Wednesday 1 November 2017

Words, Key Components of Nature Writing

Conker, one of the #naturewords

You may have heard on BBC Autumnwatch that the AHRC has just launched a new initiative, Land Lines (see this post, too), to find the nation's favourite book about nature. Nominations of #favnaturebook choices can be submitted up until the end of November. I have so many favourites including classic and contemporary works, poetry and prose, fiction and non-fiction... and am finding it hard to shorten my list to a single title. 

Much has been happening recently in the arena of nature words. It will not have escaped the notice of many that Robert Macfarlane's new book, The Lost Words, with exquisite illustrations by Jackie Morris, has just been published

Chrissie Gittins, author of Adder, Bluebell, Lobster, a collection of 'wild poems' for children based on forty of the 'lost words', appeared on BBC Countryfile recently, exploring nature words with the current generation of youngsters.

Laurence Rose, a journalist who curates the Natural Light site, has posted a range of excellent material over several years. Do take a look at his pages.

I do not know what sparked the Land Lines initiative, but I do know that poets, journalists, naturalists and nature writers have been moved to express their views in one way or another in the wake of the nature word discussions. These began following the removal, some years ago now, by OUP of words such as 'conker' and 'acorn' from their Junior Dictionary, a reference book suitable for seven years old, in order to accommodate words that were considered more contemporary such as 'broadband' and 'analogue'.

I first became aware of this situation at the 2015 Norfolk Festival of Nature. I attended a session led by Mark Cocker and Margaret Atwood: I blogged about the event here. Sadly some of my links have now expired. Mark Cocker displayed his photographic images of many of the species that had been omitted. 

Writers were already at work, and in the days that followed the festival, the news began to spread across the internet, and responses began to emerge, including A Lament for Lost Words by Malcolm Guite.    

 The nature words are not as outdated as you might suppose. They include the following:

acorn, adder, ash, beech, bloom, bluebell, buttercup, conker, cowslip, cygnet, dandelion, fern, hazel, heather, heron, holly, ivy, kingfisher, lark, lobster, magpie, mistletoe, newt, otter, poppy, willow.  

It is clear that new dictionaries need to equip new generations of children (by including technology words etc.), but most of us would surely agree that it seems a shame to have to omit words like acorn, conker and poppy at a time when we are all being encouraged to care for the world in which we live, and to exchange our screens every so often for exercise, fresh air and time out in the natural world.

I know this is not a view held by everyone, but I am a strong supporter of names: I feel that we are more likely to take an interest in, or care for, something or someone if we can learn the name. The Poetry Daily for 1 November has posted 'The Wild Geese' by W.S. Merwin: you may feel this is a slantside look at the subject of names in the context of survival or extinction, but it seemed to me worth a careful read and a link, which I post here.

For many of us who grew up in urban or suburban environments, our affinity with the natural world was formed not only by walks at weekends and by holidays in the countryside, but also by nature books. In my case these included The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame, The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett and the Ladybird book of What to look for in Autumn. You can see which books some of our wildlife advocates have chosen here. Do see if you could set aside a few minutes to cast a vote for your #favnaturebook...


P.S. Since drafting this post, I have finally whittled my favourite nature book list down to a single volume. I have written the allocated 100 words in support of my choice and have uploaded the information on to the site. Books that make the final shortlist will be revealed on 4 January 2018. Selecting a book and writing in support of it was an enjoyable exercise, as I hope you may also discover. Happy writing... and please click on the comments left by readers below!

P.P.S. Who could resist some of these regional bird names from the Muir of Dinnet National Nature Reserve blog? And do take a look at Jessica Groenendijk's list of children's nature stories.

P.P.P.S. My thanks to Kay Weeks for this fascinating link - here - from the Cornell Lab. 


Ragged Robin said...

A super post. I am having trouble too picking just one book - there are so many I love. I agree so much with what you say about the loss of nature words from the dictionary for children. I would love the new book by Robert MacFarlane. In fact I discovered recently there is an exhibition on the subject of this book and the paintings at Compton Verney which is only about an hour from here so am hoping to go.

Simon Douglas Thompson said...

Stargazing by - aaaarghhhh - it's about a young lighthouse keeper. Not strictly nature, but it's an incredible book

Caroline Gill said...

This book, I presume, Si. Thank you - it's a new one to me and looks fascinating.

Lowcarb team member said...

There are a wealth of books to choose from ...
I think it's so important to encourage the young.

All the best Jan

Crafty Green Poet said...

I think it's vital that youngsters learn nature words as well as technology words. I've voted for my favourite nature book