We can marvel at the interior of a termite mound or shriek at a great white shark attacking penguins.
Nature documentaries can be wonderfully educational. But, ironically, at the same time they can isolate us from Nature. We think we are experiencing Nature, when we are not. We are merely experiencing others’ experiences of Nature, whether it’s the TV presenter, the cameraman, the scientist or the celebrity. We’re experiencing Nature vicariously – through the eyes of someone else.
I believe that nature documentaries should inspire us… not to sit down and watch the next episode, but to get out there and observe Nature for ourselves. If we don’t do this, if we satisfy ourselves through these vicarious experiences, then I think we are missing something extremely valuable. We are missing coming into direct contact with Nature.
The investment is minimal. If you’re interested in birds, buy a pair of binoculars. Bugs and butterflies? A magnifying glass. Stars? A telescope. Whatever you’re interest, buy or rent the relevant guide book.
Where to go? Forget the exotic safari to a distant location. Start local. Your garden or nearby park. The forest down the road. The lake at the end of the tram ride. Take off for an hour, or even less.
Get down and dirty. Trawl your net through a pond and empty the contents into a jam jar. Lie on your back on a summer evening and just gaze at the stars. Sit in a forest with your eyes closed and listen to the birds. I honestly think you will be amazed at what you will discover when you come into contact with Nature.
Some of my most memorable experiences in life have been close encounters with Nature.
I remember leaning over a canal bridge one balmy summer evening, day-dreaming as the dusk began to fall and the midges started to bite. Along the towpath a large white bird materialized. I thought at first it was a seagull, but as it approached I realized it was a barn owl out hunting. I sank below the parapet with just my eyes peeking over. The barn owl came closer and closer, but instead of flying under the bridge it flew over it, immediately above me. For a brief moment it hovered silently about a metre over my head. I looked up into the deepest, most gorgeous dark eyes of this totally wild bird – an experience I remember to this day, forty years later.
Then there was the large oak forest that I visited one evening in May. I sat down amongst the trees, when I heard a faint rustle behind me. I was itching to turn and look, but stayed as still as a statue. Faint footsteps padded closer. I caught a movement out of the corner of my eye. I slowly turned my head to see a beautiful female Muntjac deer, contentedly chewing leaves, totally unaware of my presence. It was followed by her two youngsters. As I watched them disappear into the foliage, there was a louder rustling behind me, and gambolling into view came three fox cubs, followed by the vixen. One cub even came up to my outstretched legs and sniffed at my boots before disappearing.
Then there was the time I was walking in the Ardennes near La Roche, and after a tiring almost vertical climb I was sitting on the grass catching my breath when I heard a distant croaking like a frog. Frogs are always on the ground, so I looked on the ground, but I then realized that the croaking was coming from above me – in the sky. I looked up to see one of the great spectacles of the world of nature – a flock of magnificent cranes on their northerly migration from Portugal and Morocco to Scandinavia.
The flock I was watching suddenly stopped and started circling in the sky… once, twice, three times. I thought for a minute they were lost. But then I heard some more croaking behind me and an even larger flock of cranes appeared. The first group had simply decided to wait a bit to allow the second flock to catch up. It was an absolutely wonderful experience.
So, this spring, why not take some time out, and get out there. Get into contact with Nature. Feel it, touch it, smell it, listen to it and observe it. I believe you will be uplifted, stimulated and rejuvenated. You will experience a sense of wonder. You may even feel reborn.