Early in Nature Cure Richard Mabey returns continually to the swift, who in its spectacular migration may not touch down for well over a year. In Ted Hughes’s phrase, the reappearance of the swifts tells us that "the globe’s still working." When we encounter the author in the opening pages of this powerful memoir, his corner of the globe is decidedly not working. A deep depression has left him alienated from his work and his family, financially insecure, and has cost him the Chiltern home in which he has lived his entire life. The open flatlands of his new home in East Anglia--an area now dominated by agriculture, and once so desolate that it harbored an inland lighthouse--could not be more different from the dense Chiltern woods he is leaving behind. Mabey wonders frankly if this move is a crucial part of his becoming, finally, a true adult, or if it is just the latest step in the wrong direction his life has mysteriously taken.
Mabey fears that he, like the swift, may be too specialized--given to an intensely specific way of life which, when threatened, leaves him with nowhere to turn. A life spent observing nature has taught him that any creature, even an entire species, might be made suddenly obsolete by the shifts of the world. Just how adaptable is he? He leaves the Chilterns with a near-complete set of the works of John Clare and an antique microscope, but without a frying pan. From now on he will have to think about a complete life, not just those bases he touched as a writer following his calling.
It is through this escape to another life, this "flitting," that his healing begins, in often unexpected ways. Mabey’s despair stems from an inability to connect with his writing and with the nature that inspires it; the book’s power lies in the way he relates this distance from nature to a larger problem in modern life--and in the remarkable process by which his reengagement with nature leads Mabey out of his depression and back to passion and wonder.
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