18th November 2012:
I was on my hands and knees inspecting a badger run in Hoo Wood one morning last week. I was well aware that placing myself in such an uncompromising position might lay me open to ridicule if someone were to turn up unannounced, but I am nothing if not open and upfront about what I do in the woods. If I creep about in a suspicious way, people are going to think I am up to something they should be worrying about. It’s inevitable that some will think of me as “that strange old man who wanders about the wood in the dark of the night with a torch and a camera.” I am sure I would feel similarly if I were in their position. However, it would be a travesty if fear of what people might think or say stopped a person engaging in the lawful pursuit of a cherished hobby.
Sure enough, as if on cue, a stranger appeared at my side. I know it’s predictable, with my backside in the air and head close to the ground, that someone is going to appear out of thin air to ask what I am doing. With a voice full of accusation he asked, “What are you doing?” His over emphasis of the word are struck home. “I’m looking at a badger run,” I replied. “Humph! You won’t find any badgers around here matey,” was his disparaging reply. “Are you an expert on badgers and this wood, mate?” I jibed, purposely putting the emphasis on the word mate. “No. I wouldn’t call myself an expert on either,” he answered. “Well then!” I stabbed, “Why do you presume to know what I might or might not find in this wood?”
Now it is unusual for me to be so blatantly aggressive with another person. My position on the ground and his mocking manner put me at a disadvantage and must have touched a nerve. My slowness of wit is reason enough for me to shy away from confrontations that could encourage me to speak without first thinking about what I would like to say. However, in this case, I am pleased that I managed to keep my dignity with a coherent verbal retort.
The man stood his ground and stared menacingly at me. I decided that getting to my feet might be the thing to do here. I was up on my feet in one smooth and agile movement; at least to me it appeared to happen this way. It had the desired effect, too. I was at least a head taller than he, which would not have been obvious from my original position on the forest floor: the man now looked uncomfortable.
There have been occasions when I’ve stumbled upon some very unsavoury individuals in the wood at night. The kind of people who are up to no good, with plans to rob; others might wish to hide their swag in the thick undergrowth. My dog Spike is the first to face these dubious characters, with bared teeth and a very aggressive, threatening, noisy and purposeful barrage of canine expletives. As the robbers run off dropping plastic containers, in which they intended transporting stolen diesel, and anything else that might impede their speedy escape, I’m on the phone to the police who are quickly on the scene with properly aggressive, scary dogs.
In an acceptably conciliatory tone the man asked, “What makes you think a badger has run up this bank?” I pointed and answered, “The white hair hanging from the brambles?” “Oh yes! Is it badger’s fur?” he asked. “No,” I answered, “this is domesticated dog hair.” “Oh! Then why are you rabbiting on about this being a badger’s track?” he asked in an escalating voice. Now I was getting annoyed with the man, “If you let me get a word in edge ways, I will explain what I believe has occurred here!”
I continued: “This scenario suggests a dog chasing a badger up the bank, both leaving their hair on the brambles as evidence.” I concluded with, “This is how you came to find me on my hands and knees with my head planted in the undergrowth.” The man quietly leant down and felt the dog hair between his fingers. Looking up at me he uttered a final, “Thanks for that, mate!” Touching the brim of his hat, he walked away down the track, on his way out of the wood and my life. . . .
If there is a moral to this story, it is this: be ready to explain what you are doing when caught in the act of macro photography. It’s safer in the long run that concerned people know what you are up to. If you evade the issue, you might end up with a less than savoury reputation.
I have written before about the down-side of macro photography here.