Wild Embrace: Joining the dots of environmental and human health crises

Game Changers: Anja Murray’s book is scattered with nature hacks, simple ways to connect us to the living world that is in us and everywhere around us

Anja Murray’s book is very touchable. The cover has a linen finish. It’s both old school and notably different from the glossy surfaces that suck all our precious attention into torrents of distraction.

Wild Embrace is a call to attention and action. Ecologist, author and broadcaster Murray went to the hug of nature when she needed it most. She felt burnt out from trying to communicate the ecological losses in the natural world driven by the insatiable appetites of intensive agriculture. Nursing her terminally ill mother, she became sick herself and felt “cast adrift into an overwhelming numb sadness”.

She found her way back through a hazel woods in west Cavan. Murray describes this quiet place where wild things get on with life so beautifully, reading the book feels like a sip of forest bathing. These woods are “where I return to when I need to return to myself”, she writes.

Seven thousand kilometres away, Dr Melissa Lem is a Vancouver family physician. Growing up in an almost all-white neighbourhood, she looked to the natural world and her father’s Chinese garden for comfort when she was being bullied. Moving for work from rural to urban Canada gave her an insight into her own need for nature. On the back of research in 2019 into the health benefits of spending two hours a week in nature, Dr Lem built Park Prescriptions. It is a toolkit doctors can use to prescribe time in nature, be it a visit to the seashore, a walk in a park or a stroll in a forest.

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Although she doesn’t call them prescriptions, Murray’s book is scattered with nature hacks, simple ways to connect us to the living world that is in us and everywhere around us. The book is full of fascinating science that make the background hum of the plant and animal worlds sing louder. There’s the fact that honeysuckle emits its scent in the evening because it co-evolved with night-flying moths who pollinate the flowers, she explains. Hawthorn on the other hand sends out its fragrance from 7am to 5pm when its army of bees and daytime insects are at work.

“Learning to value the everyday wonders of nature can motivate us to engage with the complex environmental challenges of our time, inspiring action from a more centred and connected place,” Murray writes.

The natural world needs us like a flower needs a pollinator. But nature takes nothing without reciprocation. The work of these two women, along with countless others such as Irish Doctors for the Environment, is vital to join the dots of environmental and human health crises. Earth care is self-care. The sooner we understand that, the better we can enjoy a much-needed wild embrace.

Wild Embrace: Connecting to the Wonder of Ireland’s Natural World by Anja Murray is published by Hachette Books Ireland

Catherine Cleary

Catherine Cleary

Catherine Cleary, a contributor to The Irish Times, is a founder of Pocket Forests