DISLIKING nature, rather like disliking children, is something of which we are taught to be ashamed. Any respectable member of the species would be moved by the sight of rolling meadows, sunsets, mountains, forests and streams. For years I had no sympathy with nature, and hid my reluctance to spend any time with it, complaining about the mosquitoes and the wasps and the difficulty of finding good films to see in the countryside. I was even indifferent to nature when it cropped up in literature. When a novelist explained what the clouds looked like or started a chapter by summing up the colour of the leaves on the trees, I'd skip the description or fall asleep.
Then I discovered the works of John Ruskin (1819-1900) and nothing has been the same since. I've taken walks in the countryside, I look at trees and study clouds. Last weekend, I sat on a rock and listened intently to a stream for 20 minutes.
No one reads Ruskin now. About the only thing people seem to know about him is the story that he refused to sleep with his wife after seeing her naked for the first time on their wedding night, because the only women he had known until then had been sculptures in art galleries. But in the 19th century he was renowned for his writings on Venice, Turner, the Italian Renaissance and Gothic architecture, and most appreciated for his writings on nature.
His books contain extraordinary meditations on everyday …