Already hailed as a classic of nature writing, ‘Diary of a Young Naturalist’ explores the natural world through seventeen year old Dara McAnulty’s eyes. In his startling memoir, he writes about his experience as an autistic teenager, who is coping with the uprooting of home, school and his mental health, while pursuing his life as a conservationist and environmental activist. Here, in an exclusive piece for easons.com, Dara writes about his wish to open eyes and hearts to the wonder and beauty of the natural world.
As a young person, what power do I have? I can’t vote. I’m too young to go out into the world and have a job which will directly help to make the world a better place. I don’t have political persuasion, yet. What can I do, when I see society so disconnected from nature, our life support system? How can I, as a teenager open eyes and hearts to the wonder of the natural world and so instil, a need to care and protect it?
I grappled with all these questions, and as you have chosen to read my book, perhaps you do too? We are living in a world of unprecedented change, challenge and unfortunately catastrophic destruction of nature. If you were to dwell on all the problems, overwhelm would cripple you, to do, nothing. Loving nature and respecting it, seems to go against the norm, which to me seems inhumane. Destructive. So that is where we must start! To notice the beauty, to learn about nature’s intricacies and details. To increase our knowledge, fascination and curiosity – the beginnings of this journey of discovery will lead to a never-ending destination of care and compassion for all the species we share our incredible earth with. I began with noticing and learning. Caring and respecting. Something bubbled inside and poured out, they were words. Words of hope. Words of rage. I wrote about beauty, decline, decimation…but mostly, the joy I felt knowing my place in this world was connected to every living thing. So many people connected to my words and I felt a deep humble power that this could make a difference. My words were making a difference to people’s lives and how they saw and reconnected with the world.
This book was hard to write in places. It was difficult because my love of nature was ridiculed. I was bullied. I was shown great intolerance because, being autistic, I never wanted to control the joy I felt. The knowledge I wanted to pass on. I feel the intolerance I was shown is linked to the losses we are facing in the natural world. Care and compassion are lacking in our society and that is where I believe the root of our problems lie. Seeing and feeling our place in the world connects us with every organism. My deepest hope is that in some way, this book can be a bridge that brings us back. To nature. Where we belong. Where we can best co-exist with the web of life that connects us all with invisible threads. Threads that hold us together.
I ask us all to contemplate our interactions with the living world, how we each impact the destruction of nature. The detrimental influence we are having, how global politics and economics can have the biggest bearing and how we can change our consciousness to have a better relationship with nature. I know that collectively, we can all make a difference. You might ask yourself ‘What can I do?’ You have power. Your voice matters. Speak out and up. Share your joy, your fear, your fury. Your place in this world is precious, you deserve a planet that is balanced and beautiful. Fight for it. Buy less. Notice more. Live simply. Waste nothing. Nature is you and you are nature. We are all connected. On the other side of the world, I share that connection, with you.