Go on, rewild yourself

Posted in: Comment, New Publications

Rewild Yourself: 23 Spellbinding ways to make nature more visible is a wonderful book by Simon Barnes with lovely illustrations by Cindy Lee Wright.  Published by Simon & Schuster UK – ISBN: 978-1-4711-7542-8 – at a cost of £8.99 (p.back).  You should read it.

There is a lot to like about this book, and if everyone did even half of what Simon Barnes recommends, their lives would be more fulfilled, and the rest of us would benefit as well.

As is the fashion, each chapter is introduced with a brief quote.  Joyce, Shakespeare, Kipling, and Tolkien all feature, but it's CS Lewis and JK Rowling who dominate.  This is no accident as it aligns with the “spellbinding" in the title, and the magic theme that runs through the book and the chapter titles.  Barnes’ point is that nature is there ready to be revealed if only we’re able to look.   He says that there are lots of tricks to this: “Once you know the spells, the wild world starts to appear before you. …  Now you don’t see it.  Now you do.”  

There is, of course, absolutely nothing magical about any of this as Barnes eventually acknowledges; it’s mostly a question of readiness and willingness, and technique and equipment.  I only mention this as I found all the magic eventually a bit irritating.  Some (most, perhaps) will likely find it most appropriate.  The publisher, howerver, seems to be on my side.  They highlight this piece of Barnes text (taken from the Introduction) in a blurb:
“… in Rewild Yourself, Simon Barnes provides 23 wondeerful tips to bring wild creatures you thought forever beyond your scope right into the middle of your own world.  With a few new techniques, a little new equipment and above all a new way of thinking, birds hidden in the treetops will shed the cloak of anonymity, butterflies you never noticed will bring joy to every summer day and creatures of the darkness will enter the light of your consciousness.”  

Just so.

The 23 chapter titles might also seem odd but they eventually make sense, having, just like a magician, successfully disguised the contents from the reader.  “The Magic Tree” is about the Buddleia bush and butterflies.  “A Spell for Making Birds and Beasts Come Closer” is about using binoculars, “How to Penetrate the Darkness” is about moth traps, “Regaining your Lost Sense” is about recognising birds from their songs, “A Vision Seldom Seen” is about using our peripheral vision, “How to Look Beyond the Edge of the Earth” is about looking out to sea at birds (and more) , "Travelling the Hidden Roads” is about finding animal tracks – you get the picture.  It could have been much clearer – but much less mysterious and magical.  
Despite all these trifling reservations, I think this is a great book.  I learned something useful in every chapter.  But there’s much more to it than mere knowledge and usefulness; something more profound.  This book is about helping us remember that we’re part of the natural world – a wild world – and that we can get closer to and reconnect with it, one butterfly, bird and bee at a time.   But the book wants us to do more that merely (re)connect.  As Barnes says, doing what he suggests will mean that: “You become wilder in your mind and in your heart”, and as you do this you understand that you are part of this wild world.  After that, as Barnes notes in his chapter on naming, comes affection, a feeling of responsibility, a desire to cherish, and a determination to DO something yourself.
I could write a lot more about this wise, practical, humane, witty, and brilliant book, but I’ll stop here.  Instead, I’m going to read it again, and take up some of the suggestions this time.  I know it will be good for me – and those who know me.
This is a review I've written for the NAEE journal, Environmental Education

Posted in: Comment, New Publications


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