Beyond the Perimeter Fence

By Gareth Evans

Jay Griffiths’ Wild: An Elemental Journey lights a path towards fuller being in the world

To be great, be whole: don’t exaggerate
Or leave out any part of you.
Be complete in each thing. Put all you are
Into the least of your acts.
So too in each lake, with its lofty life,
The whole moon shines.

–  Fernando Pessoa[1]

Some books are merely written. Other books, rare here as red squirrels now, are made out of such need that they seem at times to have been generated by pure will, by an urgency at once personal and on behalf of the greater assembly. This is such a work. Symbolically seven years in the crafting, with one suspects, not a day of rest from its pulsing enquiry, it is the book of one’s life, and not just for its author. If taken in with the same imaginative and emotional empathy that shaped its rush of pages, it could seed change in the course of a reader’s days.

Jay Griffiths’ previous book Pip, Pip: a Sideways Look at Time exploded the straitjacket of the clock, following a global seam of the richest hue in its exploration of non-industrial ways of considering the aging of the body and the turn of the seasons. Here she directs all her senses to space, on a multi-dimensioned quest to understand the nature and importance of ‘wildness’. Travelling with the elements: Earth, Ice, Water, Fire and Air, she roves from the Amazon to the Arctic and Australia. Across the oceans she encounters polar bears and West Papua liberation fighters, and always, and rightly, she meets herself in changing light as part of, and uttering witness to, the phenomenal world.

Like Rebecca Solnit and John Berger, empathetic occupants of the hybrid, dwellers in the fecund borderlands between the social and the personal, the political and the epiphanic, Griffiths is primarily a storyteller. And the tales she weaves are those in which the speaker is deeply, unashamedly implicated. Speaking to the planetary tribe at a moment of extraordinary collective crisis, she operates shamanically, making a series of remarkable journeys through cultures, conflicts, language and the ultima thule of the psyche, and she returns with the wisdom of profoundly lived experience, that of herself and others, from which she has fashioned a bardic manifesto that speaks to all that matters about being fully human in the world as it is and as it might be.

That she closes with a journey through the sixth element, Mind, reveals the core of her project. A bardic hymn to the necessity of the unfettered in envisioning possibility and change, ‘Wild’ is radical in the original, etymological sense. It goes to the root of the problem and it sings its way there. Why is this being reviewed in a film-focused magazine? Because it challenges almost all moving image makers to match its reach in their own medium, to weave such strands of knowing and learning and being; because film must speak to the largest vision of how we feel and act on the earth...

This is not a ‘book of the week’. It is a testament for all the searching times, a text delirious with love for this blasted planet, one born out of a raging, keening hope most can only dream of, but all should be grateful for.


[1] Pessoa’s poem is translated by Richard Zenith and featured in the magnificent Bloodaxe poetry anthology Soul Food, edited by Bloodaxe founder Neil Astley with Pamela Robertson-Pearce.

Wild: An Elemental Journey by Jay Griffiths is published by Hamish Hamilton at £20.