The Wild Places: Robert Macfarlane
Macfarlane, an award-winning author, has made a reputation for re-interpreting our natural surroundings. ‘The Wild Places’, first published in 2007, is already a modern classic.
The book avoids heavy-handed lectures about climate change and protecting our environment. Instead, it is an account of the author’s related journeys into mixed terrain – coast, woods, mountains, moors, rivers – around the UK.
He goes there simply to open himself to observation and experience, including by sleeping out. Interestingly, he chooses places not often considered major beauty areas: he writes about lanes and fields in Essex, Dorset and Cambridgeshire as well as about the remote west of Scotland, Wales and Ireland, Lakeland and the Peak District.
He finds remarkable beauty in nature – what he terms ‘the wild’ – almost everywhere. Even on the edge of towns, the wild is with us, though often unobserved. He avoids telling us what is and what is not beautiful: he shows instead how remarkable it is in its adaptation to changes, whether natural or man-made.
We need to open ourselves to these influences if we are to be fully adjusted: the worst thing for us and for the planet is to live for our commute and shut ourselves away with our technology.
Macfarlane conveys wonderment through the detail of his descriptions, which draw on science, history, literature and art. He uses striking comparisons to convey to us the sights and sounds of natural events, often at untypical times such as dawn, dusk, in icy cold or in storms.
The book ends with a reassuring, though also unsettling message: we may confine and harm nature, but the evidence is that it is very resilient. It will adapt and eventually outlast human influence, as abandoned buildings are reclaimed by the wild.