When I saw the book cover for Emma Mitchell’s new book it went straight to my wish list; I completely judged the book by its cover. So when the publisher got in touch to see whether I would be interested in writing a review for The Wild Remedy it I gladly accepted.
The book is divided into 12 chapters, one for each month, and it is peppered throughout with Emma’s photographs, illustrations and findings from her walks with Annie the family dog and her escapades solo or with a friend. Throughout it, she documents her mental health from okay to really bad to good. It is a beautiful book, and it is beautifully written.
The book starts in October, when nature slows down, days are shorter, and Emma talks about S.A.D. (Seasonal Affective Disorder) – some people feel this more severely than others, but essentially the lack of sunlight impacts on our mood. I personally welcome the arrival of autumn and winter, however, I can relate to some of the feelings Emma describes, reminiscent of times in my life when all was not rosy. Reading about someone else’s perspective in such an honest manner was equal parts refreshing and enlightening and a narrative that is very much needed.
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The Wild Remedy made me realise that, while I revel in nature within the confines of my garden, I rarely venture into the wilderness. When I need my nature fix I garden outside or we go to our local National Trust and that sorts me out. However, Emma’s childhood memories brought back some of my own. As a child I loved going to the seaside, yet as an adult I cannot remember when was the last time I spent a day at the sea. Why is that? I would body surf with dad and spend hours snorkelling in the Med, observing fish and braving the small rock formations going giddy when spotting small crustaceans. As a teenager and uni student, visits to the beach were reduced to sunbathing – which did not bode well with someone who was not body confident and could not tan despite spending hours on the towel.
Emma’s travels reminded me of a our road trip my husband and I took to Wales a couple of years ago. If we are ever near the seaside I insist on going down for a quick stroll. This time, we walked along the long sandy beach of Penbryn. As I observed the rock formation, I heard what I can only describe as a hissing sound, or steam. I looked all around me but I was alone, and then I saw the barnacles. I cried for Dom to come and see, but he was too busy having a nature moment of his own, so I stood in front of this black rock mottled with mussels, limpets and barnacles. Smiling.
March is when Emma goes through one of the darkest times she has experience. It was a difficult passage to read, especially knowing that plenty of people live with this – I could not 100% relate to her experience, but it is imperative we talk about and are aware of it. As I read, I notice the images that accompany the month. Normally peppered with photos of her walks of botanical finds, this time stills of a murmuration of starlings are the only images. It is almost as if it were the external representation of Emma’s Black Dog; the black cloud that swerves, expands, contracts and dominates Emma’s life at the time. The visual image was impactful, and one I will not forget lightly.
When I finished the book, I considered planning a trip to get my nature fix. Instead, I decided to be present in my surroundings and not wish my week away for when I could go out at the weekend as I normally do – I made a point of finding nature between home and work. As I get ready in the morning, I notice a blue tit venturing onto our decking looking for food or nest material. I haven’t seen any in the garden for a while and I am elated. There’s a drift of daphne odorata on the way to the train station. Starting in around February, every morning I’m reminded of just how fragrant the flowers are and enjoy watching fellow sleepy commuters look around trying to find the source of the scent. On the train, I look out of the window while I listen to a podcast. Corvids have started gathering on the fields; they are collecting dried grass and brash to make their nests. Today, instead of looking to the ground, I look up on my walk from the station. There are magnolias in flower, a purple flower has self-seeded on the top of an outer wall. As I turn into the street where work is, I am greeted by a blackbird tweeting away, its tail dipping. I am on time, so I slow down and enjoy watching as it bobs along the low wall. It is still light when I leave the office now, which is exciting because it means that I will soon be able to garden after hours in front of a screen. Despite the short days, I found a way to enjoy my commute home in the dark during autumn and winter. There aren’t many streetlights in the stretch between the train station and home; which unnerved me at first. However, on a clear night (which are more often than I had expected) I was greeted by a blanket of bright stars on an inky blue canvas. My astronomy knowledge is negligible, but I recognise Orion’s belt. There was also a conglomerate of faint stars which mesmerised me. I couldn’t always see it if I was looking for it, but if I softened my gaze they would always come through.
The Wild Remedy is full of information about Britain’s wildlife and the effect of nature on human beings; I’ve even learned new words. The images Emma conjures up have left me speechless at times, like when she compared the shape of a murmuration of starlings made with one of Dali’s melting clocks. It is a book that has got me excited for the year ahead; with the added challenge of venturing away from man-made gardens and discovering the more wild nature walks on my doorstep.
To celebrate the arrival of spring, the publisher Michael O’Mara Books has organised a blog tour. You’ll find other bloggers and reviews below, and you can join in the conversation using the hashtag #TheWildRemedy on Twitter. You can find Emma on Twitter and Instagram; or on her website, where you can find information about workshops and her other book Making Winter.