I’m just getting into a collection of essays (“Vesper Flights” – Helen Macdonald) by a Historian of Science at Cambridge. I was struck by this paragraph from her introduction.

“What science does is what I would like more literature to do too: show us that we are living in an exquisitely complicated world that is not all about us. It does not belong to us alone. It never has done. These are terrible times for the environment. Now more than ever before, we need to look long and hard at how we view and interact with the natural world. We’re living through the world’s sixth great extinction, one caused by us. The landscapes around us grow emptier and quieter each passing year. We need hard science to establish the rate and scale of these declines, to work out why it is occurring and what mitigation strategies can be brought into play. But we need literature, too; we need to communicate what the losses mean. I think of the wood warbler, a small citrus-coloured bird fast disappearing from British forests. It is one thing to show the statistical facts about this species’ decline. It is another thing to communicate to people what wood warblers are, and what that loss means, when your experience of a wood that is made of light and leaves and song becomes something less complex, less magical, just less, once the warblers have gone. Literature can teach us the qualitative texture of the world. And we need it to. We need to communicate the value of things, so that more of us might fight to save them.”

… and another quotation from one of the excellent essays. I cannot agree more with what the author says:

“For what an animal needs or values in a place is not always what we need, value or even notice. Muntjac deer have eaten the undergrowth where nightingales once nested in the forests near my home, and now those birds have gone. What to my human eye is a place of natural beauty is, for a nightingale, something like a desert. Perhaps this is why I am impatient with the argument that we should value natural places for their therapeutic benefits. It’s true that time walking in a forest can be beneficial to our mental health. But valuing a forest for that purpose traduces what forests are: they are not there for us alone.”