A crowded field

John Lewis Stempel

Nature writing can focus on the sublime, but it can also attend to the usually unnoticed intricacies of the mundane. John Lewis Stempel is of the strain of English nature writers of the latter category, a field becoming more crowded of late (happily) as many writers try to stake out their piece of literary turf by unearthing in prose a piece of literal turf – be it coastlines, ancient laneways or hedgerows. Stempel’s latest book looks at the species of plants and animals that inhabit not the wilderness but farmland, but are diminishing, for various reasons including monocultural farming. A previous book, Meadowlands, looks at simply one field, owned by Stempel, and in patient prose he describes the seasons turning and the history, vistas and sensations of a place most people hardly give a second glance. Possibly because we in the cities are so conditioned to imagine ‘countryside’ as ‘wilderness’ and bypass farmland for more sublime destinations – rainforests, mountaintops. But there is plenty to interest the keen eye in the more mundane landscape.

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