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Visual refresher course in natural history
on 20 October 2010
'Real wildlife . . . will enrich your life', says Packham in his introduction; he tells us that he'd 'rather spend ten minutes watching a woodlouse or ladybird in the palm of [his] hand than ten minutes watching a tiger on TV.'
The book is full of simple - and a few more ambitious - suggestions for getting out and seeing the natural world all around you and, as it's so easy to forget, above you. Even in the middle of a city you can usually find a patch of sky but in woodland too, it's always worth looking up at the tree canopy.
While the natural world is so accessible to most of us, whatever our level of expertise and wherever we live, Packham (and, here, his team of writers) always refuses to 'dumb down' when describing its workings. For example, he never uses the term 'mini-beasts' to describe invertebrates to children. As he says, you have to wonder why we shy away from teaching children a proper naturalist's vocabulary when they so easily and ably enjoy the names of dinosaurs.
The book encourages you to take a fresh look at any habitat you find yourself in, starting with the sky and home and going as far afield as the chapperal and tropical rainforest. I might never get to visit the latter but this attractive book makes me I realise how lucky I am to be within 2 hours drive of examples of a huge variety of habitats on coasts, hills, heaths, lakes, rivers and streams. The book is fresh-looking, colourful and delightfully designed - Dorling Kindersley at its best - and it's been a timely inspiration for me.
Nature Handbook emphasises, not that I needed much persuasion, that my enthusiasm for taking my sketchbook wherever I go has to be based primarily in the natural world. So many times when I'm in the city I find myself drawing some mundane subject like the salt and pepper pot on a cafe table, which I've drawn a hundred times before.
As this book convincingly points out, you're never going to get that with the natural world, especially if you make a point of exploring the wide variety of habitats available to most of us within easy access of home. There's always something extraordinary and unfamiliar to draw. Just riffle through the Nature Handbook - or like me, read it cover to cover, as a refresher course in natural history - and you'll get the hang of what to look for wherever you are.