The Penny Drops…Eventually!

Yes, I can be slow, slow for things to strike me, for the penny to drop, to eventually come to the realisation of what has been nagging at me for some time. It happens sometimes when I visit a garden. I walk around with that feeling that something is now right, something about the garden is not comfortable or, quite the opposite, something wonderful has happened but I still can’t quite come to grips with what it is. These thoughts and puzzles stay with me, surfacing again and again, popping up while I am gardening and have the time for slow and peaceful thought and the missing part of the puzzle does generally come to me. Of course, I could simply ask Mary and have the answer immediately but a conclusion reached through one’s own wonderings is more satisfactory and more appreciated and, in my case, more likely to be remembered. Remembering is becoming more and more a challenge for me these days and I am, as one of my sons once said to me, like Homer Simpson – for any new thought or idea which comes into my head has first to displace one already in residence.

On this occasion, it was Jane Powers’ An Irish Nature Year which was the subject of my mind niggling. Now, I expect nothing other than good writing, interesting subject matter with in-depth research, coupled with personal experience and insightful comment from Jane – I have been reading her newspaper columns for years and years, along with her previous books, so all this was as expected, excellent. Nonetheless, there was something about the book which left me, I won’t quite say unsettled, but with a feeling that I hadn’t quite yet put my finger on the nub of this book. So, I reread the book quickly hoping it would come to me and then I read it again, slowly and carefully, hoping the fog would life from my brain, and I put it aside again – delighted with the pleasure of reading the book but still with the feeling I hadn’t quite “got it”.

An example, Great Crested Grebe, of Robert Vaughan’s line drawings which illustrate the book

It was David Attenborough, on one of his television programmes, who eventually took me out of my misery and cleared the mist and fog from my mind. David Attenborough, and a legion of others of his ilk, are such constant prophets of doom, such constant haranguers of the common man for the destruction we has brought on the world of nature, non-stop trotters-out of every bit of bad news, every bit of habitat threatened or lost, every woe that has ever been inflicted on the planet that they have tainted the fun, enjoyment and sheer delight of seeing something simple and beautiful in the world of nature with their constant negative shadow thrown over everything. Perhaps, they haven’t lost the track but they certainly only seem to walk on the thorn and not see and appreciate the flowers and the butterflies.

Jane Powers, on the other hand, though not at all blind to the dangers and the threats to our environment and the many species in it, continues to enjoy and be fascinated by nature with the unfettered curiosity and delight of a child. Hers is a wide-eyed, would-you-believe-it, imagine-that, isn’t-it-fabulous view of nature, one of the purest love and enjoyment and this is what infuses her book and makes it so different to many others. Hers is the outlook of my little group of fifty, sixty and seventy year old men (I won’t age the ladies!) who can sit around an orchid in the middle of a bog and just watch in silence and enjoyment – as one of the company said one day, “Aren’t we very fortunate to have reached this age and to still be made happy by the sight of a wild flower.” Jane fits into that company perfectly and her book is of that nature.

Not welcomed by gardeners as it damages lilies but an interesting creature nonetheless, The Asian Scarlet Lily Beetle.

This is a book which draws the reader into a world of beauty, enchantment, awe and amazement. It is a book which will delight, attract and inspire an interest in nature. It will lead to an appreciation and a love of nature in all its manifestations. This book is the carrot as opposed to the stick of so many other authors. This book is pure joy, to be enjoyed, to lead to enjoyment – and who would wish to destroy that which he loves and enjoys!

There are 365 short nature essays, one for each day of the year and so arranged by date and month, with entries relevant to the time of year, recording Jane’s experiences, insights, research and comments. These include entries on birds, flowers, trees, animals, insects, bees, seaweeds, butterflies, moths, fungus, garden visitors, rare and unexpected migrants and everything and anything which caught Jane’s attention and all presented in her wonderful prose and accompanied by Robert Vaughan’s beautiful line drawings throughout.

As a taster, one short extract from the book though, to be honest, it may show more about me that Jane’s eclectic interests in all matters natural.

Speaking of midges: “Another of the tiny biters, Serromyia femorata, resident in Ireland, is worth mentioning for its interesting behaviour. While mating, the female pierces the male’s head, releases enzymes that liquefy his innards, and sucks them out. His useless corpse breaks off at his genitalia which act as a plug to prevent her mating with another male.” Well, what can I say about that…Ouch?

Of course, I should mention that Jane defends these midges despite their dreadfully annoying habit of biting us constantly: “Midges of the Forcipomyia genus are responsible for pollinating cocoa plants. Therefore, no midges, no chocolate.” That’s a good defence in my eyes!

[An Irish Nature Year, Jane Powers, Illustrations by Robert Vaughan, William Collins, 2020, Hardback, 266 pages, £14.99, ISBN: 978-0-00-839214-7]

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