“At that time of year when people catch colds, the snail draws in his beanpole of a neck and stays at home, bubbling like a snotty nose,” wrote Jules Renard in his classic Nature Stories, newly translated from the French. The one-sentence portrait of the snail is typical—some are even shorter and more succinct—as befits a very early 20th century author whose antecedents are Aesop and La Fontaine. Bumpkins will appreciate this book, as agrestic beauties are extolled at every step, but so will everyone else, thanks to Renard’s superb thumbnail sketches of flora and fauna, so unlike most of what’s published today, exuding a freshness and life that should cheer even the most jaded urban sophisticate. Of the wasp he writes, “in the end she’s bound to spoil her waistline,” while he remarks of a butterfly, “this love letter, folded in two, is looking for a flowery address,” and when less buoyant: “it’s a lousy day, gray and short, eaten away at both ends.” Douglas Parmée’s wonderful new translation highlights Renard’s gentle touch, revealing how he deftly anthropomorphizes plants and animals—his swallows write Hebrew in the sky, while the blackbird apologizes for owning only one suit—but also eliciting how he reserves sterner judgment and criticism for people. The chapter on shooting partridges is a merry, irrefutable indictment of hunting. As the hunter chortles gaily over his successes, they come to seem bloodier and more brutal, until finally even he thinks a nearby laborer must be ready to chastise and shame him. Later, after a good shot, “the dog’s prancing and I’m strutting proudly along. Someone ought to shoot me, bang in the buttocks.” A friend who abandons hunting because of its cruelty, only to realize that his substitute, fishing, is just as heartless, comments sadly, “doesn’t the getting of wisdom suggest you’re rather losing your love of living?” Renard is equally direct on caging birds; he regards it as a crime. Thus humans are compromised, but the rest of the world is not, so while people in Nature Stories mull over their transgressions, plants and animals muse upon philosophy or trivia, unperturbed by sins. The dialogue between the watering can, the thistle, the bee, the leek, and other creatures and garden tools could be a conversation in Eden, it is so innocent and each word so perfectly apt. Even nature’s predators are pristinely deadly; a pike hovers “in the shade of a willow, he’s not moving, he’s the hidden dagger of some old bandit.” Renard suggests that for people, the rustic purifies. In “Hunting for Pictures,” the wanderer dashes around bosky glades, committing the natural splendors to memory, then recalls them before going to sleep: “new pictures come crowding in, all gleaming, to join them, like partridges which, pursued and separated all day, in the evening, no longer in danger, greet each other and sing.” Renard’s best images do the same.