There is something very therapeutic about nature--experiencing and listening to and being part of your natural surroundings. For me it has a calming effect to be somewhere where there is not so much noise, so much concrete. Just peace and quiet and a lovely, serene view. Richard Mabey, a British naturalist, writes about his own battle with depression and subsequent reorientation into the natural world which helped him move beyond his depression in Nature Cure. It won three literary awards. He moved from the Chiltern Hills (an "Area of Outstanding Beauty"), where he had lived all his life, to East Anglia, where he began writing again and discovered new inspiration in the search for man's "place in nature".
I confess I started reading this early last spring and then set it aside for several reasons. No doubt it was mostly a matter of too much choice and too little reading time (and therefore books had to be set aside temporarily), but I was finding, too, that I was having a hard time connecting with Mabey's writing. Last fall I read and loved Roger Deakin's Notes from Walnut Tree Farm and found myself quite happily inhabiting the pages of his year-long journal. Deakin has such an inviting, often humorous style I always felt engaged in my reading. Mabey is a wonderful writer, but his style is quite different than Deakin's. With Mabey I felt as if I was on unfamiliar terrain, and as a reader I think I was not bringing with me the right kind of knowledge that would have made this a more satisfying read.
I'm really new to nature writing and there is quite a lot of it out there. People and places and subjects that I have a peripheral understanding or knowledge of wasn't quite enough to push this from an interesting and at times satisfying read into something much more pleasurable. That said I don't want to appear in any way off putting about picking up this book. I think any shortcomings came from me rather than Mabey. And strange as it sounds some of the same things that felt outside of my grasp were also some of the things I admire most about the book. Of course admiring writing and loving it is two different things.
Mabey really is a very good writer and moves with great ease from subject to subject. He is adept at writing about his illness, telling the 'story' of his life and then equating it with how it has impacted his ability to enjoy and be part of the natural world. From a young child and over the course of his life nature had always been important to him, but the depression was debilitating and severed that enjoyment leaving him feeling cut off from the world he was used to. He moves so smoothly from topic to topic that the switch is very subtle and one moment he might be writing about his illness, the next about birds nesting under the eaves of his house and then writing about those birds or other birds and their migration habits without even realizing he's done a switch.
I have not read widely in this area, have really read very little, so when he talks about other naturalists and nature writers and quotes from their works I feel a little adrift since I am not familiar with them, though all exposure is good in the long run. It's probably not even really necessary to have read those works or even be all that familiar with them, but it somehow still feels a little over my head.
Perhaps the biggest disadvantage I've felt is not being familiar with the areas of England he writes about. How often do I "know" an area that is the setting of a book? A good writer makes it all familiar really, and Mabey does as well to an extent, but I found I was having a hard time visualizing the fens he would walk or the plants and other geographic features of the areas he writes about.
Despite its shortcomings (rather my own shortcomings really), I'm glad I picked Nature Cure back up. It was enjoyable in a different way than the Deakin but mostly it was nice to once again be reading about nature. As I am back in the mood, I will be looking for something else to read. Perhaps another of Roger Deakin's books, or Frank Brownings's Apples, which is yet another book I picked up (and then set down) last fall. (It's almost apple time here and I am regularly looking for my favorite McIntoshes at the store!). There is Donald Hall, or the Morville Year by Katherine Swift, all of which sit waiting for me on the TBR pile. And I will still look for other books by Richard Mabey, too, and will give the next book better attention than I did Nature Cure!