In the past few years, Rewilding has become a hot topic for those directly involved and interested in conservation, and the general public, thanks to press and politicians sharing their opinions. I was excited to read about Nick Baker’s thoughts on this widely discussed topic, but after just a couple of pages, I realised that the book was not about rewilding places and entirely about rewilding us.
“Rewilding nature is about joining up what is left of the shattered habitats that once were and about reintroducing species once seen as competition or threat in order to re-establish a natural order. The same can be said for us humans: we’ve become separated, distanced from our natural selves, and there’s a desperate need for us to reconnect.”
Each chapter looks at a different way that we can “rethrill, rezest, resense, reincentivise and rejoy” our attitude towards nature, by using our senses. In turn, Nick shares his own experiences of those with others to illustrate how our senses evolved to allow us to survive and ultimately become the dominant species on this planet.
Sight is the first sense to be explored in depth, starting with fossil evidence as to why our eyes work the way they do and looking at our modern-day primate cousins. This is followed by a request to explore our local patch at night, without the aid of artificial light. I must confess, that I read before going to bed, and the night after I read this particular chapter I did actually go for a night time stroll along the local beach. Yes, there was background lighting in the distance, but it was lovely to sit on the sand and listen to the waves break on the beach, hear waders calling overhead and see the moon casting shadows through the clouds.
Hearing is the next sense, with an encounter with a blind birdwatcher. Having met a few over the years myself, I am often amazed by their ability to detect sounds and identify the species before I’ve lifted my binoculars for a look. This section contains some useful tips on how to move quietly, thinking about clothing, breathing, foot placement and rhythm. Nick explores how different sounds elicit different emotions in people, with bird song generally considered a “positive, peaceful, soothing sound.” Nick eludes to the frustration of being unable to tell the difference between the reed and sedge warblers as a child, and the advice that worked for him “listen to the beat” certainly makes sense to my ears and I can’t wait to test it out on my next visit to a reedbed before they migrate.
The recent weather has allowed me to explore the sense of Smell in some of the ways mentioned in the book. “Petrichor, derived from the Greek words for stone and fluid or blood” is used to describe the smell of the landscape when it rains. This is something I often mention to people, as I’ve always loved the smell of summer rain on the parched earth. Interestingly, I learned that you can identify trees by their smell, and certainly noticed the difference when picking forage for my stick insects. Smells can be stored in our long-term memory and trigger a trip down memory lane, so a whiff of bluebells to me takes me to my pied flycatcher wood and checking nestboxes.
Nick only allows Taste one chapter, but then this isn’t a “how to forage” book (although this is encouraged!). His story of the dancing slugs is enough to give anyone a chuckle, and maybe spark a curiosity into exploring the world using our tongues, in small licks of course!
Feel is also contained in one chapter, although “everything we’ve talked about so far is wrapped up in this one sense.” I love the suggestion that we walk barefoot, not only to feel the different substrates beneath our feet, but also the thermal patches caused by different vegetation types and patches of shade and sun. And tree hugging takes on a new meaning when you really explore the minute details of the bark, the cracks and crevices, the holes made by beetles or birds.
The final few chapters explore the healing powers of nature and wilderness, especially in times of emotional upheaval. Those of us who spend time in nature already know that it helps to sooth the soul and give you time to recharge the batteries for our busy daily lives.
This book has not only inspired me to get out and “reconnect” with nature in different ways, but has also given me plenty of ideas that I can share with others. “It’s about reconnecting with your inner beast, the creature that lives within us all, by immersing ourselves in a world where the wild things are.”