Walking back from college last night I was lucky enough to cross paths – no, to almost step on – our college mascot. No, not one of the burly B-team lads, but the real thing: a badger. Only a little one, mind – any older and it’d probably have done a runner long before I was within earshot – but the scamp was bold enough to root around for worms no more than a few feet away from me whilst I fiddled around with my camera, trying to disable the flash so as not to stun the creature. The result, of course, is that all you can make out in the picture is a grey blur in front of one of the traffic cones. You’ll have to take my word for it that it really is a badger.
The buzz I got from this little encounter took me by surprise all over again. I guess the two students who walked past got more of a shock seeing me crouching and talking to this little beastie a few feet away in the bushes, at about twenty minutes past midnight, than I did seeing it in the first place. Not that it matters. I seem to lose any and all worries around animals. I can probably say without a shadow of a doubt that it’s the one thing in the world that makes me genuinely happy. That’s genuinely happy, mind. I get a kick out of a lot of things. But nothing, nothing gives me the same kind of buzz as spending even a few minutes with a wild animal. It’s the same thrill I had as a kid watching my hero, David Attenborough, and all of his adventures at seven o’clock in the evening on Natural World, Blue Planet or the Life series. And it’s never really gone away. It turned into a list-making, box-ticking phase when I was a teenage birdwatcher. Thankfully, that anorak aspect is long gone now. But I’m still the nature fanatic I was when I was a kid, and tonight was just a stern reminder of that. It was what a wildlife magazine I used to get called an ‘RSPB Moment’; just a moment in time when nature gives you something amazing. It doesn’t have to be big. Maybe even just a conversation with a robin in the garden. Or a fleeting encounter with a Montagu’s Harrier (that one will always be stuck in my mind). Other moments that spring to mind include finding a chameleon after a five-hour search along the Mediterranean coast, seeing the whites of a vulture’s eyes as it loomed out of the mist over a cliff and watching a mountain gorilla pull the most ridiculously human postures. I can’t escape the fact that, beneath all the other layers, I’m a true-blue naturalist at heart.
I chose to study languages at University, not just because I love travel, but because I knew it would force me to confront what was then – and to some extent, still is – my greatest fear, and that is people. Not in a phobic way, but I was never as confident around people as around kids or animals. Never work with either, or so the saying goes. To hell with that. I love them both. But animals especially. And I think it’s time I acknowledged that the real reason I love travelling so much is that it almost always brings me into contact with the wild. It’s not just the landscape or the cultures I go in search of, it’s the nature. If this is a career reconsideration moment, it’s not been a dangerous one. Not yet. Just a reminder of where my heart truly lies. I think we all need that from time to time. BB x