The memoir explores how each bird sighting is a step towards the author finding her own voice, as well as a step in her family’s challenging journey. Each new bird spotted is also a “moment of peace” amid the turmoil of her mother’s worsening mental health crisis. Craig is also the founder of Black2Nature, an organisation that runs camps, workshops and campaigns to make the nature conservation and environmental sectors ethnically diverse. “At my nature camps,” says the British-Bangladeshi author and campaigner, “I teach the children about nature engagement, how it makes them feel and how they can use that to be more resilient and be able to overcome problems.”
Birdgirl also explores how the mindful act of looking for birds has made Craig more determined to campaign for the environment’s – and all of our – survival. The memoir is a logical progression from her previous book, We Have a Dream, which explored how young indigenous environmental activists are bringing change, and also explored our interdependence with nature. “We Have A Dream shows us that it is not too late to act and make a difference in rejuvenating nature, as it is waiting to be given the chance to fight back,” she says, pointing to the example of Lesein Mutunkei from Kenya who is featured in the book. “His goals for trees are so clever, and yet so simple – showing us that it is not too late to rewild and save ourselves from an ecological disaster.”
After all, the idea of renewal and rewilding works both ways, says Craig. “I think that whilst many of the young people in We Have A Dream understand that our natural environment has an amazing capacity to renew, self-repair and regenerate, their message was that humans had relied on this for too long, and we were now at the point where the Earth had been pushed too far and it could no longer regenerate. The hope coming from the book is not that our planet will recover if left alone but that here were a young generation who are fighting for big change.
“I believe that nature is really important to us as humans and that it is essential for us to remember that we are part of nature, that whilst nature needs us, we also need nature.”
Tree of life
The way in which we are nurtured by the natural environment, while simultaneously ourselves nurturing it, is also explored in a newly published volume of journals, with an introduction by Tilda Swinton, by the late film director Derek Jarman, Pharmacopoeia: A Dungeness Notebook. It tells the story of the creation of his garden at Dungeness, in an arid, windswept spot near a nuclear power station. “I planted a dog rose,” he writes. “Then I found a curious piece of driftwood and used this, and one of the necklaces of holey stones on the wall, to stake the rose. The garden had begun. I saw it as a therapy and a pharmacopoeia.” The garden was an ever-evolving circle of stones, plants and sculptures created with foraged driftwood and flotsam, cultivated in the harshest of conditions, and remains to this day a source of wonder for visitors.
This idea that nature has wisdom to teach us and lessons to impart also features in The Great British Tree Biography, in which Mark Hooper explores the history and folklore of Britain. In it, notable trees’ stories are told, from Knole Oak, immortalised by Virginia Woolf in Orlando and in the video for the Beatles song Strawberry Fields Forever, to the oak on Isle Maree in Scotland that is said to provide release from madness to visitors who offer coins. The author says that, having grown up in the countryside, the woods have always been his “happy place”. So what do these landmark trees tell us about history, life and ourselves?
Some of the chapters in his book, Hooper tells BBC Culture, are about “the tree itself and what it stands for, as a metaphor for values we hold dear. Robert the Bruce used a 2,000-year-old yew tree, growing through the rocks on the shore of Loch Lomond, as a symbol of endurance as he tried to raise the spirits of his retreating army in 1306. Just 200 men crossed the loch, in a boat that could only hold three men at a time, and as they gathered on the far side by the tree, he compared its ability to survive against the odds with their own. When Robert the Bruce finally won independence for Scotland after defeating the English at Bannockburn in 1314, many of his men wore sprigs of yew on their uniforms.”