Friday, 7 December 2018
Meadowland by John Lewis-Stempel
Subtitled The Private Life of an English Field, this is a beautiful, meditative book about the changing seasons in a meadow on the English Welsh border.
Lewis-Stempel owns and works his meadow, some of the best passages of the book describe hand scything the hay in the meadow, a meditative though exhausting process that brings him in tune with the natural world. He gives a concise description of how hand scything should be performed:
'The knack of scything is to keep the blade flat to the ground, so that it hovers a mere millimetre above the surface, and to swing the scythe around one's body in a curcular arc. Knees should be bent and the weight (presuming one is right handed) transferred from the right leg to the left leg as one swings through. A man scything should be mistaken for a man performing tai chi.'
As well as describing working the land through the year, Lewis-Stempel documents the birds and other animals that share his land, the declining curlews, the playful otter, the badgers and foxes. Like the best nature writers he focuses on nature, not on himself and his descriptions are detailed and often lyrical but never overblown or self consciously poetic.
I enjoyed this book from the beginning, but loved it from the July chapter onwards, when the reader really feels present in this wonderful place of balance between farmland and natural landscape.
This book won the Wainwright Prize for Nature Writing in 2015.
Meadowland by John Lewis-Stempel published by Transworld Books (2014) on Forest Stewardship Council certified paper.