Wild at Heart

It has been over a year since I graduated now, this year has been unexpectedly difficult for me. I am rather ambitious and expected to be on a different path than I am now. But life isn’t like that and although I am on a path that will get me to where I want to be in the end, I have become rather disheartened by a number of things and have been very down these last few months. I have had to reassess my life, take things back to basics and look within at what makes me happy… the natural world. It will be no surprise to readers of this blog that I spend as much of my free time as possible, outside finding wildlife. However wonderful this is, sometimes I need to put down my notebooks, hand lens and nets and reconnect with the world around me, loose myself and not care what others think. I need to reconnect with my inner wildness…

One example of this took place on the 21st June. I met up with Lindsay Stronge , a wonderful ecologist, at King’s Cross and we went for a swim.  This was no ordinary swim though, this was a wild swim in a pond in the middle of a building site.  We arrived to see a huge viewing platform overlooking the pond where the public could watch the hardy swimmers below. The first swimmers that I saw were dressed head to toe in wetsuits and looked rather cold, Lindsay (a wild swimming veteran) reassured me that wetsuits wouldn’t be needed and I casually stripped off. I am rather body conscious so swimming just in swim shorts in a pond overlooked by the public was a bit surreal… but boy was it wonderful! The water had no chemicals (no chlorine headaches!) and felt fresh and natural with the plants in the pond filtering the water. From this moment on, I have wanted to go wild swimming in freshwater again, and I will!

The pond

The pond

The pond

The pond

Myself nervously approaching the water

Myself nervously approaching the water

Taking the plunge

Taking the plunge

Last week I was staying in Norfolk, sat on a stony beach I could see Sandwich Terns diving in the sea, I got a few photos but wanted to get closer and relive an encounter that had taken part the previous year in Dorset, a place I long to return to. So again I stripped off to swim shorts and charged in (the best way I find to acclimatise to the water.. just be careful!), much to the amusement of my family . I gradually swam out to the diving terns and waited. They seemed oblivious to my presence and dived for fish rather close to me. Such highly evolved species doing what they do best. I felt at one with the sea and the natural world. I felt free.

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One other thing that shocked me in Norfolk took place on a beach at Holkham. This beach is part of a National Nature Reserve which is why I was there, but is also popular with beachgoers due to miles of sand. However as  I headed back to the car park, the tide was out and there was patches of mud/ wet sand. Two children around 10 years old were wanting to get to the sand, past the muddy bit, but their mum was insistent that they must not get messy and weren’t allowed to take off their shoes and socks. To me being on a beach where sand is present, and wearing shoes, is a crime. We wonder why young people are disconnected from the natural world but don’t let them get a bit messy or go barefoot on a beach (exact words if I remember correctly were that it was too ‘dirty’ to be barefoot). Ironically here I was stood, a 21 year old, just leaving the beach after exploring. My shoes and socks were ditched almost as soon as I parked up and were not put back on until the car park as I explored and rambled through sand dunes, water woodlands and grasslands. My hair was messy and full of various plants, my feet were completely covered in mud and sand. But my eyes were bright, my face beaming and my soul fulfilled.

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Happy feet

It is worth noting that I did not have a hugely nature influenced childhood. I did not build camps, I did not climb trees etc, but I discovered the natural world and have been hooked since, despite bullies to try divert me off this course. I now climb trees, spent a lot of time outside barefoot and stargaze; it is never  too late to be wild. I have often been timid and almost hide my love for nature like it was something to be ashamed of, so a big part of my path has been to recognise that it is part of me, it isn’t me entirely, but I should embrace my wildness. I no longer put on my shoes if someone catches me sat in a wild place without shoes, why should they care?

Tree climbing - not just for children.

Tree climbing – not just for children.

I would like to leave you with an image that a twitter friend Louise posted on her blogs here and here recently.

at the end of the day

I am happiest when covered from head to toe in mud, with messy hair, eyes sparking and a smile on my face. Why not do something yourself to reconnect with the natural world this week?

Myself, in my natural environment. Engaging others with nature and showing everyone how wonderful insects are. You can see in my eyes how happy I was.

Myself, in my natural environment. Engaging others with nature and showing everyone how wonderful insects are. You can see in my eyes how happy I was.

Next week I am camping at the Birdfair and will be there for all 3 days including co-leading an invertebrate walk on the Friday and Sunday. The walks are free and will be amazing so do contact me for more details! Anyway, I haven’t camped before and hope that I will 1) love it and 2) get hooked and want to camp away from campsites; therefore discovering a new way to connect with the natural world. If any of you are going to be at the Birdfair, do say hello if you spot me. I am quite recognisable and although shy, like meeting like minded people.

Thanks for reading,

Ryan

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11 responses to “Wild at Heart

  1. I had a very natural childhood – I spent most of my time in a river, in the woods, on the rocks etc – my dad encouraged me as he had a rural childhood too and me and my sister would often stay out all day until mum or dad came to find us! I did go barefoot, climb trees etc as a child but I’ve never stopped! Just because I grew up, it doesn’t mean I can’t hang on to my inner child and keep enjoying playing outside! When I was younger I was a lot more conscious of what people thought of me if I climbed a tree, went on swing etc when I was 20 something but I find the older I got the less I cared!

    Isn’t it sad when parents won’t let their children get a bit dirty! I was walking near a family a few weeks ago – it was a path with mud and puddles at the edges and the little ones were wearing wellies but the adults they were with kept shouting at them not to go in the mud or puddles – how ridiculous! There was I splashing and squelching as I went and those poor kids made to stay on the dry path!

    I’ve never been wild swimming (I’ve spent a lot of time in rivers, but never actually swam in one!) but I’d quite like to give it a go. I haven’t been swimming at all since I was 11 – I won’t go in a public pool as I have OCD and confidence issues but I’d love a dip somewhere wild!

  2. Excellent post! Shoes on a beach? Outrageous!

  3. Norfolk is stunning isn’t it? (well I would say that I was born & spent the first 6 years of my life there).
    Shoes are useful on a beach, but only if its shingly or you want to clamber on rocks, every other time it’s an abomination. 🙂
    My sister is like that woman you came across, I remember her berating my niece for a clear half hour for not tucking her trousers into her wellies at forest school & getting them ‘filthy dirty’. I turned round, had a look, saw it was just water, rolled my eyes and winked at my niece saying “that’s nothing: just tuck your trousers in next time for the sake of a quiet life”. Honestly, I would have applauded her if she’s come back caked head to toe.

    Just being yourself, in full & complete connection with nature should be mandatory for all.

  4. Wild swimming is the best feeling. I was in Germany last week and was got to swim in the Danube which was suprisingly warm and wonderful 🙂
    I know the feeling of being repressed by everyday life and other people’s opinions. Time outside in the midst of the wilds is when I feel true joy and happiness and while living in the city, it’s a rare experience I cherish.

    I hope you enjoy birdfair! Gutted that I’m missing out this year but I have to work. I volunteered on the art mural with AFON a couple of years ago.

  5. I can relate so much to this, nature soothes my soul and makes me happier more than anything else. It’s awful to think that generations are losing that connection more and more.

  6. Pingback: Birdfair 2015 | Ryan Clark Ecology

  7. Coming to this a bit late Ryan…but if you drive drive barefoot it’s really liberating Saba Douglas Hamilton ‘taught’ me on Big Cat Diairies. Should be part of the driving test!
    Hate shoes they’re so confining

    Cheers

    DaveyMan

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