This week I was lucky enough to take part in Healthy n Happy's zoom bookclub. We were really grateful to them for taking on our suggestion for a nature themed session and so it was a group of us came together to talk about The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. There has been a proliferation of nature books published over the last few years, but when I asked my colleagues for suggestions about the best one they had read, this was the title that came up most often. It is fondly remembered by adults as a book they adored in childhood, and is then re-read with their own children who in turn fall in love with it. It was a very long time since I had read it, and I couldn't find it on my bookshelves, although I know I once I owned it, but amazingly it's available online for free at Project Gutenberg, and so I downloaded it onto my tablet and dived in. The first thing I discovered was that I did not remember the start of the book at all. Written in 1911, the opening chapter really dates it, and there is a fair bit of racism, sexism and imperialism to struggle through. When the book comes alive however, which happens in parallel with the characters coming alive, is in the descriptions of nature. Springtime is the perfect time to read The Secret Garden:
“Is the spring coming?” he said. “What is it like?”… “It is the sun shining on the rain and the rain falling on the sunshine…”
More than ever I have been aware of the bulbs this year. I spotted my first daffodil in January, which seemed unusually early, and then there seemed to be nothing more for ages, except for some "pale green points" - in the book, Mary spots these shoots in the abandoned garden and clears the grass and weeds from around them, even though she doesn't know what they are or what she is doing. In the words of Dickon:
“Tha’ was right,” he said. “A gardener couldn’t have told thee better. They’ll grow now like Jack’s bean-stalk. They’re crocuses an’ snowdrops, an’ these here is narcissuses,” turning to another patch, “an here’s daffydowndillys. Eh! they will be a sight.”
And he's right of course, the crocuses are no longer just green shoots, they're purple, and amber and white, covering entire gardens. The snowdrops have grown bigger and bolder every day, and in the last couple of days I've seen the narcissus flower too. Daffodils won't be far behind.
The observations in the final chapter about how, if we concentrate on our fears and are determined to only see bad in the world, then our minds become filled with the worst of everything, seem particularly apt just now. I actually struggled to find enough time to finish reading The Secret Garden in time for the book club, because there was another book that arrived on my doorstep on its publication day last Thursday, and once I started it, I was unable to put it down. It's not particularly a book about nature, although it is in part, because it is a book about noticing. Called "A Still Life" by Josie George, who lived her whole life with chronic illness and resulting disability, yet she has learned to look for joy in the world; the small things, the birds in the hedge, the flowers in the garden, the colour of the sky. Reading the two books alongside each other has reminded me again that noticing nature - more than that - being part of nature - remembering that being human is being part of nature, can bring a deep contentment. Don't take my word for it though, follow Josie on twitter for her wise observations, perhaps buy her book, read The Secret Garden as spring evolves.
So, I'm going to put my computer down now, and read a bit more. If you have a favourite book that helps you connect to nature, let me know, I'd love to hear from you.