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Nature Writing: Sightlines wins Orion Award

abstract:Each summer I retreat from the city to our farm property where there are various projects on the go. A rather large farmhouse garden is always a source of much joy and physical effort: tilling the spring soil; testing for pH, nitrogen and phosphorus; adding amendments like alfalfa mulch and compost, spraying the fruit trees with lime sulphur oil, building the seed rows and laying out the drip hose and sprinkler irrigation.

I bring our laying hens along and collect the boarding rooster from a friend who owns a nursery in a part of the city where zoning laws allows his early morning revelry. This year I took a two-day intensive course on beekeeping and purchased then assembled two hive kits that we populated with starter nukes. Nukes are boxes containing four hive frames, a mated queen bee, some workers, drones and laid comb with brood.

We also embarked on a hops adventure in tangent with the thriving craft beer industry here in BC. I ordered several hundred hop rhizomes and potted them into 2- litre nursery pots in prelude to establishing a hops yard inside our hay field. Hops grow to over 20 feet and the structure to support them is quite an undertaking.

That said, it is very gratifying to come inside after a day of outdoor physical labour and take a hot bath, change into some loose summer clothes and enjoy a tasty beverage in the twilight of the day. I keep a journal with observations like when the swallows arrive, what we're planting and how it is thriving or suffering, the weather patterns, when the birds fledge and the date the elk pass through on their fall migration.

Of course reading is a favourite pastime

article:

June 08, 2014
— while relaxing and our shelves stock stacks of books on topics to do with nature, agriculture, bee keeping, beer making and anything dealing with rural life and the physical world. There are lots of classics by nature writers. It's a genre that has thrived in opposition to the worldwide trend of urbanization. We escape in our hearts and minds and on our brief vacations to places remote and unspoiled. Names synonymous with science and conservation come to mind: Darwin and Audubon, John Muir, Thomas Seton. But also philosophers and sages: Thoreau and Burroughs; master storytellers and poets from Atwood to Wordsworth. The Guardian had a great article defending the genre. And the literary magazine Granta has dedicated editions to the topic of "new nature writing". The University of Santa Cruz offers a nature writing course that has a great bibliography of nature writers you can check out. It's aptly described thus: "Nature writing synthesizes scientific information and artistic/literary expression, producing some of the most evocative and essential writing of the late twentieth century."

This year I am anxious to dive into Scottish poet, writer and part-time professor, Kathleen Jamie's award-winning book Sightlines:A Conversation with the Natural World (published in the UK by Picador and in North America by Graywolf Press). Her first book, Findings describes her thus on its jacket,

Whether she is following the call of a peregrine in the hills above her home in Fife, sailing into a dark winter solstice on the Orkney islands, or pacing around the carcass of a whale on a rain-swept Hebridean beach, she creates a subtle and modern narrative, peculiarly alive to her connections and surroundings.

Sightlines is a collection of fourteen essays that celebrates our cravings to experience and observe nature in its rawest forms. The Orion Award is bestowed by the titular magazine, a publication that is dedicated to inspiring connections between individuals and nature. Founded in 1982 by George Russel, the publications editorial chief, the magazine has evolved into a society offering members programs and workshops designed to do just that. Learn more about them here.

Other Books By The Author

  • The Overhaul: Poems
  • Waterlight
  • Mr. and Mrs. Scotland Are Dead: Poems 1980-1994
  • The Tree House
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