After all, as Gooley points out, nature is a struggle for existence and "we are programmed to find conflict interesting. Movies, soap operas and boxing matches all rely on conflict." (p 13). So remember, "that's not a pretty flower you are looking at. It's a sex machine, whoring itself to the bees." (p 14)
He recommends eating nature. "People were up to 15 cm taller before agriculture, because 10,000 years ago their diet contained up to five times more plant types." But take care. "Boiling [water] does the best job of reducing the need for toilet paper in the subsequent hours." (p 37)
He has loads of helpful advice about how to notice nature more deeply. Don't do too much "It takes a certain immaturity to walk over twenty miles in one day and not feel your head overload with sensual input." (p 49) [I like the sensual rather than sensory!] The more you know, the more you notice but "a focused interest is a two-edged sword: it allows us to notice many things that pass others by, but it narrows the spotlight of our vision." (p 54) But the key thing is to be still. 'Still-hunting', practised by native Americans, is "picking a spot and waiting silently for prey to find you." (p 59) and works for observers as well as hunters. Every sound provides "information about time of day, time of year, local animals, present and future weather, navigation clues [including motorways!] and human behaviour." (p 57) And notice what doesn't move: "Our brains have learned to notice things that move, so if we make a special effort to look for things that are still we see a subtly different world." (p 57)
He gives lots of clues for understanding the landscape including knowing about rock types therefore soil types therefore prevailing plants, looking at tree shapes to determine direction (they bend away from the wind which in England tends to come from the south west and their branches are more horizontal on their south sides than their north) and to age conifers, and using both crescent moon to determine south and the Plough to determine north.
He doesn't neglect the human environment. After all, pigeons follow the lines of motorways and satellite dishes (in the UK) point south east. Plants that tolerate salt used to thrive at the coast but may now be found lining major roads that have salt spread on them in winter. And humans even have their own built in clocks: "Physiology students at Imperial College London are taught about circadian rhythms with the help of a rectal thermometer." (p 123) These clocks mean that 10 PM is "the most common time for lovemaking" (p 125) and our inbuilt calendars mean that "male testosterone levels peak in October ... more babies are born in the late summer months when there is more food around" (p 125)
He explains old wives tales, sometimes a little irreverently: "It was once believed that a childless woman could walk out naked to pick the St John's wort flower, and this would lead to her conceiving within the year ... walking about naked in midsummer might have been a good way of introducing new mates." (p 84)
Finally he shows how nature is good for us:
- Surgical patients in hospital recover faster if they can see trees from the window
- "People become more generous after they have seen pictures of nature" (p 128)
- "The more green spaces in a neighbourhood, the lower the average body mass index of the children who live there." (p 128)
A brilliantly written and fascinating book. I wish I could recognise more trees (I can do Christmas trees, holly trees and weeping willows!) and bird songs (OK I can do cuckoo and cock crow).
July 2016; 144 pages
Thank you Dr Danny for lending it to me.