Much of the time I spend outdoors I am alone, though all too often never far from other people. There are times depending on the chosen destination that I can go many hours without seeing or speaking to anyone. I like this solitude, time not to have to think of anything in particular and often find myself lost in where I am, not aware of thinking about me or family or anything except what's all around me. I find time spent like this cathartic, settling, calming of the mind.
Neil Ansell spent five years, mostly alone, in a run-down cottage in the Welsh Hills, living day by day, no electric, gas or running water. Deep Country is his story or rather the story of the land and the wildlife that he became part of during his chosen retreat from modern life. In fact Deep Country tells you little about Ansell himself, other than an obvious passion for and understanding of nature, instead focussing on the rich array of observed birds and wildlife over the changing seasons.
Ansell has a birder's eye and his naked eye observations and descriptions of both the birds he sees and their behaviour betray a good appreciation of birds. Written a hundred years ago his account would be as cherished as someone like Chapman and no doubt be re-published as the account of an accomplished Victorian naturalist. Ansell plays out some very insightful little cameos without resorting to complicated or pompous language. Anyone who has spent some time really watching the birds around them will find much to appreciate here; from team fishing Goosanders to the Buzzard chasing the Kingfisher via his description of Ravens 'rejoicing in the freedom of the skies' you get a real sense of the time spent in quiet observation and contemplation.
You won't discover much that is new in Deep Country but you will look in a new way at the birds and wildlife that is all around you and often taken for granted. In his epilogue Ansell says he went to the hills to find himself and ended up losing himself instead and that that was 'immeasurably better'; Deep Country may have been better with some sketches, not everyone is an artist (me included) but I think one or two pen and ink thumbnails here and there would have added to the imagery of the prose. However that shouldn't detract from this vibrant and interesting account. Worth a read.
Deep Country is published by Hamish Hamilton