Light Rains Sometimes Fall by Lev Parikian
|Light Rains Sometimes Fall by Lev Parikian|
|Category: Animals and Wildlife|
|Reviewer: Lesley Mason|
|Summary: A close look at the author’s local patch, watching the wildlife and the seasons through the strangeness of 2020. A few unnecessary expletives mar what would otherwise be a perfect read.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 272||Date: May 2022|
|Publisher: Elliott and Thompson|
|External links: Author's website|
If you’re a writer yourself, or an aspiring writer, or someone who pretends to write, then you know that there are unnumbered types of books. Some you read for fun, some for distraction, some for vicarious emotion, some to learn from in a random way, some for focussed research, and some because they are, broadly speaking, the kind of thing you think you might like to write. Or, indeed, are actually trying to write.
In this last category, I figure there are the three sub-categories. There are the ones that encourage you to keep going because, actually, from your perspective they aren’t very good. Then there are the ones that encourage you to keep going because they are brilliant and show you what can be achieved, if you can only figure out what it is about them that is so brilliant and then learn how to do that. And finally there are the ones that make you want to give up, because if you’d got your act together sooner and been a better writer, then this is the book you might possibly, just possibly have written.
‘’Light Rains Sometimes Fall’’ straddles sub-categories two & three. It is a deceptively simple book that has me wondering what exactly it is that works so well. And it is definitely one of those that I wish I had written.
The back cover blurb quotes Ann Pettifor as saying that ‘’It will transport you to a wilder, gentler, more beautiful world.’’ What she doesn’t say is that that world is West Norwood. London. England. It is urban. It is the wilder, gentler, more beautiful world that is on all our doorsteps, if we’d only step beyond them and LOOK.
I love Parikian’s mantra: ‘’Look. Look again. Look better.’’
Backtrack: the premise of the book is to look at a British year ‘through Japan’s 72 seasons’. By a quirk of fate, the year in question turned out to be 2020, and so the British year, became not just an English year, but a very local year indeed. I can’t help feeling that it might be a better book as a result.
Seventy-two seasons? I’m not convinced that our traditional four hold sway any more given the degree to which we’ve meddled with the climate and having just experienced a 15-degree (Celsius) drop in local temperature in the space of 18 hours. So, right from the off, Parikian explains that our “western” cultural concept of four seasons isn’t as universal as we think. In the introduction he explains that at the extremes of the planet there are only two: at the poles it is Light and Dark; in the tropics it is Wet and Dry. Thailand has Cold, Hot and Rainy. Parts of West African have Wet, Dry and Harmattan (which is windy). I loved learning that the ancient Egyptians had Akhet, Peret and Shemu, or Inundation, Emergence and Harvest – which makes perfect sense when your seasonality is dependent not so much on what has happening in the sky and the air, as upon what the river is doing. In other places there are six or seven. My personal journey is currently working with the 5 of the Chinese calendar, which is basically the western four, plus ‘late summer’ as a bridge between summer & autumn, which actually makes sense to the Celt in me who is struggling to understand the midsummer solstice being at the start of the warmth of the year.
But even so: 72 feels like a bit of a stretch. It seems that this ancient Japanese calendar starts with four seasons as we might recognise them, divides each of those into six, giving 24 ‘’sekki’’ each of which is then divided into three ‘’kõ’’. The result is 72 microseasons, each lasting 5 days. In Japan they are named for the events we recognise such as the equinoxes and solstices; they mark the beginnings of seasons; they speak of the weather and the natural phenomena that are anticipated at those times.
The simple listing of those Japanese seasons reads like a poem.
It is an inspired thing, to take them and transplant them to the UK, to look closely at what happens here in each of those 5-day blocks of time (arbitrary as they are, because of the transplanting) and create a different calendar. Some of Parikian’s monikers for the seasons are as poetic as the Japanese originals, but many of them are more prosaic. Then again, perhaps the originals are prosaic to the Japanese.
Looking closely is what this book is all about. Looking and listening. Parikian is birder. He knows about birds. Looks for them. Listens to them. He has the knowledge to back up his observations. He’s also a musician, a conductor, he has that musical ‘ear’ that helps him to identify the birds he cannot see by being able to ‘translate’ the song, if not into English, then certainly into music. Part of the joy of reading this nature diary (which is essentially what this is) is that he wears that knowledge lightly.
What comes through most is not the detail of what he knows, although as a lay person reading it, I spent a lot of time thinking ok, need to come back to this bit or ok, need to look that up; what comes through most is his enthusiasm, and his ordinariness. I love how excited he gets about things (especially when they’re the same things that excite me, like, for instance, snow). I also appreciate how he doesn’t hide the fact that some days are just dismal and not much happening.
I love how anthropomorphic he is. Mainly because I don’t think it’s anything of the sort. I hold to the view that we are as animal as anything else wandering about the planet, and what we feel and express is very probably felt and expressed by other creatures too. And for all I know plants, mosses, lichens and whatever else as well.
I also think that looking at the world in that way, imagining what a bird might be thinking and feeling, or an earthworm, or whatever else, is a way of engaging our empathy. We (I) may be wrong about what they think and feel, but allowing for the fact that they do surely enables us closer connection, and as a result a more caring approach.
I will be honest: I could have deleted a few unnecessary expletives. I’m all for irreverence and humour as a leavener to getting too evangelical about the natural world, but there are places where other language could have worked just as well.
On the whole though, I’ll forgive him that, because on a first reading, my copy has 20-odd pages corner-turned. It’s battered and warped from having been carried about in shopping bags and beach bags. And I’m so looking forward to starting it again next February and going through the year with him.
If you’re in need of more inspiration to go outside and look at what is we can also recommend The English Countryside (Amazing and Extraordinary Facts) by Ruth Binney. Both the Parikian and the Binney are obviously focussed on small areas, but the general principles are translatable to wherever you happen to be. Read the books, then go find your own nearest patch of green and take a look.
You can read more book reviews or buy Light Rains Sometimes Fall by Lev Parikian at Amazon.co.uk Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
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