It was 3pm on Thursday when I realised I hadn’t left the house all week. My flat in south London can feel cut off from the natural world at the best of times, and the nearest I’d been to nature in four days was when I stood beside the spice rack. But Melissa Harrison brought me a couple of inches closer. Harrison lived in London for two decades, where she felt “insulated from the seasons”, moving “from flat to Tube to air-conditioned office”. Now she lives in an old cottage in rural Suffolk, where she takes daily walks, goes birdwatching and explores nearby beaches and villages with her dog. She started this podcast, The Stubborn Light of Things, in the middle of lockdown in April, as a way to bring the natural world to those isolating away from it. The final episode was released on 5 October.
In each episode, Harrison walks through the nearby countryside – she might explore an arable farm, a stately home, an abandoned Second World War base or, simply, her garden; at sunrise, twilight or after dark. She is minutely attuned to the changes of the seasons, describing the weather and the wildlife, the appearance of toadstools or the migration of birds. An earthy soundscape – wet leaves underfoot, a scramble in the bushes, even the vague white noise of a big, red combine harvester bringing in wheat – provides much of the series’s mood, along with Harrison’s slow, half-whispered voice. And the sense of pleasure, and the security that she gets from her daily interactions with her surroundings, is audible too.
It’s earnestly reflective: Harrison muses on the importance of connecting with the wilderness, and every week she ends with a poetry reading. In a recent episode, recorded indoors due to wet weather, Harrison offers a tour of her charming cottage, curling up on the sofa with a “slight shabby blanket”. This scene would not have felt out of place on a YouTube video title: “ASMR #Cottagecore House Tour for Relaxation” or one of those deliberately uneventful bedtime stories you can listen to on meditation apps, where an old man croaks “Hellooo, welcome to Rainy Day Antiques! Come inside and shelter from the storm.” For some it will tip into tweeness; but this crackling, windswept atmosphere is crucial to its charm.
The Stubborn Light of Things
This article appears in the 07 Oct 2020 issue of the New Statesman, Long Covid