Posted by: Ross Gardner | July 24, 2011

The Joy of Books

Short-winged Conehead (Conocephalus dorsalis): a bush-cricket of marshy habitats. Copyright 2011 Ross Gardner.

I have, for some time now, very much enjoyed a visit to a good second hand bookshop.  There is a great deal of pleasure to be gained from unearthing that rough diamond of an old book, and often for just a few quid.  Don’t get me wrong, there will always be space of the bookshelf for a shiny new tome, for which I am always on the look out.  However, the ‘find’ in a second hand bookshop, of the long-written words of soem unfamiliar author, offers a different kind of pleasure.  The idea that someone, decades from now, might discover and enjoy one of my own books, long after I’ve gone, is a most pleasing one.  If it does prove the case, then I would be very happy that I’ve left something tangible behind for some future naturalist with the same love of places, plants and animals that I have enjoyed.  It is a sense of this that I experience when I read the work of authors written before my lifetime.

That ‘find’, for me, is not necessarily (hardly ever,  in fact) a valuable book, but one that for what ever reason, engages, intrigues and even inspires.  A recent purchase was an unexpected delight.  It was a 1996 edition of a book first published in 1942, entitled ‘Adventurers Fen: The classic portrait of primitive Fenland‘, by one E.A.R. Ennion.  It is a short book, only about 70 pages long, but within which is conjured a wonderfully evocative image of a wild fenland, growing over three decades out of the fields of early 1900s farmland back into watery wilderness.  It was a wild place that one assumes would be similar to the modern day, neighbouring Wicken Fen.  It was written in an even , but never monotonous tone, relying on the intimate observation of an area of natural habitat for which the authour clearly held great affection.

It was one of the most enjoyable reads I’ve had in a good while.  It immediately put me in mind of Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire, which, unlike Adventurers Fen at the time, survived the push for more self-suffienct agriculture around the time of the Second World War.  Wicken is a place of whispering reeds, secretive pools and that almost inaudible, but ever present hum of life, like the one that Eric Ennion recalled in his book.  Indeed, Wicken Fen inspired a short piece in my own ‘Never a Dull Moment‘.  I think a visit there again will be in order some time soon.

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