It's funny how you come across people. I encountered Melissa Harrison on Twitter. She lives quite near me and we have a shared interest in Tooting Commons. Her first novel, Clay is set partly on the Commons, and in the roads round here. Somewhat fictionalised but recognisable, even though the topography is creative!
When I read that she had brought out an Anthology of writing about Spring, I was curious, but not really knowing what to expect. Suffice to say that I enjoyed Spring so much that I bought Summer, Autumn and Winter.
Each of them came out just before the season in question. Each of them followed the same pattern, as one would expect with a set.
Fundamentally, each volume contains 60 or so pieces of writing relating to the seasons in questions. According to my Kindle each piece takes between 1 and 5 minutes to read. Many of the pieces are contemporary, by writers you may not have heard of. These are matched by writers from history - some of them very famous indeed, such as Shakespeare and both the Wordsworths. Others historical writers included in each volume are Thomas Furly Foster (d. 1825), a botanist whose natural history journals were compiled and published by his son, and Reverend Gilbert White (d. 1793), whose nature journals were published in 1931.
Perhaps inevitably, the writers from earlier centuries are predominantly male, but by the 20th century more women's writing was being noticed, from Virginia Woolf to Nan Shepherd and Clare Leighton, and many of the 21st century contributions are from women.
I was unsure whether I would like so much writing about Nature. Say it quietly, but I'm not that interested in Nature. I'll rephrase that. I don't carry much interest on a micro level, but do enjoy the macro level. I can barely name some of the most common trees and flowers, let alone birds and insects. I have tried, intermittently and halfheartedly, but I simply can't retain the information anything like as well as I do with many other topics.
Inevitably, with any anthology, there will be pieces one really likes, ones that are okay, and ones that, try as you might, keep reading the same paragraph over and again, it's not going in and it's not lighting up any part of my brain.
I'm not a great fan of poetry, and find that most - though not all - of the poems here would be just as well - better - expressed in prose. Dorothy Wordsworth's diary entry on encountering daffodils reads so much better than her brother's more well-known poem.
Some of the writers are professionals, or dedicated hobbyists, within Nature, and tend to provide too much detail. I find it particularly irksome when they list names of rare birds they see. Part of me 'gets' why this is important but a much larger part is 'so what'. The pieces that work best for me are ones that observe the changing seasons, or show how human beings, especially the writers, interact with the land. In some pieces, the writers describe how they have introduced their children to Nature, and, on the whole, this is a Good Thing.
These books are worthwhile for anyone who has even a passing interest in The Great Outdoors or in language/literature. None of the excerpts are long and many are thought inspiring. Having realised I'll never learn to identify flora and fauna, nevertheless, I believe that, overall, these pieces have contributed a greater insight to my walks and perhaps even my photography.
I chose to read these at a pace of one or two pieces more or less every day and I was delighted to find that the ordering of the pieces was subtly chronological and ran in tandem with my speed of reading. I am writing this on a lovely day in mid February with definite signs of Spring (however premature) and I would suggest that you start a delightful year of reading within the next few days with the book on Spring.