My third-wave nature sensibility has both nothing and everything to do with the current state of social isolation under Covid-19. What seems like a thousand years ago, as a socially isolated only child – no siblings, few extended family members, and not allowed friends – I played out for hours on end in the woods, fields, and river banks around my home. I climbed lots of trees, nibbled at leaves and berries, splashed about in ponds and streams. My friends were the animals and plants of the natural world, and certain other creatures who might be called imaginary friends, though they looked nothing like human beings.
In those days, the 1950’s, children played outside as the norm, and whenever I was allowed out – my mother preferred me by her side, and I was somewhat of a household slave too – off I would go to my local haunts. I usually had a stick – essential for poking in the mud of streams, for rudimentary dissection of dead creatures, or to hack down a few stinging nettles – and always my imaginary dog who was a combination of Timmy from the Famous Five books, White Fang, Old Yeller, and any other utterly-devoted-to-its-owner dog you can think of. And that wild little life, along with having a patch of my own garden, was the first wave.
In my early and middle adult years, activities such as child rearing, house ownership and earning money (normal life, some might say) got in the way of my forays into nature – although having assorted pets, houseplants and growing fruit and vegetables in a variety of gardens kept me a little in touch with the natural world. But all those childhood experiences (including, some might say, my contact with nature elementals) rested dormant, like seeds, in the deep earth of my heart, waiting for the event in my late fifties that was to crack open the carapace of both heart and seeds. More about that time elsewhere, but this re-awakening into the natural world became the second wave.
I bought a small motorhome and after several months working as a gardener and living at the Findhorn Foundation, a spiritual education community in northern Scotland, I began my own nature trips again, keeping a nature journal, and training in core shamanic practice. Soon, though, my life was focussed primarily on environmental conservation work. I stopped being nomadic, and became a conservation volunteer, doing a combination of practical and administrative work for the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust, the RSPB, and later, after my move to Devon, the Devon Wildlife Trust and the National Trust. I even gained paid work with the RSPB which although probably earning my lowest ever salary, I consider to be one of my most significant career achievements. As I moved into my sixties, health issues began to limit my physical activities so I took a more artistic approach to nature by immersing myself in reading about it: both informative natural history, and within the more creative and personal ‘New Nature Writing’ genre as it has been called. I decided to take an MA in Creative Writing, with a focus on Nature and Travel, and I consider obtaining that qualification to be one of my best achievements – along with my BA in English Language and Literature, of course.
Whilst doing my MA I began to formulate a plan for travelling the UK, visiting special nature places, seeing special nature events such as seals being born, salmon spawning, deer rutting and more, and writing a book about it. But once again what most folk would call ‘normal life’ intervened in the shape of caring for my father and his wife through a variety of physical and mental health issues until she died. A few months after that my father had a stroke, moved into a care home, and died himself some time later.
I, however, remain alive, and – if I am to live until dad’s ripe old age of 99 – have well over twenty years to go. Covid-19 (or indeed anything else, including the number 19 bus) might get me at any moment, and I’m certainly aware on a daily basis of my physical limitations, but I’ve decided – as the third wave of nature’s delights re-awakens me once again – to make the most of whatever time I have and to celebrate and promote the wonders (and the resources) the natural world has to offer. Even – in these stay-put days – the natural world as it exists just walking distance from my house, or in my own garden, or plant pots, or in the views from my window.
It’s ironic that at the end of last year, some twenty months on from my father’s death, I began serious planning for my year travelling around Britain taking in a variety of landscapes and wildlife spectacles, and writing the book. So it would be boxing hares in March, for example, the machair and other wildflowers in May, seabird colonies in June, common seals pupping in August, leaping salmon in September, the red deer rut in October, grey seals in November… I’d go to the north of Scotland, the west of Wales, to Norfolk and Suffolk in the east, and to several places in between. This was the plan I was gestating whilst doing my MA, but my father was still alive (though he sometimes questioned that fact) in his care home and because this plan meant me being away many times, sometimes for several days or more – really being more away than at home – I did not want to leave him “imprisoned” (his word, but near enough true) in the care home without visits from me and without our little local trips out. But by early winter last year, I was more than ready… ready and free, for The Trip, and for the writing.
In December and early January, my plan was coming together nicely. I had a sense of the year ahead, with general plans for every month, and with some very specific events in place, starting late January with a starling roost and the possibility of cranes on the Somerset Levels. I had also decided to leave Devon where I had been living for the previous five years and return to North Yorkshire. It felt the right time, and apart from being closer to family and to former Yorkshire friends, it would be easier to travel to Norfolk, to Cumbria, to the Yorkshire coast and to Scotland: places I would need to be for many of my wildlife events. Also, I would have no formal place of my own but just have a low-cost base at a friend’s house whilst she worked abroad. What joy. Tramping about in nature again, though this time in total freedom, seeing all the major wildlife spectacles and wonderful landscapes wherever they were in Britain…
And we all know what happened next. I managed my January event in Somerset (you can read my short blog about it on the Somerset Birdwatching Holiday website) and I continued with my furniture selling and plans to move north as a base for my nomadic year. But even in mid-March, on the M5 and M1 travelling north, I was aware of a reduction in traffic and even an occasional face mask in service station cafes. Well before official lockdown on 23rd March, I knew my plans were not to be. I knew the Great Year of British Wildlife would not be happening in 2020, at least, and would it ever? The doldrums descended, and I wondered what I was doing, uprooting myself yet again, living in someone’s spare bedroom (also yet again – another story!), and not even able to visit friends and family…
However… Part Two – the third-wave – to follow.