the new nature writing


When I used to think of nature writing, or indeed the nature writer, I would picture a certain kind of man, and it would always be a man: bearded, badly dressed, ascetic, misanthropic. He would often be alone on some blasted moor, with a notebook in one hand and binoculars in the other, seeking meaning and purpose through a larger communion with nature: a loner and an outcast. One such man was Christopher Johnson McCandless, a young educated American from a prosperous middle-class family who, in search of authenticity of experience and influenced by the writings of Tolstoy and Henry David Thoreau, dropped out from conventional society in the late 1980s to pursue a life of aimless wandering in the wild places of America. McCandless was disgusted by the excesses of our culture and by how in our rapacity and greed and arrogance we had, in his view, sought to separate ourselves from nature, had tried to place ourselves somehow outside or above it, so as to master it. In April 1992 he headed north to Alaska, because, he wrote in a letter, he wanted to ‘walk into the wild’. He ended up starving to death; his decomposed body was found in a long-abandoned bus. He had hoped his encounter with the wilderness of the Alaskan taiga would heal his wounds: instead, they were ripped open.

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