Earth Books, 2012, 275pp
Reviewed by Marian Van Eyk McCain
In this lovely and impossible-to-categorise book, Eleanor O’Hanlon shares with us what her publisher describes as: “… an epic, personal journey to meet whales and wolves, bears and wild horses, guided by outstanding biologists and other observers who are renewing an ancient way of connection with the wild.” It also, through its deeper exploration of our own species’ historic connections with—and attitudes to—these creatures, brings up many questions about our human relationships with other life forms.
Eleanor’s writing has that indefinable, haunting lilt that one finds in so much Irish literature—and music also—and for me that makes it utterly delicious to read. But the beauty of the writing is only one of the many reasons I have mentally awarded this book five stars. I found the content captivating too. In each of the book’s four sections Eleanor describes some of the amazing wildlife encounters she has had while travelling the world in her work with Greenpeace, and the feelings these encounters have stirred in her. For as she explains, this was both outer and inner journeying: I found that the power of the landscape, the presence of the animals and the dynamic flow of living energy through the wild were working on me inwardly, she says. They were calling back aspects of my own being that I had long neglected or forgotten and driving me to explore the inner realities in ways I had not dared to do before. And this was drawing me into the deep current that has run through many human cultures for tens of thousands of years – the natural connection between the animals, the rhythms and cycles of the Earth and the waking of the soul within each person.
In each place she visits, Eleanor is hosted and taught by scientists and researchers who are living and working closely with the animals of the region and some of the wildlife encounters she describes are theirs, such as the extraordinary account of a researcher who is probably one of the only humans alive to have been fully accepted into a wild wolf pack. She also explores the totemic significance of whale, wolf, bear and wild horse to indigenous peoples and traces the symbolism of each animal through cultural myth and story.
Overall, Eyes of the Wild is a unique and fascinating blend of personal experience, science, shamanic wisdom and storytelling.
Most of all, what I love about the book is this author’s attitude towards the other beings who share our planet with us. Rarely have I come across such gentle, respectful sentiments towards what the Native Americans call ‘all our relations.’ Reaching out across the species barrier, striving not just to understand those relations but to meet them with love and with utter respect, she enables the reader to join with her in some of these special encounters in which each party meets and honours, face to face, the mystery of the other. She helps us to remember that not only do we see the whale, the wolf, the bear, the horse and all the other creatures of the wild but they see us also. Not only in the taiga, the jungle or the veldt but even in the quiet English hedgerow there are the watching eyes of many precious beings. And I believe that after reading this book we shall all become more conscious of their presence and more determined than ever to help ensure their safety and survival.