Back behind the screen after two days away in the company of some of the Greats (with a capital “G”) of nature conservation in Italy. Just a few metres above me is a stubborn layer of dripping cloud and some of it has seeped into my head. Spring drizzle, warm and dark. It is from this that light will come, light and the growing of green things and flowers. And me? What about me? I have an urgent need to dance rock and roll barefoot to the canned music in a supermarket aisle between the frozen ready meals and canned peaches. I’m off now to have a word with the sodden stratus to see if together we can’t whip up a cumulonimbus worthy of the name.
I love these moments before dawn. Waiting. As the roe-deer and wild boar slip away into the woods, just me and the birds, early risers staking our claim on the day. The tingle in your skin tells you anything could happen, although that spoilsport left hemisphere tells you it won’t. But it could, it could. Good morning day, shall we be off?
Two days, 48 hours, 2880 minutes and a few more besides. When the stubborn south wind sets in to buffet the house, every nerve-jarring second counts. There is nothing elegant about this wind, nothing that suggests the least remorse for its incessant battering-ram assault, stripping leaves, shattering branches, hammering doors, pummelling windows and flinging against the glass bemused drops of rain that really would much rather be elsewhere. That’s how it is and how it will always be when the yellow sand-laden south wind wheedles its way over the pass, slips into the valley and takes residence there. Opposition is useless. Better just to sit and count the raindrops on the window pane, praying to whatever gods you believe in that the roof tiles will cling on at least this one time more. And they have. And now the sun has come back, as you knew it would, sooner or later. A little tremulous and uncertain of what to tell of all it has seen from high up there where the clouds fear to go. Because the clouds, as everyone knows, are afraid of heights.
It’s tough being cold-blooded in April at 1100 m in the Apennines. The sun comes out. It’s hot. You get crawling. Then the temperature plummets, along comes the snow again and you get caught out there, frozen on your way. Literally frozen. And that’s not a great way to be. This slow worm (Anguis fragilis) got lucky. We found it more than half frozen on the path to home, kept it off the ice in a makeshift shelter for a few days, then when the sun deigned to shine again, happily watched it slither away across the terrace. They are creatures of such beauty. Elegant, graceful, with a sheen of silver and russet in the soft spring light. Slow worms were a great love of my childhood. Hundreds of them (or so it seemed) frequent my memories of running wild in our dishevelled garden in Kent. I would meet them as we both slithered through the long grass on our bellies hunting for flies, or we would lie stretched out on hot summer stones together, them and I, as the sun seeped through the skin and into the blood. Far off feral days, so distant, so near. Stay out of the snow, slow worm. Happy slithering and a lifetime’s flies.
Stripped by autumn, it’s been a long time since you saw green leaves and crawling caterpillars. Just waiting. Winter ruffled you, mixed and stirred you with a dollop of snow, a pinch of ice. And then there was spring, although you’d hardly know it. That’s just how it is. The clouds pass leaving blotches of shadow and it’s cold without the sun, with an empty darkness on the horizon filled with echoes of the snow that has been and that which is to come. Soon. Just waiting.
Abbiamo emozioni paleolitiche, abbiamo istituzioni medioevali e in più abbiamo sviluppato una tecnologia simile a dio… e quello è una combinazione pericolosa.
(Edward O. Wilson – Of Ants and Men)
I had just arrived at destination after a longish walk in the company of some sixty or so other people. Walking in a group is not something I’m enthusiastic about, but this was a special occasion, worthy of an exception. My fellow walkers had dispersed and I found myself with time on my hands, waiting for someone to fetch the car to take us back to the starting point. My surroundings were not of the best… a massive, noisy, chaotic car park come picnic area at the entrance to one of the most famous valleys in the Abruzzo, Lazio and Molise National Park. It was teeming with people, the vast majority gaily oblivious of the awe-inspiring landscape and enthralling plants and animals all around. And perhaps that was for the best, as they were quite happy to pass the day in the picnic area, doing whatever one does on a day out in the countryside and leaving us woodland creatures to our own devices (yes, I know, I am a terrible and totally unrepentant snob).
I retired to the edge of the beech forest and sat down among the rocks, trying (in vain) to summon up the courage to face the madding crowd for long enough to top up my water bottle. Growing sleepy to the sound of the wind in the trees, I was woken to full attention by a new rustling behind me. Someone, or something, was approaching. I slowly looked round and there right behind me was a fox. She (as I felt the presence to be feminine) walked a few paces, looked at me, looked at the picnic area, then walked another few paces, until she reached the edge of the forest and sat down just a couple of metres away. I stealthily shot a couple of photos, then put the camera down. After the first few minutes, neither of us thought much about the other. We just sat there, the fox and I, two wild creatures wondering whether we had more to gain or to lose by confronting the swarming throng. There was for me a sort of comradeship of equals in that shared alert waiting, although I doubt it was likewise for my vulpine companion. Then noiselessly the fox disappeared back into the forest, the car arrived to pick me up and we both left this interface between two worlds. As we drove away, I reflected with envy and a touch of sadness that at least she knew which world to go back to. Too human to belong to the wild world, too wild to belong to the human world. Forever at the edge, looking out, or looking in, that’s me.