Simon & Schuster, 2018, 198 pages
£14.99 Hbk ISBN 978 1 4711 7540 4
Review by Rick Minter
This is a cheat of a title. Rewilding yourself should mean becoming skilled in bushcraft and foraging as well as engaging with nature at deeper levels. The book is about the latter only. The subtitle is more apt: across the 23 short chapters the author offers tips to connect more directly with different parts of the natural world, from bat detecting to mammal tracking and moth trapping, and from simply opening your senses to the wilder world.
The book has a worthy motive in helping people discover or strengthen a link to nature in their lives. Simon Barnes describes many practical actions people can take to discover the wonders of the wild. He encourages an attitude change, so people appreciate wildlife in their daily lives and routines. I like his advice on keeping active via noticing nature, rather than for the sake of keeping fit: “Climb the hill not because you need the workout but because you might see a buzzard. Take the loop through the park not for the sake of your gluteal muscles but because there are sometimes redwings on the grass in winter and blackbirds singing in Spring…. You are still taking exercise, but you are no longer Taking Exercise. You are no longer the priority. You are an innocent victim, caught in the crossfire of nature.”
Simon Barnes is a fine journalist who helps his audience commune with nature, often through his passion and experience in bird watching. His knack for marvelling at the other realms of nature flows from his cute observations and his joyous enthusiasm. For whatever reason his high standards dip at times in this book. Several chapters are wordy and labour the point. Perhaps the same message about engaging with nature which comes across naturally and indirectly in his other writing is too forced in this book? In some chapters the treatment and examples will be too basic for people already experienced or confident in that activity or way of thinking. For instance the section on tracking is pretty limited and partial, but hopefully for many readers it will nudge an interest in scouting for tracks and noticing types of terrain which will register a bird or a mammal’s footprint.
There are plenty of thoughtful nuggets through the chapters… being attuned to dawn and dusk, looking upwards to notice birds, clocking a few distinct birdcalls, avoiding earphones which mask the planet’s own sounds, embracing wet weather, extending you peripheral vision, and being still (“the discipline of stillness”) to camouflage yourself, allowing creatures to get close to you, and having remarkable encounters as a result.
The book entices the reader to open one’s mind to wildlife and the joy of its ordinary and its quirky events. To discover the inner rewards of seeing and sensing nature more than you once bargained for. As Barnes remarks in his chapter on How to Walk: “If you pursue nature out of love, you will find a great deal more than you bargained for”.