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Nature's Child is a beautifully written study of the perils and pleasures of an upbringing so close to wild nature.
It is also John's meditation on fatherhood, and the delights of bestowing experiences on his daughter during those "literally wonder-full years of childhood", which usher back for him memories of his own childhood; of the elation of simple discovery.
As he puts it: "Life is a collection of fragments of time charged with deeply personal sensation and meaning. What is love if not time given in joy and delight?"
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we have started
And know the place for the first time.
Little Gidding, T.S ELIOT
Excerpts from the book
The Eyes of a Child, P7 - P8
As I write, Hermione's twelfth year is drawing to a close. The years of innocence are waning, slipping through our fingers like fine sand, and her attention is soon to be drawn away by the hurly-burly of modern teenage life, shrill and insistent.
But we have had the good fortune to live through a period of years, those from six (give me a child that can walk and talk), when a child's mind is wide open and as absorbent as a sponge, until now (and hopefully for a little longer), when other influences will inevitably barge in and take over.
Six or seven blessed years of exploration and discovery, fat and full, it so happens of the natural world, because that is what surrounds her here and preoccupies her home life. It's her lot that her family home is a field studies centre among the mountains and forests of the Highlands, that her father is a naturalist who works with the kites, osprey, eagles, otters and pine martens of a remote and beautiful glen and that my work periodically takes me to wild and exciting places around the world; hers, too, that I have often been able to take her with me – although it has sometimes seemed to me to be the other way around.
They have been years of recollection, literally the re-collection of those wonders and bright images that shaped me into who I am and how I think. Without an inkling of the effect she was having, she has forced me to remake many of the discoveries of my youth, visiting them again after an absence of more than forty-five years, with that vivid and untrammelled freshness that is the hallmark of a child"s perception.
Dawn & Dusk, P 40
I knew very well that those happy days could not last. They had met wild jackdaws, flown the free wind and tumbled in a flock among the tossing treetops.
It weighed mightily. With the joy gone from her own blue eyes she shouldered the reality. She knew it was best for her beloved charges, but she could not hide that she wanted to go with them. She wanted to live their world just as they had lived hers – as I had, all those years before – to extend the bond, hold them close, locked with her in spirit so that she could tumble with them down corridors of sunshot sky.
To have been able to magic them down from the heights at will, even for a few brief weeks, calling into the wind and the wind answering her back with its paired shadows of gleaming black delight, had lifted her to the very brink of ecstasy. And when they flew it was as though she was scrawling her own signature across the sky. This was the gifts of gods; she was Mowgli and Dr Dolittle; she possessed the magic of Merlin and Gandalf, all her own. To child and adult alike it was unbridled joy. Little wonder she looked so forlorn when, one day not long afterwards, they both lifted from her arm and swept away.
Some captions from Nature's Child . . .
"With a shake and a rattle, our scruffy chicks were dressed in fine raiment of black and grey, each silken head a dome of feathers masking the quick mind beneath."
"When they flew it was as though she was scrawling her own signature across the sky."
"My spirit longed for the rhythmic whoop of its wings and its wild bugling summoning the beauty of the morning."
'I saw her lift him out and cup his insubstantial frame in her hands, raising his beak to her lips as is to breathe her own life into his failing breast."
"They came together to breed in countless jostling and clattering hordes, where they succumbed, littering the ocean floor with their beautiful shells."
"Shimmering wings swept back and forth past our faces, over our heads."
"These shells belonged to somebody else - that much was clear."
"Among the most menacing creatures God ever created."
"Uttering wild, fluting calls, cranes glide serenely to land."
"The polar bear's great head high in the air, her nose sampling the wind like a gun dog."
"She pored over the work, punctuating her text with intricate diagrams of the excitements she had witnessed."
“…a masterpiece, beautifully written by one of Scotland’s best known conservationists”
Iain Thornber, Scots Magazine
“A beautifully written book that is both informative and uplifting, that reminds the reader how scary and fascinating the world looked when we were kids.”
Ian Valentine, Country Life
“Superb, a really important book everyone who cares about nature and children should certainly read. It deserves to stand alongside Edmund Gosse’s 'Father and Son' as a tender, lyrical, erudite story of a child’s education through nature."
“This labour of love deserves to be seen as a minor classic of the natural history genre.”
Alan Hendry, John o’Groat Journal
“An entrancing utterance of controlled rapture … extraordinarily memorable.”