A Blog Action Day Post

So, today is Blog Action Day, meaning that in theory bloggers around the world are talking about environmental stuff. Here comes my token gesture in that direction: a bit of a ramble about writing, influences and wildlife.

Every writer’s a stew of conscious and unconscious influences that shape what they write. They’re like a host of semi-visible fingerprints that the author leaves all over the text, some of which only he or she can see, some of which he or she will probably be the last one to recognise. In its own small way, the natural environment is one of the very faint, smudged fingerprints I left on Winterbirth. My preoccupation with natural landscapes and wildlife just kind of crept into the book along the way. I imagine it’s not something that most readers register, and nor should they since it’s mostly just minor background details, although one or two have mentioned it in reviews or suchlike.

Behind all the in-focus stuff in Winterbirth to do with battles, conspiracies and general strife, there are buzzards circling above forests, bears snuffling around in the undergrowth, geese flying south for the winter. It’s just the way my mind works: the sound and sight of vast flocks of geese overhead is as much a sign of impending winter to me as are the shortening days and the increasing prevalence of miserable weather (mind you, this year the weather actually improved once September got going, which tells you something about the damp squib that was summer). So you get geese flying down the Glas Valley as winter closes in, just as they’re flying south over my house this month.

The natural world that features in Winterbirth and the rest of the trilogy isn’t really drawn from the present day, though. It’s based on a long lost Britain of hundreds or even thousands of years ago: it’s a richer, wilder and more dangerous kind of Nature than what we’ve got now. There are still bears and wolves, both long gone in the real world; there are even – to judge by the names I gave the Kyrinin clans – wild boar, wild horses, and gigantic wild cattle, all of which were once British citizens but no longer. (Although to be strictly accurate there are wild boar lurking in some corners of the island again, much to the consternation of some observers.)

I can’t really have the kind of wilderness experience that the Godless World would offer to a visitor here in the UK any more, but there’s still plenty of stuff that gives me great pleasure and enriches my life, some of which has turned up on this blog. Since we’re in Blog Action Day mode, it’s worth remembering how fragile these things are. I posted some photos from the Isle of May a few months ago – a place that possesses a kind of natural magic. But all the hundreds of thousands of seabirds that throng that island, and the rest of the Scottish coastline, are facing potential disaster as the food chain collapses under the influence of overfishing and warming seas. I also posted photos from the Isle of Mull, but unfortunately didn’t have one of the golden eagle that we watched patiently quartering the slopes in search of prey. Every time that eagle swoops down on some carrion, it’s running the risk of being poisoned. I posted a photo of a poplar hawk moth, a chance discovery in the Edinburgh grass. And … you’re probably detecting a pattern by now … sure enough, Britain’s moths are in trouble, too. Many of them seem to be spiralling towards rarity, or even extinction.

Sometimes I kind of regret that I can’t share this island with the wolves and bears I populated the Godless World with, but there’d be no ‘sometimes’ about the regret I’d feel if we lost what we’ve managed to hang on to by way of wildlife. My life will be that tiny little bit poorer if one year there are no more puffins nesting on the Isle of May: it might sound silly, but it’s true. And in this modern, crowded world, the only way we’re going to hang on to it is if at least some of us are paying attention, and making an effort to keep it. All it takes to lose a species nowadays is indifference. So for that reason if for no other, seeing thousands of bloggers take the trouble to talk about environmental issues is kind of cool.
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