I grew up fairly free. I knew each mountain path behind my house and every rocky outcrop on my beach. My backyard seemed to demand engagement and a certain fearlessness. I suppose it was before ‘stranger danger’. So I was struck by a recent article that said 38% of UK children spend less than an hour outdoors daily. One boy said he liked to play indoors because that’s where all the electrical connections were!

Richard Louv in his book Last Child in the Woods uses a term ‘nature deficit disorder.’ There’s a disconnection. Children can probably tell you about deforestation but do they know a real forest… its danger and its freedom?

I can’t imagine growing up without this sort of wild freedom. There are so many layers of memory I can hardly begin to choose one experience over another. Camping in summer… the smell of canvas and wood smoke, collecting alikreukels to roast (like a very large periwinkle) the crickets loud and the voices of the adults murmuring on in the dark until I finally fell asleep. The smell of the sea, the waves beating in at the river mouth bringing mountains of foam that frothed across the brown river water like an enormous coke float… don’t swim beyond the shadow of the bridge or you’ll be sucked out to sea! The incense smell of the mountain fynbos that we packed under our sleeping bags and the day someone was bitten by a scorpion… would she die? And the scary sound of the round rocks rolling along the riverbed with the incoming tide.

I felt thrillingly alive.
Not just the real wilderness, but wilderness in books fed me too… and still does. Myths of forest and icy wastes. The deep dark cave. ‘In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit…’ that’s all that’s needed. I’m sorry I got to know the Greene Knowe stories so late. But I remember being mesmerized by Gerald Durrell’s Overloaded Ark… all those secret animals in pristine forests.

I think stories that encompass the wild are like maps that orient you to respond to the world. It would be interesting to know if other writers have wild places or wild stories that are special. What I do know is… I’m connected to my inner child when I’m exposed to an older, wilder world of animals, stone, wood and water. And I feel sorry for any child suffering from ‘nature deficit disorder’!
This is the Golden Orb spider that shared my backyard…totally harmless but fascinating… it’s called the ‘writing spider’ because of its intricate orb-shaped web spun in golden thread. The other is of an alikreukel picked off a rock ready to be roasted.