I chose Meadowland to read during #30DaysWild because it seemed the right thing to do. It was on my list for may reasons, not only for its wildlife story, but for research purposes. You may remember that five (already?) years ago I attended two writers workshops as part of the Norfolk & Norwich Festival. Last year I hit on an idea for something I might write about in depth. Then when Meadowland came out, I was afraid my idea was too similar.
Well, it is, but it isn’t. The idea still stands up. And I learnt a lot from my research, so thank you, John Lewis-Stempel!
Meadowland: The Private Life of an English Field
‘To stand alone in a field in England and listen to the morning chorus of the birds is to remember why life is precious.’
In exquisite prose John Lewis-Stempel records the passing seasons in an ancient meadow on his farm. His unique and intimate account of the birth, life, and death of the flora and fauna—from the pair of ravens who have lived there longer than he has to the minutiae underfoot—is threaded throughout with the history of the field and recalls the literature of other observers of our natural history in a remarkable piece of writing that follows the tradition of Jeffries, Mabey, and Deakin.
John Lewis-Stempel is a full-time farmer who, like many farmers in England, appreciate the benefits of coexisting with the wildlife on their land. But what he really loves is writing about nature in all its shapes and senses. He writes beautifully. An artist of the written word, he takes us from the bleak wet and cold January in the boggy bit at the bottom of his meadow, through a hot summer where he has to race against time to hand cut his hay. He brings us full circle through to winter, through the golden days of November that suddenly turn to grey.
Through it all we meet creatures great and small. We witness the passing of his beloved matronly cow, and time the seasons in the shape of migrating birds.
But the minute creatures are the magic of this book! Lewis-Stemper knows his invertebrates, and their histories and lifecycles and communities – it was a revelation. Who knew that inside that anthill, the ants farm their own cave of home-reared aphids, to feed them through the winter? I certainly didn’t! Several species of beetle are lovingly tracked and explained too. The whole world within a dung heap (cowpat). It brings to mind some of my favourite alien species flash fictions!
Yes, some of the explanations may be well-known to nature programme watchers, but who knows whether they are the same audience for the book?
I became engrossed in this book, in the natural cycles of life, with the occasional diversions into wider Hereford histories and parallels. While early diversions seemed somewhat irritating, they started to have their own rhythm, and, especially when dealing with anecdotes passed down through his own family (farming there for 500 years!), they became more works of art than folk tales.
So, the real reason I didn’t do much this last week of my 30 Days Wild, is that I was reading about wild things.Meadowland 'An absolute treasure of a book, easy to read once, then look forward to reading again.' #nature #bookreview #30DaysWild Click To Tweet
PS Apologies for any typos I’ve missed. My cataract is playing up this week.