Cold weather and snow (snow!) make me want to curl up under my bubble lights and dream about outside adventures in the natural world. I like a touch of nostalgia too, so here are a few memoirs that are intricately connected to the time and place they were written in, with a great mindfulness for the land and seas.
My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell
Gerald Durrell is widely known as naturalist and animal collector who was deeply committed to species conservation. While his animal collecting books document fascinating adventures around the world, I love it when he turns his engaging writing to focus on his family dynamics. This is a quirky, eccentric, highly enjoyable read set in Corfu and boyhood: full of beautiful and silly reminiscences of a different time, a different place, and a family of weird and marvelous characters.
The Dog Who Wouldn’t Be by Farley Mowat
As long as we’re on the subject of boyhood and nutty, charismatic characters, Farley Mowat’s tales of his irrepressible and original dog, Mutt, are hilarious and heartwarming. Mutt enters Mowat’s life in a basket of emaciated ducklings and spends the next ten years muttering stubbornly through all adversity and accompanying Farley on all kinds of young naturalist adventures on the Saskatchewan prairies. If the image of a goggle-wearing dog terrorizing the neighborhood doesn’t bring out a fit of the giggles, I don’t know what will.
Wildwood: A Journey Through Trees by Roger Deakin
This is the first Roger Deakin book I have read, but it won’t be the last. Wildwood: A Journey Through Trees takes us around the world, from carefully maintained British woodlands to the Walnut forests of Kyrgyzstan. It’s not exactly a straightforward narrative; instead it is a meandering and beautiful contemplation, on trees, on living and on the natural world in general.
Cathedral of the Wild: An African Journey Home
by Boyd Varty
In the category of forthcoming books, look for this excellent memoir about growing up in a conservation-minded family in South Africa. Boyd Varty is a Gerald Durrell for the new millennium, where saving animals doesn’t necessitate relocating them from their habitats, but rather healing the land and peoples around them. The book could have stalled out as a propaganda piece – after all, Varty and his family run Londolozi Game Reserve, a tourist destination. But there is too much honesty in the book for that, too much compassion and vulnerability. This is a powerful story, as much about the man as the place.