Part One: How it began, a life project to become re-immersed and, by the same token, a way out via open domestic wildness.
I became a ‘rewilder’ in June 1967, aged eleven. Molly, my maternal aunt, helped me by driving us to a disused limestone quarry at Trow-Barrow in Silverdale, North Lancashire, England. Here there were lots of young silver birch saplings. We carefully dug up half a dozen of the little trees and translocated them the short distance to a raw back garden. Into a similar substrate of builders soil at my mothers freshly-finished bungalow. The dormi-bungalow stood on the edge of the estate, up against the boundary wall of an abandoned hotel – The Woodlands. This grand old, limestone grey, Victorian building itself stood at the base of Eaves and Middlebarrow Woods which together straddle the county line. On the other side, to the west, the village opened onto the saltings of Morecambe Bay (an expansive sheep grazed salt marsh, in small part cut for ‘sea-washed turf’). This then was the the village of Silverdale. Idyllic for a young naturalist.
Living on the edge of this small village of Silverdale, as a very impressionable and allegedly over imaginative boy, I was wide open to what was left of the wild, of wildness. Nature in the Nation State.
In 1974 I came of age and went away to live in a famous university town down south. There I hoped to meet the Ancient Ones who would explain to me our ecological crisis. However in the dream lives of others I was to try to be a star undergraduate. And to continue, yes, to continue to be a successful academic, in the mould or footsteps, of my paternal Uncle Alan who went all double blue and firsts, prior to a career going rather high up in the GPO; he even dreamed-up the idea of two tier stamps: of having First and Second Class postage!
However in 1976 my mother upgraded her accommodation to a bigger bungalow in Storth, just across the county border in Westmorland, a land that had been recently reclassified as constituting part of a new county (South) Cumbria. Furthermore, in the space of a few months, I had been introduced sequentially to Salmonella, Marxism, the Buddha of Zen and the therapeutic use of THC. Not especially comfortable bed fellows those guys.
The Storth house, this one not quite new, faces west and is perched on the brink of a limestone scarp, at an elevation of about one hundred metres. It overlooks Arnside and the estuary of the river Kent, with the craggy Lakeland fells beyond. Part of a yet smaller housing estate it was secreted into about an acre and a half of wooded land, a one fifth part of a floristically rich derelict coppice of sessile oaks who dapple a rampant hazel under storey. Floristically rich, wherever the light gets in. Here I was able to ratchet up my rewilding efforts with a vengeance. I was allowed to go full Mesolithic. We became glade-all-over, with the help of a friendly neighbour’s tethered Jacob’s Ram and select good friends who visited occasionally, helpfully wielding chainsaws for a day here and there.
Fast forward to 1983 (approximately) and up pops Chris Baines on the TV, a lecturer from Birmingham, who had just published his (trendsetting?) book that went quite a long way to explain how anyone (with self-actualised jurisdiction over a patch of land: JW) might begin “making a wildlife garden”.
With the publication of that seminal book we had at last the beginnings of a movement. It was “the first roadmap” to personal space rewilding. And moreover for myself it hinted at the existence of a psychotherapeutic discipline that, if pressed, I would choose to call personal rewilding. At that time this was a vision that had to be carefully contoured into the essentially suburban mindset of a growing domestic market. The perceived need for at least some effort to ameliorate some of the emerging hells of modernity. A response to the unique circumstances presented by a painfully crowded little country in Western Europe. A civilisation state that was very much post Imperial and seemingly thoroughly shafted (from my point of view) especially by the events that had surrounded WW2. No longer an urban society of folk that at the week-end exerted themselves in allotments or on rambling outings on the railways, out in nature with the “County Naturalists”. The country had morphed into a bourgeois-boomer Little England of small suburban and increasingly sterile house and garden spaces. A land where the folk enjoyed increasing leisure time and were developing gaping appetites for everything. And yet these same folk seemingly were beset by an ever decreasing competency.
You can see that I have come to believe that there are unconfronted realities lying behind almost all of our ‘recent nature stuff’. Even of rewilding for nature, man and woman. And behind most of the rest of ‘the stuff’ as well. Life wisdom has been hidden in plain sight. There’s an unwritten narrative, definitely real and historically observable, but effectively muted. It could be called “Earth’s History of the Humans” (written) by all the non-people that have been here. A tragic history of late, of course. A history culminating, or so it seems right now, in a very temporary triumph of a fully captured science, of dogma, the truth itself bent double to fit the diktat of market fundamentalists, soulless men (and a very few women) gone global. A world despoiled by smoke-screened, air conditioned bureaucrats. Unwittingly perhaps they are ensuring what might well be our species’ next-to-last gasp the end, at least as a ‘glib-alised’ civilisation. And the end, for the most of us, of an inhabitable Anthropocene. Climate reformation (those unintended and inconvenient consequences) is but one indivisible symptom of the cancer of one parasitical brain-mind’s indifference to planetary ecocide. The arrogance of the mirror image in alienated men. Those who wilfully have become divorced from their descendants.
Hopefully we shall approach and confront some of these spikey proteins, truly thorny issues, of those Macbeths among us who “can’t see Birnam-Wood-for-the-Trees”. But that’s for a later not so mini-blog.
For a host of reasons I’ve got to get back outside, into the wind, into the erm, garden. After all “it’s not all on your shiny soft touch screens William”.
Three photos from the latest residence yesterday evening. At home. Not in England.