The Quiet Moon

‘The Quiet Moon’ by Kevin Parr
Published in 2023 by Flint Books. Buy from Hive in the UK here.

The moon seems to be everywhere these days. It seems that not a day passes without being informed excitedly by The Social Media that tonight will be this moon or that moon or the other moon. Hunter’s Moon. Harvest Moon. Blood Moon. Storm Moon. Full Moon. Half Moon. Marquee Moon. A New Moon on Monday. A total eclipse (of the heart)… And photographs. Of course photographs. Almost all of them showing an indistinct blob surrounded by darkness or something that might or might not be the moon, it being so hard to tell with all the urban light pollution. And of course accompanying this infatuation with the moon seems to be a wider obsession with Getting In Touch With Nature. But only on the weekends and only when the weather is nice and only if one can enjoy it after a trip in the Chelsea Tractor (but it’s electric darling, so it’s fine!).

Sorry. My old cynicism is kicking in again. Apologies for that. But it’s complicated. Of course it is.

In truth I have no problem with this Middle Class infatuation with nature and its attendant rejection of (some) technology. I’m down with that. Guilty as charged. Such impulses and interests are both driven by a need to feel something, anything positive in a world that too often appears fractured and desolate, and, perversely, by the very technologically driven media streams that we might say we wish to escape. So which came first, the desire to escape to the country or the mediated suggestion that we Escape To The Country? Ouch.

There is an argument of course that the fascination with the moon and natural cycles is ageless. Or at least as old as humankind’s ability to put these fascinations and/or reliances into some form of language. Such ageless connections to nature underpin Kevin Parr’s ‘The Quiet Moon’ yet despite the subtitle of ‘Pathways to an Ancient Way of Being’ it is something that remains, perhaps inevitably, illusive. Parr is refreshingly open about this throughout the book, being in some respects apologetic about his ‘failure’ to be deeply academic about the Celtic culture to whom the moon was so vital, and which he attempts to understand.

That Celtic culture is in many respects something of a red herring then, as in some respects is the subtitle, for if anything ‘The Quiet Moon’ reads very much as a book about contemporary life where solace is sought in the magic of the here and now. Which is to say the magic that eludes time and to which concepts of ritual and worship are alien and irrelevant. Humans being what we are, however, we look for patterns from which to draw reason and meaning, and Parr uses this structure of lunar and solar cycles to build a book that is by turns tender and harsh, lyrical and prosaic. This is Nature Writing with an eye on the Wellbeing market; a book of personal reflection populated by birds, butterflies, hares and mushrooms. Oh, and the moon, of course.

That the book inevitably suffers, for me, by being read amongst an understandable revisitation of Roland Blythe’s work is hardly Parr’s fault, for Blythe’s writing does rather seem to bestride the landscape as a benign colossus. Everything, it seems to me, pales just a little in the bathetic glow of Blythe’s prose, so to say that ‘The Quiet Moon’ is hardly any given year in Wormingford is not exactly to be critical. It is tricky to pin down the reasons for this though. Certainly one has the sense that Parr is deeply knowledgeable about the natural history of the Dorset landscape he inhabits and writes about. Parr writes at length about his mushroom forages and about the raptors he sees flying in the skies. He writes engagingly about butterflies and hares, always seeking to balance the personal with the instructional. This, I think, is what sets Blythe apart though; an understanding that less is more. That and an almost supernatural ability to remember things and to make deft tangential connections in the blink of an eye.

There is something too about Blythe’s writing that manages to position itself simultaneously within and outside of time. Hints of the present touch fingers with figures from the past and everything feels vaguely otherworldly. ‘The Quiet Moon’ almost manages this. Might well have pulled it off too if not for some very particular references to COVID and Lockdown. Is it too early to be writing about The COVID? Too late? It is open to debate, surely, yet for me it feels like ‘The Quiet Moon’ suffers from including such explicit references. It is understandable, of course, in a book that is in large part an exploration of the self and a reflection on that self’s position in space and time. Yet, for me, the references to Lockdown and pandemic are a step too far into a wider context and feel oddly irrelevant within the context of the bigger picture, which is to do with our connection to and within nature. And yes, yes, yes, of course there are arguments to be made about how a global pandemic is surely the most obvious signifier of humankind’s fragile relationship with Gaia (and beyond?) but as I said at the start: it’s complicated.

If this reads as being overtly curmudgeonly and critical of ‘The Quiet Moon’, it is not meant to, because the book really is enormously enjoyable. Perhaps an element of my prickliness is indeed due to the fact that there is a lot in Parr’s self-reflection that feels uncomfortably close to home. Is this behind the seemingly endless stream of memoir disguised as book about x, y and z masquerading as self-help journal cloaked in the forcefield of mindfulness resilience handbook excuse for writing about ourselves? People writing about themselves so we don’t have to? Or writing about themselves so we think we can do the same thing? Is this what the cult(ure) of independence and freedom of expression has led us to? A market place for the middle classes to navel gaze and Think Too Much, each of us desperate for connection whilst at the same time terrified of those very connections? Did I say it’s complicated?

Towards the book’s conclusion Parr writes: “I have no wish to become an expert on any one subject, and, more importantly, nor do I have the application. My mind loses interest before it gets too stretched and instead I am quite happy to scratch at the footprints that I happen to be stepping in rather than pause and dig up the singular treasures beneath.” This is a candid admission that resonates strongly with me. Perhaps it is the inevitable outcome of those exposed to Popular Culture and the, ahem, natural state of the post-modern individual. Perhaps too, though, it is a self-admission that is too harshly critical, for certainly within ‘The Quiet Moon’ there is evidence that Parr has indeed dug deep enough to find treasure, yet not so deep that the sides of the holes fall in on itself.

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