I’m beginning to wonder whether I might inadvertently have invented a new sub-genre of ‘nature writing’. Not so much the lone enraptured male, as the hapless bumbling simpleton. Some one-line summaries of a few of my recent articles:
- Exploring my damp patch
Our hero goes in search of rare plant on his local moor and fails to find it.
- In search of the delicate flapwort—and why we need tricorders
Our hero goes in search of a different rare plant in a different local beauty-spot and fails to find that too.
- Prize-winning author lost on moor
Our hero takes a friend for a walk on his local moor and gets hopelessly lost in the fog.
If truth were told, there could have been more in this vein. In my article about my canoe trip to Wild Cat Island with my old friend Mike, I totally gloss over the final 90% of the trip (see the final two paragraphs of my piece), which involved an awful lot of very uncomfortable paddling, an awful lot of bickering, moaning and swearing—all of it by me—and a thorough drenching half a mile from the end.
Then, between last Christmas and New Year, I went walking in Cumbria with my mate Stense, got lost (again), and ended up in a shouting match with an irate farmer, who had clearly been lying in wait for some passing ramblers to misunderstand his stupid, self-contradictory sign, so that he could hurl unprovoked expletives at them. Come to think of it, the previous time I went walking with Stense, we ended up totally lost as well, that time bumping into a delightful Welsh farmer, who fell over himself to set us back on the right track.
And then there were all the times I encountered birders (as they seem to call themselves), who naturally assumed that, with my binoculars and impressive SLR camera around my neck, I must be one of their number, so engaged me in all manner of bird-related gossip. Off course I bullshitted [bullshat?]: I didn’t want to look like a total fool. Only one of them saw straight through me. Well, perhaps two or three.
The thing is, it’s all well and good being heroic and adventurous and knowledgeable and profound and spiritual (eugh!) in your ‘nature writing’, but most walks in the countryside aren’t like that. You see birds that you can’t recognise, or mistake for something far rarer. You get lost. You can’t find the stile you’re looking for and end up catching your trousers on barbed wire as you try to climb over the fence. You see loads of trees and flowers, and haven’t a clue what any of them are. You get totally knackered climbing the smallest of hills, and draw your companions’ attention to the magnificent views, just so you can take a sly breather. That’s how most of us mortals enjoy the countryside.
But would anyone want to read about it?