This is a nature trail through Where the World Turns Wild, with background notes about some of the things I included, and further links to follow if you are interested in finding out more…
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Last Child in the Woods
One of the things that influenced Where the World Turns Wild was a non-fiction book, Last Child in the Woods, by American writer Richard Louv. This is the book that coined the term nature deficit disorder. Published in 2005, it warned that we are raising the first generation of children to grow up without meaningful contact with nature. Other books that have some of the ‘theory’ I was interested in exploring, about our connections with nature, are pictured here.
The cities in Where the World Turns Wild have locked out the natural world, save for a few limited plants in glasshouses. Juniper and Bear’s grandmother Annie-Rose is a Plant Keeper. She grows desert adapted plants – cacti and sedum – in the ‘Palmhouse’ at the back of their apartment block.
I love glasshouses. There’s something about them being halfway spaces – not outside, but not inside either. Including glasshouses in my book made the grey, sterile city I created easier to think about. Some of my favourite glasshouses include those at Cambridge Botanic Garden (pictured here), Chelsea Physic Garden, Kew Gardens and London’s Barbican.
Nature in the city
Where the World Turns Wild is, in the first half, about a city without nature. It’s a bleak, sterile landscape, and this has become a state of mind. The city is ruled by a cruel, authoritarian leader, and it’s a miserable, crowded, kept-down kind of existence.
I actually love cities (I live in one of the best in the world – London!) but obviously they are at their best when they not only allow nature in, but allow it to thrive. Pictured here is the beautiful Woodberry Wetlands near where I live. It’s managed by the London Wildlife Trust and is an oasis of green – and blue – in the city. There are coots, moorhens, swans, cormorants, herons, little egrets, and much more.
In the city in Where the World Turns Wild, any books containing descriptions or pictures of the natural world are banned. Juniper and Bear’s grandmother has managed to keep a secret stash of old books in their kitchen however, and the books give the children a connection to the wild. They’re how Bear gets all his knowledge about wildlife. One book mentioned by name is The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett, which Juniper lends to Etienne.
Whereas Bear likes facts and fiction, Juniper has devoured all the fairy-tales. Maybe they are her way of accessing another world. I really enjoyed playing about with fairy-tale references and weaving them into the story. See which you can spot!
Bear plays with plastic animals and Juniper keeps an old ragdoll that used to belong to her mum. The doll is Emily, after Sara Crewe’s ‘Last Doll’ in The Little Princess, one of my favourite books growing up. Toys and play seemed an important part of Bear’s character in particular, allowing him to imagine his way out of his bleak city existence. We love dolls and animal figures in our house, so these parts of the book felt very real to me.
Juniper loves to draw. In the city, she draws plants from the glasshouse. In the wild, on her and Bear’s journey, she sketches portraits of some of the people important to her. I was inspired by my own children who love to draw, and one of my daughters in particular who, since she was very little, has always drawn faces. Do you recognise any of these people?!
Bear has learned types of birds, animals and trees from the natural history books at home. He points them out to Juniper on their journey, and pockets acorns, conkers and pinecones.
Robert MacFarlane and Jackie Morris created the beautiful The Lost Words in response to the removal of some nature words – like acorn, bluebell, kingfisher and wren – from the Oxford Junior Dictionary in 2007. MacFarlane has said “names, good names, well used can help us see and they help us care. We find it hard to love what we cannot give a name to. And what we do not love we will not save.”
Fractals are infinitely repeating patterns, with self-similar patterns repeating at different scales. Fractals are amazing, not least because they commonly appear in nature. Clouds, coastlines, broccoli, trees, ferns, shells, snowflakes, mountains, river networks – you can find fractals in all these things.
It’s thought that fractals may be soothing for our brain and in Where the World Turns Wild, computer generated fractals are used around the city. Etienne’s mum is one of the people who programs fractals (as does my husband in his spare time!). Computer generated fractals can be beautiful, and fantastical, like the landscape of a science fiction movie, though in the book Juniper says the “grey geometric patterns” make her eyes hurt. She longs for the real thing.
Rewilding Britain defines rewilding as “the large-scale restoration of ecosystems where nature can take care of itself. It seeks to reinstate natural processes and, where appropriate, missing species – allowing them to shape the landscape and the habitats within.“
Rewilding doesn’t just mean allowing trees to grow. Other landscapes can be rewilded too – peatlands, wetlands, grasslands. These vital ecosystems sequester (lock away) carbon and allow wildlife to flourish. Rewilding is great for people too – it can bring back the thrill of the wild that we’ve lost over the years. And rewilding can start small – leaving an area of your garden or school grounds for wildflowers, or creating a log pile for insects. If you are feeling sad about the state of our planet, I urge you to find out more about rewilding and see if there are projects you can get involved with in your area.
I talk about rewilding and COVID-19 here.
When people talk about rewilding in the UK, lynx cats often become part of the conversation. Lynx are a keystone species that we are missing in this country, since we hunted lynx and wolves to extinction hundreds of years ago. Lynx would be a natural predator of deer, and controlling deer numbers would be beneficial for our woodlands.
There is a gorgeous book about lynx called The Lynx and Us by David Hetherington and Laurent Geslin.
The Lake District
The Lake District has always been special to me. It’s close to Carlisle, where my dad grew up and where my grandparents lived when I was a child, and we had lots of holidays there. I regularly go back with my own family, for rest, walks and rejuvenation!
Although the journey Juniper and Bear take is only roughly based on real geography, one place that’s real is the cave Bear finds when Juniper is injured. This cave is incredible! It’s nestled into the side of Loughrigg Fell, above Rydal Water.
Juniper and Bear are travelling to their parents in Ennerdale. “A faraway valley called Ennerdale in a land of lakes and mountains,” Juniper says. It’s where she and Bear were born.
Ennerdale is a real place. It’s in West Cumbria and is one of the most remote valleys and lakes in the Lake District. It’s the site of an exciting rewilding project. You can find out more at www.wildennerdale.co.uk.