Most of us, at one time or another, have dreamt of giving up entirely on modern life, of selling up and moving away from the noise and chaos of the big city to live all alone in the peace and quiet harmony of mother nature.
Those who do momentarily consider this dramatic change in lifestyle often become overwhelmed by many questions related to the sheer practicalities of surviving in a remote area.
How would we survive living in any type of wild and desolate environment?
Do we have the necessary skills required to feed, clothe and shelter ourselves and our family members?
Could we cope with the inevitable sense of loneliness and isolation?
The answer to these questions is for most of us, of course, no – for in the main we are much too closely attached to our creature home comforts to want to venture too far away from them and out into the great unknown!
A Life in the Wilds
Some intrepid and brave explorers do give everything up, make it out into the vast wastelands and manage to survive. Others are, through their destiny, naturally born into this form of lifestyle and Cliff Seruntine.is one of them.
In his book The Wildwood Way Seruntine shares his experiences living out in the vast wilderness of Nova Scotia with his wife, Daphne and two daughters.
his book traces the family’s experiences living day to day through the seasons of the year. He describes in detail its changing scenery; from the harsh, icy winter – a time when the snow and ice descends blanketing everything, through to the lush greenery of summer and the breath-taking expanse of colour and abundance that characterises the conclusion to the year.
The idyllic-sounding surroundings that he describes, all of which are set in the heart of an area replete with fish, game and natural foods, sound like the perfect panacea to the sort of chaotic life within the modern urban environment that most of us are acclimatized to living within.
However, do not allow yourself to be seduced by the mistaken idea that the natural world is a benign, benevolent and welcoming place.
It is not, and we are reminded of this fact in Seruntine’s telling, in the opening of his book, of a few occasions when the sheer raw power of mother nature placed him into situations that were evidently life-threatening.
The land that family Seruntine inhabits, along with its poisonous snakes, wild bears and quickly changing climate, is a constant reminder to them all that mother nature, and not them, is in control out there in the wilds.
The delicate balance and harmony within nature and its changing seasons is an abject lesson and reminder to anyone who wants to live in this sort of harsh and unforgiving environment, that they needs to find that same sense of balance both within themselves and their impact upon the natural ecosystem that they rely upon.
This humility particularly extends to maintaining a healthy respect for the land, a respect for the sometimes delicate environment as well as to the creatures that share the same space.
It is this respectful appreciation of Mother Earth that draws forth from those who experience it a specific philosophy towards life.
For Cliff Seruntine this has emerged into a natural form of spirituality that may loosely be referred to as a cross between Wicca, Paganism and Shamanism but which is, in essence, more reflective of a return to that natural state of spiritual harmony and recognition of otherworldly forces that living alone in such a lonely and isolated environment ingrains within you over time.
It is difficult not to be influenced directly by the passage of the annual year and the mysteries that unfold around you as each month passes by. Seruntine shares a great deal of these experiences and in doing so reflects back upon a wide range of supernatural beliefs that have been held over the centuries by communities who live closely with the ‘otherworld’ on their doorstep.
Month to Month
As the year progresses, Seruntine reflects in his book on the specific tasks that he and his family are called upon to perform in order to survive in this harsh environment.
Some of these can be as mundane as servicing their tools, collecting firewood, extracting sap from Maple trees or foraging for edible plants and fungi.
Everyday is spent by them in preparation for the coming months in an endless cycle of activity that requires specific skills and knowledge.
Seruntine recalls, in the early part of his book, how he was brought up in this sort of environment as a boy and so had already learnt many of the necessary skills from elders in his family.
However, every day that passes brings a new set of challenges, a different set of problems and and equal number of new opportunities to understand the ways of the world that they live in.
A Magickal Place
Through the natural enchantment of wild woodland things tend to have a natural propensity towards becoming magical. Old fairy tales of lore tells us that much.
Throughout ‘The Wildwood Way’ Seruntine describes much of the environment that he and his family live in using arcane terms. Thus, he refers to the Troll Bridge his daughter named, to singing frogs, fairy rings and enchanted forests.
This sense of living in a magical kingdom also strengthens at nigh-time when creatures such as owls, wildcats and wolves emerge to do their own hunting and foraging.
For a child living in this sort of world it is indeed a magic kingdom – one of wonder, excitement and splendor – despite in many inherent dangers!
Seruntine, though matured as a young man, recognizes the value of this type of experience and strives to maintain it within himself and his children. However, in his book he does bemoan the fact that today, so few children living int a concrete, urbanized environment get chance to play in any sort of natural environment, to feel a sense of freedom within its lack of rules and regulations or to experience the wonders of the nature at first hand.
It seems, in many ways, that all that we have lost in our modern world still exists if we in fact make that difficult first step and venture away from the limitations of our comfort zones and embrace a little wildness in our lives.
As Seruntine states in the closing of his book
Love the cool, green shadows of lonely places and do not fear them if they are eerie, only go with courtesy and good intent. This is the Wildwood Way.
Our Review of ‘The Wildwood Way’ by Cliff Seruntine
The Wildwood Way is a book that extolls the true spiritual values that emerge from living closely with nature.
It is a book that deals also with the sheer practicalities of fending for oneself in a harsh environment. Thus, it includes advise to those who might wish to follow the Seruntine’s example with a generous helping of practical knowledge on survival techniques such as learning the signs of changes to weather, the best approach to identifying and harvesting natural foods such as fungi and tree bark for herbal remedies.
With stories of the wildlife that they hunt, the fish that they catch and the natural resources that they collect in order to ensure that they remain living within the land, this is a book that is not, at any stage either either predicable or boring!
The inclusion of black and white photographs adds tremendously to the enjoyment of this book as do the personal maps of their immediate living location.
This is a family who lets the reader into a world that is magickal, frightening, challenging and some times disturbing – all at the same time.
The moral decisions that they have to make, the practical considerations that need to be taken and the need for that delicate balance between human and nature seeps out of this book just like the sap from their cultivated Maple trees.
‘The Wildwood Way’ is a book that takes its reader into that place that few dare enter and in doing so reveals an intimate story – one that is utterly absorbing and totally inspirational. Whilst it opens the door on a hidden world that will be strange to many readers it serves to lift the heart and reminds us of the joys, pains and sheer spirituality of living and surviving in the heart of nature’s wilderness.
Book of the Month: January 2016