As winter sets in, it’s easy to feel less connected to nature – as going outside is cold and sometimes impractical, and even if you do venture out the countryside looks bare and lifeless. Turning instead to books about nature or about travelling in the great outdoors is a great way to immerse yourself in nature while indoors more.
One book I’ve read a couple of times, which brought far flung nature alive for me, is “Terra Incognita: Travels In Antarctica” by Sara Wheeler. Not only does it reveal what this little-known continent is really like, but it also explores the impact of Antarctica and of nature on the author’s mood, emotions and wellbeing. On the very first page she introduces themes of freedom and belonging. For Sara, Antarctica combines the two: it is at once a refuge from commitment and a place to feel at home. She returns to this sense of escape and of contentment throughout the book.
Central to Sara’s response to Antarctica is the different perspective it opens up for her, on life and the wider world. Time and space seem different there, amid vast untouched ice. This eases the fears and depression which has hovered around her for a long time. Her own preoccupations seem less important as Antarctica’s landscape absorbs her mind, refocusing her away from the world’s troubles. In Antarctica she feels her despair recede.
Her time there also renews her faith, as she feels a certainty in God, and a sense of harmony as never before.
She quotes other travellers, some who knew Antarctica, and others who traversed different parts of the world, like Wilfrid Thesiger, who found what he was seeking in desert lands, and nowhere else. And as her time on the ice draws to a close, Sara begins to wonder what will happen when she has to leave and return to her old way of life. Will the old struggles return? Will life even seem more of astruggle than before?
So this is a book to read on different levels. Although from the UK, Sara travelled to Antarctica as part of the American National Science Foundation’s Antarctica Artists’ and Writers’ Programme. She spent almost a year there, staying on different bases with different hosts. Sara writes about cold and ice, about flying on small resupply planes, about penguins and blizzards, about sleeping in an igloo. She shares the beauty of Antarctica’s sunsets and glaciers and the southern lights, but also shares how people experience sensory deprivation on Antarctica, so that returning home they are struck by colours and smells.
At one point Sara discusses why she found being in Antarctica different to time spent in nature in other places. It was the vast scale of the continent that gave her this new perspective, this certainty, this freedom from the fears that plagued her. It enabled her to “believe in paradise”.
This is a book about a remote land, but it illustrates how nature can transform our inner journeys as well. Do you have any responses to share, or would you like to recommend a nature or travel book? It would be great to hear any responses in Medley’s Facebook group https://www.facebook.com/groups/359291215486002 Thank you!