Those of us who have barnacled ourselves to inhospitable places may be trying to avoid people not because we do not like people, but because we love the things that people destroyed. Wild things. Horizons. Trolls. – Catherine Raven, Fox and I: An Uncommon Friendship.
Catherine Raven’s reflective Fox and I: An Uncommon Friendship was amongst my reads for February. Raven a biologist and academic eloquently records her unexpected friendship with a wild fox. Intelligent and eloquent, I really enjoyed Raven’s reflections on the wild and our relationship to it, it is a hard book to describe, perhaps Helen MacDonald’s H is for Hawk is the closest comparison I can make.
Raven builds a home on a piece of isolated wild land, and in the process observes the life around her, becoming particularly close to a wild fox that seems to seek out her companionship as much as she seems to need his. She is careful not to anthropomorphise fox and yet she finds it hard to remain completely objective about her relationship with this wild animal. Fox increasingly worms his way into her life and a routine develops between them. Fox visits everyday at the same time and stays for the same amount of time. Raven falls into the habit of reading to fox to test his interest and attention to her and from there develops a relationship as magical and rewarding as the emergence of rainbows after a storm and just as ephemeral.
It is a curious and surprising book in many ways, that challenges us to think about how we relate to the wild and the domestic, what do we get from our relationship to animals, especially the wild. It is a reflection on solitude and connection, peppered with literary references and eloquent writing. A profoundly contemplative book, it won’t be everyone’s cup of tea but I really enjoyed it and the intellectual companionship of Raven herself. This one is definitely a great read for the Gaia/nature challenge.
“Why do men bother with churches at all when instead they might make cathedrals out of sky and water? Better a chorus of birds than a choir. Better an altar of leaves. Baptise me in rainfall and crown me with sunrise. If I am still, somehow, God’s child, let me find grace in the mysteries of bat-shriek and honeycomb.”
The other read from February that counts as a nature read was Hannah Kent’s new novel Devotion. Some, simply beautiful writing, a strange and beautiful, historical, love story. A bit slow to get into, but so worth the journey.
The novel is a fictionalised account of the Prussian Lutheran settlement in South Australia, told through the eyes of Hanne, something of a misfit, very much a child of nature. The novel begins in Prussia and recounts something of the religious persecution that led to the migration of Lutheran settlers to the hills around Adelaide. Kent’s writing is deeply engaging, soaked in history, she skilfully evokes the dynamics of the community and the deep friendship that emerges between Hanne and Thea.
A beautifully crafted book Kent narrates an appalling sea voyage and then jolts the reader with a significant twist. She also skilfully addresses issues around colonialism and the fact that this country was far from uninhabited. Mostly what I loved about this remarkable book was the glorious writing and the celebration of the sublime that nature is:
“The good Lord knows, if I could live any moment of my life over again, it would be that one. Ribs divided, heart devouring the knife-edge of beauty. To see the ocean for the first time, every time. Her hand in mine.
Holy blade that guts us with awe.”
Just a quick post to update reading briefly, both of the above books are great nature reads for the Gaia/nature challenge. I could and should say so much more about the above reads but I find I am needing a bit of a mental health break at the moment. A short post is better than no post I guess. Hope everyone is getting to enjoy some time outside at the moment and some good reads.