Missing out on nature walks? Keen to connect with the world? Jini Reddy’s new book “Wanderland” takes you on the journey you’re craving. London-born, Quebec-raised, with Indian roots, Reddy’s “Wanderland“ takes the reader on a journey all over Britain’s vast landscape, weaving magical stories through every place visited.
As a brown girl nature writer, Reddy really is a much-needed breath of fresh air in this particular genre of non-fiction writing. Her aim is to find ‘magic’ in the landscape — pursuing ancient myths and pre-Christian stories, in order to understand the natural world.
The writing itself is straightforward and easy to follow — if you’re at all familiar with the British countryside, the book provides great visuals for this moment in history, where we’re all keeping indoors to keep safe, and many of us might be feeling cabin fever. Yet the stories are exceptional.
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Reddy begins the book by asking questions to a ‘labyrinth’ that doesn’t seem to respond, and by the end, she finds not only the answer but more of herself — understanding the landscape and her own character more than she did at the start. To guide her journey, she enlists the help of shamans and priestesses — considering their experiences and trying their techniques to develop a better appreciation for the natural world. She wants to “connect with the spirit of the land.”
Perhaps some of this comes from her background as a wanderer — roaming India, being raised in Canada, studying in France and settling in the UK, Reddy reads more like a citizen of the world than your average nature writer, though she refers to herself as a “citizen of nowhere.”
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Her heritage comes into play, too. Every person of colour will know the feeling — wandering through predominantly white counties across the U.K. and being visibly ‘other’ can be an alienating experience. Reddy touches on this throughout her walks, feeling conscious that she is often the only non-white face in the landscape. But ultimately, “nature is [her] God” and she is there to connect and understand the natural world, hoping that the land will reach out to her too.
So she is spurred on by her guides (but never Google Maps) — exploring new areas and chasing the stories that come with special points of interest. She wanders Hastings in search of St Helen’s Spring — the patron saint of new discoveries and lost treasure. Reddy chases after this hidden spring, hoping that its healing powers will soothe her own trauma. She writes candidly about loss, not to make you feel her pain, but to make you understand how the spirituality around these historical and hidden landmarks are important.
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Later, she walks some of the Camino de Santiago de Compostela, a hugely important Christian pilgrimage that follows a route to Northern Spain. Reddy embarks on a day-long hike in Cornwall, UK, and follows her “inner satnav.” She looks to experience the trail and its symbolism and mysticism, without relying on GPS to get anywhere. She goes where the land takes her and hopes to feel something deeper.
Really, though, it’s her determination that is most striking. She walks through nature because she is determined to feel and connect with something. She wants to experience the land in a new way, and her year-long journey across Britain’s countryside, reflects that.
Underneath that though, we catch glimpses of another reason as well.
At the back of my mind are all the headlines shouting about people whose skin colour is not white who never connect with nature. It annoys me, the generalisation. I’m just a human enjoying the sea, like any other. I’ve been doing it for a long, long time. Like other women and men before me whose storylines don’t fit the plot and whose voices are never heard. – Jini Reddy
She rejects the stereotypes placed on people of colour, and crafts a beautiful story of self-discovery and exploration of the natural world.
While we’re all stuck in lockdown, now is the perfect time to explore the landscape and find something magical. We can’t go anywhere just yet, but being at home has given us an opportunity to slow down for once. We’re all taking the time for things like self-care and learning new ways to better ourselves.
And if not, hopefully, you’re letting yourself recharge. Finding the magic in something we used to overlook might just help us appreciate it more when we’re allowed back outside. We all know that nature is returning, healing itself even, while we’ve been indoors. Let’s remember to go back to nature, too. Plus, I’ve added a bunch of places to my #futuretravel list.