The Wood for the Trees: One Man’s Long View of Nature
Set the scene in four acres of English woodland standing amid the Chiltern Hills of Oxfordshire. Take one long-time and now-retired curator from London’s Natural History Museum and place him in said woodland. Richard Fortey draws together the history and nature of the tract and the surrounding countryside in his new chronicle, The Wood for the Trees. He dates settlement of the land back to the Iron Age and sees that in the parameters of nature “every species will have its own biography, its special requirements and its curious secrets.”
Month by month the scene changes, first in April as spring begins to color the sleeping woods and fields, on through the colors of summer and fall until winter takes over. There is so much to see and enjoy in every chapter and Fortey, with not only professional knowledge but also a delightful humor, transports readers through his share of the renowned Chiltern Hundreds, each section of the land once allotted to provide for a hundred families reaching down to the River Thames.
Besides the small items he collects for a new handmade cabinet, on windy autumn nights he almost hears the ghost from the haunted cottage nearby and feels the squirrels raining bark upon him as they scrabble for the sap underneath. The book is a series of wondrous small-scale experiences. But it is too generous for a single reading; it’s better to savor month-by-month, allowing the pleasure to stretch and become more memorable.