Monday, 10 August 2020

Job done?

This morning’s ‘gentle’ post managed to encourage a number of people to respond to my rambling thoughts, which were, after all, just a stream of consciousness that had emanated from a tired and hot mind. The bottom line is, if I were being blunt about it, natural historians do not like to believe that those among their number are capable of phasing or becoming indifferent to the rigours of recording in the field. There was a time when I would have been in that camp. But, as admitted today, not necessarily now.

Let’s take myself as a case study.

Started birding at 15 in 1974. Dead, dead keen, obsessional even, until 1983. Watershed moment? Choosing to go and see a Siouxsie and the Banshees gig in preference to a weekend Scilly twitch (I think it was Scarlet Tanager and/or Northern Waterthrush.) And I had seen the Banshees before.

Started to dabble in plants and moths in a very loose way from 1979 onwards, finally making a real effort when purchasing a moth trap in 1987 and starting to go out primarily looking for plants in 1998. Sometime - in 2010 ? -  became an advocate of pan-listing and started to have a go at everything I came across.

Family, career and long-term serious illness obviously took precedence over time in the field. I know that those things (especially the first two) are not barriers for everybody! And I enjoyed a social life. Music. Sport. Reading. As much as birding and natural history were my main interests, I would not let them dominate. So much so that on lengthy stays at Dungeness I would ensure the odd afternoon or day off - spend the time reading or going to look around the local churches, lounging in a marsh pub or walking along the beach to Dymchurch where a bacon bap preceded the 8-mile journey back.

I used to devour any identification papers that were printed in British Birds, avidly read the bird guides and found my fair share of good birds. It mattered to me then that I did, and that my standing amongst my birding peers was a good one. And now? I have no interest in trying to keep up, fell by the wayside some time ago and live off the scraps of what reputation I once had. I doff my cap willingly to a number of young birders locally who are streets ahead of me in the field. They work at it, and I don’t.

Diving headfirst into moths and plants in sudden bursts of enthusiasm got me so far along the knowledge line, but from early doors I was aware of my shortcomings. I’ve tried to bone-up on grasses, sedges, rushes and micro moths, tried to come to terms with hybrid docks and the hundreds of brambles, but settled on a middle-ground where I can name most of what I see - although I will never remember the names of the micro moths!!

When I retired a few years ago there was a self-acceptance that my ‘knowledge’ would push on and grow. It’s gone backwards. In all honesty I have tried and found myself not exactly wanting, more like not wanting to put in the yards to get there. My horizons are contracting. I have more interest in the natural history locally and trying to find and watch migration flight-lines, roosts, the arable and downland flora on my doorstep and anything else that passively comes my way. I’m out in the field just as much, but the drive to achieve, to find quality, to be a ‘player‘ has been swapped for one that relaxes, enjoys and takes what comes along however parochial or menial it is. To me this is not a lessening but a spiritual growing.

It amazes me how questioning the ability or commitment of a natural historian takes on the equivalent of questioning how good a lover or driver they are. To some it’s 100% commitment or bust! Maybe I’ve been a fraud all this time, putting a Cup Final or Test Match before a bird; to be rather reading Thomas Hardy than a paper on gull identification; or putting a pint of 6X ahead of a sea-watch.

The experience is what I crave now. The sky full of migrating birds. The meadow full of orchids. The walk when I feel at one. That’s where I am at now, and if I can share that with others through the medium of this blog, then job done.


Stewart said...

I think what you are experiencing Steve is called 'experience'. As we get older, we have no need to do what is expected of us. I tend to set myself small goals as inspiration to visit local places. For example, with this weather at the minute I have an idea that Black Tern is a possibilty for me here on a patch with no marshes or lakes. Only one record in 11 yrs. On another day, I might look for Green Hairstreak or Arctosa cinerea or what ever. If I dont find it, so? There will be other things to see and we are outside looking and feeling the wind on our face.
I differ slightly from you in that I have never had many other interests. Never liked team sport. Too many blokes and shouting for me. I do like reading and seeing bands and in particular watching films, but would I put them before a seawatch? No. Its just me, its my fabric and I love it.
Stick with doing what ever you are in the mood for at the time. We only have one life, enjoy it.

Steve Gale said...

Wise words Stewart, thank you.

Gavin Haig said...

Yes, yes, yes.

Love this post, Steve. Will revisit it later, have a think, and see if anything comes out...

Steve Gale said...

Look forward to it Gav

Yossarian said...

Excellent post Steve, there's a lot to say about all this. I'd simply say a deep love and respect for the natural world constantly draws you in... it's a natural progression to want to know how it all works, but of course it's far too complex however much knowledge you gain. Relating to our fellow humans is also very important so being able to discuss films, sport and books in the pub or anywhere else is not to be sneezed at.

Adam Hartley (Gnome) said...

Nice post Steve! I think that in the end we each find our own level of interest and commitment to it all. I too have stared into the pan-species listing abyss only to come to my senses. In terms of chasing after every tick and keeping up with all the latest ID stuff, it's like all aspects of life: it's the young thrusting bucks who are usually most keen but as I age, like you I find myself slowing down and taking delight in the more everyday occurrences of nature in and around my local patch rather than rushing to the other end of the country to try to see something new. In the end its a hobby or pasttime rather than a competition and we each do what interests us most.

Steve Gale said...

Adam and Adam! Thank you both for your replies. To be honest, I don’t really know where I am, and where I’m going.

I’m only 61....