For five decades Richard Mabey has been a pioneering voice in modern nature writing. From the rediscovery of foraging that led to Food for Free, through his groundbreaking expeditions in the ‘edgelands’ in the 1970s, to his reflections on the musicality of bird-song, he has consistently explored new ways of thinking about nature and its relation to our lives. In Turning the Boat for Home, he introduces pieces from his rich writing life that reflect on how his ideas evolved.
At the heart is a passionate belief that Earth is a commonwealth, of all species. Mabey recalls the fight against the commercial afforestation of the Scottish peatlands and recounts the experience of running a ‘community woodland’, one of the first in Britain.
Plants, the organisms that underpin all life, have been a source of constant fascination. In his encyclopaedic Flora Britannica Mabey explored how deeply they are embedded in our popular culture. But they are also autonomous beings with their own agendas, as experienced in his own ‘serendipitous’ garden ‘in which wild organisms improvise their own landscapes’.
From a new viewpoint, ‘the slow-moving carapace’ of a boat on the Norfolk Broads, Mabey ponders the migration of geese and the home-loving whirligig beetles. His epiphany is that a sense of “neighbourliness” may be the best model for our relationship with the rest of the living world.
Throughout there is a commitment to writing and to language, which may be ‘our greatest ecological gift’. In a celebration that links the work of the poet John Clare with the political warnings of Rachel Carson, Mabey suggests that ‘the answer to the still present threat of a silent spring is for us to sing against the storm.’