It is not enough that we rush to stanch the wounds our kind has inflicted on the world, writes British environmental journalist McCarthy (Say Goodbye to the Cuckoo: Migratory Birds and the Impending Ecological Catastrophe, 2010, etc.). More than that, “we should offer up its joy.”
Part of this book is a memoir of a life spent seeking nature in a time when nature is on the run, particularly on the too-populous, too–automobile overrun island of Britain. “It is only through specific personal experience,” writes the author, “that the case can be made, which is why I will offer mine.” Some of those experiences are luminous, as with a long-ago flurry of moths that yields his title and a sort of cri de guerre for his life as a champion of wild things. Part of his book, too, is a carefully elaborated meditation on what has happened to a world in which suburban gardens and rural woodlots are carpeted over with asphalt. What happens to people who live in such environs and to children whose worlds are constricted to the driveway and perhaps the driveway next door? McCarthy brings his experience as an activist and advocate to bear; writing of an effort to reintroduce the salmon to the Thames River, he admits the possibility that the world may be too far gone for our weak efforts at making up: “The principal lesson of the Thames salmon story, for me, is that we can sometimes damage the natural world too severely for it to be repaired.” That glumness is not the usual stuff of nature writing, which tends to be more celebratory, but McCarthy’s view is cleareyed, and this book extends a newly revived British literary naturalist tradition lately spearheaded by the likes of Robert Macfarlane, Roger Deakin, Adam Nicolson, and other wanderers along the hedgerows.
A heartfelt, lovely, and thoroughly lived-through meditation on the natural world and its central part in any civilized life.