I’ve spent time taking people into the woods, and when I’m in hides, I spend a lot of time pointing out the interesting stuff to random strangers. Connecting with nature can be a confusing business, and if you don’t know what you’re looking at, it’s easy to sit on the outside, feeling a bit alienated. Are those all ducks? How do I tell? What does it mean if they aren’t? Seeing the web of life as a meaningful set of connections, practical and spiritual, is tricky if you can’t see the individuals. If the landscape is so much background and all the trees look the same, where do you start?
The naming of nature, is a human process. Just having a name can feel like having some power and insight, but if you don’t go beyond that, there’s limited use. The process of being able to see other life forms as distinct individuals, is really exciting. With practice, it’s not just a case of being able to say ‘ah yes, a fox’ but to know this is an old dog fox and that one is probably a last year cub, and that fellow with a bit of white on his nose is the one who does unspeakable things to your dustbin bags.
A name is an opener to a story. With the name we are able to access a bit of information about who this is and what they do, and why they matter. The name is a bridge between the physical presence, and the story.
I was in a hide yesterday, watching the birds. A bunch of noisy kids came in, peering out of windows, seeing green stuff and stuff with feathers. Bored, tired, probably a bit alienated, it wasn’t enough to be looking out of the windows because none of it meant anything. So I went over to them, and pointed out the two wild cranes, and said a few things about what an amazing thing it is to see them. Awed hush descended, and by the time their responsible adults showed up, we had a group of excited birdwatchers pointing out the wild cranes and telling the story of what they were seeing.
I love it when I’m able to do things like that. It’s something I’d lost sight of, because so much of the work I do is at a distance. The immediacy of children in a hide engaging and being excited about what’s out there, reminded me how important it is to me to be able to help other people engage with nature. I’m not sure what to do with this right now, other than hold it as something that matters, and see what’s out there.