Guest Blog Post: “Nature Cure by Richard Mabey: Overcoming depression through a love of nature,” a book review in Denzil Walton’s exact words

"Nature Cure," by Richard MabeyThe healing properties and potential of nature have always been known, but are finding a “comeback” these days, with hip terms like forest bathing now being recommended from psychiatrists’ couches. The book “Nature Cure” presents a personal re-discovery of the benefits of nature.

Richard Mabey is one of the UK’s finest nature writers. The first of his 32 books was Food for Free (1972), and his latest is The Cabaret of Plants: Forty Thousand Years of Plant Life and the Human Imagination (2016).

Unfortunately, between 2000 and 2002, Mabey suffered a severe depression. We find him at the start of the book in bed, blankly gazing at the wall. But encouraged by friends and realizing the need for a change of air, he uproots himself from the family house in the Chilterns where he and his sister have lived for 110 years between them, and heads off to East Anglia to live in a room in a farmhouse. His room is “like a small forest” with “more oak inside it than out.” And here he strings up a series of low-energy lamps and makes his nest, amazingly not with a computer but two manual typewriters.

Throughout, Mabey describes his breakdown and steady recovery with his characteristic laid-back style, like your favourite uncle relating exploits from a distant past. We get a glimpse of what may have caused his freefall into depression when he describes what it takes to be a full-time writer: “doggedness to be alone in a room for a very long time.”

His honesty is admirable. Owning up to depression is never easy, even these days, perhaps especially for a successful writer at the pinnacle of his career (he had just completed the epic and lauded Flora Britannica). Even more difficult was when depression robbed him of his desire to write: “it made me lose that reflex, it was like losing the instinct to put one foot in front of the other.” But obviously Mabey regained that reflex, and how he did is very touching – and through writing he began to unlock “pieces of me that had been dormant for years.”

His style is warmly conversational, making the book easy and pleasurable to read, despite the subject matter. He gently leads you from subject to subject, so that you forget where the conversation started. One moment he is describing wild horses on Redgrove Fen, and his musings about their origins leads to cave paintings in France and then to local Stone Age flint mines in Norfolk, and somehow to Virginia Woolf and moats. Is this what he refers to later as “free-range reading?”

Nature Cure is definitely a recommended read, for anyone interested in good writing about nature, and the cure he describes might well be of benefit to others suffering from depression too.

Denzil Walton writes two blogs: Discovering Belgium and Life Sentences.

Guest Blog Post: “Walking in the Forest is Good for My Soul,” in Denzil Walton’s exact words

When I (da-AL) happened upon Belgian blogger Denzil’s lovely site, I could hardly believe it — I was the first to comment there! Yes, it is new, but it so beautifully filled with joy and heart that I doubt it will remain a secret for long …

A lush forest road
Photo by Denzil Walton

I know that walking in my local forest is good for my body. It’s good for my heart – it gets the blood flowing. It’s good for my lungs – it gets the air circulating. It’s good for my muscles – it tones them up.

But good for the soul?

Surely, to refresh my spirit I should head towards my local church or cathedral, not to my local forest?

autumn view of tree lined lake
Photo by Denzil Walton

Don’t get me wrong: if you like to visit a magnificent cathedral to get a spiritual lift, that’s fine. You might be enthralled by the architecture and the stained glass windows. You might be impressed by the flower arrangements. You might marvel at the beautiful sounds of a choir. All of these things might lift your soul and help you see the glory and wonder of the divine – whatever name you give it.

However, for myself, my cathedral is my local forest, with the enormous trunks of ancient beech and oak trees rising up and over my head. With its canopy of green leaves forming the roof. Instead of stained glass windows, I see the delicately painted wings of butterflies and dragonflies. Instead of bouquets and vases of cultivated flowers, I see wild celandines, wood anemones and foxgloves. My choir consists of the sweet warbling of the blackcap, the drumming of a black woodpecker, the bark of the roe deer.

gorgeous forest view from park bench
Photo by Denzil Walton

And just as you might enter a cathedral and experience a touch of heaven, I walk in a forest and experience the wonder of creation. And it lifts my spirits.

I’m not one for New Year’s Resolutions. Actually, if you read one of my blog posts, I even recommend postponing them to Spring!

But if you are into resolutions, here’s one you might like to consider.

Resolve to visit your local forest regularly throughout the year – maybe once a week or month. Experience its peace and beauty. Take time to stop and look at the wild flowers. Listen to the birds.

I am sure you will come out with a refreshed and rejuvenated spirit.

Denzil Walton blogs on walking and cycling in Belgium at Discovering Belgium. His new blog is called Life Sentences, which he describes as “random, positive and life-affirming musings on various topics and experiences.”