Monday, 9 January 2012

Is nature-watching a spiritual exercise?

This weekend just gone I took a friend with me on a trip to the RSPB reserve at Strumpshaw Fen in Norfolk. My friend has been having a hard time of things recently and has been receiving counselling, during which it was suggested she should make the time to "get more in touch with nature". I've always found it immensely rewarding simply to sit and view the natural world, whether with camera in hand or not. But I had never before stopped to consider, in any depth, why it should be so. There was relatively little happening beyond the hide that day, save for the mallard and wigeon pictured, which were spooked off their watery resting spot by something unseen or unheard by us. My friend sat quietly looking out from the hide windows, saying very little. But when I asked – worried she might have been bored – how she had found the experience, she told me it had been "absolutely wonderful", adding that it was "the first time I have sat and done nothing, with a completely empty mind, for years". Perhaps that it is it; perhaps what spending time watching nature run its course does for us is to take us away from day-to-day reality for a while, providing the chance to switch off briefly, to recharge a little. I think this is so, but I also find nature humbling, fascinating, educational, illuminating, distressing, frustrating, beautiful and ugly and sometimes even amusing. Equally, I find it rewarding slowly to build up a level of expertise, to improve my fieldcraft and to use these skills to capture shots which – when they come off – define a moment for me. I also like to lose myself in the eternal struggles being played out at the end of binoculars or camera lens: the search for food, the building of nests, the raising of offspring, the fight and the flight. When immersed in such things, it really is so easy to forget about life's slings and arrows. Even if just for a short while. I would love to know what others get from this obsession of ours…

Canon 1Ds MkII, Canon 100-400mm IS USM lens, 1/2,000th sec, f/8, 400mm at IDO 500, Distance to subject: c: 30m

8 comments:

  1. You summed up nature watching pefectly Tim, thats exactly how I see it mate :-)

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  2. Before I took early retirement from running a Dept. I always found that an hour after work on the nature reserve that I was a Vol. Warden on was perfect for de-stressing. Not the frantic, must find new birds to add to my monthly total type of walk, but a simple care-free, float away in your own thoughts type of walk. Perhaps sing out loud, perhaps scribble down some lines of new poetry, perhaps a simple sit on the seawall and watch the clouds blow by. Hopefully your friend will now have found how communing with the great outdoors can be an effective way of cleansing the mind.

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  3. Beautifully written Tim. I think, part of the pleasure for me, is the realisation that I have found the joy in appreciating God's (I'm a beleiver in creation) natural work of art. I look at all the people around me who are not 'plugged in' to the true beauty of nature, and feel pity for them, but a smug satisfaction for me!

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  4. Great post Tim and couldn't agree more. The walks I do before work are just a fantastic way to start the day. I take a few walks voluntarily for the local National Trust site and peoples reactions to the amount of things they can see on their doorstep makes it more than worth while, it's as if they've suddenly opened their eyes for the first time, thankfully lots of them come back :-)

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  5. Its a wonderful therapeutic and enjoyable pastime Tim.
    I also enjoy trying to improve (if thats the right word) my photographic skills. Nothing beats getting out there and doing it again and again. I just enjoy walking and using binoculars sometimes. The more you study nature the more you become aware of why, what you see, is taking place. Its a whole different world where you decide what you are doing and there is nothing else like it.

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  6. For me it is always a thrill to see birds that I haven't noticed before or have returned for the season. I must find a local spot, that I can get to easily, that has a hide. Oh and some proper binoculars.
    Love the new banner!

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  7. Thank you everyone for your comments. It's clear we all get something magical and restorative back from our time spent with nature, whether passive or active. But keep the comments coming – it's fascinating to learn what others take from this shared passion of ours.

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  8. For me it is both relaxing and exciting at the same time.Not always taking photographs,but watching the behaviour of the birds and animals,busy times and quiet times.

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