Diary of a Young Naturalist – Dara McAnulty

This post is part of a series of posts about reading the 2020 Wainwright Prize longlist, full details here.

This is a diary of a 16 year old young man who is knowledgeable about and has a love for nature. This is his daily diary over the course of a year -from March to March, or Spring through Winter to the following spring. He is able to talk about the nature in his day to day life, and how it helps him deal with his families move across Ireland. He talks about how he is autistic, along with members of his family and how that also helps his relationship with nature.

Below I have put some of the key quotes that I took from this book:

‘I spy colts foot, bursts of sunshine from the disturbed ground. White-tailed bumblebees drink and collect hungrily. Dandelions and their allies in the daisy (or Asteracea) family are often the first pollinating plants to flower in spring, and are incredibly important for biodiversity. I implore everything I meet to leave a wild patch in their garden for these plants – it doesn’t cost much and anybody can do it. As nature is pushed to the fringes of our built-up world, it’s the small pockets of wild resistance that can help.’

‘We’re told childishness is wrong, bad almost. I mourn a world without such feelings. A joyless world, a disconnected one. I push the feelings aside. As I close my eyes, all I can see is scuttling tadpoles, springingtailes and a lurking water boatman.’

‘The crops were once cut late, allowing the corncrake pair to breed and raise young. This way of farming has been replaced with more intensive silage-making through spring and summer. This different seasonal rhythm conflicts with the birds – and the unthinkable happens, a life is cut short by the blades. Imagine it. Every egg cracked. The future of the species in this place, in any place, is broken. Gone. A human in the driving seat, of course.’

‘Out on a stroll, our family are always a motley bunch. We can never control our excitement We are gloriously uninhibited, and our progress is constantly interrupted by a leaf rustle, a flash of feather or a trundling dor beetle. It’s wonderful be together but I can’t always phase out the chatter and flailing arms, the sound of running feet and shrieking laughter. The walks are lovely and maddening.’

‘Every day we are exploring more of the forest park across the road from us, relishing it in small sections, getting to know it like a friend. We have found secret paths among the jays and rooks. We have climbed banks of leaf litter, strayed far off pathways. I can feel my energy returning, and my appetite too. I’ve not felt very hungry for days, but as the emptiness in my head is filled with fresh sights and sounds, the emptiness in my belly needs filling with food again.’

‘We all have a place in this world, our small corner. And we must notice it, tend to it with grace and compassion. Maybe this could be mine, this little corner of County Down, where I can think thoughts, watch birds, and swing gently on a hammock. But is this enough? Is noticing an act of resistance, a rebellion? I don’t know but smile anyway because with each passing day I am feeling lighter.’

‘We can create a safe space for nature in our gardens. expecially during the winter months when food is carce. Caring for nature and for ourselves can happen anywhere and everywhere: gardens filled with life, anture reserves, resting spots, feeding spaces, nourishing places. Focusing in on the activity and behaivours of wildlife in our garden is so staisfying, for the mind, for the heart. Homework doesn’t feel like a chore after time spent quierly feeling rain and watching birds. There is nothing better than tending to this connecting between all living things, and maybe even ensuring the survival of some species living in our back gardens and along our busy streets.