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'.