For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel's sake. The great affair is to move. ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON

Saturday, 25 April 2009

Contact! Contact!

In wilderness is the preservation of the world. HENRY THOREAU.
Continuing my exploration of Richard Mabey's insightful book, Nature Cure, I found this, his belief about wilderness: Truly wild places should be for the wild creatures that live there, and only secondarily to give us revelatory experiences. If we go into them it should be as a privilege, and on the same terms as the creatures that live there, unarmed and on foot. They cannot be treated as convenience habitats, available off-the-peg...
150 years earlier, Thoreau spoke in favour of the tangled fringes of Walden Pond in Walden; Or Life In The Woods; and in Walking And The Wild he wrote: I derive more of my subsistence from the swamps which surround my native town than from the cultivated gardens in the village... When I would recreate myself, I seek the darkest wood, the thickest and most interminable, most dismal swamp. I enter a swamp as a sacred place, - a sanctum sanctorum. There is the strength, the marrow of nature.
For Mabey, his renewed appreciation of what he calls the unmanaged energy of nature is a key element in his recovery from depression and breakdown. Thoreau too found release and illumination in his contact with what Mabey describes as nature's membrane, pulsing with interconnected life, busy with communications: Talk of mysteries! Think of our life in nature, - daily to be shown matter, to come into contact with it, - rocks, trees, wind on our cheeks! The solid earth! The actual world! The common sense! Contact! Contact!
But it isn't only wilderness, or deep woods and dank swamps, that can provide a 'nature cure'. Country walking pure and simple can help sort out emotional and mental problems (Solvitur ambulando, as the Romans put it). And, as Mabey states: The medievals made mass pilgrimages to rustic shrines. John Keats, mortally ill with tuberculosis, fled to the Mediterranean to find that 'beaker full of the warm South', away from that place 'where youth grows pale, and spectre-thin, and dies.' 'The country, by the gentleness and variety of its landscapes,' wrote the philospher Michel Foucault, 'wins melancholics from their single obsession by taking them away from the places that might revive the memory of their sufferings'.

8 comments:

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

I don't think there's any question that spending time in true wilderness changes a person forever. You can never go in and come back out the same person. These changes are almost always positive—unless you enjoy life as a paranoid neurotic.

Wilderness settles the mind and heart—fills that over-civilized chamber with simplicity, peace, truth.

I'd also say that wilderness out to be experienced, at least a few times in your life, alone—with only wind and sky and life other than human for companionship.

Of course except for the genuine isolation of true wilderness, a walk in the woods, along a seashore, or down a country lane can suffice until the real thing comes along.

The Weaver of Grass said...

I can relate to any philosophy which cites nature as a cure - there have been times in my life when I would probably not have survived without the experience of walking in quiet places. As for wilderness walking - I think that is another thing entirely and is outside my experience. I can see its attraction though. I read an excellent book a few years ago about a young man who became obsessed with wilderness and took himself off into the Yukon to live there - sadly he also died there, unable to maintain a life style. Can't remember the name of the book but it made a profound impression on me at the time.

Dominic Rivron said...

It often strikes me when I look up that the sky is a wilderness that is there to be appreciated almost anywhere, instantly available without travelling.

Also, your post reminded me,at the risk of sounding slightly strange, of how good it feels to lie on the ground and feel the earth underneath you.

I've not read RM's book but perhaps, if one thinks of humanity as part of nature, everywhere is, in a sense, a wild place...

Raph G. Neckmann said...

Country walking definitely lifts my spirit, as do gardens and wilderness too. Not only lifting the spirit, but expanding my inner being, I guess.

Finding a 'cure within', inner peace, illumination, however had to come from within myself, regardless of my environment. Being transformed from within then affects my perception of my environment, and my ability to filter those things I want to shut out (in cities, mainly!!) or revel in. Everywhere can become a 'sacred place'. But I'd rather spend my time in beauteous nature.

The Solitary Walker said...

Thanks everyone for these comments. I myself have often sought and found solace and healing in nature - whether it be in a wild, forbidding Pyrenean pass, on the top of a Scotish mountain, in a London park or just sitting under the Corsican pine tree in our own back garden.

As you say, Grizzled, a trip into true wilderness, over an extended period of time, is something else - an experience I don't suppose I've had that often, but one which I yearn for more and more. However, the fact that wilderness exists, and that one can visit it in one's head and in books and pictures from time to time, will have to do for the present.

I think that book was probably Jon Krakauer's 'Into The Wild', Weaver - in it he describes a Canadian wilderness trek by Christopher McCandless, who's found dead after 4 months.

Dominic - I too have a strong urge for physical contact with nature - the solidity of the earth, the grip of the rock, the feel of the rain on one's skin and all that stuff - very D.H.Lawrence!

Raph - difficult to say which comes first, the transformation from within which affects one's perception of the outer world, or the outer world changing one's inner being - it may be both processes, I think. Yes, 'sacred' places can be anywhere - in gardens, cities, wherever. I actually love exploring cities - but am always glad in the end to escape back into a quieter environment.

Val said...

Thank you for sharing this, SW.

Jay said...

I like Mabey's comment! So true...

As humans, we are very arrogant about the way we use the earth.

gleaner said...

Tangled fringes is a great description and I love the quote...reminds me to return for another read.