In her previous book, My Year Without Matches, eco-activist Claire Dunn wrote about her journey of leaving the city to rediscover the nature that she was fighting for, spending four seasons in a wilderness survival program. In Rewilding the Urban Soul, out now with Scribe Publications, Dunn travels in the other direction. She leaves the bush she loves, to live where 86% of Australians do – the city. Dwelling in these metropolitan centres, she wants us to understand, does not mean abandoning the wild. If we pay more attention to the life that surrounds us, and reconnect with our environment, even those who dwell deepest in the ‘concrete jungle’ can hear the call of nature, and heed its messages of love and warning.
Ahead of our July 19 author event with Dunn, where she will be in conversation with author Alison Gibbs, we asked her a few questions about the book and its ideas.
The city and nature are often imagined in a dichotomy. Why might this be damaging?
Putting nature outside the bounds of the city is not only dangerous but it’s also incorrect. Nature is everywhere, and in fact cities create environments for many threatened species to live within. The Powerful Owl for instance – Australia’s largest forest owl – lives just downstream from me!
In my opinion the mess that we’re in with climate change and the ecological crisis is primarily caused by our culture’s separation from nature. We’ve fallen out of conversation and out of sync with the wilder world all around us. We need to address our state of ‘unbelonging’ by belonging ourselves to the nature right where we live. Get to know the patterns and the seasons and the cycles of the ecology in our suburbs. And by doing so, fall in love with the earth again.
As told in your previous book, My Year Without Matches, you spent long months living by the ancient ways of survival in the bush – without digital technology, without the conveniences of advanced modern societies and without the pressures that shape workers under capitalism. Would this book have been possible, do you think, if you had not undergone that experience?
I feel immense gratitude for having had the opportunity to attend to the wild world so fully for four seasons. It really opened up a conversation and a way of relating with nature that will never leave me. So yes, the door to nature is wide open for me everyday so transferring the enquiry to the city was not so hard – it actually was full of excitement and curiosity at the challenge! However I don’t think this was dependant on going bush for a year. I’ve seen people turn their attention to nature in the city without much prior experience and have profound experiences and personal shifts. Let’s just say it’s about quality of attention and curiosity than quantity.
Name some other writers, artists and storytellers who help nourish your love of nature.
Bill Plotkin, Jon Young, Martin Shaw and my new favourite nature writer, Robin Wall Kimmerer – author of Braiding Sweetgrass.
From your everyday life, tell me something – and it could be a small action – you have done recently to reconnect with the wild.
I went for a kayak with friend at dusk last week despite the cold and we saw a powerful owl calling from a branch overhanging the river. The lesson was – get out in all weathers and explore!
Questions by Kate Prendergast
Rewilding the Urban Soul is out now with Scribe Publications.