Natural History Richard Mabey Nature Cure

ISBN 13: 9780099531821

Nature Cure

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9780099531821: Nature Cure

This remarkable book is an account of a year of new life for the author, following a severe bout of depression. Mabey, author of the groundbreaking bestseller, Flora Britannica, finds his niche not in passive submission to nature, but in an active, sensual re-engagement.

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About the Author:

Richard Mabey is the author of the bestselling, award-winning and ground-breaking Flora Britannica, as well as many highly praised books about nature and the environment, including Food for Free and The Unofficial Countryside. His book about Gilbert White won the Whitbread Biography of the Year.
From the Hardcover edition.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

I

Flitting
I dwell on trifles like a child
I feel as ill becomes a man
And still my thoughts like weedlings wild
Grow up to blossom where they can.
John Clare, 'The Flitting'

IT'S OCTOBER, AN INDIAN summer. I'm standing on the threshold like some callow teenager, about to move house for the first time in my life. I've spent more than half a century in this place, in this undistinguished, comfortable town house on the edge of the Chiltern Hills, and had come to think we'd reached a pretty good accommodation. To have all mod cons on the doorstep of the quirkiest patch of countryside in south-east England had always seemed just the job for a rather solitary writing life. I'd use the house as a ground-base, and do my living in the woods, or in my head. I liked to persuade myself that the Chiltern landscape, with its folds and free-lines and constant sense of surprise, was what had shaped my prose, and maybe me too. But now I'm upping sticks and fleeing to the flatlands of East Anglia.

My past, or lack of it, had caught up with me. I'd been bogged down in the same place for too long, trapped by habits and memories. I was clotted with rootedness. And in the end I'd fallen ill and run out of words. My Irish grandfather, a day-worker who rarely stayed in one house long enough to pay the rent, knew what to do at times like this. In that word that catches all the shades of escape, from the young bird's flutter from the nest to the dodging of someone in trouble, he'd flit.
Yet hovering on the brink of this belated initiation, all I can do is think back again, to another wrenching journey. It had been a few summers before, when I was just beginning to slide into a state of melancholy and senselessness that were incomprehensible to me. I was due to go for a holiday in the Cevennes with some old friends, a few weeks in the limestone causses that had become something of a tradition, but could barely summon up enough spirit to leave home. Somehow I made it, and the Cevennes were, for that brief respite, as healing as ever, a time of sun and hedonism and companionship.

But towards the end of my stay something happened which lodged in my mind like a primal memory: a glimpse of another species' rite of passage. I'd travelled south to the Herault for a couple of days, and stayed overnight with my friends in a crooked stone house in Octon. In the morning we came across a fledgling swift beached in the attic. It had fallen out of the nest and lay with its crescent wings stretched out stiffly, unable to take off. Close to, its juvenile plumage wasn't the enigmatic black of those careering midsummer silhouettes, but a marbled mix of charcoal-grey and brown and powder-white. And we could see the price it paid for being so exquisitely adapted to a life that would be spent almost entirely in the air. Its prehensile claws, four facing to the front, were mounted on little more than feathered stumps, half-way down its body. We picked it up, carried it to the window and hurled it out. It was just six weeks old, and having its maiden flight and first experience of another species all in the same moment.

But whatever its emotions, they were overtaken by instinct and natural bravura. It went into a downward slide, winnowing furiously, skimmed so close to the road that we all gasped, and then flew up strongly towards the south-east. It would not touch down again until it came back to breed in two summers' time. How many miles is that? How many wing-beats? How much time off?

I tried to imagine the journey that lay ahead of it, the immense odyssey along a path never flown before, across chronic war-zones and banks of Mediterranean gunmen, through precipitous changes of weather and landscape. Its parents and siblings had almost certainly left already. It would be flying the 6,000 miles entirely on its own, on a course mapped out - or at least sketched out - deep in its central nervous system. Every one of its senses would be helping to guide it, checking its progress against genetic memories, generating who knows what astonishing experiences of consciousness. Maybe, like many seabirds, it would be picking up subtle changes in air-borne particles as it passed over seas and aromatic shrubland and the dusty thermals above African townships. It might be riding a magnetic trail detected by iron-rich cells in its forebrain. It would almost certainly be using, as navigation aids, landmarks whose shapes fitted templates in its genetic memories, and the sun too, and, on clear nights, the big constellations - which, half-way through its journey, would be replaced by a quite different set in the night sky of the southern hemisphere. Then, after three or four weeks, it would arrive in South Africa and earn its reward of nine months of unadulterated, aimless flying and playing. Come the following May, it and all the other first-year birds would come back to Europe and race recklessly about the sky just for the hell of it. That is what swifts do. It is their ancestral, unvarying destiny for the non-breeding months. But you would need to have a very sophisticated view of pleasure to believe they weren't also 'enjoying' themselves.

When that May came round I was blind to the swifts for the first time in my life. While they were en fête I was lying on my bed with my face away from the window, not really caring if I saw them again or not. In a strange and ironic turn-about, I had become the incomprehensible creature adrift in some insubstantial medium, out of kilter with the rest of creation. It didn't occur to me at the time, but maybe that is the way our whole species is moving.

* * * * *

So, about to become a first-time migrant myself, I can't get that fledgling swift out of my mind. This sudden swoop out of the nest and into the huge skies of East Anglia isn't something I've chosen or planned. Maybe some long-postponed maturation programme is guiding me, but it feels more like a cascade of dice-throws. To put it briefly, for now: I came to a kind of 'finish' in my work (but certainly not in the rest of my 'business'), drifted into a long and deep depression, couldn't work, used up most of my money, fell out with my sister - my house-mate - and had to sell the family home. Coming through was just as serendipitous. I was rescued by friends and slowly renovated, like an antique typewriter. I fell in love and started to write again, though with no idea of what I wanted to say. Then I caught a chance, as casually and as unexpectedly as one might a breeze. A couple of rooms in a friend's farmhouse happened to become vacant in East Anglia, which I'd seen as my second home since I was a teenager. Roofless and jobless, I jumped, and started again.

Now, packing the car, I feel like a tabula rasa, stripped down and open for offers. Even my belongings are, in both senses, spare. (I don't, for instance, have a single cooking utensil, telling myself they'll be 'provided' or at least available in my new habitat.) I have the tools of a trade whose survival value is debatable: a couple of manual typewriters and a drawerful of office gadgetry. But beyond that, my baggage is strictly sentimental. It includes a crystal of melon amethyst from Zambia, given to me for luck by my companion Poppy. A Victorian brass microscope, magnification approximately 100x. A picnic hamper full of elegant willow-pattern plates and cups, too posh ever to have been used. A badge inscribed with 'Cat Lovers Against The Bomb'. A sizeable chunk of the 1,500-year-old Selborne yew, which I have clung onto since it was blown down in 1990, convincing myself that I'm just waiting for the 'right carver'. Mum's favourite book, John Moore's The Waters Under the Earth (which if I'm right about the East Anglian landscape, may soon be mine too), with the Oxendale's catalogue order form she used as a bookmark. Emblems and fossils. I might just have well packed a pair of man-sized crescent wings for all the use these romantic knick-knacks will be. And as for books, I've sifted out a couple of hundred essential volumes (including most of John Clare) and sent the rest into storage in an industrial container somewhere up the Great North Road.

What a way to start a new life. I don't think I'm in denial, or 'downsizing'. This baggage, condensed into a few boxes in the back of a jeep, is actually all I want, and, to tell the truth, all there will be room for where I'm going. But I can't avoid the hugeness of change. This move is the thing I've been scared of all my life: the rite of cutting the cord, leaving the nest, spreading one's wings. It's a process so universal that we scarcely ever refer to it except in metaphors from nature. The only problem is that I've postponed it for a ridiculous and unnaturally long time.

Yet now the moment of severance has arrived, I'm feeling oddly elated and, for a dare on myself, I drive past the old house. The new owner's grandmother and her grandchildren are strolling round the garden, inspecting the remains of my old roses. It's odd staring at a scene which I've enacted so many times myself, both as a child and an adult, and knowing that I'll never make that ritual beating of the bounds again. Yet I don't feel in the least bit unreal, or as if I'm having an out-of-the-body experience, gazing in at my past like this. It seems instead almost a comforting image, of a kind of bequeathing.

It's a bright, balmy October day and feels more like the beginning of a summer holiday than a rite of passage. The fields, just free of a sharp frost, look burnished under the sun. Near Royston, a flock of lapwings, migrating south, veer over the road, and I remember the last time I saw them at a moment of change, a brief glimpse then, as now, of transience. I'd been up on Shap Fell with the photographer Tony Evans, searching for bird's-eye primroses, and the lapwings had flown - that loose, wavering flight, like windblown paper - over the honey-coloured pastures exactly above the point where we found the flowers. It was a sign of the year's turning and the last stages of a book we had worked on together for six years.

Only one thing sours the day. Somewhere back in my old home town there is a funeral pyre of the family furniture. It was of no value, just sensible, utility stuff our parents had bought for their first house. They were migrants themselves. Born and bred in London, they had premonitions of war and had headed west to make a home in the market town of Berkhamsted in the Chilterns. Sixty years later the pieces they had put together and with which we'd lived contentedly had become so much lumber. The house clearance firms refused them, and would not take them away even for cash. A charity furniture recycling centre ('sorry we don't take messages' said its messaging service) was dismissive. So most of it went on the fire, shouldered out of the house in a hurry by friends. The evening after it went was the only time my sister and I broke down. Between us we had 110 years of dwelling here, and sitting in the empty and echoing dining-room, with just one chair between us, was like being orphaned, or losing one of your senses. Because it wasn't the bare shell of the house that held the memories of the place, but its material things, the ordinary currency of living. The sideboard, whose top was already worn into hollows by two generations of fingers. The low, battered wicker chair on which Mum had nursed all four of her children. A cast-iron money-boxturned- doorstop in the form of an owl ('PAT.SEPT 21 & 28 1880') which for fifty years had tripped up everyone who came through the sitting-room door. 'Mind the owl' rang round the house, every time. Things become a kind of external memory, an embodiment of events and feelings.

My road east has that sort of engrained feeling too. I've been travelling it since I was a teenager and its swerves and shifts of character have become old familiars to me. When I first started to travel to the coast with a group of friends in the early 1960s, there was a precise point where we believed East Anglia began. Just out of Baldock, about 30 miles north-east of the Chilterns, we turned into the route of the neolithic road known as the Icknield Way. We passed a handsome Victorian maltings (now demolished). In front of us was a vista of sweeping chalky fields and a sky full of larks, and the modest prospects of the Home Counties seemed irrevocably behind us. It was a kind of portal, the point we knew we were finally 'away'. East Anglia spread before us like the awkward corners of a room that no one bothers to sweep, and we took to referring to it as 'the Ankle'.

Beyond Newmarket, the Icknield Way crosses the region known as Breckland, the dry heart of the region. Breckland is a 400-square-mile bowl of chalky sands. The thinness of the soil meant that the natural woodland cover was easy to clear, and for a while this was the most densely inhabited area of prehistoric Britain. The early farmers practised slash-and-burn agriculture, growing crops for a few seasons and then allowing the barely fertile land to 'go back' for twenty or so years. These briefly cultivated, 'broken' plots were known as brecks, and gave the region its name.

The sandy soils could barely sustain even this light cultivation, and when rabbits, and then sheep, moved in, the vegetation over much of Breckland became sparse. Up till the nineteenth century it was pretty much a dust-bowl, a wilderness of blown sand, and was so desolate that travellers used to cross this 'vast Arabian desert' at dawn, to avoid upsetting the horses. There was even an inland lighthouse to guide anyone who became benighted. The diarist John Evelyn wrote that 'the Travelling Sands have so damaged the country, rolling from place to place, and quite over-whelmed some gentlemen's estates' and he urged them to plant 'tufts of firr' to stabilise the sand. The gentlemen of East Anglia didn't need much encouragement, and during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries Breckland was tamed, ploughed and enclosed. The only reminders of its old wild spirit are the occasional dust-devils that rise in the carrot fields and duck-ranches and blow across the lanes, and the lines of hunchbacked, windbreak pines that were planted and laid to keep the sand in its place. (This mutability is the subject of a classically stoical local joke. 'What county's your farm in?' 'That depends on which way the wind blows. Sometimes thas in Norfolk, sometimes in Suffolk.' This is East Anglia's creation myth: a world built on shifting sands.)

What's left of Breckland has, like so much so-called wasteland, become the dumping ground for the kind of land-uses that people don't want near their settlements. It's the site of nuclear strike airbases, the 25 square miles of the Ministry of Defence's Stanford Practical Training Area, and the earliest Forestry Commision conifer plantations - a new generation of 'tufts of firr'. Moving across this arid, sandy heart of East Anglia you are travelling through not just superficial changes in the scenery, but whole strata of shifting cultural attitudes towards the land. Breckland's sense of barrenness, of isolation, has made it into a kind of frontierland, and what hasn't been written off as institutional wasteland, has been staked out, appropriated as a priva...

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Richard Mabey
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Descrizione libro Vintage Publishing, United Kingdom, 2009. Paperback. Condizione libro: New. Language: English . Brand New Book. In the last year of the old millennium, Richard Mabey, Britain s foremost nature writer, fell into a severe depression. The natural world - which since childhood had been a source of joy and inspiration for him - became meaningless. Then, cared for by friends, he moved to East Anglia and he started to write again. Having left the cosseting woods of the Chiltern hills for the open flatlands of Norfolk, Richard Mabey found exhilaration in discovering a whole new landscape and gained fresh insights into our place in nature. Structured as intricately as a novel, a joy to read, truthful, exquisite and questing, Nature Cure is a book of hope, not just for individuals, but for our species. Codice libro della libreria AAZ9780099531821

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Descrizione libro Vintage 2008-06-19, 2008. Condizione libro: New. Brand new book, sourced directly from publisher. Dispatch time is 24-48 hours from our warehouse. Book will be sent in robust, secure packaging to ensure it reaches you securely. Codice libro della libreria NU-GRD-02959048

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Richard Mabey
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Descrizione libro Vintage Publishing, United Kingdom, 2009. Paperback. Condizione libro: New. Language: English . Brand New Book. In the last year of the old millennium, Richard Mabey, Britain s foremost nature writer, fell into a severe depression. The natural world - which since childhood had been a source of joy and inspiration for him - became meaningless. Then, cared for by friends, he moved to East Anglia and he started to write again. Having left the cosseting woods of the Chiltern hills for the open flatlands of Norfolk, Richard Mabey found exhilaration in discovering a whole new landscape and gained fresh insights into our place in nature. Structured as intricately as a novel, a joy to read, truthful, exquisite and questing, Nature Cure is a book of hope, not just for individuals, but for our species. Codice libro della libreria AAZ9780099531821

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Descrizione libro Vintage, 2009. Condizione libro: New. Richard Mabey, Britain's foremost nature writer, fell into a severe depression. The natural world - which since childhood had been a source of joy and inspiration for him - became meaningless. Then, cared for by friends, he moved to East Anglia and he started to write again. This book deals with his life and work. Num Pages: 240 pages. BIC Classification: BG; VFJB. Category: (G) General (US: Trade). Dimension: 197 x 129 x 16. Weight in Grams: 198. . 2009. Paperback. . . . . Codice libro della libreria V9780099531821

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Descrizione libro Vintage Publishing. Paperback. Condizione libro: new. BRAND NEW, Nature Cure, Richard Mabey, In the last year of the old millennium, Richard Mabey, Britain's foremost nature writer, fell into a severe depression. The natural world - which since childhood had been a source of joy and inspiration for him - became meaningless. Then, cared for by friends, he moved to East Anglia and he started to write again. Having left the cosseting woods of the Chiltern hills for the open flatlands of Norfolk, Richard Mabey found exhilaration in discovering a whole new landscape and gained fresh insights into our place in nature. Structured as intricately as a novel, a joy to read, truthful, exquisite and questing, Nature Cure is a book of hope, not just for individuals, but for our species. Codice libro della libreria B9780099531821

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Descrizione libro Vintage. Condizione libro: New. Richard Mabey, Britain's foremost nature writer, fell into a severe depression. The natural world - which since childhood had been a source of joy and inspiration for him - became meaningless. Then, cared for by friends, he moved to East Anglia and he started to write again. This book deals with his life and work. Num Pages: 240 pages. BIC Classification: BG; VFJB. Category: (G) General (US: Trade). Dimension: 197 x 129 x 16. Weight in Grams: 198. . 2009. Paperback. . . . . Codice libro della libreria V9780099531821

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