Just a quick update post on my reading for the Gaia/nature reading challenge. One Adult nature memoir Wanderlands: A search for the magic in the landscape by Jini Reddy and a younger reader, nature non-fiction; The Book of Australian Trees by Inga Simpson illustrated by Alicia Rogerson.
Billed as a “love song to Australian trees”, Simpson’s book is lovely to look at with gold embossing on the cover and simple illustration by Alicia Rogerson. Informative, it is a book that aims to instil knowledge and respect for our unique trees in younger readers, stressing the importance of these trees to our equally unique wildlife as sources of food and shelter, stressing their importance to the broader ecosystem and to us. A nice, natural history introduction to Australian trees but I suspect it might lack the dynamism needed to really engage younger readers. For me, the most memorable entry was on the Antarctic beech, a Gondwana relic, the tree is now only found in a few small areas; the Barrington tops in NSW and southeast Queensland Gondwana rainforest. In Springbrook national park here in QLD you can see trees that are over 2000 years old but as Simpson points out:
“These forests have always been too wet to burn. But during the 2019 -2020 bushfires, up to half of the Gondwana rainforests burned for the first time. Unlike eucalypts, Antarctic beech have not adapted to survive fire. They cannot grow back.” (p22)
Another fact of note was that the river red gum does not just need rain to survive but regular flooding. They are one of our oldest species of gum and date back to a time when the continent was wetter: “Taking water from rivers for farming means less water for the trees and less floods. Today many ancient river red gums are dying.” (p.29). Lovely books like this can inform both adults and children, although most of the children I encounter are already surprisingly environmentally aware. This book would make a nice addition to any child’s natural history library, although it really only deals with fifteen of Australia’s iconic trees, and as stated previously, it does seem the lack the dynamism necessary to make a great kids book.
We have so many wonderful species of tree; the mountain ash, the bottle tree, bunyas and all the eucalypts, what’s your favourite tree? Out of this book, I struggle to choose between Old man banksia and the coastal she-oak whose whispering branches speak of peace and sea breezes. This is my children’s nature read for February and I am enjoying making the effort to rediscover the pleasure of great kids books.
My adult read is Jini Reddy’s Wanderlands: A search for meaning in the landscape. Have you ever had a sense of the uncanny when walking in the bush, when in wilder spaces? Jinni Reddy had a sort of haunting experience while camping alone on a mountain and it led to an experimental investigation of the mythic, the spiritual in the landscape, specifically the British landscape. I suspect it is not uncommon for us to sense the presence of something more than ourselves in wilder spaces, nature has long been associated with the sublime. I know I have felt the presence of something more than my own conscious self in some environments, sometimes that presence has felt welcoming other times it has felt darker, more eerie.
I really wanted to like this book more than I actually did but despite the promising premise, it actually felt a bit glib and superficial, more a journalistic assignment than an actual real open engagement with the question of deeper meaning and connection possible through natural environments. I think I was expecting something more like the work of Robert Mcfarlane but somehow this just didn’t hit the mark for me. Jinni Reddy comes from a more multicultural background than most nature writers, (her parents were Indian South Africans and Jinni grew up in Canada and the UK), maybe her abrasive tone is due to the fact that she identifies so strongly as “other” and an outsider, but it felt like she leapt to conclusions about others a little too frequently. Her assumptions about others judging her felt presumptuous and judgemental in their own way. Her engagement with the different nature experiences sometimes felt forced, almost needy, not natural. As someone whose heritage is white, anglo Saxon, I have no right to judge or pass comment but somehow the writing did not feel welcoming to the reader, just as Jinni seems to have this sense that she is not always welcome in certain places because of her ethnicity.
There are interesting elements in this book, discussions of the virtues of labyrinths and pilgrimage, the mysticism of trees and the general healing power of nature. Reddy ranges across the British Isles so there is a strong travel element to the book and she writes with deep respect for indigenous peoples and their thinking. There is reward in reading this book but it didn’t quite hit the mark for me.
Have you read anything for the Gaia/nature reading challenge? Let me know in the comments below.