Meadowland by John Lewis-Stempel: Book review

Meadowland by John Lewis-Stempel
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Meadowland by John Lewis-Stempel
ISBN: 9781448152582
Published by Transworld on May 22nd 2014
Genres: Earth Sciences, Ecology, Ecosystems & Habitats, Nature, Science, Seasons, Wilderness
Buy on Amazon US | The Book Depository | Barnes & Noble | Buy on Amazon UK

This lovely book is by Wainwright Golden Beer Book Prize winner John Lewis-Stempel. It made me feel I was in his company while he was walking around his nature-rich meadows in Herefordshire for a year.

I found myself laughing at some of his descriptions. “The river shouts with the abandon of a football crowd”. Bees feed on red clover stalks “with the desperation of Titanic survivors clinging to life rafts.” A jay flits into the thicket, “its progress signalled by its light-bulb rump,” while the bird’s call is “the sound of chalk being pulled down a blackboard.”

Lewis-Stempel is extremely knowledgeable, and shares his knowledge with the reader, but not so much that he overwhelms. Some of his statements are just mind-blowing. “Each acre of the meadow contains several hundred million insects. Together they weigh 0.2 tons.”

Unafraid to voice criticisms

And he’s not afraid to be critical when he has to be. A neighbor devotes a field to holiday tipis, which he most definitely does not agree with. He is aware too that it’s too easy to watch nature programmes instead of actually getting outside and watching nature. “Has Autumnwatch not killed the experience of being an amateur naturalist?”

However, could we not argue that Meadowland could kill the experience of being an amateur naturalist? Both a TV programme and a book can inspire one to get outside and explore nature for oneself. Or they can make you think that because you love watching/reading nature programmes/books, then you “know” the natural world.

We can’t all live in such natural oases

I feel another unease too about Meadowland and similar books. Wonderful as they are, they set the bar unrealistically high. We don’t all live near such nature-rich habitats as described by Lewis-Stempel. My local patch consists of highly fertilized and insecticide-sprayed potato and sugar beet fields. I am sure they don’t contain 0.2 tons of insects per acre. They definitely don’t hold otters, deer, badgers, etc. Reading of Lewis-Stempel seeing all these animals up-close can be dispiriting. Especially when one’s local patch consists of just a handful of crows and lots of wood pigeons.

On the other hand, I can choose to be inspired. So that when I do travel to a more nature-rich environment, I can strive to emulate the author’s patience in just sitting still and observing. He is an inspiration to us all.

I have reviewed other books by the author, including the award-winning Where Poppies Blow, The Secret Life of Owls, and The Running Hare.

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