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Book Review – Thirteen Paces by Four: Backyard Biophilia and the Emerging Earth Ethic

Thirteen Paces by Four: Backyard Biophilia and the Emerging Earth Ethic

by Joe Gray (Dixi Books 2021)     

Not being particular fans of ‘nature writing’ in general, we were slightly dubious about the prospect of reading this book.  However, neither of us need have worried!  From the outset we were both hooked. Joe’s profound knowledge and deep thinking is imparted in a readable and gently humorous style, whilst his clear affection, passion and concern for the natural world shine through.

In fact, ‘nature writing’ is probably a misnomer. All too often that falls into the trap of seeing nature just as a utilitarian resource for us, to use and abuse, care about or ignore, as we choose. Not so here: embraced in a philosophical package which doesn’t put humans at the centre, which asserts that its protection is of intrinsic value for its own sake, and which doesn’t shy away from humanocentric taboos, such as discussions of overpopulation, makes for us a refreshing change.

We found exploring aspects of ‘eco-psychology’ fascinating. ‘Eco-anxiety’ and ‘topoaversion’ are all states of mind we recognise (although Chris had them squeezed out of his consciousness by a lifetime in professional conservation, only to re-emerge during the liberation of retirement) but were previously  unaware had names; having these dark thoughts put into words was cathartic. This is not however a depressing read – in fact it is truly uplifting and makes we two glad that there are people like Joe on the planet. Certainly it makes us want to go further in changing our lifestyle to favour nature, but at the same time it doesn’t, as many authors seem intent on doing, engender feelings of guilt for the realisation that probably we will not do all that we could.

Born during the Covid pandemic, when we all have had to reflect on our physical and philosophical horizons, this book should be a mind-changer for many. And still in the grip of nature, we should use the time we now have to read it and think. By donating all royalties from this, Joe’s first book, to a worthy cause (the World Land Trust), you will not only be getting a jolly good read, but helping safeguard the planet. And it contains a very fitting tribute to Trevor James, friend and inspiration to many of us, who passed away recently: in fact, one can almost hear Trevor’s voice uttering one of the many apposite phrases in the book – ‘nothing makes my hackles rise quite like innocent, voiceless victims’. Nature needs those who wear their passion on their sleeves.

Chris & Jude Gibson

Thirteen Paces by Four: Backyard Biophilia and the Emerging Earth Ethic by Joe Gray (Dixi Books 2021)     ISBN-13: 978-1-913680-06-0

Publisher’s price £17.99. If you order from https://uk.bookshop.org/books/thirteen-paces-by-four-backyard-biophilia-and-the-emerging-earth-ethic/9781913680060, you may get a better price, and your purchase will help towards supporting independent bookshops.