall. A postman they passed, said he had not seen snow for 30 years there. The birds that would be deep in the scrub were everywhere searching for food, including a chiffchaff.
Until that point, he had considered both of these summer birds. They were there because they had adapted, rather they could stay in the UK because the climate was changing and it was more conducive for them to remain rather than travel south. Part of the world is getting weirder and the once familiar order of things is changing. It is happening at a speed that we cannot get used to either. It is on another trip to visit family that they become stuck as a national lockdown is enforced. They will be in Bedford for the foreseeable future with no option to return home. As worrying as it is, it does give him the time to ponder the way that the world is changing.
Being stuck in because of being medically vulnerable means that he has to rely on technology to move him to the places that he wants to see. Looking at these places on the screen gives him a stronger longing to go and see them in person when he is able to. Seeing them from a screen though also gives him time to think about phenology, The science of recording when things happen and to see how and if they move year on year. It is also a useful tool to see how a changing climate is affecting vast swathes of wildlife as the normal synchronisations fall out of place.
He does manage to make it out of the house they are locked down in for his one hour of permitted exercise, it helps with the natural history fix that he needs. The quieter roads with people forced to stay home mean that wildlife that you wouldn’t normally see is suddenly much more visible to an almost silent walker. He is surprised by a Little Owl and comes face to face with a Chinese Water Deer. As they pass the summer solstice they have the opportunity to return home to Scotland and restart their lives in a world that has changed.
This is another fine book from Rutt, he is not yet 30 and has written three! It is more personal than his first two and written with a wistful melancholy that the lockdown gave him. I like the way that he uses short essays on a variety of subjects from nightjars to spiders to how much wetter everything is getting in between the chapters. It is a book to make you think too, think about what we are doing to this planet, the changes that we are having on delicate and fragile ecosystems and what the long term implications are for us as a species.