I was born on the twelfth of August. An auspicious day if you are from Britain, born into a family that hunts and fishes. It’s known as ‘The Glorious Twelfth’ because it refers to the start of the shooting season for red grouse, and ptarmigan.
I was proud of my birth date. I still am. I love that my Father's family thought it was such a wonderful date. What’s not to like about your birth date being thoroughly and completely approved of. And I’m a Leo, a double Leo if you get deeper into Astrology. I think that’s pretty cool too.
From this auspicious beginning all seemed bright and hopeful for a child who might grow up to wear green wellington boots, fish, shoot and do the good things that relatively posh British country folk do.
Early on I was given fishing lessons and taught to cast on damp green lawns. During summer holidays, my sister and I, with our father, beloved grandparents (Grappie and Bobtail), and gamekeeper, walked to hill lochs in Scotland with fishing tackle and picnics; we dropped baited worms into deep pools with waterfalls tumbling above and below; cast spinners behind boats waiting patiently for nothing to bite our lines; tossed lures across wind blown watery surfaces. Occasionally we caught something but more often than not nothing happened. But that’s part of the fun of fishing. Maybe you get something, maybe you don’t.
I loved these holidays for the beauty and the smell of the Scottish highlands and 16th century family house - all rich with moisture and history and the warmth of crackling fires needed even in July and August. I enjoyed fishing. I just didn’t love it enough to progress from the childhood spinning rod to the art of fly fishing. I tried. But the fishing magic wasn’t in the mix for me.
A few years ago I read an article about a woman in San Francisco who hunts. She looked stylish, strong and a little wild. She hunts what she needs for her family. She goes out alone. This is the kind of hunter I’d like to be if I were to learn again how to tie a fly to a fishing line, or use a rifle (neither of which I know how to do any longer).
Until then and beyond it is the beauty of nature that calls me outdoors. I like to walk, and walk, and take it in with my breath, my eyes, my nose and my mouth. Try popping a juniper berry in your mouth when you next pass by a patch!
Hunters are often keen conservationists. This is true of my family. My grandfather, a writer and photographer, wrote a series of books about hunting, fishing and nature. He delighted in showing us his photographs of peregrine falcons and butterflies. He constructed gentle moth traps with lamps and egg boxes. In the morning we’d go outside to see which moths were drawn in by the light. The elephant hawk moth was a rare treat we sometimes found. These experiences of nature captivated and inspired me. The contact with nature on woodland dog walks seemed more refreshing than the static pose of the waiting hunter; the pet fox raised by the gamekeeper more curious than the dead ones; catching tiny frogs a fabulous way to explore the boglands.
Perhaps there will come a day when I have a river from which I can catch dinner.
For now, as Wendell Berry says in his poem, The Peace of Wild Things: ‘I come into the peace of wild things…. I come into the presence of still water. I feel above me the day blind stars waiting with their light. For a time I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.’