Book Week and Elvers
Book Week has sparked imaginations recently and although you’d be forgiven for wondering what that has to do with nature writing, books and wildlife go hand in hand for me.
At Hungerford Primary School, I talked to the children about writing a book on otters, and asked them about their exciting project raising elvers (tiny eels) in their classroom, to release into the river that runs through their town. The children were animated and engaged, aware they have become part of an incredible narrative that began (and will end) in The Sargasso Sea.
At St Martin’s and Inkpen Primary Schools, we do Wild Writing Workshops, using the power of nature to spark the imagination and create the start of non-fiction books. The children know the difference between fiction and non-fiction, but, I tell the older children who can take it, nature is a narrative too: a story we are part of – like the journey of the eels.
To celebrate Book Week, the children dress up as favourite book characters. I spot my own favourite and am reminded of the childhood joy of simply being outside with a good book; in the grass, by the river, up a favourite tree. Here is red-haired Anne of Green Gables, who puts it beautifully: “Isn’t it splendid to think of all the things there are to find out about? It just makes me feel glad to be alive—it’s such an interesting world. It wouldn’t be half so interesting if we knew all about everything, would it? There’d be no scope for imagination then, would there?”
Following the stories of my Romany Grandfather, I went alone, aged 17 (as he did in 1936) to work on a cattle and horse ranch in the Rocky Mountains of Anne’s Canada. I packed light, but wrapped in the skirt of my one good tweed suit (in case it didn’t work out on the farm) were a number of books: Wuthering Heights, I Capture the Castle, and Anne of Green Gables. In Calgary, I purchased two more: Animals of North America and Susanna Moodie’s Roughing it in the Bush. Written in 1852, there were still parallels: Moodie documented with raw honesty, her life homesteading the Canadian wilderness, and here was I, in an old log cabin with a weak generator and no running water, somewhere between the great Elbow River and the Sarcee Indian Reservation. It was thrilling. And at night, exhausted, I read a few pages by the strength of the astonishing starlight alone.
Tonight, I want to go glow-worm spotting on the hill. It may seem fanciful, but I could take a book and read by the tiny glow of their LED nightlights. I could, I really could do that.