When YA novelist, Melinda Salisbury set herself a goal to reconnect with nature, she lived a fast-paced urban lifestyle, renting a room in a shared house with no garden, and her lengthy commute into London left little time for country escapes.
‘The Way Back Almanac’ grew out of this desire, alongside a recognition that the natural world isn’t somewhere you need to take a day trip to find. Nature is everywhere and connects us all. But sometimes we need a helping hand to both see and appreciate what is in front of us, and this book has many practical tips to help us do just that.
The basic premise is anyone, anywhere, who has a desire to connect with nature and a curiosity to learn about it can do so – even if you live in one room of a shared flat in the middle of the city.
The book is split into 12 sections, one for each month of the year. Immediately this draws us into a rhythm of the seasons by suggesting activities to do both indoors and outside, that relate to the time of year.
The book follows the calendar year – January to December – but unlike many new year, new you type books, this one actively advocates against any big life changes at this time. Instead, it starts with gentle activities that involve enjoying the natural world from the warmth of your home.
Activities vary from becoming familiar with the night sky and its movements to watching wildlife webcams, where you can follow birds and animals in real time in their natural setting, while putting your feet up with a cup of tea. If you have a garden there are suggestions for growing herbs and vegetables, with adaptations for how you can grow your own with as little space as a single windowsill.
The wide range of produce available in supermarkets has left many of us unfamiliar with the local farming rhythms. For each month the book includes a section to help guide us towards seasonal fruit and veg choices, making the most of local produce with vegan recipes that have been designed so they can be adapted easily to include dairy, meat, and fish. And while in the kitchen, there is also a section on how to create your own natural skin products from nourishing body butter in January to cooling foot cream in August.
There are suggestions for reading nature writing and a way to connect with others via an online book club using the hashtag #WayBackBookClub. It is very much an introduction for the 21st century naturalist with monthly suggestions of apps and ways to use a smartphone and technology to connect with the natural world.
Following the suggested activities each month is an interview where Melinda talks to a range of people from Mamma Mia writer, Catherine Johnson to theatre dresser, Emilie Lyons about ways they have found it helpful to connect to nature. And at the end of each chapter there is a blank, lined page to write your own notes on what has worked for you.
There is something for everyone here – whether you are thinking about getting closer to nature but don’t know where to start; or have started changing your diet and lifestyle to better reflect the natural rhythms of the season and would like to explore ways of deepening your relationship with nature and share ideas with others.
Author, Melinda Sailsbury is best known for writing young adult novels including the Sin Eater’s Daughter series, the State of Sorrow duology, and Hold Back the Tide. This is her first non-fiction book, and it sparkles with the same curiosity that has made her successful in the YA market.
In all, The Way Back is a lovely book that is a clear response to a genuine passion to get closer to nature. It bursts with suggestions that make it easy to make small steps to seeing life as a natural rhythm and appreciating the wider world, starting from where you are.