Category Archives: Richard Mabey

Unearthly

Illness is the dark side of our transactions with nature. It’s a reminder of the routineness of death, of the disposability of individuals, of the fact that living systems can be ruthless and unpredictable in their constant manoevring. But, at first sight, depression doesn’t fit into even this austere picture. There’s no random physical ‘accident’ behind it and nothing which benefits, no opportunist virus or evolutionary climber. It seems to have no connection with the biological business of living at all. And what it did to me was unearthly, in that it negated, cut dead, all the things in which I most believed: the importance of sensual engagement with the world, the link between feeling and intelligence, the inseparability of nature and culture. And it began to grow at the most unexpected time, when by all conventional psychological theories, I should have been awash with the sense of well-being that comes from high status and achievement.

— Richard Mabey, Nature Cure

Advertisement

Recovery

This book will be a record of how things turn out during that first year. But it will also, inevitably, be an account of my own life in the aftermath of illness, and of what I felt and thought dipping my toe at last into something approaching adult independence. It’s become customary, on this side of the Atlantic, stiffly to exclude all such personal narratives from writings about the natural world, as if the experience of nature were something separate from real life, a diversion, a hobby; or perhaps only to be evaluated through the dispassionate and separating prism of science. It has never felt like that to me, and since my recovery, it’s seemed absurd that, with our new understanding of the kindredness of life, so-called ‘nature writing’ should divorce itself from other kinds of literature, and from the rest of human existence.

— Richard Mabey, Nature Cure

Miniature creation myths

We constantly refer back to the natural world to try and discover who we are. Nature is the most potent source of metaphors to describe and explain our behaviour and feelings. It is the root and branch of much of our language. We sing like birds, blossom like flowers, stand like oaks. Or then again we eat like gluttons, breed like rabbits and generally behave like animals. But then ‘animal’ itself springs from the ancient Sanskrit root anila, meaning ‘wind’, via the Latin animalis, ‘anything alive’, splitting off animus on the way as, first, ‘mind’ and then ‘mental impulse, disposition, passion’ – a reminder of the time that mind and nature were not thought of as contrary entities. It is as if in using the facility of language, the thing we believe most separates us from nature, we are constantly pulled back to its, and our, origins. In that sense all natural metaphors are miniature creation myths, allusions to how things came to be, and a confirmation of the unity of life.

– Richard Mabey, Nature Cure