As I write this, the monsoon is on its last leg, but it seems like it has just begun. A grey morning brightens up as the sun ventures out gilding everything. Each season brings with it innumerable wonders, inviting us closer to nature, and leaving us awestruck with its rhythm and song.
As the landscape metamorphoses, as winds become wayward, as rains soak the earth and lash at our windows, as the sun bakes the earth, and the skies transform into myriad hues, our inner landscape too goes through innumerable changes.
We build relationships, we love, leave, rejoice, grieve, and go through emotional upheavals. These cycles leave us both enriched and battered. Nature holds us together when we seek refuge in it. We are not just bound to nature, we are nature.
In her foreword to ‘Gifts of Gravity and Light: A Nature Almanac for the 21st Century’, Bernardine Evaristo talks about growing up in Woolwich, a London suburb, and experiencing her connect with the English countryside much later. She shares how while touring with her theatre company, their troupe of black actresses felt unwelcome.
“The message was to go back to where we came from – London,” she writes. Yet she was drawn to the countryside. Her need to escape man-made constructions was paramount, and whenever she left the city, she returned invigorated: “I take the countryside back with me to London and keep it alive inside me for as long as I can.”
Gifts of Gravity and Light: A Nature Almanac for the 21st Century
To write about nature is to look closely, to observe the minutest detail, to be in a constant state of wonder, to accept its beauty, strangeness and vagaries, and to be open to its seeping into us in unimaginable ways.
This book has contributors from diverse backgrounds like Jay Griffiths, Simon Armitage, Tishani Doshi, Jackie Kay, Alys Fowler, Luke Turner—who write of their encounters with the ever-changing natural world over the course of one year. Each of the fourteen different voices is unique in its exploration and celebration of the wild world through the four seasons: Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter.
In the chapter ‘The Wishing Dance’, Kaliane Bradley writes about attending a New Year’s Eve party with her parents in a 1930s building at Walthamstow Town Hall when “the weather was so cold that the water had iced over.” She had never seen so much natural ice in one place before and yet when the time came to welcome the New Year, she forgot her uncomfortably cold foot, the tethered sensations of her body, and saw that “ritual can sometimes be a chance to consciously invite a clear, clean newness in.”
In ‘Somewhere, it is Still Summer’, Tishani Doshi writes about leaving India to spend her summers in Wales where her first memory is snow. She remembers drawing the curtains of whichever room she was sleeping in “to see what kind of adventure the day will bring.” She recollects building a rather watery snowman with her grandmother whom she called Nain. She also writes about the ancestral village in Anjar, Gujarat, where her father spent his summers as a boy and the destruction of that house in the Bhuj earthquake of 2001.
In ‘It’s Hopping Time’, Raine Geoghegan dwells upon the great gifts of autumn. “Light, the way it falls across the land and transfigures everything; the harvest, season of abundance, apples, pears, plums, falling ripe into our hands; trees, the leaves changing colour, from shades of green to burnished copper, crimson, purple hues and full-throated oranges and pinks; the myth and magic of the season encouraging us to practise simple rituals and give thanks for the abundance of the land.”
In a meditation on ‘Mud’, Alys Fowler writes about her habit of looking at her feet for small details and reading the paths she walks daily. “I feel these paths as I walk them, physically as I slurp and slip, but on some emotional level too. They are wounded to me, hardening in the summer from the previous winter's damage, like scar tissue, reopening in the winter, rotting and foetid.”
The book’s cover featuring a kestrel, or windhover, made by the artist Zack Mclaughlin invites you to greet the arrival of spring in East London with a Cambodian New Year's dance; watch sea otters at play in the summer sun; gather armfuls of hops in a Romany song to the autumn; yield to the icy stillness of winter in the Cairngorms or pine for 'sun drunk' days of a Jamaican childhood.
A life-affirming collection of essays, poems and stories, the book examines place, memory and history in unsentimental, and often, surprising ways, leaving us with vivid images and invoking in us emotions that draw us to our surroundings.
Views expressed by the author are their own
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