My Year Without Matches:
Escaping the City in Search of the Wild

by Claire Dunn

Black Inc., 2014. ISBN 978-1-863-95652-9.
Reviewed by Martha Meacham
Posted on 08/06/2014

Nonfiction: Memoir

Would you ever want to spend a year in the Australian bush living close to the earth and using ancient skills for survival? In Claire Dunn's My Year without Matches, we discover the ordeals that await amidst the forest gum and Moreton fig trees. The author explains her mission:

I want only to apprentice myself to Mother Nature, to steep myself in the raw reality of survival, and, like Thoreau, to wander without time or destination, a hawk-eye witness to the unfoldingof four full seasons.

This narrative reveals a path of both dreamtime and awakening. When Dunn leaves her workaday world to suspend the "busy-ness" of mainstream routines, all sorts of emotions begin to surface. With heartfelt honesty, the author leans into the sharp places, exposed and raw, to discover her true self. Wisdom blooms from her experiences. "This is what I love about this year," she writes. "I'm crafting the tools for living from my own hands, from the earth; beauty and functionality are one and the same, transforming the mundane into the sacred." So evolves the journey of balance with nature, as Dunn seeks the sacred order of shelter, water, fire, and food to sustain herself through the seasons.

This book is the antithesis of the popular TV shows about wilderness survival. The setting for this adventure is in the educational context of a community of several like-minded people. There were parameters for the undertaking, and choices to be made. Participants were trained by local naturalists and experts in survival skills. The chronicle intrigued me, not only because it takes place in the wilds of Australia, but because of Claire Dunn's dedication to her vision to honor the ways of the earth. Her comment, "Padding around barefoot, I'm literally coming to my senses," struck a chord with me as I imagined her stalking through the night, feeling her way along the inner and outer landscape with keen awareness.

A varied audience may find this memoir appealing. The author's vivid flora and fauna descriptions are fascinating. Her trial and error tales of learning the physical skills required to exist in a remote wilderness are engrossing. Also resonating with me was Dunn's expression of her deep connection with the natural world, her self-discovery, and her thoughts on how mother earth heals deep, old wounds. Her exploration of her creative feminine essence, which she discovered she had neglected in her previous career in the city, became an unexpected theme. In addition to the sage lessons, which captivated me, her writing was simply enjoyable, melodic, and expressive:

I like to think I'm mapping the story of the land, but it's as much my story that I reference: my impressions, my tracks, my landmarks. I map the land as much to know myself as to know it.

Since Claire Dunn lived without electricity for a full circle around the sun, I could not overlook the paradox that I found myself reading this particular account on an electronic device in iBook format. Since the story is rich with unique Aussie vocabulary, I was grateful for the "Look Up" feature to learn about "wattle seed" and terms like "doona" and "shonky" without missing a beat. I highly recommend the iBook version for non-native Australians.

I would very much like to live a year like Claire Dunn did. Until then, I appreciate coming to know the ebb and flow of the lands of the north coast of New South Wales through her storytelling.

Read an excerpt from this book.

Claire Dunn is a successful writer with a background in environmental advocacy. She presently facilitates nature-based retreats while studying psychology in Newcastle, NSW. Australia. Visit her website.

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