The female fig wasp is only two millimetres long, with wings finer than a human hair. She is programmed to leave the fig in which she is born and undergo a sequence of ordeals that makes a commando’s training look like a walk in the park, fertilising one particular species of fig in the process and all so as to replicate her own genes. To follow her is like engaging in some ingeniously cruel computer game. I will come back to the fig wasp – and to a compelling way of writing about the natural world.
‘Nature writing’ has always been with us, but since the dawn of this century it has blossomed into a publishing phenomenon, serving as an escape from our alienated, dislocated, polluted society. Most nature writers have been men – individuals whom Kathleen Jamie, herself a stellar contributor to the genre, has stereotyped as ‘the Lone Enraptured Male’. Think Robert Macfarlane, with many before and after him.
But recently some writers have retreated from the tendency to mix immersion in landscape or the lives of wild creatures with sometimes anguished autobiography. There was a time when we just could not get enough of all that, but then it began to seem a little cloying.