I am as deep into George Monbiot’s Feral as he is in ling, or wrack, or any other dense vegetation he encounters as he travels through the book. His view of nature and landscape is only dwarfed by this vision of what might be or what might have been in the “re-wilding” of Europe, of Britain in particular:
The sward on the verge was an exuberance of colours as rich as the Lord Mayor’s Show. Here were dropping red spikes of sorrel, golden bird’s foot trefoil like Quaker bonnets, the delicate umbels of pignut, heath milkwort – some pink, some blue – red campion and cut-leaved cranesbill. Here were little white flowers of eyebright, with egg yolk on their tongues, dark figworts, which released a foxy smell when I ran my hand through them,, purple knapweed, pink and white yarrow, foxglove, mouse ear, male fern, deep cushions of bedstraw, wild raspberry, heath speedwell, hogweed and willowherb…
It is as lyrical a use of plant names as any poet might employ.
His wrath at the violation of his vision employs the poetics of the fire-and-brimstone preacher, and while he is at home with the humour of black cat spotting, and has an eye for the quirky detail when talking about beavers or woolly rhinos, he reserves a particular distaste for the “sepia-toned” conservationist who seeks to preserve rather than rewild. Monbiot hits out at the Nazi sympathies of Konrad Lorenz and the “strong suite of what might have been psychopathic traits” of Joy Adamson. This is a not a man to mince his words.
And it is this keen sense of how poor our vision of landscape is, how bound up in the artificialities of the pastoral that is the most intriguing thing for me. The imperialist and imperious “assemblage of species” that Monbiot attacks is at the heart of young children’s literature; the re-presentation of the desired, the nostalgic landscape that provides setting but also instructs the reader: this is where the narrative happens, but also this is how the outdoors should be.
Reader beware, therefore: if Red Grouse are a “key indicator” (a view challenged by Monbiot at one point), I worry that so are the small, mixed woodlands and rolling hills and small fields of the Each Peach Pear Plum, or the quiet country lanes of Joe’s Cafe, or the magnificent spread of scenery in Bear Hunt.
Addendum, Easter Tuesday
The latest in the Guardian from George Monbiot. I may come back to this.