Encounters in the Wild

When you spend time in nature, no matter how fleeting or irregular, chances are you’ll see some of the wild and free creatures that live there.

Over the years, I’ve been fortunate to meet and often capture a photo or two of all kinds of wild ones who reside with us on this treasured earth.

No matter what my mood, my spirits soar to see a hare, fox or deer cross my path or an owl fly past me or to marvel at a cute toad or the iridescent blue of a damselfly or to be amidst the soft yellow fluttering dance of brimstone butterflies in May.

Although I love being in nature (it is, after all, our very essence and inspires my writing), I’m not ‘out there’ all hours like, for example, those patient wildlife photographers or those who work on the land to garden, farm or conserve. It seems, then, most surprising that I’ve had so many curious and magical encounters in the wild.

These encounters include sharing a precious few moments of silent communion with a female kestrel that had flown onto my bare arm; a wily hare, as big as a hound, lolloping ahead of Fen and me up a farm track as if to say, ‘It’s this way!’; and the frequent presence of barn owls either flying or perched on fence posts that I seem to sense before they appear. I’ve been eye-to-eye with a fox-like wild cat in the Lake District. I’ve seen a leveret, just a few weeks old, confidently boxing a crow. On one occasion, Fen and I watched a lone roe deer almost fly across the barren winter earth, gliding over a ditch to stand in front of us for time-stopping moments before continuing on its way.

Only recently, I saw a herd of sheep in a tentative stand-off against a black cat that simply materialised on that gentle pasture. For some 30 minutes, I watched the sheep stamp the ground, nudge slowly forward, to eventually see off this curious feline.

The birds speak constantly, and hold me in their gift of presence. There is the little owl who loves to sunbathe in the morning while posing for a photo.

There’s the heron who seems to have been stood in the ploughed field for so long that its feet have disappeared beneath the loam.

Magical starling murmurations; pied wagtail; a one-legged mistlethrush; long-tail tit; and loch-side robin: these, and many others, fly in and out of my life and always with a song to lift my mood.

I’ve not always had my camera at hand to record these special encounters and, on some occasions, the camera would have intruded on the moment. If Fen hadn’t witnessed some of these ‘spots of time’, as William Wordsworth called them in The Prelude, it would be easy to question whether they’d happened at all. Did we really see a white pheasant in the woods or a bevy of pet rabbits on a bleak moor or those owls that surrounded our car while looking for meteors one star-strewn night?

It’s also easy to fuel the notion that these encounters bring a personal message, a deeper meaning, something symbolic, and if one looks for the meaning, one will most definitely find something. For me, these magical encounters remind me of our profound connection with the natural world, the beautiful transcendence of the wild, and the symphony that is life. The wild has its dramas, which often play out in front of us and, sometimes, something uncanny happens that makes us question everything.

As I write this on the eve of the summer solstice, having just returned from a well-spent hour listening to a skylark performing its soaring song over ripening wheat fields, I’m filled with gratitude for all these encounters, whether considered ordinary or extraordinary, that brighten my life. I am, without doubt, richer for them.

Here’s a little bit of magic… My friend, Mr Peacock, enjoying the sunset with sun-lit midges that look like fairies…