Michael O’Mara Books, 2019, 192 pages
Hbk £14.99 ISBN: 9781789290424
Review by Janet Mackinnon
“I understood at a very early age that in nature, I felt everything that I should feel in church but never did.” This quotation from the American novelist Alice Walker concludes an introduction to The Wild Remedy which provides the background to Emma Mitchell’s illustrated journal documenting nature through the seasons. Although Michell studied zoology at Cambridge, this book is very much a creative personal diary which combines her skills as an illustrator and designer-maker with those of a seasoned naturalist.
In significant respects the book follows in the traditions of creative nature writing and natural history illustration. The author acknowledges these skills, along with actual experience of field studies and the pleasures of being outside, as her inspirations. Michell’s aim is also to describe “how nature mends us” from the perspective of someone who experiences challenging mental health issues and she discusses recent scientific evidence from the emerging field of ecotherapy .
As its sub-title suggests, the book takes the form of a nature diary which starts in October and concludes the following September. Although Mitchell lives “at the edge of the Fens in Eastern England”, she informs readers that “the species I write about in this book are relatively common and many can be seen in urban parks”. Her intention is clearly to encourage more people to become naturalists and she provides a summary of key sightings of flora and fauna for each month by way of example. Some of these are later shown in her photographs and hand-drawn illustrations. Mitchell’s Instagram account (@silverpebble2) has over 100,000 followers and showcases her work, as does silverpebble.
The Wild Remedy is likely to appeal to readers who enjoy creative nature writing and take an interest in the relationship between the natural world and mental wellbeing. Mitchell’s greatest strength is her observational skills and she describes the ability to develop these through her work as therapeutic: “the beneficial effects of nature sightings and the time I spend recording what I have seen seem to be synergistic in some way”. However, this book is as much a deeply personal account of the experience, causes and consequences of serious depression as it is a nature diary; and whilst the author’s engagingly lyrical style will resonate strongly with some readers, others may feel that beyond the seasonal framework it lacks structural rigour. For instance, whilst the author cites some interesting current science, this is not comprehensively referenced and the bibliography is quite limited.
Notwithstanding theses caveats, The Wild Remedy is a beautifully presented book which combines life enriching description and a nature self-help programme. It may have particular appeal for those involved in the care and supervision of children and young people whether in a parental or professional role. Mitchell writes passionately about her experience of the Welsh coast and countryside as a child growing up in a northern English city. She also cites what is sometimes called Nature Deficit Disorder as an emerging problem, especially for children. For readers wishing to delve deeper in this subject and the wider one of nature-based interventions for mental health, Natural England’s website might also be consulted .
Both The Wild Remedy and Making Winter, which Mitchell describes as a book about “the benefits to mental health of time spent in creative activity”, have received widespread favourable reviews. The synergy between her skills as naturalist and craftswoman, as well as her ability to engage with a large audience through social media and workshops, are key to the success of her approach. This also provides Mitchell’s followers with practical encouragement to engage with the natural world and their own personal creativity. In setting out to empower people in this way, she is perhaps more purposeful than some conventional broadcasters on wildlife and culture whose following is less participatory.
1. Hinds, Joe and Jordan, Martin (Editors) 2019. Ecotherapy: Theory, Research and Practice. Macmillan https://www.macmillanihe.com/page/detail/Ecotherapy/?K=9781137486875
2. Nature deficit disorder https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nature_deficit_disorder
3. Natural England, 2017/2016. Good Practice in Social Prescribing for Mental Health: the role of nature-based interventions and A Review of Nature-based Interventions for Mental Health http://publications.naturalengland.org.uk/publication/5134438692814848