Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Zen and the art of ornithological maintenance

Contentment is something that I have rarely experienced when it comes to my study of the natural world. When I first picked up a pair of binoculars and started looking at birds I had a burning need to get out there and try and see everything there was to be seen. Nothing was ever enough. There was always more to seek. More to identify. More to write down.

As I gained experience I felt the need to be accepted by the others who persued my interests. I wanted them to look upon me a not just competent, but good at what I did. I wanted a reputation as someone who was reliable. Who found rare things. Who was able to act as an expert. These things I strived for, but of course never satisfied myself that I ever achieved. So I pushed myself harder, went out of my way to infiltrate and ingratiate within the right circles, tried to be seen in the right places at the right time.

But I was never destined for greatness. Was never a real contender. A career, a marriage, having children, they all became the focus of my waking hours and relegated the 'other stuff' to a weekend daliance, to infrequent holidays, to a dream of 'what might have been'.

What might have been.

I think I know what might have been, and that is, if truth be told, not a lot. I didn't have the killer instinct in me, and I never have had. There would have been no crazy flights in chartered light aircraft to remote Scottish islands to get a tick. There never would have been dawn til dusk vigils at headlands for seven days a week either. I wouldn't have dropped everything to go to Essex to see the latest dragonfly addition to the British list. Or hunted all of the Herefordshire beechwoods to track down that Ghost Orchid. I wouldn't have spent the hours and hours of study to become an expert in grasses and sedges and rushes. I would have baulked at sorting out the many, many beetles and flies.

So why am I now content? It's because I now know that I have stopped fooling myself that I am in some way a 'player' in the world of natural history. I've been kidding myself for too long that I was in self-imposed exile, biding my time and waiting to be unleashed once more into the field, to take on all comers and ride triumphantly back into the natural history world. I may be a middle-aged man, but I was still dreaming of scoring that last-minute goal in an FA Cup final, of hitting the winning run in an Ashes series, of playing a killer guitar solo at Glastonbury, of collecting an oscar as leading man in LA - or even finding a first for Britain.

It isn't going to happen and I'm happy and relaxed about that. What I do now and how I do it, I am happy with. If I stumble upon something unusual then great! If I can share it with others, then all the better. If I cock up an identification, so what? I have, for too long, pressurised myself in my interests. To accept that I have never been a contender is liberating. It's a shame that my immaturity has meant that I have come to that conclusion thirty years later than I should have done.


Alan Tilmouth said...

A fine post Steve, an honest and emotive piece of introspection that I'm sure many people will recognise themselves in, but not to dream? Surely not, whilst I agree about managing one's expectations, it is our dreams, our hopes (that first for Britain?) that provide the motivation to keep looking and searching. Enjoy each day and be happy with whatever comes your way but don't stop dreaming, "The poorest man is not without a cent but without a dream"

Gavin Haig said...

Steve, most dreams revolve around selfish aims, and so are - ultimately - a bit superficial and unsatisfying in the main.

But you write.

You write, therefore you share. You have readers. Readers who look forward to your next piece. You make them think. That's a nice thing to know. Or should be. I hope you think so.

Alan Tilmouth said...

Gavin, isn't that just a different kind of ego trip that we go on? The blogger that makes the most people think or is saying something really vital to be consumed by eager readers. Isn't it a good thing sometimes to nurture yourself and your dreams?

Anonymous said...

Finely written Steve. Posts like these are just as good, if not better than a list of species seen.

Graham James said...

Very refreshing to read, Steve. Feeling unpressured and happy with your lot is what it should be about. Nature is there for all to see and nobody needs to be competitive or an expert to appreciate it for what it is. Just enjoy it.
The real experts (such as DIM Wallace in birding) are few and far between but there are an awful lot of wannabes about. How sad.

Steve Gale said...

Thanks for the comments.

Alan, I haven't stopped dreaming, I've just lowered the level of the dream. You are right, that to 'give up' would bankrupt the soul.

Gavin, thanks for the 'bigging up' and coming from you I take it as a massive compliment.

Alan again, you are correct (again) about blogging being another form of competition. The trouble is, my blogging links are populated by some rather fine writers, so I've created a rod for my own back there, haven't I?

Dean, your kind words are noted and I will treat myself to a blast of 999 in your honour!

Graham, you more than most know that I spend too much time analysing what I do and why. But there again, it's a trait we both share...

Gavin Haig said...

Alan, I wish you weren't so quick to spoil my self-delusion! ;o)

It's true really, writing is not that different to the monster guitar solo. The fewer bum notes, the better, and a fine performance leaves both artist and audience smiling, and at least one ego well massaged! There, I've admitted it.

Factor said...

An interesting piece, Steve. I think it confirms something that should be quite reassuring - you're not a nutcase like some wannabees. Being a player doesn't necessarily make for a likeable or good person - probably deep down they're just a bit mental.

We make deliberate choices in life. We either go for it and bugger the consequences, or we don't.

As for me, I wanted to be noticed once (probably still do, if I'm honest) - I was for a time in one particular sphere - but like everything else, it passes with time.

Like you say about being immature, I hope I've grown up a bit now!