A Sett in the woods

IMG_20170516_194924333 Up the track in the dusk lined with green alkanet , blue fairy lights marking the way. Rustle on through the briars, aware, too aware, of every exploding woody and alarm screeching blackbird, we move back into position at the Badgers’.

IMG_20170516_194832736Well, I am back, for this time, for the first time I have brought others to share my illusionsIMG_20170522_132113725

I’ve been aware of a contradiction between my  declared mission to share and my solitary wanderings. And so recently I’ve been trying to teach the unteachable. Birdwatching, lichen appreciation , environmental sensitivity .. whatever.. Its a peculiar struggle within me , filling up my compadres with context, background and skill-sets, versus trusting them to experience their own small miracles in the commonplace.

I have been enjoying my crepuscular visits to leave peanuts and establish sightlines and escape routes without expectation or responsibility. If I want to wander aimlessly around a wood on a spring evening and chuck some nuts about, well that would be my own eccentric business, wouldn’t it?

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The installation of purpose creates a different dynamic which I’ve been trying to work out and channel for some time. It is both comforting and frightening to think you might be up to something.

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I had a nice conversation with my daughter about the deer which graze an exposed slope along the A1 through our world

. ‘ I sometimes remember to look for them when I am getting a lift [to  morning training]. They’re always there.’ ,’Yeah , virtually every day’.’But I keep telling people about them and they always seem surprised .’ ‘People don’t notice them….Yet they aren’t hiding or anything..’ .

‘But you have to look for them’.

You do indeed.

You need an intent. I keep hearing about Levinas and the Ethic of responsibility to the Other. Its an attitude to try and be available for interaction, communication, and surprise . It strangely fits, although I imagine other things might too.

So on our bank in the dusk , we are staring intently at the badger hole ,wondering if a snout will emerge. My friends are sitting on a yoga mat, and the thing does remind me a bit of a meditation practice . Stay focussed, keep still . I don’t of course. I suffer from intent drift, but I think I am available – and hopefully heightened. I hear the rustles of my coat on the twigs ( memo to self- no waterproofs next time), the white space between the calls of the thrushes slowly settling into the anxious night, the more distant hum of the traffic getting louder. I imagine the badgers hear all this too. img_20170522_133558429.jpg

One of us wonders how they know when to come out. I believe they wake, scratch and head out, all instinct and hunger pangs, but, really, it feels more natural to think of them as creatures of volition, considering their contact needs with their environment. And again I wonder if contact with an actual badger will break the spell of imagining. We have all had preparatory badger dreams.

I am also racked with responsibility . What if there are no Actual Badgers ? I imagine some burly estate worker interrupting our vigil with a powerful flashlight to tell us he gassed the sett out years ago, while chortling about the stories he will be able to tell at the next works dance. How will I face the world humbled in my nascent role as nature guide? Or my cold and disappointed friends walking back down the hill..

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The Actual Badgers emerge, I note, once the last blackbird has throstled, once the soundstage is set.

We become the rapt audience for a music concrete recital, savouring each note and tone. Rustles echo, advance and recede, but mainly remain elsewhere. The noises are  major, arpeggio and haunting  . It feels like everything is listening.

They are also lateral, elsewhere. I wonder if they are aware of our presence. The rumbles occasionally come in our direction, but as they grow louder, they also , repeatedly, stop abruptly to be followed by pregnant silences – which produce nothing. Are they sniffing? Listening?

Experienced badger watchers , having customized their formulae for peanut butter lures, also roll their overcoats around on the spoil heaps of excavated burrows and leave them maturing near the sett, to costume back into on their next visit. It’s a routine a shaman would recognise.

I wonder about the underworld of dark, musky tunnels – one badger width diameter, full of mixed olfactory messages of welcome and warning, of decaying bedstraw, fermentation, and proprioceptive presence. I also like the boundary – the secret.

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As I write my imagined badgers continue to forage under subliminal understories. I can now hear them move , but I still cant quite picture their paths across the screen.

Images in the article are drawn from  A Guide to Watching Wildlife (1963) , by David Stephen, which was my 10th birthday present. I am not sure which illustrator made the drawings.

Badger facts from the more recent New Naturalist monograph , Badger, by Tim Roper. And badger awareness from Scottish Badgers

Badgers are still being gassed for their alleged role in the spread of TB in cattle. Labour election manifesto promises to stop the cull. And renationalise the railways…