Just catching up with my February reading and the third great read nature read I completed in February was the The Wild Silence by Raynor Winn. I had previously read Winn’s first remarkable book The Salt Path, a book she wrote so that Moth her partner would never forget the experience they had when they decided to walk the South West coast path after becoming homeless and finding out Moth had a terminal neurodegenerative disease. The Salt Path was such a life affirming read. The kind of book that helps you find a sense of proportion when dealing with life’s annoyances.
In The Wild Silence Ray’s writing is, if anything more assured, she is well and truly finding her voice. This book does re-visit some of the story of The Salt Path but not in repetitive way. She writes powerfully about the impact losing her home has on her confidence and ability to engage with people. While still processing the implications of Moth’s illness, Ray also has to deal with her mother’s sudden stroke and imminent death, retreating into nature to seek solace and strength: “the land, the earth, the deep humming background to my very being”.
Ray powerfully invokes the early adventures she shared with Moth, recounting how an early climbing experience left her knowing he was a man she could trust and would always be there for her, no matter what mistake she may make. Very much at the centre of their relationship is a love of nature and the natural world and Ray beautifully recounts some of their early experiences together.
Walking the south west coast path seemed to improve Moth’s condition, so much so that he decides to go back to study in order to try and re-build a life after losing everything, despite the appalling prognosis of his condition, that was where the Salt Path ended. In the Wild Silence, Moth is coming to the end of his degree and Ray is beginning to notice a decline in Moth’s health that seems to be associated with their now urbanised and sedentary lifestyle. Ray realises how important it is to keep Moth moving.
Ray finds it hard to re-engage with society and trust people. Even with the success of The Salt Path, Ray finds it hard to confidently move in the world. It is the success of The Salt Path that leads to their next bit of sheer good luck. A reader of The Salt Path, Sam a city trader, feeling an affinity with Moth and Ray asks them to move to a derelict farmhouse on a piece of debilitated farmland in order to restore it, to re-wild the land. While wary, Ray sees this as an opportunity to get Moth physically active again, back working on the land with all of the challenge that involves. Moth’s knowledge of sustainable land management is put to good use in the project to revitalise an old cider orchard, bringing the land back into healthy production while also encouraging the return of wildlife. Moth would find much in common with Australian farmer Charles Massey whose book The Call of the Reed Warbler I have also been reading. We seem to be moving into an age when the importance of sustainable agriculture and the value of working with the land is being recognised.
In healing the land Moth is also again restoring his own strength to an extent, and he and Ray decided to again embark on a hike, this time to Iceland. Ray makes astute observations not just of the natural world but also about fellow hikers, particularly in regard to the arrogance of the young.
Largely this is a love story. The remarkable love of two people who stand united in front of everything life throws at them and united also by their mutual love of the natural world that always seems to offer hope and salvation. Winn writes powerful, personal accounts that are timely reminders to all of us:
When do we stop feeling the softness of rain on our face and start worrying about being wet? Stop marvelling at the wonder of a badger rooting through the grass in the twilight, stop listening to the sounds carried on the wind or the echo of ourselves inside it?
The Wild Silence is another Gaia/nature challenge read, if you are participating in the challenge or #BookSnapSunday please feel free to leave a link in the comments below.