When I first began reading ‘Conversations at the Pond’ I found myself trying to place the book into a genre. Who is it aimed at? Which age group would it appeal to more? These preoccupations subsided as I became more immersed into the story of the narrator and his conversations with the inhabitants of his garden pond, a diverse range of specimens ranging from frogs to shield bugs (also known as stink bugs- a fact I was totally unaware of but enjoyed finding out!)
The inspiration behind the book written by Henry Slator came after his diagnosis of cancer in 2020. He writes in the prologue how the nurses within the unit prompted him to write something entertaining for them. The writer states how these individuals were admirable in dealing with the adversity bought about by the pandemic but who ‘just got on with looking after patients.’ It is admirable too how the writer is able to write something so humorous and poignant in the face of his own adversity and ill health. He finds solace and company by visiting these inhabitants and being outside in the natural world.
The conversations within the text vary in tone and topic. There were many moments of lightness amidst the seriousness. One particular conversation that made me laugh was when the narrator was describing his chemotherapy and the grass snake mishears, “‘Chinotheraphy? Your trousers have a mental or physical illness? That’s ridiculous. What’s wrong with a good tailor?”’ The misinterpretation along with the perhaps underlying meaning of nature’s obliviousness to human endeavour was, I thought, well done. These comical moments were humorous, and it shifted the lens on how we look at and view the minutiae of the natural world, things we might come into contact with regularly but may not recognise or place value in.
One conversation has remained with me. A conversation whose chapter is entitled ‘The WOO’, an abbreviation for ‘Wise Old Organisms’, within this moment the wildlife talk to the narrator and quiz him about mankind’s presence on earth and by extension the devastation they are causing. Mia Mussel asks ‘“Humans devote enormous resources to keep death at bay and to recover from illnesses that could kill them. They hope to extend their lives beyond where they would naturally end. Why?”’ This paradoxical element to humanity, a desire to care and preserve whilst simultaneously destroying the planet is placed before the reader through the blunt questioning and statements of the animals who are being ‘shoved aside for your greedy convenience’. They reach perhaps an unsettling truth: that with the destruction of humanity, the earth and ‘“all nature’s other organisms, the fauna and flora will breathe a huge sigh of relief.”’ This sobering thought is soon replaced again by the events of the narrator’s conversations and humour prevails; however it does serve as a reminder that we should value the nature on our doorsteps that is rich and important, intricately wound up in our own survival, worthy of respect and care. The benefits of the outdoors and being outside are well researched and well known. We should notice and protect in order to preserve our own wellbeing and health.
The text was enjoyable; it served as both an escape and a relief. The beautiful illustrations by Cheyenne Hardwick added to the humour and visualisation of the moments and conversations within the text. As the narrator points out, illustrations should not just be for children! I also learnt some really fascinating details about the Sargasso Sea, eel migration and diving bell spiders which worked to show not only the writer’s passion and knowledge of the natural world but was also indicative of the fact that I myself need to pay more attention to the wildlife around me however small. A beautiful, imaginative and entertaining read; a perfect reminder to take the time to be still and mindful of what is just outside our door.
Thank you to @literallypr for my copy of this book