I’ve recently read this beautiful book by the writer and farmer, John Lewis-Stempel. It won the Wainwright Prize for 2015.
The book is about the passing months and seasons of an ancient meadow (on the edge of Wales) with all its wildlife. It brought back memories of my own carefree childhood, growing up in an English country village in the 1970’s. Days where spent playing in hay stacked fields during the long, lazy days of summer and down country lanes, where hedgerows were bursting with blackberries, in the autumn.
To quote John Lewis-Stempel “it’s the sort of field where, as you step in, you breathe out.” A mountain river runs along the eastern edge of the field and two oaks, with elephant trunk thick roots (around 700 years old) remain as evidence of when the land was wooded. A kingfisher flies along the river, never deviating from its course, a small copse is home to foxes, a pair of raven’s roost in nearby trees, rabbits graze near their warrens and the old boar badger (with his dragging back leg) patrols his territory.
One year he decides to let the meadow ‘go’, instead of moving livestock around in it. As a result, in late June the meadow is bursting with wildflowers and he realises that, once upon a time, it would have been a hay meadow. Sadly, 97% of traditional meadows have now disappeared due to intensively managed farmland.
When it is ready to be mown, he decides to do it the old-fashioned way – with a scythe. However, he notices the curlew and meadow pipit are still on their nests, and so as not to disturb them, he mows around them – leaving them ‘afloat’ on their own meadow islands.
On one beautiful Midsummer Eve, he goes for a walk on the farm and his three horses and donkey surround him like a merry-go-round. For a few moments, he wonders what they are doing – then the donkey and one of the horse’s tug at his sleeve and he realises they are playing and want him to join in!
To sum it up, it’s one of those books that you remember long after you have finished reading it – and probably like me you will want to read it again and again. So, if you just read one nature book this year, make it this one. You won’t be disappointed, I promise!