The Land Lines Blog is pleased to be able to share with you this specially selected extract from Wanderland, a brand new book by Jini Reddy!
Jini Reddy is an award-winning author and journalist. She was born in London to Indian parents who grew up in apartheid-era South Africa, and was raised in Montreal, Canada. Jini has a degree in Geography, and MA in English Literature, and a passion for writing on travel, nature and spirituality.
As a travel writer, I had had experiences that opened my eyes and I was infinitely grateful for the world that revealed itself to me. Gul, my young blue-eyed hostess from the Kalash tribe deep in the remote valleys in Pakistan’s North-West Frontier Province, had shared with me the ways of her people, their reverence for the gods of the river and the sun, and for their spirit ancestors. In Cape York in Queensland, I’d met two sisters who’d led me to a waterfall and told me a dreamtime creation story involving supernatural beings: they’d brought the earth’s physical features into being, the sisters said. These encounters, and others, showed me as plain as day that for many indigenous people around the world all of nature was alive, imbued with spirit and a powerful ally if treated with respect. To some people I knew closer to home this idea made perfect sense. No big deal at all, but an obvious thing. But to many this was absurd. I never got why the words of people who live close to the land and treat her like kin – people who nurture an inner relationship with the earth – were rarely listened to or heeded beyond alternative circles. It’s not like we couldn’t use the input.
Still, despite those encounters abroad, back in the UK and sensitive to the mood of the day and the things I’d read and the voices I heard, I worried that I didn’t love nature in the right way, that I didn’t bring my gaze to bear upon Her in the approved way. What made me feel even more of a fraud was that half the time I didn’t even think in terms of the word ‘nature’. More often I’d be thinking of a specific place, some amazing, sigh-inducing landscape or a cool, twisty tree, or a small creature or squawky bird I spotted while on a walk in the countryside or in some meadow or park in my neighbourhood. And even if there were those who’d be empathetic, who would hear me? I often felt too conventional for the pagans, too esoteric for the hardcore wildlife tribe, not deep enough for the deep ecologists, not logical enough for the scientists, not ‘listy’ enough for the birder types, not enough of a ‘green thumb’ for the gardeners. All in all, I felt invisible, ignored by the cliques, and that I was becoming ill and needy with the desire to be heard by them. I struggled with the pain of being overlooked and of falling through the cracks. But I was also sick of it all, sick of the anxiety. This was no way to live, I realised, if I wanted to hang on to my sanity. It was time to just do the thing that I secretly longed to do: to actively seek to enter a world that co-exists with the visible one, a world of signs and portents; and to experience this land, my home Britain, as the indigenous people who I’d met in the far-flung places of my travels had experienced theirs, and to let the rest go.
The possibilities were too tempting to ignore. For what might happen if I embarked on such an adventure? What might unfold if I were to step outside of the box and wander and flirt with the land in a spirit of playful experimentation?
What was I seeking, anyway? A more intimate way of relating to the earth? For the land to guide me and see into me and speak to me? For magic to unfold before my eyes? For the gods to leave giant Post-It notes for me in the sky? Whatever I was reaching for, I craved communion. I hungered for it. I’d always loved to roam, but now I wanted to roam with a juicier intent.
Still, I was no land-whisperer, no expert natural navigator, no shaman. I wasn’t rooted in a single cultural tradition. I was just a woman striking out on her own.
How would I set forth? What was the plan?
This idea of throwing logic and order to the wind and letting my spirit and the land be my compass was all well and good, but I had to start somewhere. Where would I begin? Where would I go? This wasn’t a ‘from one side of the country to the other’ kind of thing. Then again, maybe I would leave it to serendipity and the mysterious dictates of magic. For if I was going to do this, I’d need to enter fully into the spirit of my endeavour. Anything less would be a tepid charade, an exercise for my mind and not my heart. And I wanted what my heart wanted. I wanted to travel lightly too, with some levity.
At the outset, I held on to one thing: I had another intimate experience of Otherness – my own. I was British by birth, Indian by descent, Canadian by upbringing, South African via my parents’ birthplace.
I was always going to be an outsider, so this journey would be just one more facet of my outsider-ness. The wound of living in the margins was something I carried so deep inside me, was so much a part of me that I barely spoke about it. It was there though, everpresent. So in seeking the wild unseen, in a way I would be attempting to make contact with friends and allies. That’s how I saw it, anyway. So what really did it matter what people thought? I had nothing to lose and everything to gain.’
Extract from ‘Wanderland’, published by Bloomsbury Wildlife, 2020 @copyright Jini Reddy