Review published on November 16, 2017.
Jim Crumley’s first memory is of geese flying over his parents’ garden in Dundee one September. Although he was born in midsummer, he likes to think of himself as a “child of autumn” due to how much he loves the season and all it evokes for him, including the magic of leaves and acorns, and unforgettable encounters with birds and other wildlife: “autumn, in my mind, is a tapped kaleidoscope, a shifting sorcery of shapes and shades, a revitalising of the wild year after the too-long dirge of late summer, a maker of daring moods.”
In 2015 Crumley set off from his home in Stirling on a series of journeys to trace the coming of autumn and revisit some of his favourite subjects to write about. “It is always the air that announces the change,” he notes: “It sharpens, cools and gently startles. It smells of hedgehogs.” He explores reed beds, sandbanks, marshes and stands of redwoods; he spies on seals and golden eagles. Green woodpeckers, kingfishers and whooper swans are his familiars in this quest for wonder.
Storm Abigail and an appearance at Wigtown Book Festival punctuate his wanderings, while memories of his grandfather, a famous footballer, and his father, who died 40 years ago, form a human counterpart to the natural world’s mixture of beauty and sadness. Crumley’s goal is always to wait and watch for long enough that special moments come to him: “a gift for stillness has been my saving grace[;] … once in a while the quality of the watching rises above the norm on a buoyancy of accumulated experiences, and briefly achieves a kind of perfection.”
I occasionally found this book a bit overwritten. It seemed odd to me that the author kept quoting from his previous works, and I wasn’t sure how a chapter on Robert Burns was meant to be relevant. However, I think this should appeal to your average reader of UK-centric nature and travel books. Crumley certainly makes a good case for the necessity of paying attention to the natural world: “If we as a species cannot recover the art of listening to the lost speech of the land, we are on a short road to nowhere at all.”
Rebecca Foster 3/2
The Nature of Autumn by Jim Crumley
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