The Stubborn Light of Things: A Nature Diary by Melissa Harrison

4 out of 5 stars

I have never been one to keep a journal or a diary, but I can see why people do it, especially nature diaries. if you are noting the arrival of swifts and the first flush of May flowers then you will never remember the exact day unless you have it written down somewhere.

For writers like Melissa Harrison, it is essential. The seasons grind relentlessly on and if you don’t note those details that you see when out and about then they are missed. This book is a collection of her diary columns for the Nature Notebook in The Times. They go back to August 2014 and are not only a record of what she saw prior to the column being written but a glimpse into her personal life as she moved from a busy city life to the big skies of Suffolk.

One of the things that you will notice is her observation skills. This is something that her father taught her and her other five siblings as they were led on walks over Dartmoor looking for all sorts of things. Walking is her preferred method of interacting with nature. It is fast enough to take in a variety of different habitats over the course of the walk, but slow enough that you don’t miss the things than if you were cycling. Harrison also takes the time to sit, watch and absorb the things around her; the water slipping by a jetty in a river, the way that the light fades at dusk when sitting in a favourite oak tree with a glass of wine.

Each tree, then, is a record of difficulties faced and overcome: tempered as we all are, by each passing year.

I really liked this, her prose is richly detailed without feeling overwritten. . Harrison has a wide interest in all manner of things from the state of the verges to the joy of being able to see a barn owl quartering the field opposite her home in Suffolk. She often says that she is no expert, she is not interested in chasing the tick for a particular species, rather she is walking the footpaths of her village just to spend time in the natural world and to see what is there that particular day. Even though she says she is no expert, the particles of knowledge are building up every time she ventures out, she can now recognise a Cetti’s warbler from their song spotting holes in a riverbank where voles live and spotting dragonflies on a tributary of the Stour in Dorset.

What is also evident is her fury; she rightly gets angry about the sorry state of the natural world and the catastrophic collapses in invertebrates and migrant birds. She was instrumental in getting a contractor to remove the netting from a site in my hometown of Guildford that they had placed over trees just before the nesting season had started. Even though they have been published before, these are the full articles for her country column that have not had the newspaper editor

Her award-winning podcast is here:

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  1. Liz Dexter

    This sounds wonderful and I love that she praises the slow ways of looking at local nature, not just rushing around ticking lists!

    • Paul

      Exactly that. Go and enjoy all the benefits of the natural world and don’t treat it as some sort of competition

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