Dara McAnulty has been fascinated with the natural world since he was a young child. From exploring the rugged coastlines of Northern Ireland to observing moths in his own backyard, there is nothing in nature that doesn’t intrigue him.
In a New York Times profile, McAnulty explains that he began writing about nature in primary school as a way to process what he saw. He has autism and writing helps him process what’s going on around him.
McAnulty’s writing has carried him far and his first book, Diary of a Young Naturalist, recently won the Wainwright Prize for nature writing. He is only 16, but his captivating one-liners and honest reflection on his own experience moving through the world as an adolescent has gained him a dedicated following. He says, “It’s a diary. If there’s pieces of me missing, I’m going to come off as not being human, and it’ll feel weird and awkward.”
Diary of a Young Naturalist is structured around the four seasons and takes the form of a half-diary, half-nature guide. McAnulty tells stories of attending the first Irish meeting of the Extinction Rebellion, starting a new school, and observations of puffins on Rathlin Island. Throughout the book, which follows the young author from his 14th to his 15th birthday, there is a constant theme of how nature can relieve us from dark feelings. McAnulty describes moving to a new town, overwhelmed with anxious emotions, and feeling instantly soothed by exploring the mountains around his home.
The magic of his book is that McAnulty doesn’t frighten readers with the realities of impending climate doom, nor does he deny that we are fighting a losing battle to protect these beautiful species he observes. His book discusses climate change, but the main focus is on his personal reality and the joyous moments he has in nature.
McAnulty’s second book is slated for release next month, but if there’s a main takeaway from this one, it’s to embrace your experiences, the great and the painful, and that may be the most effective way to get people to take action on climate change is by inviting them to witness the tiny beautiful details of nature. And if they can’t witness them, perhaps reading McAnulty’s book can provide a parallel experience.
Image source: Irish Times