Book review: ‘Rewild: the art of returning to nature’ by Nick Baker

Nick Baker has described ‘Rewild‘ as his ‘first proper grown up book’, having previously mostly written nature guides for children. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it, and would recommend it, but I must admit that I had expected more ‘rewilding’ (as I know it and think about it) within its pages. For this isn’t really a work along the Monbiot style of rewilding, although lynx, bears and wolves are mentioned at times. Baker’s Rewild is about rewilding our human hearts and souls, reconnecting with the wild inside us and learning how to reconnect with ourselves, as well as the outdoors and wildlife through honing our senses.

Rewilding is a very sexy subject right now. Indeed, as you’re reading this blog and this post, I would be very surprised if you hadn’t already come across it. Like any approach it has its advocates and its sceptics, but I would argue that it is so diverse and complex a topic that it’s difficult to be wholly for or against every aspect of it. As Baker suggests early on in the book: ‘there seem to be many different kinds of rewilding: there is cultural rewilding, landscape rewilding, personal rewilding, even Pleistocene rewilding! It’s clearly a word that has many different definitions’. At this point I was thinking ”please don’t give me another polemic on the etymology of rewilding”, but it seems that I was too quick to judge. Although he does allow for some context as to how rewilding is perceived from an ecological point of view, he doesn’t overdo it. After all, Rewild is not that kind of book. This is a work to inspire those in need of inspiring, to interest the inquisitive, spur on the uninitiated and initiated alike and encourage us all in our various ways to think more deeply about our connection as part of nature and rewild our hearts.

A favourite section for me was that on seeing in the dark. Conventionally we shut ourselves away from the world when the sun departs the horizon, unless we have arranged a ‘night out’ with friends, although even that isn’t really a night ‘out’, given we spend most of it indoors, in a pub, restaurant, club or cinema. For Baker ‘a stroll at night, even in the built-up confines of the city, can open up a new, fresh world’. I have been a fan of night walking for quite some time. Your senses seem more awakened at when it is dark, perhaps instinctively, because they have to be. During the day we can lazily rely on our general sight awareness, but less so at night. I found Baker’s account of how the eye works and its relation with the brain fascinating, and it certainly helped his overall task of encouraging us to experiment in finding our own rewilding personal therapy. I also enjoyed his suggestion that we take our shoes off more often and feel the ground beneath our feet and between our toes, rather than muffled through socks and shoes. To feel the natural world should be a core part of what it means to be human.

Baker fills his account with numerous anecdotes, from both a UK and more global perspective, which certainly eases the reading. Indeed, this is a very simple book to get through, and his tone is conversational. Most of the time (and it helps if you know what his voice sounds like) it felt as if Baker was there with me as I was reading, all set to help me along my rewilding journey of discovery. Personally I would have preferred a little more in terms of his vision for nature in the future, and how far rewilding (from a landscape point of view) could and should go in a UK context, but I fully understand this was not the point of this book, and the editor probably, quite understandably, cut it away if it was there in the first place.

Thank you Nick for reminding us of the wild within us and outlining how we can all reconnect and do more to see the wild in different ways. I applaud Rewild as a useful tool in the growing menagerie of popular works on rewilding.

A message to those who are sceptical – life’s too short!

Rewild: the art of returning to nature was published by Aurum Press in 2017 and is available to buy here.

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