Last week I spent an indulgent afternoon lying in the sunshine while leafing through a collection of poetry and prose inspired by the season, summer. It felt idyllic to witness nature buzzing all around me as I immersed myself in the summery experiences of different writers, ranging from naturalists and bloggers to poets and classic authors. This anthology, entitled Summer, is part of a four-book collection produced by The Wildlife Trusts to celebrate the changing seasons in the UK.
For many of us, summer is as much a concept as a season, in so far as it becomes a fleeting period in the year when we are all allowed to be hedonists. Summer also provides a backdrop to our more ‘perfect’ memories of childhood. “Those elysian summers, polished to dazzling brightness by the flow of years, can never be recaptured,” writes Melissa Harrison, the editor of the collection, before exhorting us to go out and experience this summer “however imperfect we as adults may deem it”.
Outside in my garden, as birds of prey swooped in the powder-blue skies overhead and various insects tickled my bare arms, I read all about badgers, fox cubs, short-living Mayflies, kingfishers and canoeing with banded demoiselles. An account by wildlife warden John Tyler, of a beetle larva hunting down her snail prey before metamorphosing into a glow-worm, was surprisingly compelling.
As well as offering close observations of nature, the book takes us on a few summer adventures, where children discover sea gooseberries on the seashore and author Laurie Lee (rather disturbingly) dunks pigeons within an inch of their life in an extract from Cider with Rosie. This special relationship between children and nature is vividly summed up by Nick Acheson of the Norfolk Wildlife Trust: “Now can children build dams in streams; make shelters in the woods; crawl through bracken on their tummies; crush and smell wild garlic or sea wormwood leaves; and be free.”
My favourite entry was an exquisite poem by Alice Oswald on the yellow iris, which likes to grow in wet soil near shallow water. This last stanza has such a beguiling cadence; I could almost imagine myself there with a pair of wellies on:
“Lost ghost Queen
of the Unbetween
it’s lovely listening
to the burp
of mud as
she sinks her
feet right in.”
What struck me most forcibly was how our experiences of summer have remained essentially the same over the years. Even when the critic Leigh Hunt was writing about a hot day in 1820, he describes with a close eye how old ladies “walk along in a state of dilapidation”, while boys “delight to make a hidden splash” and “a fellow who finds he has three miles further to go in a pair of tight shoes is in a pretty situation”.
This beautifully produced paperback with its illustrated dust jacket is a pleasant way to while away an afternoon – read it in the rain to cheer you up, or like me in a sunny garden on a perfect summer’s day!
Summer is available to buy now from Amazon.