Top Five Nature Inspired Reads

Nature Inspiration

Welcome back to my Reading Lists for Total Confinement. Today I’m sharing my Top Five Nature Inspired reads.

It’s not winter, however we are in period of hibernation and just as bees pollinate flowers, somehow we humans are spreading a virus around the world.

Without pollination, plants cannot create seeds. For now, it’s difficult to see what good will bloom from Covid-19 but lets hope something positive will come from what we learn in solitude and while locked in lets hope the bees can get on and do their job out there.

When it’s too cold to be out in nature or when I feel like a break from the books I’ve been reading, I love to read compelling nature essays or stories inspired by nature. A form of quiet escapism, they are a unique appreciation of nature.

The choices below are a mix of essays, fiction, memoir and poetry. If you like the sound of a book, click on the title to read my review.

Top Five Nature Inspired Reads

1. The Bees by Lalline Paul

I’m starting with a novel, because this was an incredible feat of the imagination as well as being a compelling read. It’s the story of The Hive narrated by Flora 717, a worker bee. Flora is a lowly sanitation bee and we meet her as she is becoming aware of her surroundings and the hierarchy within which she lives.

Not only was the author inspired by bees, but she models the fictional landscape of The Hive on a Bronze Age Minoan Palace. Stunning, I was completely bowled over by this story. A thrilling read!

2. Under The Sea Wind by Rachel Carson
Many know Rachel Carson for her groundbreaking work Silent Spring that launched the environmental movement and brought about revolutionary changes in laws governing air, land and water use.

But Carson’s own personal favourite and a book I absolutely loved was her debut Under the Sea-Wind. I’d read a few excellent creative non-fiction nature titles and was wondering whether anyone had written in a similar lyrical way about the sea. And here it is, the masterpiece, what a unique and incredible insight she gives of it.

Divided into three parts,  it’s written from the perspective of three creatures she knew well (she was a zoologist), Part One is the life of the seashore, seen through the eyes of a sanderling she names Silverbar; in Part Two we experience the ocean with Scomber the mackerel, and Part Three takes us into the deep dark, fathoms, following Anguilla the eel out of a river into the Sargasso Sea. Absolutely inspired, informative, stunning.

3. The Turquoise Ledge Leslie Marmon Silko

I had to include this here even though I’m doing a separate list about Memoirs, because it was such a fascinating read and introduction to the Arizona desert and its wildlife. The way Silko talks about the rattlesnakes that inhabit her property will almost convince you that under similar circumstances we too might live harmoniously with these creatures!

Alongside the critters, she recalls ancestral Laguna stories of her childhood, talks of Star Beings, collects turquoise rocks in the arroyo (dry creek bed) and shares her fascination with the Nahua people, their language and Tlaloc, the Nahua God of Rain to whom she occasionally chants her own rain prayer.

I discovered it the same way I found Under the Sea-Wind, this time I was looking for a creative non-fiction title set in the desert near Tuscon; I found this stunning memoir and snapped it up straight away.

Silko too is an author many know for her bestselling novel Ceremony, I enjoyed Gardens in the Dunes and the slim collections of letters with poet James Wright The Delicacy & Strength of Lace. Yes, I was hooked and read whatever I could get my hands on after reading her inspired memoir. Fortunately I still have Storyteller and Yellow Woman and a Beauty of the Spirit on my shelf.

4. When Women Were Birds, Fifty Four Variations on Voice by Terry Tempest Williams

Terry Tempest Williams wrote Refuge: An Unnatural History of Family and Place in 1991 about a personal loss and the dangers confronting Great Salt Lake. Twenty years later, now 54 years old, she was the age her mother attained when she departed this world and thus reflects anew on life, as a woman, a conservationist and activist in another arresting memoir.

Referring to ancient crow etchings of women in China that were read by women she thinks of her own bird marking, a scar above the eye made by a falcon on a river trip. She speaks of the Mormon tradition of keeping journals, of a gift her mother left her, the collection of carefully preserved, beautiful cloth bound journals and the shock of what she finds within their pages. This is one you’ll want to slow read, to ponder, cherish, and even re-read.

5. A Thousand Mornings by Mary Oliver

And to finish a short collection of poetry from Pulitzer Prize winning poet Mary Oliver who passed away in January 2019. Her poetry oscillates between the natural world and worldly experiences and in this collection she goes down to the shore, dances for joy, falls downs the stairs of the Golden Temple on a trip to India and in my favourite of the collection lets us know, as if she too has been told to self-isolate, that she has accepted her fate.

I HAVE DECIDED

I have decided to find myself a home
in the mountains, somewhere high up
where one learns to live peacefully in
the cold and the silence. It’s said that
in such a place certain revelations may
be discovered. That what the spirit
reaches for may be eventually felt, if not
exactly understood. Slowly, no doubt. I’m
not talking about a vacation.

Of course, at the same time I mean to
stay exactly where I am.

Are you following me?

Do you have a favourite nature-inspired read to share?

Further Reading Lists Featured

My Top 5 TBR

My Top 5 Spiritual Well-Being

29 thoughts on “Top Five Nature Inspired Reads

  1. Despite being a fan of nature writing, I’ve read none of these – no, not even the Carson, so thank you. Benefits of the virus? Pollution levels are tumbling world wide. And might this change our relationship with flying in the longer term? No popping across the oceans just for a very few days of meetings, as my son-in-law did just before all this happened? So … Let’s see. Meanwhile, I hope you stay safe. We’re coping well with self-isolating, but it’s very early days yet.

    Liked by 2 people

    • A wonderful respite for nature and for this side of the world happening in spring, I do hope like you that we make changes that will help foster a better relationship with the planet and all that live by it.

      This Carson is lesser known but a wonderful example of her passion for other species that belong to our planet!

      Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Susan, yes, I initially had Kathleen Jamie on the list as I’ve read two of her collections and mentioned in her my initial ‘Five on the TBR’ as I have her latest collection Surfacing to read which I’m looking forward to. I don’t know Roger Deakin, I’ll have to look him up, thanks for the recommendation!

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  2. An inspiring list, Claire, thank you. I have to confess I haven’t read any of these, but turning to nature writing in times like these is very appealing. I think I’ll start with the Rachel Carson, which sounds like it deserves to be much more widely known.

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    • Yes, Rachel Carson’s debut had the misfortune to be published at the outbreak of war in 1941 so it didn’t experience the popularity it might have had on release. In fact it’s part of a trliogy of books she wrote about the sea and the second book became very popular post-WWII.
      It’s wonderful that Under the Sea-Wind is being rediscovered again as it is a wonderful book, I have the second and third which I may get to read now too!

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  4. Lovely post, though I am afraid I haven’t read any of them. I would recommend the essays of Kathleen Jamie, who I want to read more of, and The Old Ways by Robert Macfarlane. I read Tom Cox’s Ring the Hill not long ago which was lovely as is Horatio Clare’s The Light in the Dark.

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    • Yes, I have Kathleen Jamie’s latest collection ‘Surfacing’ which I plan to read in the coming weeks, I really enjoyed her previous two Findings and Sightlines. Thank you for the other recommendations too, I’ve not heard of Horatio Clare but his writing style sounds wonderfully evocative.

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  5. I love this list! I just got a copy of When Women Were Birds because it did seem like a good balm for the current moment, I think. And I hadn’t heard of Under the Sea Wind but you make it sound SO good! I need to seek that one out. Thanks for the recommendations!!

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    • I loved When Women Were Birds and at the time I had never read anything quite like it. I liked the added mystery of knowing nothing about the author at the time. I have since read Refuge, the one that everyone mentions, which I really enjoyed as well, it made me want to read When Women’s Were Birds again, another reason I appreciate that I can revisit the reviews, as I’ve long since passed the book on.

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  6. Thank you for these recommendations.
    I have read books by Frances Hamerstrom (1906-1998) that I enjoyed. You can explore her writing. She was a naturalist from Wisconsin. Her memoir is funny and interesting, but I can’t remember the name of it now, (You can’t put it down!) Another naturalist that I would like to recommend is William Henry Hudson (1841-1922). I grew up close to his childhood home. “Far Away and Long Ago” is a book that I loved and enjoyed. There is more than nature writing threaded in that fascinating book. There is history, personal stories, etc.
    In the book “Girls who look under rocks,” by Jeanine Atkins you will find an interesting list of women naturalists that you may find of interest,

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    • I have not heard of Frances Hamerstrom, but I looked her up and found My Double Life: Memoirs Of A Naturalist published in 1994 so I imagine that is the one you’re remembering.

      Thank you for introducing me to William Henry Hudson, I see that a lot of his books are available via the Gutenburg Project . And a more recent biography that won the 2001 Annual Prize in Literature of Uruguay. And interesting that his book A Shepherd’s Life was the inspiration behind James Rebank’s recent book The Shepherd’s Life, A Tale of the Lake District.

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    • If you like nature reads, Under the Sea-Wind is stunning, really in a class of its own. Highly recommended. I love how she puts the sea creatures forward and centre of her text, letting them be the focus of her narrative, but bringing them alive and making it a thrilling read. Humbling, the presence of the author removed, which is not the case with so many others.

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  7. These sound good. Some recommendations; Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, A Walk In The Woods by Bill Bryson, and a really good book I can’t remember the name of and can’t find. Pooh. Under the Sea Wind is on Hoopla BTW in case you have that.

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    • Thanks I have read Bird by Bird, a good one for writers, and a few others by Anne Lamott. Annie Dillard is another one I didn’t have space to mention who also is very good. The male names tend to be more familiar so its good to make space for the lesser known equally excellent women writers of this genre.

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