Reading Kathleen Jamie's Sightlines was woven throughout the month of June; a month in which I had many train journeys and demands that might easily have eclipsed reading time.
The beauty of Sightlines is that each of the 14 essays is self-contained. As I settled down for yet another trip on West Coast Mainline I knew that, for a couple of hours, I could look forward to reading prose that was accessible, thoughtful, totally absorbing and have the satisfaction of completing something.
Never sure when I might snatch another reading session, each essay left me with plenty to think about. What unites each piece into a convincing book is Jamie's curiosity about the natural world - where in it all do we humans fit?
But this is more than nature writing. Jamie connects her keen-eyed observations of birds, bogs, caves, cliffs and whalebones to history, to philosphy and to the everyday. The real pressures of her own domestic life are never far away; her many 'field trips' having been carefully planned around demands of her own childcare. By including such details she invites us all to look up from our busyness and find time to stand and stare, to take notice.
In ‘The Gannetry’ Jamie observes pairs of these large birds tending their precious egg. When she has us fully out there with her on the cliff, watching, she brings us close up to our material world’s impact on the birds as she homes in on orange and blue nylon rope woven into seaweed nests. She moves on to a meditation on parenting; then comes one further shift of view as she spots 2 or 3 whales out in the bay. A sighting that causes her to reflect, specifically, on mothers and sons.
Never preaching or accusing, Jamie's is a companiable voice. Her directness and her clear prose keeps you attentive to the images, observations and insights on the page. When you close the book, there's the sense that your attention has been re-tuned to look again, to see how we are all part of the natural world, rather than apart from it.