Connecting with nature through reading

“Live in each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influence of the earth.” 
So wrote Henry David Thoreau in his book Walden; or, life in the woods published in 1854. 

The theme of Mental Health Awareness Week running 10-16 May 2021 is nature focusing on the importance of nature to our psychological and emotional wellbeing. Research has shown that even small contacts with nature can be effective in helping to protect our mental health. 

Staff and readers from Edinburgh Libraries like many have been enjoying nature both by getting outdoors ourselves but also by reading about nature. We’ve put together some of our resources that we hope will inspire you to connect with nature especially as this beautiful Spring of 2021 unfolds its transcendent beauty. Thanks to Fiona, Zoe, Bronwen and Ruth for your contributions. 

Gardening magazines 

We may not all have a garden but most of us have a windowsill where we can place a few pot plants or create a small kitchen garden of herbs for cooking. Surrounding ourselves indoors with plants and the act of touching the soil either outdoors or inside within a plant pot can be rejuvenating as we connect with the natural world and take enjoyment from watching a plant grow before our eyes. 

Be inspired by our wide range of gardening emagazines available to read from Edinburgh Libraries including the very popular BBC Gardener’s World . 

Life writing 

Henry David Thoreau’s Walden is available as an ebook and in hardcopy 

Walden, or, life in the woods was first published in 1854 yet resonates with contemporary audiences. Thoreau, the American Transcendentalist writer, reflects upon simple living in natural surroundings. Thoreau lived in a cabin in the woods beside Walden Pond in Concord, Massachusetts  for around two years and Walden is an account of this experience  along with his scientific observations of the world around him. The book is part memoir and part spiritual quest. Walden encourages the reader to focus on the joys and satisfactions of a simple life, the goodness of humanity and what we can learn from nature. 

Borrow Walden as an ebook or as a print copy.

Raynor Winn’s book The Salt Path is available as both an ebook and eaudiobook.  

Raynor Winn and her husband Moth start their journey walking the 630-mile South West Coast Path after they have lost their home and learnt some devastating news regarding Moth’s health. At the mercy of the elements Ray and Moth walk through some breath taking and dramatic scenery from Somerset to Dorset via Devon and Cornwall and experience the redemptive power of nature as they are strengthened both physically and mentally and ultimately become enabled to find solutions to their personal challenges. Just a warning from our library reader – Ray and Moth take a short cut in packing too light a sleeping bag, don’t read this at night as you’ll worry about them being out at night in the cold! 

Download The Salt Path as an ebook or eaudiobook and if you’re inspired by this book, go on to read The Wild Silence, Ray’s next book, also available as an ebook. 

Amy Liptrot’s The Outrun is available as audiobook. 

Wild swimming has become really popular over the past year with many people seeking out their local lochs, rivers and beaches for a dip, even through the winter months. Cold immersion can soothe aching muscles, relieve depression and boost the immune system. Amy Liptrot’s memoir traces her recovery from addiction as she returns from London to her native Orkney and immerses herself in the therapeutic qualities of nature. Amy spends early mornings swimming in the bracingly cold sea observing the wildlife around her and becoming re-attuned to the seasonal life around her. This is an inspiring book which shows the healing power of the sea, the land and yes, the wind to restore and heal. 

Download The Outrun as an audiobook and be inspired by Amy Liptrot’s memoir. 

Helen MacDonald’s H is for Hawk is available as an ebook 

Helen Macdonald’s memoir H is for Hawk is a perfect example of how the natural world can help us to heal, to process loss and overcome grief.  

The book charts Macdonald’s challenge to herself, a few months after her father’s sudden death, to train one of the most difficult of raptors, a goshawk she names Mabel. This honest and gripping account intertwines with author T. H. White’s own memoir of training a goshawk through a lonely and difficult time.  

The story is a very personal record of Macdonald’s bereavement, but it is uplifting, as it also describes her eventual recovery; a journey which takes place alongside her tumultuous conquest of the goshawk. 

What stands out for me is the feeling of love and awe Macdonald has for nature and wildness, from her early obsession with falconry to the memories of standing in forests with her photographer father, learning lessons of patience and observation. She paints a picture of our wilderness as a place that can heal a person in a way that human society cannot.  

Read the ebook H is for Hawk

Chris Packham’s Fingers in the Sparkle Jar 

Many of us know Chris Packham from his amazing work presenting nature programmes like Springwatch on TV. You get a sense watching of how important nature is to him – Fingers in the Sparkle Jar explains how this came about. 

Although the book says it is a memoir of his childhood, it’s not simply that. It explains how his connection to the natural world helped him to cope with how different he was from others and how isolated he sometimes felt. Interspersed with his memories are conversations with his therapist and you get a real sense of his struggles to make a place for himself in a world which he didn’t quite fit into. It’s beautifully written and I must admit I had tears in my eyes more than once. 

Download Fingers in the Sparkle Jar as an ebook

Essays 

Library reader Ruth from Trinity shares Kathleen Jamie’s collections of essays Sightlines connecting us with nature. Sightlines is available to download. 

Kathleen Jamie is a Scottish poet and writer who digs deep into the natural landscape. In her book of essays ‘Sightlines’ (2012) she takes us from the discovery of a ringed storm petrel bird on a beach on Rona to her formative experiences on an archaeological dig and to the return of the light to her garden in February. 

Each essay explores a topic which many of us might take for granted, such as a windy day on Hirta, and examines it with the forensic detail of a poet. In ‘Pathologies’, Jamie literally takes to the microscope – under the guidance of a friendly pathologist at Ninewells Hospital in Dundee – to look at the ‘ecology’ of the human body, describing healthy tissue as ‘an ordered, if unusual land’ and a cancerous tumour as ‘dark dots that seem too busy for comfort’. 

Jamie is clearly drawn to explore and write about windswept and remote locations, both in Scotland and beyond, and yet she almost always draws her attention back to human interaction with the natural world, both past and present. In ‘Voyager, Chief’ she explores our fascination with whalebones, whales, and the whaling industry. Many of us will have wandered under the jawbones arch of two baleen whales in the Meadows in Edinburgh, but it wasn’t until I read this essay that I learned that they arrived in Edinburgh from the Shetlands in 1886 to form the structure for a stall demonstrating knitting techniques in Shetland and Fair Isle in the International Exhibition of Science, Art and Industry.  

Perhaps my favourite moments in ‘Sightlines’—and, indeed, in Jamie’s more recent book of essays ‘Surfacing’ (2019)—are when she weaves together landscape and human experience. As she watches gannets raising their chicks, she thinks of her own growing children and laughs; for her, ‘nappy buckets and trails of milky vomit’ are over. In this way, Jamie is a deeply comforting read. Her essays are like standing on the top of a mountain and looking at the vista. On the one hand our lives—just like the gannets—are a deeply significant part of the natural order of life. On the other hand, like the passage of the eclipse over the moon, life’s joys and struggles are ephemeral. As she concludes: ‘The wind and sea. Everything else is provisional. A wing’s beat and it’s gone.’ 

Borrow Sightlines as an ebook. If you want to read more of Kathleen Jamie’s writing, Surfacing is available in print copy. 

Walking guides 

All the way through lockdown, we’ve all been getting out for walks and exploring our local areas much more. It’s been wonderful to connect to the nature on our doorstops and see things that perhaps we’ve passed every day but never noticed. For many of us getting out for a walk has been a real lifeline. 

Now we can explore further afield but it becomes more difficult to know where to walk and what we might encounter. We are a bit anxious now about going to new places and seeing new things. 

That’s where our amazing collection of walking guidebooks comes in. There are walks for every ability and every area. You can find out what to look out for in terms of nature and history, check out how far it is and how difficult the terrain is and, if you’ve got a dog, whether it’s a suitable walk for them too. You can borrow an Ordnance Survey map to help plan even more. 

Just search the catalogue using the keyword “walks” and the area you’re looking at. 

We hope you are inspired by this selection of items available from the library that connect us with the healing power of nature. 

2 thoughts on “Connecting with nature through reading

  1. Pingback: The healing power of Nature | A Very Fine Library

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