Sunday 25 April 2021

Book Review: Wild Winter by John D. Burns

For his fourth book John D. Burns returns to non-fiction. The themes however are those of his third book, the novel Sky Dance, and this is a book more about nature than the mountaineering  and bothies of his first two books, though both those do appear. 

This is a book of discovery, both of nature and, I think, of the author himself. Over the winter of 2019-20 Burns sets out to see wildlife in the Scottish Highlands and to learn about the place of nature in the landscape and our place too. As the winter wears on an ominous shadow begins to grow, the Covid-19 pandemic. Burns captures well the way a vague rumour becomes a realisation that lockdown is coming.

As the author travels Scotland in search of whales and pine martens, beavers and mountain hares, he also describes how impoverished the land has become and how everything in nature is interdependent. Amongst the burnt grouse moors and overgrazed hillsides he also finds regenerating forests, reintroduced wildlife and hope for thr future. "A rural economy funded more by the binoculars of wildlife tourists than the guns of blood sports enthusiasts".

Wild Winter is contemplative and profound but it's not a heavy read. Burns has a lightness of touch and a feeling for words that makes for easy reading even when the subject matter is serious. There's humour too, especially in the adventures involving his long-time friend Martin, firmly stuck in the 1970s with his woollen trousers, tartan shirt, balaclava, and giant ice axe.

The mix of adventure, wildlife, comic incidents, intriguing characters, and thoughts about the future of the land make this an entertaining and thought-provoking book. I've enjoyed every one of Burn's books. I think this is his best yet.

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