on 29 June 2014
This is the story of four fields on three different continents; his local field on the Cambridge fens a Zambian field, an America prairie and an abandoned field in Chernobyl in Ukraine.
Each of these locations has a story to tell, not only of the history that permeates them, but of the people that relied on them, the flora and fauna that inhabit them, and how they have been moulded to suit the will of man.
With his local field he describes the way that it changes throughout the seasons. The writing is beautiful and evocative; it almost makes you image in that you are standing alongside as he tells you the things that he is seeing. The fields that he visits abroad are so very different to the fens at home, from the fragile prairie, the wildness of the African farm and the abandonment of the file close to the scene of the nuclear disaster.
Nothing groundbreaking you might think, but with his acute observational skill and his eloquent descriptions of what he sees when he walks around these landscapes, make this a fine natural history book.
This is a wonderfully dense, slow moving and thought-provoking book.
In may ways everything else I am going to say will be just an extension of that opening line – if you are in a hurry I recommend you stop reading this and buy the book.
For those of you with a little more time I will expand my comments a little.
Fields are a strange combination of nature and human control – and the fours fields of books title show varying degrees of these two aspects. The Fens fields of East Anglia and the abandoned fields of Chernobyl are mostly, but not entirely, human. The fields of Africa and North America are mostly, but not entirely, still shaped by nature.
The fen fields of East Anglia are returned to in a conventional seasonal approach, but the content of these four chapters goes far beyond the normal “it was winter and I saw this type of bird” narrative that dominates so much nature writing. Water flows through the fens and the movement (and control) of water are central themes in these chapters.
The ideas encountered in the other fields are as divers as their locations – but ideas of control (or the loss of it) are also present.
One of the things I most liked about this book was its clear sense of ending – many books of nature writing seem to stop only when the author runs out of things to say (or the year has turned full circle). Here the book has a wonderful concluding feel, where themes come to an end in a way the feels natural. The book comes to an end, rather than simply stopping.
While it’s clear that the author is a bird watcher – and most of the encounters with wildlife in the book are with birds – this book has a far wider range (field?) of reference than just birds.
This is one of the best books in this general area I have read in a number of years and it comes very highly recommended.
on 2 April 2014
This book came highly recommended and is not disappointing. The poetic prose is packed with anecdote and originality and deserves careful, slow reading. A masterly work of great beauty describing nature and man's interaction with the wild, in just four diverse sites, the Fens, Africa, Chernobyl and Buffalo. A book to treasure.