Catherine Cleary: Summer books and podcasts for the environmentally aware

If you’re on a camping trip or just shuddering at the thought of one here are some good ways to entertain yourself

We were bitten by the camping bug this summer. I set off with two of the three children to walk part of the Wicklow Way, doing it the hard way with tents on our backs. The last hour of the first day was spent persuading the least enthusiastic member of the party that all would be well. We had hiked 12 tough miles. We would sleep like babies as soon as our heads hit our rolled up jackets.

Arriving at the mountain hut I declared it was warm enough to sleep under the stars. As the words left my mouth a cloud of newly hatched midges obscured my view of the trees before descending to feast on every uncovered millimetre of skin.

Our puny repellent acted more like special sauce making our rookie flesh taste all the sweeter. We crawled into tents and lay uncomfortable and awake, the midges massing outside waiting for the breakfast buffet to unzip itself.

But the great outdoors continues to be great.


The 2021 kayak and surfboard craze, and the run on Kelly Kettles will hopefully spell many successful outdoors summers to come. If you’re on a camping trip or just shuddering at the thought of one here are my recommended reads and listens to plug into the world around us.

Suzanne Simard’s Finding the Mother Tree is a marriage of rigorous science with empathic love and gut instinct. Simard was the woman whose work led to the coining of the phrase wood-wide web. You will never look at a forest in the same way again.

Canadian botanist Diana Beresford-Kroeger brings the same scientific brilliance and respect for indigenous folk wisdom to her work, To Speak for the Trees. It is an account of a very different Irish orphan childhood. Narrowly escaping a Magdalene laundry she was part-raised by a family of elders in Lisheens, west Cork. Her words bring back summer childhoods in the company of kind wise people long gone.

Manchán Magan’s 32 Words for Field is a gentle, proud and fierce plumbing of the deep connections between land and language. I felt better for letting these words wash through me, their resonances moving widely across continents and deeply underground.

If bite size listens are your thing Trees a Crowd podcast by British actor David Oakes  (who’s real name is Rowan) is great, geekily informative entertainment. The fantastic Éanna Ní Lamhna gets two episodes to herself. And Oakes makes a visit to ecologist Richard Nairn’s Wicklow alder woods.

My favourite fiction of the summer was Anuradha Roy’s All the Lives We Never Lived, a story of a boy, his artist mother and the fight to be free in the turbulence of 1930s India.

  • Catherine Cleary is co-founder of Pocket Forests