Learning how to look
Reviewer: Kathryn Smith
THE title of George Mitchell’s book, A Casual Observer’s Notes on Nature, belies the intensity of both the author’s observational skills and desire to understand natural phenomena.
We might believe we spend a lot of our time out in nature but how often do we really stop, look and try to understand what we are seeing?
As Mr Mitchell himself states time and again, the clarion cry of this book is to look, look again, question and re-question. This is certainly valuable advice, running contrary to today’s instant gratification of enquiry through internet searches.
The book is divided into two parts, with the first devoted to meditations on wildlife found in the UK; salmon, wasps, trees, birds and environmental issues and legislation. The second documents Mr Mitchell’s travels to the US, Australia, India and the Cayman Islands. The narrative is also accompanied by black and white photographs.
The conversational tone and the inclusion of information about the author’s own life, experiences and ailments give this a more rambling readable feel than a text book and at times the writing may have benefited from a firmer editorial hand. This notwithstanding, the book contains many interesting facts about the natural world and when the author turns to correcting popular misconceptions about natural subjects there is much to be genuinely learned and surprised by.
Readers may also be interested in Mr Mitchell’s confession that as part of his working life he was responsible for propagating and selling ‘tens of thousands’ of Leylandii cuttings, a brave admission indeed!
Perhaps in the last instance this book is a testament to the lifelong effect of having a truly inspiring teacher with the freedom to spark a pupil’s interest. In Mr Mitchell’s case this teacher was Mrs ‘Feeky’ Flux who stoked in him a lifelong passion for zoology, already kindled from a childhood of roaming outdoors, and gave him the tools and confidence to pursue that passion even until the present day.
A Casual Observer’s Notes on Nature by George G. Mitchell (paperback, 252 pages) signed copies available from www.george-mitchell.co.uk/books at £8.