Sometimes I suspect there is a broadly held belief that ‘the wilderness’ is far out there beyond the reach of ‘normal’ humanity. A place so wild and forbidding that great courage and skill need be your constant companion. A place where for every chance of delight there is a promise of danger. One wrong step and the ticket becomes just one-way. But those who know the wilderness also know that it is many things – it is a state of mind, it is a place which is as near as it is far…in fact we have wildness both within us and just beyond the tip of our nose.
So, put aside the dreams of far-off horizons a moment, and take a journey across your back yard. You know, the one you now ignore because of familiarity.
Take a walk; crawl even. VERY SLOWLY. Take a look. Take a REALLY good look – and by that I mean look, listen, touch, smell, taste….sense. If you look closely you will see winter is full of signs of activity as nature quests for survival over these lean, brutal months. The wilderness outside your back door is just as magical than those more exotic and bigger canvasses we all wax lyrical about. Wilder places are here, hidden between the broken paving of a derelict railway yard, as much as in the grykes of a highcountry limestone pavement. Wild places are all around us. You just have to look and feel. Its rediscovery, just beyond the tip of your nose, is one of the best presents you can be gifted.
Nature awareness is a foundation stone not only of tracking and hunting but of wilderness travel, foraging, gathering and living successfully in the back of beyond. As my grandfather once said to me – it is all intertwined with our ability to see, touch, taste, smell and be in nature:
“I cannot drink if I do not know where to look. But it is not just knowing where the water lies. Once I have found the water I cannot carry it until I know how to contain it. I cannot sew my canteen until I have learned to preserve its leather. I cannot obtain the hide until I have learned to hunt the animal. I cannot catch the animal until I can track. I cannot track until I have learnt to see [nature]. I cannot observe [nature] until I have learnt to become aware. I cannot become aware of nature until I learn to value it. I cannot value it until I learn to live with it. I cannot live with it until I have lived within it.”