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Blooming Marvellous this September

It’s hard not to feel sad in September as another summer draws to a close. Children are looking forward to Halloween and Christmas coming after it, but adults often see time slipping away. It never seems long since last September, yet here we are again. But I found something really incredible which will absolutely lift your spirits if you feel the sort of poignancy I do, and that something is a beautiful new book by the botanist Zoe Devlin entitled Blooming Marvellous: A Wildflower Hunter’s Year. It will change your perspective on September, and the year itself.

I can honestly say there is only one book I have ever come across which is like it in any way, and that is the legendary naturalist Gerald Durrell’s The Amateur Naturalist which can best be described as a manual and interactive adventure story rolled into one. These are the sort of books you don’t want an electronic version of, because they are beautiful things in themselves, a combination of art and reading which is truly exhilarating. Blooming Marvellous recounts episodes in the author’s life while inviting you to have your own adventure with the aid of the book.

It’s divided into chapters which deal with each month. Zoe suggests you read the chapter of the month you’re in right now, and immediately you are seeing what she sees and not only that, but you are able to find things she tells you about which you never even realised were there in front of your eyes, by a hedgerow or in your garden. I took mine out into the garden and suddenly I was in the book, and just look at this and you’ll see what I mean:

   As you can see by the page shown from Blooming Marvellous it’s not just about wildflowers, but also about the wildlife which supports them, and depends on them. This is not a botanical manual, but a true-life adventure story comprising anecdotes and a field guide combined. And it’s rugged too, with a rock hard cover and a beautifully stitched binding of heavy, tough, glossy pages, but it is the weight of wisdom. This is a rugged book you can carry in your rucksack, and the writing is fantastic and elegant and absolutely draws you in to the adventures:

“Wordsworth had a way with words that many have envied. In 1798, on the banks of the River Wye, that self-proclaimed ‘worshipper of nature’ wrote ‘Nature never did betray the heart that loved her’. Long before I ever knew those words, my less eloquent maxim was ‘Nature never, ever lets you down’.”

And those are just the opening lines! The rest of the book reads as easily, and there are sad bits, and thought-provoking tales too,  which sweeten the knowledge you are unwittingly taking in with them. Remarkably, all of the adventures Zoe describes in this book occurred in Ireland. Even more alluringly Zoe has included recipes for cooking some of the fruits and wildflowers you encounter, which adds a whole new dimension to this book and interracting with her adventures. For example, there is a really nice recipe for blackberry tart, which is great considering how many blackberries there are on the hedgerows this year:

Before Zoe had published her first book she appeared in a photo on this blog when I met her and her ever reliable sidekick and husband, Pete, out on one of their adventures (as far as I’m aware this is her third book for the Collins Press – or are there more?). So you might think I’m biased, especially if you read pages 186-187. This very original masterpiece is, I promise you, different from anything you have seen before, with photos and text by the author, and I think Gerald Durrell would definitely love it.

If I am ever unfortunate enough to find myself lined up in front of a firing squad I’m going to make sure this book is in my breast pocket, because, although it’s not gigantic, I feel pretty certain, in addition to its many other virtues, it can stop bullets.

If you’re too lazy to go to the bookshop, or don’t live in Ireland, or fear catching one of those horrible September flus or colds, you can buy Blooming Marvellous from Amazon right now and have it delivered to your door.

Another amazing book…

A few years ago an incredible book hit the Irish bookshelves, and only a few months ago was a bestseller on the NHBS, the Environmental Bookstore, website. I came across it when it first appeared in late 2008, and flicking through the pages discovered it to be a stunning work of scholarship by a somewhat mysterious Dublin author named Glynn Anderson. The book is Birds of Ireland: Facts, Folklore and History, one of the Collins Press’s prestige publications, and it is the most impressive Irish wildlife book you’re likely to ever come across. Each species of Irish bird is treated in fantastic detail, and what is even more spectacular is that rather than using modern photos the author has chosen lavish 19th century illustrations, mainly by the great naturalist John Gould. In short, a book I simply could not leave on the shelf, so I bought it.

Birds of Ireland: Facts, Folklore & History by Glynn Anderson

This is one of those rare and brilliant books that should be produced by authors in every country throughout the world, but for which we in Ireland seem to have the monopoly, in the form of this one outstanding example. Here’s a very nice sample regarding the Gannet (Morus bassanus):

 “Gannets must be careful to land exactly on their own territory as disputes can be deadly. Once down, the Gannet can only take off from well-defined and well-used ‘runways’. These runways are kept clear at the edges of the colonies and each Gannet must walk the gauntlet through other territories to reach them. The departing birds signal their intention by walking with their bills pointing directly into the sky as a swordsman would hold up his sword. Birds behaving so are granted passage but the ritual must be strictly adhered to…. The name ‘Gannet’ comes from the Anglo-Saxon ganot meaning ‘goose’. The Latin Morus bassanus translates  roughly as ‘Foolish Bird from Base Rock’ (in Scotland). The birds are also called Solan Geese on Northern Ireland and Scotland from the rock Sula Sgeir (Gannet skerry) or Solan Rock some forty miles off the northern Scottish coast.’

Red Grouse entry from the book.

While I was at Zoe Devlin’s book launch I got talking to one of the guests, who happened to be strolling around with a big camera taking photos of everyone to publicise the event. He said he had come to support Zoe because he had also had books published by the Collins Press, and introduced himself as Glynn Anderson –  I instantly recognised the name and asked if he was the same Glynn Anderson who was the enigmatic author of the above book: he was.

It is still incredible that after this massive success Glynn has been hidden from the media, and not picked up by television or radio: the research and writing of his bird book took five years! It is such a popular book that you would imagine the media would have him on speed-dial, having proven his expertise, and at least would expect an appearance in a wildlife documentary, but he managed to maintain his mysteriousness. So it seems the privilege falls to me to introduce this great naturalist to the world in the photo below.

Me in the middle, looking like Beelzebub with two newly captured souls, Glynn Anderson on the right of the photo (my left) and on the left (my right) another author, Niall MacCoitir, whose Ireland's Mammals: Myths, Legends and Folklore and Irish Wild Plants: Myths, Legends and Folklore, and two other books have been published by the Collins Press. Unfortunately I haven't had the opportunity to look at Niall's books yet, but they sound promising.

Glynn Anderson’s bird book (soon to be followed by his latest book, on cheese !) is available from Amazon: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Birds-Ireland-Facts-Folklore-History/dp/1905172729/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1320616264&sr=8-1

Niall MacCoitir’s books are also available from Amazon:  http://www.amazon.co.uk/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=niall+maccoitir&x=0&y=0