The title of this book sets the scene: it takes place on a single midsummer’s day. A day which Mark Cocker spends mostly in his Derbyshire garden, gazing upwards, observing one of his favourite birds: the swift. But the subtitle reveals the book’s true scope: Cocker also explores the story of life on earth, in which his beloved swifts, like the rest of us, play a small but significant part.
I’m very much a fan of writing that explores global themes in a parochial context. That shows how the things you encounter on your local patch are part of a much bigger story. Indeed, it’s the same approach I adopted in my own book, On the Moor. So there was never any danger I wouldn’t thoroughly enjoy this book.
In addition to celebrating one of the world’s most remarkable families of birds, Cocker heads off on all sorts of tangents, exploring such diverting topics as migration, convergent evolution, photosynthesis, the evolutionary history of plants, avian anatomy, pollination, animal communication, symbiosis, taxonomy, etymology, folklore, and environmentalism. It’s a truly entertaining read.
One of Cocker’s key messages—and one I heartily endorse—is that, rather than destroying our sense of wonder at the natural world, scientific knowledge enhances our appreciation of it. Or, as Cocker puts it:
Mystery and knowledge and wonder and love are necessary to one another. [… K]nowledge is not a barrier to the depths of our encounters, but actually necessary to the fullness of our relations.
Couldn’t agree more!