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Review: Rain: Four Walks in English Weather by Melissa Harrison

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My Interest

I found this little gem while looking around for books short enough to finish for #Springathon, a nature book reading challenge I participated in May. I would love to do some walks in the countryside of England, Scotland, or Wales, if we are ever able to travel again, so I thought this book might help keep that hope alive. Happily, I was right–it did the job and did it well.

Thank you to blogger Lola Et La Vie for introducing me to this book. Won’t you be nice and click on the link and explore her blog?

The Story

[T]here are hips bright as blood, too, and beside the path a straggle of field mustard, most likely a farmland escapee, blooms yellow and incongruous against the grey January sky: I crush a little between my fingers for its peppery smell and wonder whether spring may not be so far away after all.

The Walks:

  • Wicken Fen in January
  • Shropshire in April
  • The Darent Valley in August
  • Dartmoor in October

I intended to read this one seasonally, but it was so good, and so short, I just kept reading. It is part memoir, part nature book, part walking-as-hobby book. The writing drew me in and let me feel the surrounding countryside as well as the rain. There were just enough personal memories and stories to make this a complete nonfiction “novella.”

The old drystone walls bounding the road where we walk are shaggy with moss and dog lichen and pinned with medals of pennywort and the delicate buttonholes of maidenhair spleenwort, all beaded silver with rain.

My Thoughts

Author Melissa Harrison, whose book At Hawthorn Time was shortlisted for the Costa Prize in 2015, write wonderful prose. Her descriptions of the surrounding environment are vivid and enticing. I am a little sad that I discovered her work nearly two seasons into my year of seasonal reading because her other books include 4 seasonal anthologies–what a treasure those must be. I hope to at least work in the Autumn volume this year.

Her writing is so well done that I had several new vocabulary words to learn. Two of them were:

  1. Cagoules: a lightweight, hooded, thigh-length waterproof jacket, essential for walking in the rain.

2. Tors: a hill or rocky peak–an interesting name for such a landmark.

There is also a helpful glossary in the back of the book with 100 words/phrases describing rain and another section with meteorological terms for rain–both of which I found fascinating.

My Verdict

4.0

A perfect little read for Novellas in November‘s nonfiction week–or maybe some year there will be a nature week?

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Review: The first of two books with the same title: Wintering. Stephen Rutt’s Wintering: A Season With Geese

My Interest

I started this year determined to read “seasonally”–winter books in winter, etc. I had encountered both of these books, and both resonated with me when I read about them. I tried the sample on Amazon for each–something I rarely do. I actually purchased both because I did not want to rush through either one. They are the first two of my “winter” books that I’ve finished.

Thanks to Liz Dexter’s review at Shiney New Books for bringing this book to my attention, Won’t you be nice and click to read her review, too?

“I find hope in the borderless world of birds.”

(p. 29-30)

The Story

Geese have become fascinating to me because for the 12 + years on my current job, a gaggle of geese has made our office parking lot, and the little fake pond by the Mercedes Benz dealership next door, it’s Springtime home. A goose sits on eggs most years in the same little island in the parking lot, it’s ground covering plants [what are they? vines? Not grass that’s for sure] must appeal to female geese. They walk around the parking lot, risk their lives crossing the street to Burger King and Wendy’s or follow the cul de sac to Buffalo and Wild Wings or Bob Evans. They do not have nice toilet manners, nor are they always nice to passing humans. But it is enjoyable to see them arrive and, especially, to arrive in the morning and find the mother is now on her nest.

Author Stephen Rutt says of his childhood: “I grew up awkward. Always unsure of my place in the scheme of things. Never sure what I was working towards. The world was a vast and perplexing and the temptation to retreat into a book was always strong. Getting into nature–in its broadest sense of the world around me–was a salve. (p. 129). He began bird watching–his father liked bird watching around their home in Suffolk. In time he says, “The quest becomes something bigger. A way of understanding the world around me. A way of understanding me” (p, 131).

For a year he spends his time studying geese from his new home in Dumfries and in the environs known to have geese making their annual stop in the UK while migrating. Later in the year, he teams up again with his father to search for certain elusive geese in the marshlands near their home and elsewhere in the U.K,

My Thoughts

Educator Charlotte Mason championed educating only with living books, not textbooks. This is certainly a living book. the geese, their markings, their habitats, and habits are made real by Rutt’s prose.

The neck collar meets at the front, like a pearly white, expensive smile. It carries a clarity about it. The sharper goose” (p. 126).

I love some of his descriptions of the scenery in which he finds the geese, too.

I had never seen ice on a beach. The shingle solid, each individual pebble delicately thorned with hoar frost (p. 149)

Possibly this one entranced me because I’ve never been to “shingle” beach with rocks–only those with and. The picture he paints is awe-inspiring.

The marsh is bleached with ice” (p. 150) I can just picture. I’ve seen marshland. I know its look and its feel. “Bleached” is the very word needed for this description.

This is a delightful book. It may be a little slow for today’s kids to enjoy as a read aloud, but I would try it. Maybe in the Spring when the geese come back. Look for them at nearby ponds or lakes or even at the shopping center–they seem to like those as well as my office parking lot. Maybe throw in a viewing of Fly Away Home, a movie Stephen enjoyed as a child. Regardless, read this one yourself if nothing else. It is beautiful.

My Verdict

4.5

Wintering: A Season With Geese by Stephen Rutt