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Nick Hunt. Going where the “wild winds” are taught me to be honest about how I feel
Writer Nick Hunt told us about his incredible journey in pursuit of Europe’s most famous winds.
“The answer my friend, is blowin’ in the wind”, Bob Dylan’s unforgettable song says. This is probably the answer Nick Hunt was looking for when he decided to travel across Europe following the path of winds. Or maybe because when he was young the wind almost blew him away, and for many years a part of him “secretly wished it had”, carrying him to “Ireland, France, America, Iceland, the Arctic Circle or any of the other wonderful places waiting in the world”.
Where the Wild Winds Are by Nick Hunt
Hunt is a British author who collaborates with important newspapers and is one of the founders of the Dark Mountain Project, and for him travel isn’t just a pastime, it’s a necessity. Like other times before, he decided to embark on a journey no one had dared to go on before, literally guided by the wind. This is how Where the Wild Winds Are: Walking Europe’s Winds from the Pennines to Provence was born. A journey in pursuit of Helm, Bora, Fohn and Mistral.
There couldn’t be a better book for Global Wind Day, held on the 15th of June, which intends to remind us of the wind’s potential: it can supply all the energy the world needs and more. Nick Hunt has felt its strength with every fibre of his being. His journey brings us to harsh and uncontaminated lands, but also to picturesque little towns filled with history; we meet people and animals along the way, and we can almost feel the fatigue after hours of walking as well as the dryness of his skin, reddened by the wind. We discover legends, traditions but, most of all, how long humans have known about their unbreakable bond with nature.
Someone who reads your book, Where the Wild Winds Are, could tell you that you’re crazy, and ask why you did it. How would you answer?
Many people find it strange to go to windy places. The wind is seen as something bothersome and dangerous. I think the appeal of their names is the first thing that attracted me, the fairy-tale aura that surrounds them: Bora, Helm, Fohn, Scirocco… they sounded like an invitation to an adventure and to visit these places.
In the first chapter you write: “I had come here to be alone with the wind, and in the absence of wind I was simply alone”. What does it mean to travel alone?
I think there’s a great difference between feeling lonely and being alone. Feeling lonely is something negative, being alone is something different. For me, as a writer, it’s very important: walking and writing have perfectly matching rhythms. I don’t always get the best ideas when I’m walking, but it’s more likely that I do: walking helps meditation, it’s better than sitting down and staring at a computer screen.
There’s also a lot of silence in your book. What music would you associate with the sound of the wind?
Wow, that’s a tough question. There are many songs inspired by wind. I couldn’t get some out of my head (laughs). The Mistral, which blows in the south of France, is also known as the “idiot wind”, the title of a Bob Dylan song. I don’t know if he was referring to the Mistral, but his words kept running through my head: “Blowing down the back roads headin’ south”. It was perfect.
You’ve probably been asked already, but which is your favourite wind? And who was the person that struck you the most?
[Spoiler alert] It’s going to sound like I’m saying this only because I’m in Italy, but my favourite wind is the Bora. I couldn’t find it for three weeks, I thought I wasn’t going to make it, but it finally arrived. It’s a nice story to tell. The Bora brings a wonderful light and I like the cold, so it made me feel comfortable and full of energy.
The person who struck me the most was Tomas: when I got lost in the mountains of Croatia, and was potentially facing a terrible situation, he practically saved me. He’s an exquisitely eccentric and generous person: he made sure I got to the shelter, introduced me to his slightly mad friends, gave me some food and wine to take with me – I didn’t need it, but it was a nice gesture.
— Nick Hunt (@underscrutiny) 2 giugno 2018
Quoting your words, you consider the world a “living and breathing entity”: this influences your writing style, filled with metaphors derived from the animal and plant worlds, but what are the deeper consequences?
I think it’s a matter of spirituality. “Spirituality” isn’t a very attractive word in the English language: it’s associated with the religious context, or with New Age and hippy movements, it’s a vague concept. It’s a word that has always scared me a little but this book helped me express this feeling, the idea that the world is interconnected. The connection between winds, spirits, gods and ghosts is very ancient and present in different cultures. This book helped me be straightforward about how I feel, instead of trying to hide it behind humour or irony, or anything else. I lived this experience as an invitation to be more honest.
You tell us that the Mistral plays an important role in drying “the grass or eliminating microbes, meaning no preservatives or pesticides are required”: is this why you speak of “wind certified organic”?
Yes, exactly: in Switzerland I was told they don’t use pesticides in vineyards thanks to the Fohn.
In the first chapter Peter Brown tells you it’s been a long time since he’s had to scrape ice off his windshield or shovel snow from the driveway, that something has definitely changed. Can we imagine this change happening because of global warming? Are there any consequences for winds?
Yes. Climatology is a very complicated science, so I thought I wouldn’t go too much into detail, but I did it through the anecdotes and words of the people I met. Everyone says that the climate is different from how they remember it or their grandparents remember it. People know it’s true. And obviously, if the climate changes, the winds will change too since temperatures determine what they do and in which direction they blow. In Provence I heard about a village where there used to be no Mistral, then it arrived 15 years ago, so things have changed in recent years. I think that any writer who doesn’t have an awareness of this at least in the background isn’t being honest or wants to deny what is happening; more and more authors who don’t necessarily speak about climate change are being influenced by it. It’s inevitable: it’s like writing in times of war or during any other catastrophe.
Five years ago you wrote a wonderful article on how Everest is sadly becoming a garbage dump. Today, tourists aren’t allowed to access certain areas, or their access is regulated. You have to promise to respect the environment if you intend to visit the Palau archipelago. How much do you think awareness on this issue has increased, and what is your idea of sustainable travel?
It’s a very difficult question. There’s a difference between awareness and doing things differently. I think everyone is slightly in denial: they think they’re different, that it’s someone else’s fault, when it’s not really true. As a sceptic I could say that sustainable tourism has become a new form of business, more attractive but still based on money. Clearly flying – like I just did – is terrible, but travelling by ship has an equally negative impact on climate change. The only thing left to do is walk (laughs). Compensating for our emissions by planting trees is certainly better than nothing, but it seems more like a way of ignoring the matter and cleaning our consciences.
In the last five years, interest in trekking and cycling has increased quite a bit, and many books are written on this form of travelling. So yes, I think people are more aware, but the problem with trends is that sooner or later they disappear. Having said this, the fact that people are enthusiastic and curious about these forms of travel and they understand there are alternative ways of doing things is certainly helpful. This isn’t only good for the environment, but also for us. We’re reverting back to this old technology, our feet.
The Dark Mountain Project tackles these topics, right? Tell us more.
I worked on the Dark Mountain Project since the first issue, around ten years ago. It’s similar to what I was saying before, writing with climate change in the back of your mind: it’s a matter of being honest about what is happening in the world. We often feel the need to be hopeful, positive and optimistic about the future, and casting doubt on the advancement of progress is deemed suspicious. What the Dark Mountain Project has done before anyone else is to ask this question: “Why don’t we admit we’re desperate because of what is happening to the planet, from extinctions to climate change and so on? Why don’t we stop pretending it’s all going to be all right?” It sounds like a hopeless mindset, but it actually gave me a much deeper hope. I think that many other people involved in the project share my thoughts, because it allowed them to speak more honestly.
There are many travel writers. What is the secret to being different, and what advice would you give to young journalists in particular?
Don’t try to be different, probably. If you want to write about travelling, travel to the places that interest you, places you feel connected to. I became a travel writer by mistake, if I’m being honest: I walked around Istanbul because I felt the need to, I would’ve died with that regret otherwise. So let’s say I had no choice, and from that a book was born. My suggestion is to follow your heart, I know it’s a cliché, but it’s true. You don’t have to visit exotic countries, there are marvels, beauty and uniqueness everywhere.
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