If honest, much of my time outdoors is spent with an irreverence to wildlife photography . I sometimes carry my camera, sometimes not. I will always be keen to spot non-human life, unusual light, vistas, contrasts, oddments, but what really pulls me out from a warm hearth into a wild, wet Winter’s day is curiosity.
You may not find many references to play in wildlife photography to-do guides. They are masters of patience, connoisseurs of self-containment.
It’s one of the reasons I never declare myself as a wildlife photographer. I play too much and don’t conform as I might.
The river is often my draw; like a magnet I seek out the life of it, the sounds, smells and the feel of it. Slippery rock, cool water, smooth or fast flow. To start, look at the path just here. Beyond the gate down the hill to the limestone slabs. There’s more moisture in the soil since yesterday, must have rained overnight, any new roots exposed? Any more human tracks? No fresh ones, I hope. Look at these worm casts and willow leaf bundles half pulled into a secretive, damp underworld.
Give me a stick and I will poke it in the mud. I meddle. Give me a pebble and I’ll rub it clean, throw it in the deeps, or keep it in my pocket. Show me a narrowing path and I will follow it. Peering.
In Summer haze, I might lie down in sweet grasses and look up. Maybe there are twittering passerines nearby, unseen. But high up, a raptor with a large lazy wing flap and a forktail. Red kite!
Last week, I sat quietly bankside to observe a goosander diving beneath a silky river pool, hopeful of capturing an image. Lens cap off. Time passed with no shots taken.
Countless questions swirled about in my mind; my imagination hurling me that extra mile into the explorations… plus-sized memories in the making. What must it feel like to possess a saw-bill? Do goosanders feel anxiety if they lose their mates? Where will this bird Winter this year, Northern Norway or will she remain resident here nestled between these softer Welsh hills, as more and more seem to be doing each Winter?
Ah look! A tiny may fly emerges from still waters at the river’s edge. I pluck it out of the surface tension, hold on my finger and take a few pictures. I put it down on a dark, discreet pebble to warm.
And now a king salmon glides past the riverbank, late, but a reminder of ancient plenty. Distractions! Look at his beautifully smooth wave-like movement. His shine, his jaw line. Returning from a long adventure, how does this fine creature survive all predators, us?
So I follow him upstream as far as I can, admiring his glittery magnificence beneath the surface until he blackens in a gloomy deep. The goosander is long gone.
Memories are the richer for the goosander, mayfly and salmon. I am richer for all. They now become part of me, as they are of each other.
One should sometimes loose track of time, the normal responsibilities of family life, being mum, wife, daughter, sister, dissolving for just an hour or two. Fend off the guilt, resist the capitalist work ethic, the judgments. Childish and selfish to be still curious outdoors? Not at all, but children are good at prodding around in nature, given half a chance. It is connection, who we are and where we fit in. Our place.
I’m glad for learning the craft of being able to switch off, at least for a while, and now, to be unconsciously curious. No need to go too far into the distance. It is part but not the whole of living a good life, letting light shine into our shadows.