The Wild Places – Robert Macfarlane

Sometimes, when life is stressful, you need a book that talks to you about trees and valleys and water. When I sat down on my lunch break and read the opening sentence of Robert Macfarlane’s The Wild Places, I knew I had chosen the book that my soul needed:

The wind was rising, so I went to the wood.

Such a simple sentence. But one filled with such comfort.

In The Wild Places, Macfarlane sets out to discover if there are any truly wild places left in Britain and Ireland. Spoiler: there are. Each chapter focuses on a different natural form, beginning and ending with a chapter titled “Beechwood”. The chapters all follow a similar pattern and explore similar themes. Macfarlane tells the reader how different landscapes came to be, gives brief histories of different areas, describes his experiences of the wild place he is in, and touches on personal anecdotes from his life.

The book forms a written map of the places in the British Isles that Macfarlane visits and I adored this way of exploring the land. The places he visits are those that I love best and he describes them with such love, such precision, that I felt as though I was there with him:

The starlight fell upon the scene, old light from dead stars, and where it fell, the boulders and swells of the landscape, cast dark moon-shadows, and I could see the night wind rippling over the grass of the valley, stirring it into ghostly presence.

Macfarlane also talks about the devastating impact of climate change and human activities on these landscapes that we love. Knowing that this book was published a decade ago made these sections even harder to read, as corporations and governments are still inflicting such damage on this world. Whilst the book may have been slightly more comforting had these discussions been left out, it would have been worse off for it. We cannot ignore what human actions are doing to this world.

The Wild Places was just what I needed to read. Nature has a wonderful ability to heal and I am grateful that books like this exist; they provide a much-needed escape from our everyday lives. I may not live my life amongst moss and trees, but I can escape there through other people’s writing. I leave you with these words from Macfarlane:

We need wild places because they remind us of a world beyond the human.

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