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The Worm Forgives the Plough (Vintage Classics) Paperback – 5 Mar 2009
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"He is the poet among modern ecologists, a natural philosopher who , whether he is writing about trees or rainbows, an iceberg or a piece of chalk, never takes a fact without linking it to an idea, or an idea without connecting it to a fact. His book dispenses information in the language of the imagination, and by peeling back the film by which everything appears dully familiar, reveals a vision of the world miraculously transfigured" (Michael Holroyd The Times)
"Collis' divine gift is to explain the extraordinary nature of the ordinary" (Sunday Times)
"A philosopher who had a shining view of the natural world, and was able to divine the magic inherent in phenomena so commonplace that we take them for granted" (Guardian)
"These jottings establish the man as one of the greatest recorders of English agricultural life" (Val Hennessey Daily Mail)
"A little classic" (The Oldie)
'A little classic.'
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The second section of this book describes how for a year he worked alone thinning a wood near Iwerne Minster in Dorset, where he lived an almost hermit like existence, yet wanting for nothing more than to be where he was, and engaged in what he was doing. I have never read such a moving memoir as The Wood; a memoir of a man so at peace with himself and his surroundings, able to regard the warming sun on his back in early spring as the most profound of pleasures. If I ever get a chance to emulate Collis and his experience working in the wood I will count myself fortunate indeed.
I would recommend this book to anyone who has an interest in farming, the countryside or who just appreciates the wonderful descriptions of feelings, places, thoughts and people by a man as he experiences them.
Apart from the excellent writing, this book is important as it contains as (highly) detailed account of two forms of land management that were about to fall by the way side - labour intensive agriculture and coppice management of woodlands. In both cases Collis manages to convey the shear hard work that is involved in both of these tasks, and the human toil involved in the maintenance of the "countryside".
Of the two books I think that "Down to Earth" is the more readable - largely due to it containing fewer, but longer chapters than "While following ....". Within the second book "The Wood" is the highlight, being concerned with the author's time in an Ash woodland. A number of themes run through the books, most noticeably being one concerning "natural cycles" - the creation of new plants, animals, soil and air from older materials. In this sense the book makes a clear ecological statement about connectivity in natural systems. In the introduction to the book (the nearly ubiquitous) Robert Macrfarlane makes the point that there needs to be return to the type of agricultural management shown in the books. This clearly has some validity given the state of many rural ecosystems, but as a horse is maltreated to the point of bleeding within the first few pages, we do need to exercise caution. At times Collis does seem to link any kind of event that brings forth plenty as a evidence for God, while the strange and macabre seem to be put down to evolution, and I don't this you really can have it both ways.
An annoying aspect of the book is its format. The letters on the lowest line of each page have their "tails" missing, both starts and ends of lines plunge deep into the fold in the middle of the books and the occasional footnotes often occur a number of pages after the reference. It seems that two large books have been squeezed into a small format.
This is a really enjoyable and possibly important read, although I have to question the thinking of a man who claims beer is only enjoyable in the summer! Recommended
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It is very well written and enjoyable.
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