Thoughts: Findings, by Kathleen Jamie

This is going to be a short one, partly because I’m implausibly still full of cold and partly because I just couldn’t think of a lot to say about this one – but not in a bad way.

I hadn’t heard of this book before I was given it for Christmas. It’s hard to classify; a series of essays on nature with little to tie them together save they’re all based in Scotland and they seem to have been written over one year. Kathleen Jamie is a poet and you don’t need to be told that if you read her words. Her use of language is masterful, her choice of images beautiful and her voice a wonderful companion through the landscape and year.

The blurb and title promise nature “found” in the gaps of everyday life, and some of it is, peregrines sitting on cliffs and spiderwebs on walls, but she goes looking for nature too, cycling to see osprey nests and travelling to neolithic houses and uninhabited islands. It’s hard to classify. A series of thoughts.

I can see me dipping in and out of it in future, a perfect comfort read, something to transport me away for a few minutes when I need it.Jamie is clear-eyed about humanity’s place among nature and influence over it. She doesn’t go hunting for untouched places or pretending she doesn’t see the human litter strewn among the whalebones, the human lights that chase away the dark, the conflicting needs by which our more efficient agriculture sinks the fortunes of small brown birds which previously took advantage of our farms.

Jamie is clear-eyed about humanity’s place among nature and influence over it. She doesn’t go hunting for untouched places or pretending she doesn’t see the human litter strewn among the whalebones, the human lights that chase away the dark, the conflicting needs by which our more efficient agriculture sinks the fortunes of small brown birds which previously took advantage of our farms. She uses a lot of Scottish dialect and Scots words too, which I appreciated. Nature writing should use dialect words. Nature is local.

One thing I found interesting was a throwaway line about nature writing focused on birds of prey, that it was almost exclusively male. I thought it was odd that she hadn’t read Helen Macdonald’s H is for Hawk in her research, or mentioned the blossoming of female-written nature literature we’re currently enjoying, only to realise belatedly that Findings predates them all by about ten years. It was published in 2005, properly in the vanguard of this golden age of nature writing. I wondered, nervously, how much the world has changed in the last fifteen years.

This book made me want to go to Scotland, basically, and go looking myself. I recommend this book to everyone.

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