I do not know when or why, but one day I started following Rebecca Schiller on Instagram. I have always been drawn to people who garden, who move to the countryside for that smallholding experience, because at times I have toyed with that idea myself. I have mentioned before that I am incredibly curious about people’s lives.
Of course, I know that Instagram is a highlight reel for many of us, but something about her account always felt to me always more like “kindred” rather than just a random person to follow. So when I saw she had a book coming out, I requested it on Netgalley as soon as I saw it.
Now, I expected a story of her moving to the country, finding it a bit hard and how they overcame it together as a family. And yes this book is about that in a way, but it is also not that at all, because Rebecca has a story (or a multitude of stories) to tell about her move, what she feels is a mental health problem, you could say her unravelling, the stories she found in the land she inhabits and beyond, and the slow unveiling of a diagnosis and hopeful embarking on a way forward. (These are not spoilers.)
I grew up in the countryside and my grandmother had a huge allotment, I often joke I grew up somewhere between cabbages and runner beans as most of our life was spent on that allotment. So I have no illusion about the hard work it is to grow your own food and then like Rebecca must balance it with a career, a family, livestock and that nagging feeling of “What the hell is wrong with me? Why am I like this?”.
Writing about this book is a bit of a challenge if I am honest. Not because I did not love the book, heck, I love it a lot. So much. It is hard because I am trying hard to not make this about me, about how I felt while reading the book, what it made me think and contemplate. Staying with Rebecca’s story is so hard because a lot of it felt like mine. I read on Twitter this morning: “A story is not a mirror but a door.” And Earthed felt to me like a door. But talking about the door is for another day. Another time.
An aspect I loved is that Rebecca shared in so much detail how her brain works. How she will focus on something so much it becomes its own story; the brain leads to ever more detail about people and stories and it can be overwhelming but also incredibly calming. I just got her. Got all the stories. Got what she is saying.
I also loved that idea she contemplates a lot: that a smallholding is more than just a place where you grow food and keep a bit of livestock. It is land and that land has always been there, people have lived on it, passed through it, vegetation was there and then was changed, mostly by humans. A house is also a place where – especially in the UK – people have lived before us and that curiosity as to who they are and what they have been like is something I never knew other people thought about as well. In as much detail as I do.
Nature is naturally the biggest theme in this book, it is called Earthed after all. The earth, the garden, the land kept Rebecca tethered when she felt the ground was slipping underneath here and this not just in the proverbial sense. Growing flowers and food. Stepping outside to hug an oak when life inside gets too much. Marvelling at the flowers. Noticing. Observing. But never being quite still, just enought to keep going. I don’t think I have ever read a more beautiful metaphor for life.
The structure of the book may feel experimental to some as we switch between memoir and narrative elements, yet, I don’t think this book could be any other way, since it would otherwise fail to convey the reality in which the author found herself in.
I am going to grow some dahlias this year and when I look at them, I will think of this book and the door and be grateful it had been a book I did not know I needed to read, finding its way to me through just following someone on Instagram at some point.