Dark Skies – Review
Dark Skies, by Tiffany Francis, 2019. Bloomsbury, ISBN 978-1-4729-6459-5, 272 pages. RRP £9.99 (paperback)
Tiffany Francis is a new writer, artist and environmentalist. Her first book Food You Can Forage was published in 2018. Full of useful facts on edible plants, this makes for an enjoyable read with beautiful illustrations and accompanying anecdotes complementing the recipes. In her second book, Dark Skies, she shares experiences from a year’s travel around Britain and Europe exploring how darkness is important to us as humans connect with the nocturnal. She begins on the north Norfolk coast at the RSPB nature reserve near Snettisham. “Oh yes, I’ve been there!” I thought, and as I read on I was delighted to find myself taken to many other places familiar to me. It was like falling into conversation with a fellow traveller and discovering that you have things in common. But this is one of Tiffany Francis’ gifts as a writer. She has the warmth and ability to share an easy companionableness with the reader. Yet her work has quality and depth. That very first page includes accurate and detailed description of a night on the salt marsh with the “bubbling” sound of the curlew, the scent of kelp and mud – and, beautifully evocatively, stars “reflected in the water like pearlescent shoals”. Reading such passages I felt I was there for myself. I know Butser Hill in Sussex where she went to listen to the skylarks late one evening. Reading how she was then temporarily disorientated in the dark for the walk back to her car summoned my own memories of such little moments of gentle panic. Then there was a slightly disconcerting rustling sound beside her on the path, and that brought out another aspect of our experience of the dark. Again some of this felt like being invited to read intriguing passages from a young woman’s personal diary. Ups and downs with a boyfriend are naturally referred to. But there are also thoughts that touched me deeply. Up on Butser that night it suddenly occurred to her that “the natural world is wholly disinterested” in all that we may “fritter the days away worrying about”.
We ought to be concerned about how we, as Green Christians, relate to others who share our environmental commitments but not our spiritual traditions. Tiffany Francis declares, “I wish I could believe in a god, so as to feel like someone out there has the power and benevolence to give my life a little boost or protect me from harm.” Yet she describes her own sense of connection with nature as “… meditative, a space to think and feel … to absorb the energy of my environment”. Is it not only in the darkness that we may be open to the mystery of God – and be freed from the lesser gods that so easily preoccupy our daylight hours? She has just finished a year as writer in residence with the Forestry Commission. Perhaps the poetry that results from that will lead us further into the divine dazzling darkness?