I recently started leading a series of birdwatching walks for City of Edinburgh Council's Outlook Project, which works with adults with mental health problems. I felt that Richard Mabey's Nature Cure would be a great book to read alongside these walks, dealing as it does with the author's recovery from depression and his reaquaintance with the natural world.
When Mabey became depressed, he was already a well-known nature writer and his main argument is that getting out into nature in itself isn't necessarily a cure for depression, but rather that it is the building (or in his case re-building) a personal relationship with nature.
The book is less of a practical guide to nature therapy and more of a personal memoir about moving to a different part of the country and learning the different landscape and wildlife, alongside musings on the historical human relationships with the natural world.
As Mabey recovers, his powers of observation seem to intensify, allowing him to become more and more re-engaged in the natural world around him. His mental state remains fragile though as he worries about whether the usual summer migrants will return, the uncertainties of nature, specially in today' world of so much environmental turmoil, feeding into his own uncertainties.
"I hadn't heard the shrill flutings of the blackcaps that should have been abundant in the fens, or for that matter that first herald of spring, a chiffchaff. Had they been diorientated too, blown off their traditional routeways by Mediterranean storms? My nightmare, that those ancient ecological links with the south might finally be broken, wouldn't go away."
This is wonderfully beautiful meditation on the links between humans and nature and how, just as our connections with nature can help keep our minds whole, the damage we are, as a species, doing to those connections can cause dislocations in our mental health.
Nature Cure by Richard Mabey, published by Pimlico