While taking my solitary walks in West Dorset – along the coast, through woodlands and wetlands – I’ve had plenty of time to think about why I enjoy doing this and what makes me need a ‘fix’ of nature on a regular basis. For me, it seems to be a contradictory mixture of escapism from busy modern life and yet immersion in the reality of the natural world. Richard Jefferies in The Story of my Heart said – ‘I now became lost, and absorbed into the being or existence of the universe’. This sensation of oneness with the environment is something that happens, usually when you least expect it, when you’re on your own, and it is this experience that draws me back time and time again into the countryside.
I then started thinking about the modern obsession for recording and identifying. I have a small camera which doesn’t always come up with what I am hoping for (probably my fault) and I only have some ancient binoculars. However, I believe that looking at nature through a lens can be a second-hand experience. The moment a deer appears in the woodland it’s tempting to reach for the camera. Then the connection with what you see is lost and your mind starts to think of exposures and focal lengths. You may end up with a brilliant photo with which you can share your experience with others, but I do wonder if this virtual moment is as meaningful.
Then there’s the matter of identification. This can become a bit of a train-spotting exercise and I know a lot of people enjoy recording species they see. There’s nothing wrong with this, but for me I prefer to ‘recognise’ rather than ‘identify’. When you visit the same place frequently you often see the same creatures or birds and they become familiar – you recognise them. There is a buzzard near Beaminster which I see every time I go to Horn Park. He always sits on the same fence post and, for me, it’s like seeing an old friend. I don’t always know the names of the birds I see, but I don’t always know the names of people I see in the street, yet I say hello to them. Anyway, after this meditation, I decided I would try to just use my camera as an aide memoir and to record my walks with sketches and other ‘hands-on’ artwork, may be the occasional poem. This would involve properly looking at things and may result in a more direct experience of what I see. Time will tell …
Three linocuts – of my favourite Stag Beetle found in my garden, a female hornet who built a beautiful nest in my garden shed and a pigeon’s feather found near Beaminster