Wandering out of beaten ways

“… Me? I’m not off for anywhere at all. Sometimes I wander out of beaten ways. Half looking for the orchid Calypso.”
Robert Frost 1874 – 1963

I’ve had a long association with things natural and can’t remember a time when that wasn’t a significant aspect of my life.

Sciences relating to ‘the environment’ today were simply ‘nature study’ to a boy from the East End of London but back then, before Silent Spring* and the dawn of the environmental movement, opportunities to turn a passion for the natural world into a salaried occupation weren’t available to me. The selective school system advocated a career in light engineering and did its best to steer me into it. Our well-meaning but ultimately witless advisor was clearly taken aback by a precocious Cockney kid rejecting the prospect of a lifetime at the factory gates and had to think on his feet; ‘It says here that you know quite a bit about birds – have you thought of becoming a chicken farmer?’

Well, I hadn’t given chickens much thought while I was slogging the beach at Cley looking for my first King Eider but his question did teach me that if I wanted to do something that captivated me and paid a salary I’d need to employ a little self-help.

My interest in conservation didn’t diminish while I decided on a career and it was then, in those far-off days of shoulder-length hair and platform shoes, that I was introduced to Orchis mascula. The early purple orchid suffered badly in some trampled woodland in Stevenage so, with a few similarly-minded individuals, we formed the first conservation society in the New Town with worthy aspirations that included protecting the plants and raising public awareness. And our publicity certainly aroused great interest; a previously uninformed populace flocked to the woods and picked the lot. Those early efforts provided an interesting insight into the human condition as well as an early lesson in addressing it.

The career I chose eventually put me in a 17th century farmhouse surrounded by ancient woodland and, as a consequence, re-acquainted me with O. mascula. At the bottom of the garden there’s a hidden colony that doesn’t get trampled or picked and has had its best spring in years. Perhaps that’s due to the warm days in March or all the rain in April but, either way, it’s thriving and likes being left alone.

*If you don’t know about Rachel Carson’s seminal work you can read about it by clicking here.

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