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Iona Dreaming

Readers are taken on a journey of recovery, reflection and awe

By Martha Martin

Iona Dreaming: The Healing Power of Place
By Clare Cooper Marcus
(Nicolas-Hays) $26.50

There are “thin places,” some say, where the material world and the world of the spirit intermingle. The Scottish island of Iona is such a place for author Clare Cooper Marcus.

In her book Iona Dreaming: The Healing Power of Place, Marcus takes the reader on a six-month journey of recovery, reflection and awe. Iona Dreaming is a travelogue, a memoir, a dream journal, a celebration of nature and a collection of quotations, all rolled into one.

Marcus, professor emerita in the departments of architecture and landscape architecture at the University of California, is recognized internationally for her work on the social and psychological implications of design, and her consulting firm Healing Landscapes researches the effectiveness of restorative landscapes in health-care settings.

As her time on Iona unfolds, Marcus describes with breathtaking clarity, beauty and imagination the world around her — the people she meets, the animals and birds, the trees, rocks and water. Her surroundings take her to a deeper place in her own psyche, whether she is reflecting on her childhood in wartime England, her life in Berkeley, Calif., in the 1960s or her relationships with her parents, children or ex-husband. She also contemplates a recent illness that has taken much of her energy to fight.

Marcus observes that her spiritual practice has always been grounded in the “here and now of natural environment.” For her, Iona is one of those places “whose very presence and whose every interconnected sparkling detail encourage us to let go of our small sense of self and surrender into the certain knowledge of the oneness of everything.”

Having just returned from spending three months in that part of the world, on the rugged Antrim Coast of Northern Ireland, I found this book a timely read. At first, it helped me reflect on some of my experiences while on sabbatical. As I continue to meditate on the book, however, it has led me to think about my own experiences of place — where I live now, and also some of the places of my childhood on the Great Lakes. In this time, when a collective reawakening to the connectedness and wisdom in nature seems so urgently needed, Iona Dreaming is a book that can help to deepen personal or group reflection.

Martha Martin is a diaconal minister living in Halifax and a member of The Observer's board of directors.

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