Richard Mabey’s nature cure

Last updated: 23 March 20184

Update, Feb 2021: marking RM turning 80 on the 20th with Caught by the River and #MabeyMonth; see also Gdn profile; R4; Nature cure & In the wild (trees)

Knocked off another classic from the nature writing canon, Richard Mabey’s Nature cure (2005; review | interview | A life in writing). Richard is perhaps “Britain’s greatest living nature writer” (The Times), the author of 30 odd books, and top forager (Food for free, 1972). His key concerns include anti-authoritarianism, in particular against our presumption that humankind is superior, advocating a ‘post-colonial’ relationship with nature.

The style is familiar now, most rewarding to me when it touches on the human, although the sections on nature and culture, “the interface between us and the non-human world, our species’ semi-permeable membrane” (A life in writing) were interesting.

LibraryThing reviewers find it self indulgent and the nature sections over-written, and it might be fair to say that it lacks humour and takes itself rather too seriously – although maybe I’ve just read too much nature writing for now. All in all, 3.5 stars out of five feels about right.

The book was Vintage’s Shelf Help book for April, part of its bibliotherapy promotion,with a reading guide linking to a 2008 video from New Writing Worlds – see the session report. All this secondary literature can be a rich seam to mine – a curatorial approach to reading?

For Alex Clark the book is about “the importance of setting ourselves new courses, and steering towards new horizons” – the seasonal cycles of nature can exhaust as well as renew. Following a bout of depression Richard decided he was “clotted with rootedness”, and so he moved to East Anglia, finding exhilaration in the discovery of a new landscape.

He writes of experiencing liberation in the open, flat wetlands of the Fens, once he had learned how to shorten his focus and look at the inherent details. Home to a great tradition of literary melancholia, the “haunting but sometimes oppressive landscape of East Anglia” is played out against “the relentless march of soil-destroying agribusiness and soul-destroying land development” (Guardian) – the future happening here and now. The new English landscape goes so far as to describe East Anglia as “of profound ecological and imaginative resonance”, forming a new territorial aesthetic.

As a serial nomad for me a process of re-rooting seems to need to take place every few years. Being rooted in a place does not feel like a good thing (ruts, snares), however a rooted relationship with a place does not need to be singular and exclusive. Richard found that he could go back to his ‘native’ place without feeling homesick for what was before.

See Steven Poole on nature writing as bourgeois escapism vs Mabey’s defence.

I’d fallen out with computers when I was ill, not from any ideological hostility but because I found the cornucopia of choices they offered at every turn too much to cope with.

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