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28th May 2012

As a child, one of my favourite places to play was at the back of our garden, which was left uncultivated. I saw it as an entry into another world, a wilderness place, full of secret hiding places, brambles and ‘exotic’ (to my eyes) weeds. It was perfect for imaginative play, for making homes under the elderberry tree, for ‘harvesting’ grass seed, and broadcasting it (much to my father’s distress).

I’ve just finished reading Robert Macfarlane’s book The Wild Places. It’s a beautiful read, an account of Robert’s journey to visit some of Britain’s wilderness places – to remember them and put them back on the map, so to speak. He documents how his thinking about the definition and meaning of wildness changes over the time of his journeys, discovering that wildness is not inevitably “about asperity, but about luxuriance, vitality, fun”. While there is some regret at the loss of some sources of wild landscape, there is also a realisation that wildness remains around us, and can be a way of looking more closely, with wonder, at places closer to home.

I found it spiritual writing, urging our re-connection with life on this earth, and scribbled down a number o f quotes to ponder further. Here are a few:

We simply need wild country available to us .. even if we never do more than drive to its edge and look in. For it can be a means of reassuring ourselves of our sanity as creatures, a part of the geography of hope. (Wallace Stegner)

.. our maps have grown less speculative, less interested in the elemental possibilities of the Earth’s skin, and that suggests that the Earth has lost its capacity to keep secrets. We tend to look at them for what we want to avoid, rather than what in good fortune, we might discover. There is not much mystery in a landscape we cannot enter. (Robert Penn Warren)

A culture is no better than its woods. (W. H. Auden)

Not only was this a great read, but there references I really want to follow up – such as the 1920s book with the lovely title ‘The Gentle Art of Tramping’ by Stephen Graham.

So, happy walking and discovering the wild places around you, just under your feet.

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