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Greenery begins in a midsummer in the middle of a winter. One December, in midsummer South Africa, Tim Dee watched swallows and those birds set him off on a journey in pursuit of the spring as it moves north, bringing swallows and all the other spring migrant birds out of Africa and into Europe.
Spring moves north across the Europe from the Mediterranean to the Arctic Ocean at roughly fifty kilometres a day between the winter and the summer solstice. We could call that four kilometres an hour for twelve hours each day. Spring, therefore, moves north at about walking pace.
Greenery follows swallows and other favoured birds out of Africa from their wintering quarters in South Africa, through their staging places in Chad and Ethiopia, across the colossal and incomprehensible Sahara, and on into Europe. It tries to keep company with the birds and with other animals including some people for whom spring has been the determining season. We hear from a Sámi reindeer herder, a swallow-devotee, an Egyptian taxi driver, a chronobiologist in arctic Norway. We read of the spring-seeking D. H. Lawrence and of the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Migrant storks join the swallows and venture the Straits of Gibraltar. Migrant honey buzzards dodge Sicilian hunters and the lava wastes of Mount Etna. A wait in a hide for a bear that does not come allows a vision of how nature goes when we are not there to crowd it out. On the other side of the European continent, the curious North Sea island of Heligoland is a haven for sea-going landbirds on their tricky northbound journeys. There are bears, there are boars, there are reindeer, there are camels, there are elephants, there are ostriches… A diary of the spring's arrival and passage through Britain interleaves the continental greening.
Greenery ends where the greenery of the European spring ends: on the shores of the Arctic Ocean in northern Scandinavia, where, yes, there are swallows in midsummer as there were in Cape Town in December.
Tim Dee has been a birdwatcher all his life. His first book, The Running Sky (2009), described his first five birdwatching decades. In the same year he collaborated with the poet Simon Armitage on the anthology The Poetry of Birds. Since then he has written and edited several critically acclaimed books: Four Fields (2013), a study of modern pastoral, which was shortlisted for the 2014 Ondaatje Prize; Ground Work (as editor, 2017), a collection of new commissioned writing on place by contemporary writers; and most recently, Landfill (2018), a modern nature–junk monograph on gulls and rubbish. He left the BBC in 2018 having worked as a radio producer for nearly thirty years. He lives in three places: in a flat in inner-city Bristol, in a cottage on the edge of the Cambridgeshire Fens, and in the last-but-one house from the south western tip of Africa, at the Cape of Good Hope.
"A joyful, poetic hymn to spring [...] [by] one of our greatest living nature writers [...] Greenery is an education in looking at, and loving, nature [...] It is a lesson in how to love the world, in how to look at it, and behind everything there beats a deeper message: that spring cannot exist without winter, that life needs death to define it."
– Alex Preston, Observer
"A superb nature writer [...] Miraculous [...] Ardent, playful, quietly subversive – this is how Dee has always written, but his originality and learning mean he never needs to resort to the devotional swooning that has always plagued writing about the non-human world [...] It's a deeply affecting [ending] [...] The effect is like a painter's varnish, deepening shadows but intensifying colours. You go back to the start."
– William Atkins, Guardian
"Greenery is as full of the sensibility and wit that marked Dee's previous books [...] The prose is as sharp and agile as the beak and movements of his 'most needed' bird, the redstart, and the range of reference and thought is astonishing."
– Caspar Henderson, Spectator
"Extraordinary [...] Dee has an enormous aptitude for burrowing into research and then opening it out map-like over the tangible natural world [...] [Greenery is his] most personal and spectacular nature memoir to date."
– Irish Independent
"Crammed with fascinating, horizon-expanding, life-enhancing tidbits of knowledge from a person who has spent years watching, looking, learning [...] Of course, as Dee fans will expect, there is blissful poetry in his prose [...] Greenery is a portal into a deeper understanding of spring and a richer appreciation of the natural world. It is about death, life, love, planetary time: the dynamics of life on planet earth."
– Lucy Jones, Caught by the River *Book of the Month*
"A picture of unstoppable, joyful renewal that is hard to resist. Greenery is a book of hope [...] Each new encounter reads like a script for the very best kind of radio programme, full of insight and lightly-worn expertise."
– Isabel Lloyd, Tablet
"Tim Dee follows the wake-up call of the wild, treading the path of migrating swallows from South African shores to Scandinavia. A colourful account of spring's awakening with tales from Sámi reindeer herders also in the mix."