Emma and I have finished another of our Reading Together books – we read a chapter or two of the same book every Thursday evening, chatting about it on Messenger as we go, and have done since the start of lockdown. We take a while to get through a book this way but that’s OK and we often find we benefit from this slow read. Here we are, reading this author’s first book, “The Salt Path” – and you can see all the books we’ve read together here. My friend Verity kindly sent me this one after we’d read “The Salt Path”, which she also gave me.

Raynor Winn – “The Wild Silence”

(07 January 2021 – from Verity)

As surely as removing heavy human interference from the land was allowing the wildlife to return to the farm, so Moth was surviving by returning to a more natural state of existence. Life re-forming and reshaping, not with man’s intervention but without it. (p. 273)

We were both keen to read this follow-up to “The Salt Path” – I think we both had the impression there was going to be more travel in it and I knew they went to Iceland, which attracted me even further to it. We were also worried that this would see the last days of Winn’s husband, Moth, and I think we might have Googled to check he was still around.

We found it a slightly disjointed book. There was quite a lot about Winn’s childhood and then the horror of her mother’s death; knowing that she would go through this eventually with her husband was even worse, but it was a very detailed memoir and quite difficult to read in its medical detail (but it’s important to have this kind of thing recorded, of course). Then we have Raynor and Moth’s time living in a converted chapel in Cornwall, followed by the amazing offer to renovate and caretake a farm they already knew and had walked past from an absent owner. Interspersed among these sections were details of the writing, publication and reception of “The Salt Path” and this was certainly the most successful and interesting part of the book for me; Emma, too, I think. It was particularly lovely to read about the walker they meet who has read an article about them and emulated their walk, also finding solace in nature.

Later in the book, they go to Iceland with friends and walk a pretty terrifying walk in the south of the island which, incidentally, I “ran” as one of those virtual runs you can do where you are shown where on a route you would have been, had you been terrifying yourself in Iceland rather than running around suburban Birmingham streets (it had a good medal, though). There’s no way I would have attempted that walk-and-camp, and I was impressed they managed; they find it hard but get through with grit and observing the other walkers (we got very invested in one particular walker’s story and had to read on one week to find out what happened to her!).

So Moth was helped by hard work and physical exertion: Winn does research and finds that there are certain chemicals emitted by trees and plants which are shown to aid healing and physical health in humans (although I’m not sure how that translated when they were in the barren landscapes of lava and moss in Iceland’s interior). It was positive to read about this slowing of the decline caused by Moth’s neurological condition, and while Winn certainly doesn’t press the idea that this could help everyone, it did worry both of us that people in a similar situation might draw (false?) hope from this. The other massive positive from this book is seeing how by writing the first book after undergoing bankruptcy and homelessness, Winn has given them financial stability.

Definitely worth reading and really interesting, if a bit traumatic at the beginning. Winn’s writing is lovely, descriptive and authentic, and I will continue to look out for her work.

Em and I seem to alternate nature/travel books with ones on social equity, race and society, and so we’ve chosen “Cut from the Same Cloth? Muslim Women on Life in Britain” edited by Sabeena Akhtar for our next read. It was an Unbound book which I supported and looks fascinating.