As a child I read and re-read a book called Looking at Nature by Elsie Proctor published in 1965. In it a boy (of course a boy, this was the sixties after all) headed off for a day’s field trip. He had with him a fishing net made from bamboo and his mum’s tights, some field glasses, a collecting jar and a flower guide. I wanted to be this boy, heading off for a day of discovering nature but I couldn’t because A) I was a girl and B) It was 1983 and kids didn’t go out into the countryside on their own any more. Instead I would take Looking at Nature into the garden and build pitfall traps to harass the local insects and peel back bark on the long suffering apple tree to see what lay beneath.
Yesterday I set off for work, carrying a fishing net, a pair of binoculars and a wild flower guide. I discovered signs of water vole by the river, I lay in a meadow and worked out what the flowers were. I thought about ways to improve the area for wildlife. I drank a cup of coffee and listened to the swallows gathering overhead and I was being paid to do so.
It still seems to me to be a remarkable thing that I got here. That through a mixture of Essex banter and trying really hard I get to fulfil that childhood image of who I would be. How few people get to do that? For most reality strikes, they can’t afford the years of studying, they fail an exam, they have kids and have to earn a crust in a better paid profession. They are crushed by parents or partners and are told to be sensible or maybe their ambitions are just too lofty, we can’t all be pop stars or the PM.
My ambitions were humbler; to spend time in nature and help wildlife. I achieve the first, I try to achieve the second. I still have faith that I do, in some way, achieve the second, despite the crushing forces that oppose this aim. I hope my records from the meadow might contribute to its safety from development. I hope my ideas to improve the river might be taken on board and make things better for the water voles and fish. I know that there are other considerations that might get in the way of the good I want to do, boring things that I don’t care about but others do.
But I also know that I am doing what I can, that I stuck to my guns. I know the childhood me would be so thrilled that I had made it and, whatever new ambitions come into my life, I know I am not willing to give up the day job just yet.