The Wild Places

Robert Macfarlane's The Wild Places is one of the most beautiful books I have ever read. It is so beautiful I had to ration it, reading only a chapter or two between other books, eking it out and savouring it. It's not a book to gorge on; it's a book to read slowly and carefully, like a meditation.

I found this on Brotherhood Books after seeing it recommended in The Week (now my mum lives with us, I get to read my parents' subscription copy of The Week as soon as it arrives). I also want to get hold of his later books, Landmarks and The Old Ways.

Macfarlane starts out this journey wanting to experience and describe the wild places of Britain; as he thinks of it, the pockets of wilderness left untouched by human interference, the mountaintops and isolated moors, the remote, the pristine. And he does find those places, and he is exhilarated and frightened by them. But about halfway through his pilgrimage, he finds his internal definition of 'wildness' changing into something more dynamic and vigorous -- the tangle of plants thrusting from a ditch into the light, the inside of a hedgerow. He comes to see wildness not as something separate from humanity, but intertwined, parallel and within our reach, in small, everyday moments -- a dandelion bursting from a crack in the pavement, the tossing of treetops in a storm.

Reading this book was an almost spiritual experience for me. Macfarlane's observations are both precise and radiant, his use of language halfway between poetry and prayer. Is it better to read about sleeping out on a snowbound mountaintop, or to actually experience it? For me, the reading is better, because I get to appreciate the beautiful words as well as imagining the crispness of the moonlight, the sheen of the snow… Hm, this might be betraying an old bias of mine that favours imagination over the real. That's something I'd like to write about one day.

Anyway, this book is highly recommended. If anyone knows of an Australian equivalent, please let me know. I would love Robert Macfarlane to turn his keen eye on our wilderness. Has anyone invited him?

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