Diary of a Young Naturalist (2020) is set in Northern Ireland in County Fermanagh and County Down in 2020.
It is the year-long memoir of 15-year-old Dara as he, and his 9-year-old sister and 13-year-old brother, are confined during the Covid-19 lockdown: ‘No cars, no people. Just wildlife and the magnificence of nature.’ And so, he begins to write about nature. He writes of birds and beasts, from badgers to horseflies, dandelions to osprey, and rock pools to leaf litter. ‘Skylarks are our Sunday choir,’ he writes. He also writes of springtime birds, such as guillemots, kittiwakes, razorbills, and puffins.
He finds school uninspiring and stagnant, but confinement is challenging for most people, and especially for Dara who is autistic. Nature becomes his escape; his ‘life-support system.’ His mother recalls the nature table that her classroom had when she was in primary school. Dara’s school has never had such a nature table, in which students display natural objects found in their local neighbourhood, so he explores nature around his home and writes about his observations.
Then the family move house, near Belfast so that his father is closer to work opportunities. Dara is not keen on the idea at first, then sees it as an opportunity to reinvent himself. Confinement and change not only bring him closer to nature, but also closer to his family.
Dara is open, honest about his feelings, hyper-observant, evocative, and passionate in writing his diary entries. The memoir could be retitled: Flora, Fauna, and Family.
Photographer: Martina Nicolls