This fresh and interesting account of Laing’s midsummer exploration of the Ouse river is now available in a good new edition of the excellent Canons series.
Originally published in 2011, this is nature writing partly in the vein of Helen Macdonald’s H is for Hawk, or Amy Liptrot’s The Outrun. Exploring East Sussex in part to get away after a horrible relationship break up, Laing brings a sharp eye to the natural world in what may feel like a very familiar area: “It is astonishing what wood and earth together will yield, given a spark and a puff of air. A windowpane, say, bubbling and settling into cool green sheets, like ice on a winter’s day” (p. 31). She preserves a genuine sense of wonder at the natural world, while never prettifying what she experiences.
There are excellent literary stories throughout the book, particularly about Virginia and Leonard Woolf who are strongly associated with this area. I am a fan but didn’t know that after their house in London was bombed, “the Woolfs went down to salvage what they could from amidst the dust and rubble: diaries, Darwin, glasses, her sister’s painted china. A melancholy business, but she says she likes the loss of possessions, the liberation” (p. 207).
The steamy heat Laing walks through rises off the page, and we are reminded that midsummer is still something magical, even in the midst of modern life.