Updated: Aug 24
Recently I've had a bit of a non-fiction crazy moment, which has resulted in a stack of books so high I can barely see over it. Some of it was long, long overdue, namely everything I'm reading on race (more about that soon), and some of it has been about nature and how it heals (something I insinctively recognised before embarking on this journey of learning, see my posts on anxiety for more). This, combined with working at The Bookshop (that's it's name) in East Grinstead has given me a great idea that I hope you'll love - more about which you'll find at the end of this post.
But this post isn't about me - it's about Gary Ferguson's new release 8 Master Lessons of Nature.
Before getting into it, I should say that Ferguson is American, and as a result this book is largely from an American perspective. Still, its lessons are profund and not easily forgotten.
Beautifully packaged as a demy hardback (publishing term for those little hardback formats that are my absolute favourite), with a simple but attractive cover, this book immediately caught my eye on the shelf, standing out from amongst the other nature writing like I was meant to have it. I picked it up, loving the weight and feel of it in my hand, knowing that I had just spent the £9.99 it required before even browsing the rest of the shop, entirely taken in by the subtitle: What nature teaches us about living well in the world.
And teach us it does, if we care to listen. About balance, harmony, rhythm, about interconnectedness and the importance of diversity; lessons we can relate to our own lives as part of nature, not separate from it. This book says we were never meant to hold ourselves apart, it convinces us (if you needed convincing), of the wonder and beauty of nature, of the incredible, emotionally intelligent creatures we share this world with, of the sheer wrong-ness of the way we live now, with its exclusion and division and politics of hate (which I've recently been learning about through Russell Brand's podcast Under the Skin, among the episodes of which - episode 1 I think - is posed the question: why not a politics of love?) After all:
'We are nature. When we stand firm on that undeniable fact, shedding the long-standing illusion that there's nature "out there" and then there's us "in here", we'll be able to see in a new light some of our most troubling, persistent problems' - Gary Ferguson
In talking about nature, Ferguson also covers numerous social issues, from race to homophobia, to schools, the rising cases of mental ill health and, of course, sustainability, and most importantly, what nature can teach us to do about it.
Kids who participate in outdoor classrooms on average improve their science scores by a remarkable 27 percent - Gary Ferguson
And, having just talked about how plants are hermaphrodites and jellyfish can switch genders:
That one binary alone, then - that everything must be male or female - is an illusion. And, like so many of our illusions, it's another layer of bricks in the wall that keeps us disconnected from the ways of the world - Gary Ferguson
But don't let all this talk of social issues fool you, this book is primarily about nature, and it can also teach us some wonderful things. Did you know, for example, that 'conifer trees have larger, more complex genomes than almost any other life form on Earth'?, that wolves grieve, that 'the level of emotional connection people have with nature actually predicts the likelihood of their establishing healthy, contented, productive lives - one aspect of which turns out to be tolerance and love of others' (so I think we can safely say that Johnson and Trump eschewed nature as a teacher).
This book will take you by your heart and pull you along for the ride, gently teaching and encouraging you to think outside the box, to use nature to look outside of ourselves, to be more than the self-centered creatures we have become. I loved it.
I will leave you with a quote that Ferguson includes in the book from Frances Moore Lappe:
Every aspect of our lives is, in a sense, a vote for the kind of world we want to live in
I want to live in a world of love (and if you're sitting there thinking, 'this is wishy, washy nonsense', why? Why is it nonsense? Why not let our kinder, empathetic instincts take over? Why not encourage love? What downside is there to that? Because I can tell you a million downsides to not encouraging it). I want to live in a world where we respect and nurture nature in a symbiotic relationship similar to that of the trees (see forthcoming post on The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben for more on how trees communicate), I want to live in a world that craves diversity and actively encourages it for the good of all.
The oppression of one group, one culture, one gender, one place, is the oppression of all - Gary Ferguson
I cast my vote by doing my best every day to be a little bit better, whether that's speaking out more over injustice, or buying a metal razor. How will you cast your vote?
P.S. Here is my exciting new idea: In conjunction with The Bookshop in East Grinstead, I'll be creating Book Gift Boxes around certain themes including art, nature and sustainability. It supports The Bookshop as an independent store struggling through Covid, supports all of these wonderful authors to ensure we can continue learning, and, if you've ever been stuck for a present for the book lover in your life, will make a wonderful bundle of wordy joy, delivered in the post for that special someone. I'll start listing these book boxes on my website next week, so keep your eyes peeled!