A Beauty Impossible to Define - Jim Crumley’s The Nature of Winter Review

Crumley takes us on an introspective journey, one that explores his own interpretation of winter. In order to discover this, he wonders, he watches and he writes.

Winter means different things for each of us. Depending on where we are, and our lifestyle choice, it brings with it many different things. For me, winter brings long distant runs in the cold fresh air of the British countryside; it brings late nights reading in the warmth of my study. For Jim Crumley it brings hikes and nature watching; it brings an interest in observing the changing of the seasons and the effects of the weather on local wildlife: it brings a new aspect of life.

Man’s insignificance in the face of nature’s beauty and harshness is established rather firmly through the writing. During a brief episode the author considers his own footprints in the winter turf; he looks upon them and realises in just a few hours they will not remain in the landscape. All traces of his presence in the surroundings will be removed, as nature carries on peacefully without his presence: he is quickly forgotten about.

However, climate change alters things. Man’s footprint becomes larger, and it is not so easily removed. Crumley observes its effects on a local scale; he considers how it has altered the wildlife of England. He gives the example of the Egret, a bird he observed too far north of its natural habitat. What seems like an anomaly is just one case among many that the author considers. I have read many other examples. For those with a keen eye, the wildlife is changing; it is adapting to a winter that is also changing and becoming increasingly different to what came before.

As such the books asserts the importance of conservation efforts and, not only that, it also expresses an awareness of how essential correct environmental management is for the future of natural winters: the correct embodiment of the seasons. Here I can only lament how detrimental Trump’s withdrawal from The Paris Agreement, the unifying framework that sought to manage the levels of greenhouse gas admissions on a global scale, is. In a world where the so called “leader of the free world” fails to recognise the biggest threat we face, we head towards a very uncertain future. Crumley is right to worry about the future of winter, about the future of the environment; he is right when he recognises that: “What is unfolding is climate chaos”

Winter, by its very nature, is not something that can be described in a manner befitting its glory

Recently, Trump has decided to cut the size of national parks in Utah to allow for more fossil fuel drilling, more oil will be sucked up at the heavy price of ransacking nature. Crumley’s book is a very timely piece; it is a book full of passion and love for a natural world that is being cut back. Although directly addressing the winter landscapes of Britain, it evokes a universal sense of pride in what one day may no longer be there if the world does not collectively see the error of her ways.

Despite the undercurrent of powerful environmentalist arguments, the book does not linger on such ideas. It celebrates nature, what’s left of it anyway, in all its glory rather than focusing on the lament of what has gone. Structurally it takes on the form of a literary collage; it does not follow a straight forward narrative, but instead stick bits and pieces together that evoke so perfectly the feel of winter. There are commentaries, diary entries and other musings.

I particularly enjoyed the section Crumley inserted from his novel The Mountain of Light. It depicted a wanderer poet (who did not sound at all different form the author) who appreciated nature and found great solace exploring his art during the winter months. Winter, by its very nature, is not something that can be described in a manner befitting its glory; instead it is entirely necessary to show it through a multitude of lenses and experiences to try and discover exactly what is the nature of winter.

Such ideas remind me of the Romantic literary movement, of a time when writers took inspiration from their surrounding and used them to create poetry that reflected the inner-workings of their soul. Although two hundred years out of time, Crumley is not much different. His purpose is the same; he has just gone about it in a very different way.

Crumley intends to continue this series with one book for each season. Next year when the leaves turn from green to yellow, when the winds of September come calling, I shall pick up Crumley’s earlier book The Nature of Autumn to help me appreciate the changing of the season like this one has over the winter period.

  • The Nature of Winter is published by Saraband Press and available now.

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