Thursday, July 17, 2008

Into the wild

I haven't noticed the same phenomenon in the States, but here in Britain/Ireland there has been a roaring spate of books recently with "wild" in the title: Robert Macfarlane's The Wild Places, Roger Deakin's Wildwood, Jay Griffith's Wild, Richard Preston's Wild Trees, Christopher Somerville's Britain and Ireland's Best Wild Places, Kate Rew's Wild Swim, and Daniel Start's Wild Swimming, to name just a few of the most popular.

What's up? Why the headlong rush to wilderness? What is this hankering for wild places, and in these British Isles, where you would think wildness has been long extinct. "Rural," yes. "Countryside," of course. The Brits, especially, have always had a place in their hearts for the leafy lane and windswept fell. But this new gush of books seems to go a step beyond.

I can't say what's at work here. Are we fed up with being connected? Has the mobile phone (as they call it here) chased the wild into the farthest corners of the landscape? Is it a breath of privacy we're after, a moment of repose? Thoreau said, "It is vain to dream of a wildness distant from ourselves." Maybe what we are looking for is an opportunity to turn inward and explore the last remaining shreds of wildness in our souls.

Maybe. I have this vision of Kate Rew, say, stripping to dip in a wild Highland loch. The moment she sinks blissfully into the icy water a ring-tone chimes from within a pocket of the piled clothes on the bank. Does she scamper out to answer? Or does she dive deeper into the silent water?

I venture a new definition of wildness: Any place near or far beyond the reach of a mobile call.