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Review of 'Diary of a Young Naturalist' by Dara McAnulty

Jane MacRae

'....the natural world - our greatest teacher.....'

The much-lauded Diary of a Young Naturalist by 16 year-old Dara McAnulty is a great way to get anyone from 11 upwards drawn deeply into nature - ideal for the school holidays and for dealing with the stresses of the Coronavirus situation. Vivid, intense and full of love, this extraordinary boy lays bare his dependence and close connection with nature that rescues him when he is ‘ambushed by the anxiety army’ and that brings him deep happiness.

 

This beautifully written book draws the reader in close to Dara, his family and his intimate encounters with the natural world through one year, from his 14th to 15th birthday. Each season exposes different faces of his beloved nature: about winter for example, he writes, ‘so much more can be seen in winter, the shiver of branches as wind travels through, more perching shapes too, and so much uncovering still to come.’

 

Life and beauty are everywhere, if we have eyes to see and ears to hear: pied wagtails in the playground at school that everyone else misses, water-fleas, snails and tadpoles in a bucket that he calls his ‘magic cauldron’ in the back garden, and if we, ‘Wait and watch a stone wall – so much life emerges from the cracks and crevices’. His intimate knowledge of all the wild places he frequents like Big Dog Forest in County Fermanagh is 360 degrees: the term natural history goes some way to encapsulating the breadth of Dara’s knowledge for it includes biology, history, local mythology, geology, Gaelic, poetry, literature and etymology.

 

To be awake to the natural world, to see it everywhere, to feel it and understand the importance of every last ant is what we at Bloom would love students to experience. What we want to do is exactly what Dara asks, ‘…provide the opportunity and space for us (young people) to explore, and give us the education system that acknowledges the natural world as our greatest teacher.’

 

Dara writes with disarming honesty and self-awareness about his inner life which is of course, interwoven with his time spent immersed in nature. The struggles and challenges he has to face because of the immense sensitivity associated with autism and the moving way his mother in particular, gently guides and loves him through it are simply and truthfully described. He writes for example about the unbearable experience of human noise in social situations, the stifling feeling of being in a class room, the panic when routines change, and after they moved house he says, ‘The effort of the everyday is like wading through treacle.’ Yet this sensitivity is an essential element in Dara’s drive to save the natural world from destruction.

 

This gifted, knowledgeable young man has so much to teach us all. Anyone who reads his book will be changed for the good. Dara opens your eyes, ears, sense of smell and sense of touch to the beauty and wonder of what is all around us. He opens your heart with his gratitude for all that he has, for his family and for nature. He opens your mind to new worlds. He lifts your spirits with joy and hope. This book comes highly recommended by some of the great nature writers of our time. We at Bloom echo their praise and would love young people to read it.

 

Diary of a Young Naturalist, Dara McAnulty, Little Toller Books, 2020

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