This post is not about talking animals animals that dress up in boots and feathered cavalier hats, nor frogs who change into princes, that’s for another day. No these books were another passion altogether and began very early in my life. Books on the natural world around us. Nature in all its forms, and although animals and plants were my first interest, always the why? and how? of it all intrigued; ecology without a name back then in my youth.
For someone who is city to her bone marrow, never comfortable tramping across wilderness, it is hard to determine why I studied the natural world so assiduously and for so long, for I have continued over the 60+ years to try and keep up to date with the world and all its wonders. Now I tremble for the fate of the planet, back then I trembled for the fate of an earthworm cut in two by my father’s garden spade.
One of the best times in primary school were the nature walks and nature table. Never enough for me I also craved nature books. Looking through my shelves I see many old, shabby backed, books – I remember when I received many of them.I collected many that were far too old for me – but books were a rarity post WWII, new ones even more so; friends and family scoured the second hand bookshops to find me information on the natural world. Many were heavy both in content and size, I cared not, they were mine and real, I struggled through the academic language many were couched in and gleaned enough understanding to feed my awe.
Not all were so, the Puffin books of my extreme youth provided me with my earliest memories, first read to me and then read by me. Then the Observer’ books were collected and I began a love hate affair with lists and categories. Many books on the natural world are like this, identification pictures and facts. One needed these I supposed, but my mind always tried to reject them. I have always preferred the ‘feel’ of a thing rather than the hardness of facts. However,so great was my desire to know I persevered.
Then came ‘stories’ of other’s animals Gerald Durrell being the most prolific and then there was A. R Lloyd, H.M. Batten and E Svendsen, Nina Hooke. Books about every kind of animal. Studies from life not acedemic lists.
One memorable Christmas when I was about 10, my father presented me with the complete works of The Book of Nature Study, all six volumes. I was over the moon. Did I understand them all? No of course not but they were exciting and again I gleaned enough for me to know they were worth keeping and try again. Re-reading the preface of the first book I refer you back to C is for shifting language and styles for my thoughts on how children cope with language.
In most matters of importance there are various ways of attacking the main problems that come up for solution. The subject of education forms no exception to the rule, and different experts-and, it may be added,faddists also-have strenuously advocated mutually exclusive methods as alone capable of leading to satisfactory results. The numerous exponents cannot all be right, and perhaps none of them are altogether wrong in their ideas.Even those who only aspire to fill the pupil with certain definite information, to be used for examination or other purposes, are able to urge that at anyrate they escape the charge of indefiniteness of aim which too often lies at the door of those who cry for education rather than instruction.
Preface to Vol One.
Put together by a wide range of ‘experts’ in their field the six volumes presented the natural world to me in all its many and varied forms. Anatomical drawings, facts given without lists but with a great deal of comparison, and reasoning. Teaching the student/reader to ask basic questions before attempting the answers to life’s variety. They were written aeon’s ago well at least 50 years ago but much still stands well though newer discoveries must be laid alongside this knowledge. I loved those books, I have them still.
Then there was a gap in my late teens (exams and college interfering with life!) then I was off on my travels. Travel light is always a good maxim. It was an art I never mastered. Pre e-book by centuries:) – for a bookworm all packing had to be done with a mind ahead to what would be needed for the mind’s comfort – 3/4 of any bag = books and then, of course, when arriving anywhere there are the local books of interest which HAVE to be collected, so that, on a cold drear wet day back in Blighty, one can refresh memories of gaily coloured parrots, snakes, landscapes et al. All packing for a return journey usually meant another bag/case and excess baggage/ shipping costs.
My collection of nature and wildlife books expanded and more and more the surrounding matter of ecology loomed large. My desire to know, led me to see with my own eyes more and more that nature wasn’t just about the animals and flowers of the world but the earth, rocks, quakes, storms, lava flows and so much more.
Back in the 80s after I returned from my travels, and had the time and space to quietly contemplate, I began to fear for this place I cared for so much. What we (and I was as guilty as others) were doing to our world in our belief we were not connected in any real sense to ‘other life forms’. The effects we humanity have on the natural world and where we are going on this irresponsible romp of ours.
I don’t really collect ‘nature’ books any more, I think possible enough is enough and really where else can I put shelves? the house groans under the weight of them all:) but I do watch Attenbourough avidly on TV. My attention and reading now is on ecology in the whole.Weather systems and huge food chains, the effects of desertification and flooding. I delight in every new species found and mourn each one lost. I follow in book form and modern communications the ecology of the planet as well as the smaller chains of connectedness. I seek out in my back garden and in the wider world the intricacies of our world.
The fascination from my early days of books remains, the remit has just grown and has now travelled from nature table to the globe.