Caught on my hands and knees.

18th November 2012:

Dog hair.

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.

Badger hair.

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.

13 Comments on “Caught on my hands and knees.

  1. Hi Mike,

    I’m glad it was you that met him and not me! Some people are so far removed from nature that they have no idea about the world around them, and are often overly tense and argumentative as a result I find. It makes perfect sense to me that you should be on your hands an knees studying a badger run! I saw my first ever live, wild badgers last week – yes they were being enticed into a garden, but this was in the middle of nowhere in rural Worcs so it was still an incredibly exciting encounter!!

    Dom

    • Ha ha! Thanks, Dom. 🙂 I’m very glad too that it was me and not you having to experience this kind of confrontation. I would be horrified if you found yourself in a similar position. It’s such a privilege to be able to experience wild animals in their natural environments, and it is even more important that this is achieved safely. 😉

  2. I admire your patience Mike. First of all what was HE doing in the woods at night? Secondly, what the bloody hell did he think YOU were doing with a torch in one hand and a serous looking camera in other? Thirdly, “mind your own business matey, and carry on your way”…. Fortunately, most of the people who talk to me in odd places and times in country are usually very nice. They see you with this lump of camera and a long lens and they nearly always say “seen anything yet?” What do you think they are referring to? I could be a Pap for all they know. It used to be the same many, many moons ago when I was still fishing, I would be standing in the river up to my armpits trying to be invisible to any sly trout that may make the mistake of grabbing my fly. And I would hear this bellow from behind “Caught anything yet Mate?” To which I would usually just smile wryly and shake my head. I learnt early on not to speak and say no…as it usually ended up with a discussion on entomology or meteorology, which in turn would scare any fish with a two mile stretch away.
    Thanks Mike, a lovely post, made me smile. 🙂

    • My chance meeting occurred in the morning, Mark, and not during the night; I should have made this clear. I think some people act out of character when presented with something they don’t ordinarily see or experience. A person walking through a wood, maybe on their way to work, is going to be at least a little stunned at finding a body blocking their progress. They are bound to be apprehensive, and their brains will be trying to figure out what to do next. It’s not what a person would normally expect to deal with before they are properly awake. When they realise that a photographer is responsible for their increased heart rate, they are sometimes angry. I have to admit that finding a dead body when out in the countryside is not on my list of things to do before I hang up my camera.

      If you are a macro photographer, it is difficult to avoid spreading yourself out on the ground to get that uniquely angled shot, and it’s not unusual to remain absolutely still for some considerable time, either. The solution might be to for me to carry yellow, collapsible triangular signs to place up and down a track that reads something like: “Danger! Macro Photographer at Work.” 🙂

      • Haha..sounds like an idea, maybe one of the mags to sponsor with their logo on. “Amateur Photographer Weekly”
        WARNING MACRO-TOG ON KNEES AHEAD
        :-0)

  3. I think you are right Mike, the emotion of being startled easily translates into aggression with some people (sometimes humour to; I tend to start laughing when I am surprised).

    My worst experience was when doing some very late night photography in a park in town once. A young couple walked down the path and were startled when they came across me suddenly. The woman seemed to recover quickly but the man was visibly upset. “What the **** are you doing” quickly became “… shouldn’t be allowed …” and then changed to “… teach him a lesson …”. I’m quite a large man too which often prevents aggression escalating but this man was as large as me and much younger. I was somewhat concerned.

    Fortunately the young woman managed to persuade her partner not to “… give him one” as apparently I was “… not worth it” and they went on their way. I’m sure drink contributed in this case but since then I’ve always been a bit more circumspect about what I do although it hasn’t stopped me. As you say, “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”.

    • I wouldn’t mind betting the Morris Men get similar reactions from people who don’t know what it’s all about. 🙂

  4. The beauty of following your page is not only in the macro-photography. Your writing is well worthy of the best written screenplays out there. Each line so expertly describes the set, the characters, the dialogue and the plot. Thank you for the macro movie.

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