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  • Writer's pictureNora Curry

The Wild Silence (or "What Happened to Moth?")

Having relished Raynor Winn's memoir The Salt Path, which details her trek along the 630-mile South West Coast Path in England with her husband Moth in a breathtaking account of how immersion in nature helped restore him to health after a terminals CBD diagnosis, I found myself a few months ago with a suddenly consuming need to know what happened to Moth when his medically projected lifespan had expired. A little searching led me to discover that I'm hardly the only person who has Googled "What happened to Moth?" An early Star Tribune review of Winn's follow-up memoir The Wild Silence begins, "Immediately upon finishing Raynor Winn's 2019 memoir, 'The Salt Path,' I went to the computer and called up Google. "What happened to Moth?" I typed. I needed to know; in the course of reading that powerful book, Winn and her husband, Moth Walker, had become important to me."

The Wild Silence, published this spring, picks up Winn's original narrative. The strength and healing Moth gained on the couple's epic walk has essentially given him a new lease on life, and he is now pursuing an advanced degree and making future plans. Ray herself is desperate to reconnect more fully to the natural world both for her own healing and for Moth's continued doctor-defying improvement. When offered a place to live on a nearby farm by a reader of The Salt Path, the couple has a chance to return to life fully in tune with the land and seasons. The Wild Silence is Winn's account of her emotional and mental health struggles in coping with Moth's illness, as well as their adjustment to this new (and not always simple to care for) home. In the final leg of the book, Ray and Moth decide it's time for another challenging and unforgettable walk, this time joining up with friends for a formidable journey in Iceland.

While the Iceland trek feels like the narrative's intended climax, perhaps the most compelling part of the book is the journey Winn takes through finding a way to pen the story of her first walk with Moth in what eventually becomes The Salt Path. As the reader follows Ray's description of her first significant writing process, there is both an introduction to or refresher of the Ray and Moth story and the sense of a new story unfolding: the story of remembering. Winn follow's her husband's penciled margin notes in their South West Coast Path guidebook, slipping into memory, yet anchoring herself by writing and recounting:

"The leaves fell from the magnolia tree, the horizon of the sun lowered and I stopped seeing it, just a faint light that came and went by midday. It didn't matter, I was sitting at the table but I wasn't in the chapel, I was sweating in searing heat, dehydrated and longing for rain, treating blisters in the early morning and swimming in syrup-calm seas... And as always Moth was there, keeping me on the path, face to the sun, heading west. His penciled notes taking me from cove to headland, through woods and dark night skies."

When Winn passes along her manuscript to Moth and her daughter to read, before it comes a sudden sensation, the path of memory gains a new leg; Moth relives the experience through her eyes. The story told in both The Salt Path and The Wild Silence is very physical, full of the sensory details of nature, the feelings of inhabiting a body for better or worse, the walk from Point A to Point B. But The Wild Silence is also very much a story of stories, how our own stories are shaped and shared.

My next read is another account of walking the same South West Coast Path, this time penned by writer Katherine May, whose recent Wintering has been quite popular in our library community. In her first book, The Electricity of Every Living Thing, May recounts her trek along the path while reckoning with a different kind of diagnosis than Moth's: Asperger's Syndrome. Does this path on the rugged coast have the power to heal? Both Winn and May are immensely visceral and honest writers who can almost place you in the moment and the landscape, but I also find myself wanting to discover the South West Coast Path for myself.

Long after I've finished both books, I suspect I'll find myself searching the words "What happened to Moth?" What can I say? They've become important to me.

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