As we all go quietly crazy during this crisis it is worth remembering that for some the constant routine, walking the same route day in, day out, knowing exactly what comes next, is a positive, necessary even, for stability and mental health. But things are not going to be the same for anyone. Regardless of the virus, the future has a big question mark over it.
Writers of the future will have their work cut out to represent what it was like to be alive in the year 2020. We have a crisis within a crisis. Corona within climate crisis. Do present day writers and poets have their heads stuck firmly in the climate crisis sand? Maybe some.
But one young man is already ahead of the game. Dara McAnulty, a teenager living in Northern Ireland with his family has written Diary of a Young Naturalist published by the excellent Little Toller Books – an independent family run press in Dorset which publishes books on the natural world.
I am grateful to have found this press on a list of indie publishers on Susan Osborne’s blog A Life in Books. Thank you Susan.
Firstly, Dara’s book as physical item. At £16 the book is not cheap. But it is such a joy to hold a well produced hard cover copy with an attractively designed dust jacket after years of struggling with e-reader annotation systems most of which are clunky and dire.
This copy is a joy to hold; the pleasing heft of good quality paper . It reminds me of a time when there were book collectors, and that books were collected as much for appearance as content.
Divided like the year into sections on Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter the book is a diary about a young boy’s love of, understanding of and connections to the natural world. Despite being only 15 years of age, McAnulty writes with a passionate lyricism, a wisdom – and yes, vision – about birds, plants, animals and trees. And oh boy, can this young man write.
“I’m lying on the ground looking up at the branches of an oak tree. Dappled light is shining through the canopy, the leaves whisper ancient incantations. This tree, in its living stage, rooted in sights and sounds that I’ll never know, has witnessed extinctions and wars, loves and losses. I wish we could translate the language of trees – hear their voices, know their stories.”
Sadly some of Dara’s school friends do not understand or share his passion and it is clear that he suffers cruelly from bullying at school and from a sense of belonging nowhere except the forests, nature reserves and gardens that he craves. The fear of school – its rigid lack of understanding of an individual child’s needs, its focus on conformity – is a constant although sometimes unspoken presence in the early stages of the story. Anyone who knows the feeling of being an outsider, can take comfort from this writing as well as from the victories it describes. And in Summer, he finds a friend…
In fact the very existence of this book is an indictment of educational systems. Dara tells us that his parents were once told by a teacher: ‘Your son will never be able to complete a comprehension, never mind string a paragraph together.’
Yet, as Dara says, here we are.
And where we are – or desperately need to be – is recognising, encouraging and educating the naturalists of the future rather than disparaging them. Because we need them badly. Thank goodness young people are taking the lead – the school strikes for climate for example in which Dara has taken part. These young people are the ones that will have to solve the problems that self-serving older generations have left behind. Our legacy of destruction.
Yes this is a fantastic book and yes I heartily recommend it to anyone even vaguely concerned about the disappearance of our natural world. But mostly it is a call to action. Dara doesn’t want anyone to tell him how great he is, or what a role model he is. He just wants us to educate our children and grandchildren to join in his conservation efforts.
The RSPB website reminds us:
Nature is still in crisis, with more than 40 million birds having vanished from UK skies in just 50 years and one in ten of our wildlife are critically endangered.
Nature has powerful allies in the new, young generations who refuse to accept expedience and compromise, who do not rely on vague hopes that it will probably be OK or someone else will sort it. This fight belongs to us all.