Books, Nature

Findings – Kathleen Jamie


At the end of the road there is a burial ground, enclosed in a stone wall. But we know that. 

I couldn’t believe my luck when, at our school fair in September, I saw the spine of Findings nestled in on the second-hand book stall we were manning. For a pound, too! It was about a month since I’d been in Scotland, reading favourite passages from Sightlines over breakfast while surrounded by windy clifftops and the sea, so it felt extra lucky. Of course, being me, I didn’t start reading it until last week, but what’s new? Nothing. Nothing is new about this. I read about half of it while looking after my friends’ kid, curled up in the almost-dark and quiet with my head full of birds and bones and the sea while he was supposed to be asleep (reader, he was not asleep).

Findings has a different sort of feeling to it than Sightlines. It’s more personal, stories of family crisis between the observations of peregrines and archaeology in a way that I don’t remember from Sightlines, which I really liked, while also feeling like I knew more about this family than I ought, somehow. These intimate details of a human family woven through the intimate details of birds’ families, of glimpses of dolphins’ families, of the lost parts of others, and through the wider human history of the areas she visits, make everything so real, so easy to understand and relate to, when nature so often feels very far away. She makes it immediate by making it intimate. Kathleen Jamie writes about nature in a way that makes me want to read nothing but this, and has a way of making humanity sound Natural which doesn’t come easily to us any more, so far removed are we from the landscapes we’ve colonised and changed. She questions what natural means, what wilderness means, and it made me think about it, made me think about what I’m seeing or not seeing when I look at or am in a landscape, what I’m valuing when I think of nature and wilderness. One of the chapters is about looking at Edinburgh through a telescope from a high point, in search of something seen from the ground, and it really made me think about symbols and how quickly our meanings are lost, and how close that is to our guesswork of other communication, between other living things. There’s so much we don’t know, about the world, about the past, about ourselves, that we’re only ever really scratching at the surface.

What Findings reminds us is that that’s okay.


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