Crow Country was the first Mark Cocker book I came across, and realised it was a Norfolk book. Years ago I ran a ‘Local Hero’ reading challenge, where participants could add books about their own local patch – the size of the patch being largely dependent on the reader. For me, Norfolk, for others, maybe their city, state, or even country. That meme didn’t go past one year, and Crow Country remained on my list. Every time my bookclub asked for suggestions, I mentioned it. Eventually, when I was reading it during 30 Days Wild, they got it too. I missed the meeting when it was discussed, but I did get some feedback.
A few weeks after I read it (and just over a week ago) Mark spoke at my Bird Society meeting, about environmentalism, its origins, development, and the threats to our planet as a result of ignoring the damage we’re doing to it. I think that more or less covers the four points he intended to talk about. Mark is a great and inspirational speaker – if you get a chance, go and see him. Take your books to be signed too 😉
As well as being a Local Hero book, Crow Country adds to my Non-fiction Adventure.
by Mark Cocker
One night Mark Cocker followed the roiling, deafening flock of rooks and jackdaws which regularly passed over his Norfolk home on their way to roost in the Yare valley. From the moment he watched the multitudes blossom as a mysterious dark flower above the night woods, these gloriously commonplace birds were unsheathed entirely from their ordinariness. They became for Cocker a fixation and a way of life.
Cocker goes in search of them, journeying from the cavernous, deadened heartland of South England to the hills of Dumfriesshire, experiencing spectacular failures alongside magical successes and epiphanies. Step by step he uncovers the complexities of the birds’ inner lives, the unforeseen richness hidden in the raucous crow song he calls ‘our landscape made audible’.
Crow Country is a prose poem in a long tradition of English pastoral writing. It is also a reminder that ‘Crow Country’ is not ‘ours’: it is a landscape which we cohabit with thousands of other species, and these richly complex fellowships cannot be valued too highly. [goodreads]
Mark Cocker writes beautifully and lovingly about the countryside, both in Norfolk and elsewhere, and in particular about his obsession with corvids. He makes his case for this group of birds with intelligence and sympathy. They are indeed some of the most engaging and interesting creatures. But then I suspect most are, if you like studying them.
I enjoyed reading the book, although I occasionally got distracted by some of the prose. I noticed early on that a beautifully scripted passage could become carried away by words; more gorgeous words evolved into curlicues of imagination, wafting upwards like the chitinous wings of a dragonfly. I thought I’d noted a particular passage, but couldn’t find it to cite. While this gave me pause to admire at first, I found it jarring later. The trouble to me was that I didn’t know where this book was going. After a while, describing his search to follow more ancient rooks to their roosts or rookeries (these are two different functional spaces for rooks), he took us into the history of birding. Within each single chapter we would suddenly switch between dry narrative and effulgent flights of evocative description.
So, in spite of it being supremely well researched, both academically and geographically, I risked losing patience with it, until it got back in the end to discussion of the rooks’ activity near his home. I wondered whether the simple mechanism of a chapter heading, rather than just the number, would have solved my problem. I think the general view of my bookclub echoed my feelings.
But Crow Country is beautifully written and researched, provides wonderful insight into the birds themselves, and also to birding and birders, and is well worth reading. It’s not going to deter me from reading the other books of his I own, either.Crow Country by Mark Cocker 'beautifully written and researched, provides wonderful insight into corvids, and also to birding and birders' #StillWild #birds Click To Tweet
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