SKYLARKS WITH ROSIE
By Stephen Moss
Reading Skylarks with Rosie is the literary equivalent of curling up on the sofa under a cosy blanket.
In this gorgeous little hardback, Moss takes us with him on his journey through 2020 and his reconnection with the wildlife around his Somerset home.
This book is important because it celebrates the beauty of the commonplace. I’m always careful to describe myself as a birder – not a twitcher – because it’s not chasing rare bird sightings that makes my heart full, but watching a blackbird collecting worms in my garden, or listening to starlings clicking and chattering. During lockdown, Moss realises what he has always known: that 'birding isn’t about the rare and unusual – exciting though they are – but the reassuringly regular and commonplace'.
It’s easy to write vividly and passionately about rare, charismatic creatures like tigers and rhinos, but it’s much more difficult to effectively share the unbounded joy of watching a wren collecting moss for her nest, or of watching a skylark perform its aerial song.
Encouraging people to care about exotic, endangered animals is one thing; inspiring people to find the joy in the everyday is quite another altogether – and something Moss does very well.
I’m not usually a fan of diary-style books, but Skylarks with Rosie captured my interest. It was like reading a nature-steeped version of a reality TV show. If you’d asked me before I started this book whether I’d be interested in knowing about what Moss’s children were up to, I’d have given you a polite 'no' – but there’s something incredibly lovely about appreciating the wonders of our natural world together with the mundanities of everyday life. You don’t have to travel far or spend a lot of money to experience what our natural world has to offer – popping out with the dog before the kids get up will do the trick.
Moss invites you into his life and makes you feel at home – so much so that when he Tweeted a photo of the countryside where he lives, The Loop, I saw it and thought “ah yes, The Loop, of course” – as if it were home, or at least as if it were somewhere I’d spent a lot of time – a testament to Moss’s immersive writing, given I’m not sure I’ve even been to Somerset, never mind this specific area behind his house.
The narrative helpfully slips you little titbits of natural history knowledge almost without you noticing – a style of nature writing that I have a lot of time for, and a nice break if you spend a lot of time reading dry, scientific information. I also appreciated Moss's acknowledgement of his own privilege - not everyone lives in the countryside, but the book is no less enjoyable if you're in suburbia.
Moss draws the book to a close with an astute perception of how the new generation – my generation – are teaming up with the old guard to save our natural world. His rather bleak summation was rather moving:
Yes, we will succeed or die trying – and what a wonderful thing to have devoted ourselves to.
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