How do you heal a troubled soul? A walk in the forest can help, says an author


Epping Forest, a 2400 hectares of woods straddling the border between London and Essex, it is home to hermits, hunters and highwaymen. Its shady groves shelter children coming out of school and gays in search of meetings. Babies are born near its twisted trees and bodies buried under them. It is both a refuge and a chance, its secrets are known criminals and preachers.

Luke Turner, 40, author of a new audacious memoir, Out of the woods, which details her complex relationship with the forest and her own troubled past, understands all of this. The Epping Forest that he describes is not "a fetishized place on two levels", but rather a constantly changing landscape, alternately nurturing and terrifying, in which it is also easy to collapse that to be saved.

"Epping Forest is where London will bury his dead and his secrets, "he says of the landscape that has dominated his imagination since his childhood. "Part of the excitement about this lies in the fact that it has this urban energy – it's a place where you can hear planes landing on land or motorcycles or sirens from the M25 – but when you've crossed the threshold, you're at an incredibly primal place and I love it about it – it's a very strange energy that a rural forest does not necessarily have. "

It is also, a beautiful January morning, a strange beauty, its twisted trees throw strange shadows on the aisles, as we walk, we tell how Turner, the co-founder of the cult music website The Quietus, has seen this tentacular place where the savage and the ordained meet "as the only constant" of a peripatetic childhood.

His father's work as a Methodist minister meant that the family was moving, but both of his parents had grown up on the edge of the forest and climbed the trees, and his aunt and uncle still live in Theydon Woods, near the. Although Turner spent his adolescence in St Albans' hateful street, the family regularly spent days in the forest. It has become an almost talismanic place, the repository of some of Turner's earliest fond memories.

Out of the woods details some of these things, while deepening Turner's bisexuality, his depression after the collapse of a long-term relationship, and how the lingering shame resulting from abusive sexual encounters in his early teens shaped his desires for adult. Honest and often beautifully written, it is crossed with a dry humor. In its pages, it is understood that, even if nature can not save you from itself, it can offer even the most lost a kind of freedom – "provided you bring your waste home".

It is no wonder that it is considered the latest in a growing number of very personal accounts, such as that of Helen Macdonald. H is for Hawk and Amy Liptrot The exit, who use nature to fight deeper problems. "For me, it's not a book about the redeeming power of nature, but almost the opposite," says Turner. "I am very frustrated at the thought that just being in nature comforts you, because I have long hated coming here, but I could not seem to stop myself from to return, almost by constraint. "

The desperation that Turner felt both here and in the city, where he was homeless after the end of a relationship and slept in sofas and extra beds of friends, did not stand out. erased once he confronted the demons of his adolescence head-on. "I realized that I wanted to write about things – like bisexuality – that are hidden in contemporary conversations and the book [which was originally conceived as a straightforward history of the forest] began to be more about my own personal experience. I meant that you do not have to divide in two. The truth lies in the gray areas and in the acceptance of the contradictions of the people. "

From the forest by Luke Turner

From the forest by Luke Turner

The book constantly confuses expectations. Turner describes it as a question of "religion, restraint and shame". However, some of the best sections are those in which he writes about his family, their faith and the very united world in which he was raised. "The funny thing is that when I was writing this text, I was very conscious of the fact that I may have destroyed religion, but people read it and joked that it was a good book that bothers, "he laughs. "But, to be honest, the benefits I've got by being bought into a religious family, especially into a Methodist family, and the love and community that I've generated from that, have shaped everything that I have ever accomplished. "

That said, he is not convinced that his parents, as affectionate as they are, should read it. "Honestly, I'm always terrified of the idea that they could do it. It's difficult because I wanted to write what I had to write and it's extraordinary people, but I'm still not sure if I know it, even if it's dedicated to them. "

The darker sections of the book deal with her teenage encounters with older male predators. "I'm not saying that everyone's experiences were like that – you can have these encounters and make them beautiful and positive – but what I experienced as a 14-year-old with men in their sixties in coercive situations really were not. He said, "When I was older, I had more extravagant experiences that were actually really wonderful, but they were always accompanied by this addictive adrenaline rush and that feeling of shame."

This constant tension between guilt and exaltation was going to have a huge impact on Turner's mental health. "I felt like I was losing my senses because of the breakdown of my relationship and the realization that I did not seem to be able to make a relationship work and that I had solved that problem by having relationships. complicated sex. It was a chaotic period. I came here to try to understand how I felt, but instead, everything revolved around me and all my problems were still there.

He rejects the idea, however, that nature can repair broken pieces: "The forest does not care what you feel. He does not want to help you "- but acknowledges that his state of mind has improved once he has started working with the Epping Volunteers in Forest Conservation. "It was partly because it was a form of physical exercise that I could enjoy, which I had never done before, because physical exercise had always reminded me of school and bullying. and the horror of physical education classes, but also that I loved you can leave and be as isolated as you like, by cleaning up the young trees and holly, then finding yourself for a good lunch and chatting. It is a brilliant mix of individual and community. "

Turner is co-organizing a project on the landscape of the Epping Forest as part of Waltham Forest's strategy. London Borough of Culture 2019 celebrations and admits that his relationship with the forest is now less complicated. "Now that I'm in a much better place, I can come here and it's beautiful and I feel a connection with that." He pauses and smiles. "I know it sounds really banal -" oh, I cleaned the forest and let the light in, which helped me to let the light in. "But, unfortunately, this is true to a certain extent, that's how it worked.

Out of the woods is published by Weidenfeld & Nicholson on January 24, £ 16.99

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