Outlandish: Walking Europe’s Unlikely Landscapes by Nick Hunt
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
There are many beautiful and wonderous sights that come to mind when one thinks of Europe: forests, meadows, alpine vistas, or cities of stunning architecture. However, there are other sights that one wouldn’t expect at all: tundra, jungle, desert, or steppe, but those are the unexpected destinations that Hunt takes his reader. In some cases, a destination under discussion doesn’t meet the technical definitions for said ecosystem, but they’re the closest that Europe has to offer, and that’s enough to make them outlandish.
The book takes the reader on a tour of four uncharacteristic ecosystems of Europe: Cairngorms arctic tundra in northern Scotland, Poland’s “jungle” – the forest primeval of Bialowieza, Spain’s Tabernas desert, and the Hungarian Puszta (i.e. the Pannonian Steppe.) For each of these places, the reader is treated not only to vivid description of the locale and its flora and fauna, but also some fascinating folklore, cultural peculiarities, and indigenous mysteries. In Scotland, this involves inexplicable reindeer and the legend of the Big Grey Man. In Poland and Belarus, we learn about legendary forest folk deities and about the last Soviet standing. In Spain, one gets a lesson in Spaghetti Westerns. In Hungary we see birders, neo-Nazis, and Central Asian immigrants all traipsing the same ground.
I found this book to be an engaging read. It helps raise consciousness about climate change without collapsing into a gloomy doom-fest. This discussion is most notable in the most extreme ecosystems, Cairngorms and Tabernas, but most of the intense discussion is saved for a brief epilogue entitled “The Last Snow.” The book offers rudimentary maps, but relies entirely on text to paint a picture, but I felt the author did a great job of bringing the places to life through words.
If you’re interested in learning more about a few of the globe’s lesser-known natural settings, I’d highly recommend this book.
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