I have to admit that this really was not what I had expected it to be. The book is about Ansell’s five years living in an isolated, rundown cottage in the Welsh hills. As a result, I was expecting lots of practical advice about living an alternative lifestyle combined with reflection and introspection resulting from spending so much time alone. In reality, much of the book is a bird spotter’s journal as the author charts the coming and goings of the various creatures that share his wilderness home.
This is interesting in itself to be fair but there is a limit and it was not until the point that I was tiring of the birdlife commentary that the revelation of the book came through. Ansell explains that the longer he spent in isolation the less time he spent thinking about himself. In fact, rather than finding his true self as he might have expected, he actually became irrelevant. This experience of becoming so much a part of his environment that he essentially lost his own identity is fascinating and something that I would love to have been able to explore in more depth.
For most of us, our egos are central to who we are and how we feel about ourselves. We feel good about what we have achieved in our lives, the things we have done and the places we have seen. We judge each other based on the jobs that we do, the houses we live in, clothes we wear and the cars we drive. We worry about how we measure up to the people around us and what the future will hold for us. If we stop to think about it seriously, however, what does any of it really matter? Is our self-importance reducing our quality of life?
If we were able to unplug ourselves from the cultural expectations that we face in our lives would we actually find ourselves happier, free to live a simpler and more natural life? Would we strip away the lies and projections that help us survive “civilisation” leaving merely our true character? Essentially, that is what the author has done but it has taken an extreme action. The challenge for those of us who are unable to remove ourselves so dramatically is how we experience some sense of separation from ego that might then draw us on.