The story of Into the Tangled Bank - November 21
I had the best summer job whilst I was a student; driving a van for an agricultural estate that had spotted a market for Yew tree trimmings, a vital ingredient in breast cancer treatment.
I spent some glorious summers driving from one country house to another, raking up, weighing and loading tonnes of Yew trimmed from immaculate hedges, mazes and topiary.
It was an excellent introduction to some magnificent English landscapes along with the people responsible for their manicured state.
One particular encounter, with a gangly old gardener who distinctly reminded me of the Big Friendly Giant, complete with oddly mangled West Country phrases, sprang to mind as I read Lev Parikian's Into the Tangled Bank.
Like many of the Victorian naturalists whose homes Lev visits in his book, this gentle giant combined a deep love of the natural world with a passion for hunting; in his case, wildfowling on the local estuary in a Duck Punt.
As we waited for a shower to pass, sat on piles of fragrant conifer drinking coffee from his flask, he conjured a captivating vision of punting amongst the reedbeds of the local tidewater.
Setting out before first light, he was on the water to hear the dawn chorus strike up. He related the experience by imitating the sound of each species, as he noted when and how they contributed to the cacophonous symphony.
Sat in the back of my much-loved Sprinter van, he painted a scene of the creeping colours of sunrise spreading across the sky as vividly as if I were viewing it myself.
His story, and the enthusiasm with which it was narrated, has stuck with me ever since.
This is how I felt whilst reading Lev's work.
When he describes his encounter with a Perfectly Normal Tree, albeit, with the words 'HUG ME' daubed on its trunk, it feels as if you're right there, not hugging it with him.
In Into the Tangled Bank, Lev takes us on a series of jaunts to experience the full spectrum of English nature, entreating not to impatiently head straight out in search of otters, eagles and dolphins.
Instead, he begins by helping us appreciate the domestic nature close at hand: house spiders, woodlouse, earthworms and that Perfectly Normal Tree, before letting rip with the really wild stuff.
An absolute joy of a book.
Start your subscription during November to receive this as your first book.
The Long Garden at Clivedon - Flickr User Mark - used under Creative Commons
Sunrise Creek - Flickr User Tom McC - used under Creative Commons