Hidden Nature by Alys Fowler

Hidden Nature by Alys Fowler was one of the library books I was lucky enough to get trapped with whilst on lockdown. I ended up reading it last, though – after Jen Gale’s Sustainable(ish) Living Guide, and a wonderful bit of literary criticism which explores why everyone seems to love Mr Darcy (I still don’t get it, by the way!)

I sort of wish I’d read this first though, as it’s definitely relevant to the quarantine situation we’re in.

In short, the book is about the hidden nature we find within our cities, but also within ourselves. It chronicles Fowler’s exploration of the Birmingham canal network, and her own sexuality.

The love story Fowler tells is elegant and honest – a tale of romance which  features both the canals and her new partner. She does an artful job of centring her own experience in the breakdown of her marriage, whilst somehow managing not to sound self-centred. What struck me most was how she quietly respected the privacy of both her former husband and her lover, without losing a sense of intimacy in the prose.

I said that this book is relevant to the lockdown we find ourselves in, by which I mean: – lockdown is shifting our proverbial lens to focus on enjoying nature in unexpected places. So many people who live within cities and who might normally drive out to a country park or National Trust property, are now forced to seek out green spaces closer to home. Those who might not have previously made the effort to enjoy the natural world around them may now have a greater appreciation of what is on thier doorstep – I know I certainly do, and I walked the lanes around me daily even prior to the pandemic (followed by a very springy dog).

What I found most interesting – aside from the incredible chapter which detailed the impossible-sounding life cycle of eels* – was the inversion of accepted wisdom regarding wild spaces. The book was a wonderful reminder that the neat, tended fields of farmland are anything but wild, whilst the abandoned banks of an industrial canal …? They belong entirely to Mother Nature – reclaimed from man by plants and creatures. If we wish to see feral things, perhaps we need to stop searching in the manicured countryside and look to our city scapes instead.

It’s an interesting thought, and something that I will definitely keep in mind going forwards. It’s also a fascinating prism through which to view the rewilding process – perhaps all we need to do in order for the earth to reclaim spaces we’ve used is to trust that she will, and let her get on with it.

Have you read Hidden Nature by Alys Fowler? Or have you read any of her other books, or Guardian column? I would love to hear what you think, if you have. As ever, feel free to contact me here, or on Twitter.

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*Please – if you know of any easily digestable eel-related non-fiction, I would absolutely love a recommendation. I honestly spent a hefty chunk of the book with my mouth open in astonishment at the lives of these mind-blowing creatures.

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