Sunday, 16 October 2011

Nature on foot

The poet Edward Thomas believed travelling by bicycle to be an unsatisfactory mode of transport, stating that it moved too quickly for him to pick out the detail he needed for his poems. Thomas was also a naturalist, his often-lyrical diaries full of notes concerning observations of the natural world and the creatures that filled it. When comes to observing nature I am in complete agreement. You cannot watch nature by bicycle; it is too much stop-start and ‘ooh, what was that I just missed?’ To be on foot gives you more opportunity to take in what is around you, to move or stop quietly, to crouch or drop to the ground. Being on foot keeps you connected, engaged with what is going on, immersed in the landscape. A bicycle denies you these things, even if you can cover more ground.

My perambulations are punctuated with moments where I simply stand and watch and wait. More often than not something will show itself, particularly if your stopping is in response to a soft call, a harsh alarming churr or a gentle rustle in the vegetation. Moving slowly and quietly also lessens the chances of you blundering into something, panicking a whirr of partridge wings or the white-rumped leap of startled Roe. More attuned to movement and noise, you can hear the approach of a mixed flock working its way along the hedgerow or the soft sound that will lead you to a hidden cricket.

There is a selfishness that sometimes accompanies my wanderings. Although happy in the company of friends, particularly when out for a day of birding, my solitary walks have their own private space, one which I am reluctant to share with the inevitable walkers who blunder about noisily on the route march from ‘a’ to ‘b’. This may be why I seek out the tracks less often walked in an attempt to engage with the natural world and escape from my own species. I am sure that some who have encountered me have thought me rude, unwilling answer the question of what’s about and share in some polite chatter.

Being on foot often allows me to side-step these encounters, as I duck behind a hedge or settle into the folds of rough ground. I sometimes speculate as to how many other creatures are also doing this, taking cover as the noisy humans approach, and wonder whether I have more in common with them than with my fellow man. Being out on foot is about engaging with the natural world and, as such, it is not so much the linear journey that I make that is important but the temporal one; time well spent and richly rewarded.

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