I try to use my break at Christmas and New Year to catch up on some reading that is non work based (whether administrative or academic work). A couple of books had caught my eye some weeks ago and they formed the basis of my reading this year.
On the surface they are very different, being focused on topics that at one glance seem to be poles apart.
The Iain Cameron (@theiaincameron) book (the Vanishing Ice) is about his fascination with snow in Scotland and more particularly the persistence (or now non-persistence) of snow all year round. The subtitle – diaries of a Scottish snow hunter – gives a flavour of the content. Some of his photos may well be familiar to you from a range of outlets.
The Adam Alexander (@vegoutwithadam) book (the Seed Detective) concerns the origin and maintenance of vegetables and in particular the preservation of heritage varieties of seed. Again, the subtitle – uncovering the secret histories of remarkable vegetables – is aptly descriptive. As regulars of this blog (and of twitter) will recall, in a very small way I have shown an interest in heritage seeds and their produce.
I found both books to be fascinating individually and with components that resonated with me in distinct ways. In their own ways, each are inspirational. It was the common components though that interested me more. Both books are about an obsession – snow/ice and authentic seed varieties – that shouts about curiosity, commitment, intelligence and information. In an age of the superficial this detailed painstaking construction of knowledge and history is essential in my view, and of course is likely to attract an academic (and especially one with a collection of Argos catalogues perhaps). Whether it is measuring snow as it melts in Scotland (and the UK) or chasing down original and historically adapted seeds, dedication, commitment and enthusiasm seem essential (and come through strongly in both books).
Secondly though, and at a level I had not expected at the outset, both books are warnings about climate change and the climate emergency. Reading Iain Cameron’s book and the history of snow persistence in Scotland until recently, one can not but recognise the changed climate. Likewise, though, in Adam Alexander’s volume, the importance of climate and locality (terroir) on crops and the dangers of monocultures is writ large, particularly as climate changes globally and of course locally. Both books have at their heart a concern about the changing climate and the potential impact this will have on places and people. We need action(s).
At a personal level the Vanishing Ice is fascinating but there is little I can see myself getting actively involved in – the pictures of some of the ridges and places visited terrify me (and that’s before I fell down a small mound in Orkney). I have though tried to grow some of the seeds mentioned in The Seed Detective and am experimenting this year with a more widespread collection of my own seeds. I don’t grow much but every little helps perhaps. We will see how successful some of this experimentation is. It is more interesting than buying clone plants from the supermarket for certain.
Alexander A (2022) The Seed Detective. Chelsea Green. ISBN 9781915294005 (https://theseeddetective.co.uk/product/my-book/)
Cameron I (2021) The Vanishing Ice. Vertebrate Publishing. ISBN 9781839810879 (https://www.adventurebooks.com/products/the_vanishing_ice)