When we talk about books, we tend to mean printed books, but there is more to literature than what has been published.
A lovely activity at any time of year, and perhaps especially during a time of lockdown, is to create a nature journal. Here’s a page from mine. As you can see, the artwork leaves a lot to be desired but creating a great work of art isn’t really the point.
So what is the point?
We could start by quoting Ruskin, as I do on the first page of my journal:
And, specifically, what we see is the changing of the seasons, the slow roll of the year, the unexpected in the returning familiar. Spring has now gloriously sprung but turn back a few pages and we are reminded of Autumn:
The wonderful David Orr gets to the heart of the matter in his essay on ‘Love’ which can be found in both Earth in Mind: On Education, Environment and the Human Prospect and Hope is an Imperative: The Essential David Orr:
“Mainstream scholars who trouble themselves to think about disappearing species and shattered environments appear to believe that cold rationality, fearless objectivity, and a bit of technology will get the job done. If that were the whole of it, however, the job would have been done decades ago.”
What is missing, Orr claims, is love. Quite literally missing. He searched and could find no mention of love in the indexes to a host of biology, physics, chemistry, political science and economics textbooks, which led him to ask these questions:
“Why is it so hard to talk about love, the most powerful of human emotions, in relation to science, the most powerful and far-reaching of human activities? And why is this so for textbooks written to introduce the young to the disciplined study of life and life processes? That place of introduction would appear to be a good point at which to say a few words about love, awe, and mystery and perhaps a caution or two about the responsibilities that go with knowledge.”
The absence of love from so much scientific discourse really matters:
“At a recent meeting of conservation biologists, some of the participants wondered out loud why so few of their colleagues had joined the effort to conserve biological diversity. No good answer was given. On reflection, however, I think the reason lies in the difficulty we have in joining professional science with our love of life and those things that probably attracted most biologists to study science in the first place and continue to attract our students.”
Which brings us back to nature journals. What really matters, I suggest, is love, expressed as a shared endeavour in the nature journal.
We have a family nature journal, to which we all contribute. We look together, we develop our love of the natural world together, and we respond together. There are no tortured souls in romantic garrets here. Instead we nurture our love of the created world and develop our knowledge of it as a family.
Where will this lead our children in years to come? I have no idea but the present is precious enough for that not to be a pressing concern.