BBC Wildlife Magazine - - Reviews -

ew ar­tic­u­late the joy of watch­ing – no, the joy of sim­ply be­ing with – wildlife like Si­mon Barnes, lyri­cal and pro­saic in the same breath: ele­phant drop­pings are “great round wet loaves”, a lion’s tongue “like a far­rier’s rasp”. But though he writes about na­ture, his work isn’t eas­ily cat­e­gorised as na­ture writ­ing. Sim­i­larly this slen­der new book is hard to pin down.

Os­ten­si­bly its 100 brief chap­ters com­prise a paean to Zam­bia’s South Luangwa Val­ley, where Barnes has spent many of his hap­pi­est months. It’s his archetype ‘sa­cred combe’, an earthly eden where peo­ple in­stinc­tively re­con­nect with na­ture, de­scribed with a boy­ish won­der rem­i­nis­cent of Ger­ald Dur­rell’s My Fam­ily.

His can­vas is broad. Among cap­ti­vat­ing episodes star­ring lazy prides, wild dog fam­i­lies and hut-munch­ing ele­phants, Barnes weaves ru­mi­na­tions on bio­philia, rhino con­ser­va­tion, Tolkien, twitch­ers and the beauty of cranes. Yet at the book’s heart is the no­tion that sa­cred combes, those Celtic ‘thin places’ where heaven and earth are close to­gether, are found wher­ever we look – in Lon­don or Africa. A de­light­ful cu­rios­ity.

FBBC Wildlife

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