The Edwardian Naturalists and Other Nature Writers’ Guide to Happiness

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A study from BBC Earth and the University of California has revealed that watching nature documentaries can make us happier. We know this already, don’t we? Watching documentaries or even a clip of an animal doing something amazing at the end of a news bulletin makes me, everyone watching, and the newsreader smile.  There is more proof that being surrounded by nature makes us happy in every book written by naturalists. It extends to us, the readers, too, and it could even change our life’s direction, as it did mine.  Looking through my library of nature books, I was once again reminded of the many writers who influenced me and many others with the power of their words and images. Do you remember The Diary of an Edwardian Lady? Discovered in some dusty corner, long after the author Edith Holden died, and published, the book became a bestseller.  Another find from the same time is The Cottage Book, the undiscovered Country Diary of An Edwardian Statesman, created by Sir Edward Grey and his wife Dorothy. Both books are devoted to the English countryside. The authors describe the daily weather changes during the four seasons, and provide detailed observations of the various birds nesting, raising their fledglings or spirit-lifting birdsongs.  The beautiful watercolours add to our understanding of the magic of being at one with nature.

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There is another aspect to being passionate about being surrounded by nature. All writers renowned for this choose peacefulness and solitude (away from busy social interaction), of walks among green hills, swaying crops fields,  swimming or fishing (not approved, surely, by the fish), of watching the busy lives of birds’ family groups, and listening to the heartrending birdsong of nightingale, song thrush or robin.  I empathize with their choice of life because without exception, it made all of them blissfully happy. Perhaps, I would not go as far as to agree with saying ‘hell is other people’, but just to look at the ‘dark forces’ of politics everywhere, I know where I would rather be…

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The American writer Henry Beston spent a year in a wooden hut, which he had designed and built on the beach, among the sand dunes. His solitude and observations of the sea, sand, and birds, together with his thoughts on the deeper meaning of our place in in the world of nature, were described in his exquisitely written book ‘ The Outermost House’. His writing enchanted millions of people, and I am one of them. The quote below hangs framed above my desk and is a constant reminder of how lucky I am to be surrounded by wildlife, plants, and trees in my garden:

“For the animal shall not be measured by man. In a world older and more complete than ours, they move finished and complete, gifted with extensions of senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear. They are not brethren; they are not underlings; they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of splendour and travail of the Earth.”

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The greatest influence on my life was the book “The Secret Garden” by Frances Hodgson Burnett.  As a child, I read it at least a hundred times and I remember whole passages by heart. One paragraph, in particular, appealed to me and I adopted its message wholeheartedly: ‘May I,’ quavered Mary, ‘might I have a bit of earth?’ Mr. Craven looked quite startled, ‘Earth!’ he repeated. ‘What do you mean?’ ‘To plant seeds in – to make things grow – to see them come alive,’ Mary faltered.’ This book is a bible of the healing powers of nature and positive thinking, as in the verse: ‘Where you tend a rose, my lad, a thistle cannot grow.’ This thought shaped my whole life.

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The beautiful description of the Yorkshire Moors at various times of the year, but in particular at springtime, made me long to see it for myself. It wasn’t until much later in life, and after changing countries, that I stood in the middle of the Yorkshire Moors at sunset. Ankle deep in purple heather and with the panoramic view of the dramatic sky above, I was transfixed by the incomparable feeling of being wholly at one with nature.  Turning around in circles, at  360 degrees, it felt as if the moors and the sky seemed to move with me too. To see the clouds suffused with the deep orange glow of the descending sun merging with the now darkening earth below, was and still is one of the most surreal and unforgettable moments of my life. For those who don’t know what moors are, here is the explanation that was given to Mary on her first journey through the moors at night: ” ‘It is – it’s not the sea, is it?’ said Mary, looking at her companion. ‘No, not it’, answered Mrs. Medlock. ‘Nor it isn’t fields nor mountains, it’s just miles and miles and miles of wild land that nothing grows on but heather and gorse and broom, and nothing lives on but wild ponies and sheep.’ What the grumpy housekeeper didn’t say is that moors are alive with birds flying above, against the blue of the sky, the bees feasting on purple and red blooming heather, and butterflies fluttering in the sunlit gorse.

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To those who lead busy lives in the big, throbbing with action, cities of the world, there is nothing better than I would recommend but to pick up a nature book, to read on the journey to work on the bus or underground, at least it would make you smile. Always a good start to the day. For full happiness, go and see the Yorkshire Moors.

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4 thoughts on “The Edwardian Naturalists and Other Nature Writers’ Guide to Happiness

  1. Wouldn’t that be wonderful-a year in a cabin on the beach? I will have to check out Henry Beston’s book. Thanks for the glorious images.

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  2. Dear Jacqui, I think nature writers are wonderful for our wellbeing. I keep smiling or weeping depending on the events described, always in the most beautiful language. Do look up Benson’s book, and perhaps, you could also have a look at the spirit-lifting The Secret Garden.

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  3. By the way, have you seen the young seals at the Scottish University research center singing ‘Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star’?

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  4. Did you see the singing seals at the Scottish University? Their rendition of ‘Twinkle, twinkle little star’ is quite something1 Smiles all round.

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