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Tarka the Otter by Henry Williamson

One of the books I read in April – Waterlog by Roger Deakin – mentioned Tarka the Otter in glowing terms. This is a book, which has remained mostly unread on my bookshelf since my youth. I always felt disappointed that I had not been able to get into it. Other people said it was a wonderful book.

I decided that the time had come to have another go at reading it. There were two things going on in my mind while I read it. The first was following the story. The second was recognising why I had been unable to read it as a young teen or pre-teen.

Although the book was published by Puffin (the children’s books from Penguin) in 1949 and reprinted several times through the 50s and 60s, it had originally been published in 1927. According to Wikipedia it has never been out of print. The author had fought in WW1. Having returned to Britain, he preferred to study the countryside and write about it than to mix with people.

By the time I first tried to read it, the language was already a little old-fashioned. I grew up in the London suburbs. Apart from visits to friends and relatives in the countryside and walks on commons, I had little experience of nature. (Nature study had been one of my favourite subjects at primary school, but my bird-watching was confined to looking out of the window at the garden birds. We did not have a television for me to watch documentaries about Nature.)

Henry Williamson used many dialect words to describe living creatures. The standard names for them were introduced several sentences later. It is quite hard work to follow this style of writing. Also the word for the footprint (seal) of an otter is the same as for a marine animal, so it really is necessary to concentrate on the context.

After all these years I found that I had the relevant experience to be able to visualise the creatures and some of the places described in the book. For example, I have seen a tree-creeper. I have visited Croyde Bay, Baggy Point and Woolacombe, which appear on the map in the book. (At the time I visited these I did not realise that they were Tarka country.)

So what is my opinion of the book?

I am glad I have finally read it; it no longer sits reproachfully on a shelf. It is not one of my favourite books. I have enjoyed the other books in this genre, which I have read this year, more than I enjoyed Tarka. However I would encourage other people to read it as it is an iconic book. In my opinion it is not really a children’s book.

Incidentally there is a strap line, which does not appear on the cover. The title page of my copy reads, “TARKA THE OTTER HIS JOYFUL WATER-LIFE AND DEATH IN THE TWO RIVERS”.

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Prayer strands

Do you pray?

When I think about prayer I mean praying to the triune God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Prayer is so easy a child can do it, but it can also be difficult. It can be difficult to be honest. It can be difficult to find time. It can be difficult to listen in case God is speaking or showing us a picture.

I recently had a half formed idea about the strength of groups of people praying. Jesus said, Where two or three are gathered in my name…

I wondered about a sort of plant rising from people towards God. We are supposed to be branches in his Vine – a sort of network. I thought about the strength of intertwined creepers. There is also reference in the Bible to a three-stranded cord.

Then I saw a picture on Twitter of wisteria in Kew Gardens. I have permission from Isabel Hardman to share it here.

Wisteria

Wisteria

I am not claiming to understand what happens when we pray. God wants us to treat him as our Heavenly Father and talk to him. We should expect to hear from him too.

Perhaps our prayers have substance, becoming a strong interwoven fabric or a tangle of creepers. Perhaps in praying for a person our prayers build up a barrier against evil. Prayer is something of a mystery. Does this picture resonate in any way with your experience? Can you shed any light on these tentative ideas?

 

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What I read in April 2017

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Apart from reading extra blog posts during the Blogging from A to Z in April Challenge I also finished reading five books. Regular readers of this blog may be glad to see that normal service has now resumed with hopefully one post a week.

Dethroning Mammon: Making Money Serve Grace by Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury is particularly suitable for reading during Lent. I began reading it in March and finished it before Easter. I found it interesting, but not altogether what I expected. I have recently heard of a similar book by John Ortberg, which perhaps concentrates more on things than money. It would be interesting to compare the two books. It would also be interesting to look at Dethroning Mammon with a group of people. Reading it while resting after lunch did not help my concentration!

 

 

I bought The Old Ways a journey on foot by Robert Macfarlane at Wordsworth House. It is part of a trilogy, but can be read on its own. I had not read the earlier books, but thoroughly enjoyed this one. I had walked part of some of the long distance footpaths mentioned at various times, which added to my interest.

 

 

 

Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks is a novel set during the Great War of 1914 to 1918, but with some detective work done by a more recent character in the story. It is a very gory book. The plot has variations in pace and all the loose ends are satisfactorily tied up. I enjoyed reading a second-hand paperback copy.

 

 

 

 

 

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak is an unusual novel having Death as the narrator. It is set in Germany during the time of the Nazis. There are two short books within the book. I had been warned about the language (profanity) in the book, but did not find it was a problem. There are many more important ideas expressed through the telling of this story. Another second-hand paperback I bought.

Waterlog by Roger Deakin is a book which I discovered in hubby’s ‘to read’ pile. It is one of the books featured in Landmarks by Robert Macfarlane. Roger Deakin recorded his experiences during a year or so, when he went “wild swimming” all over the British Isles. He made many literary references.  This book prompted me to try again to read Tarka the Otter by Henry Williamson, which I struggled to read it in my teens and gave up. That may require a post to itself. In any case I read it in May!  Waterlog had a great deal about East Anglia, a part of the UK I have hardly visited. However there were other places with which I am more familiar, not least Tooting Bec lido, where I swam a few times in my childhood. It is a well-written book, showing keen observational skills.

So in April I read five books, all of which I recommend.