As a writer and a tracker, one of the most interesting things for me is how I record the things I see out in the woods and if, indeed, things need to be recorded at all. When I spend time at the computer, my mind goes into overload and I feel very disconnected from the world outside my door. It is the same with the TV and to a certain extent, books; when I am deep in the middle of reading, writing, thinking and sharing, my connection to the wild diminishes to almost nothing, like I am in some kind of bubble. The only way to burst out of it is to go into nature and reconnect. Although I have distanced myself from Facebook, Twitter is altogether a harder nut to crack, as I enjoy connecting with the people who have the same interests as me. Moderation is definitely the key for me so that I do not get overwhelmed.
In his book ‘Becoming Animal’, David Abram writes that because the ordinary world is becoming harder and harder to bear, we slip even more readily into ‘machine-mediated scapes’ and take ‘our primary truths from technologies that hold the world at a distance’ and in doing so, avoid direct experiences; direct contact with the living world. That is why I struggle sometimes with exactly how to record what I see when I am out in the woods. I do not want to be taking lots of photos, as I know that this automatically diminishes my attention and awareness of the things going on in front of me. As soon as the image is captured, I more often than not, turn away from it, knowing that because I have a photo on my camera, I no longer need to look at the real version of it. It is hard not to take photos though, when I really want to share what I have seen with others.
As the earliest photographers started travelling around the world to capture images of those far-flung places, people were starting to recognise that our relationship with the world around us was changing significantly through the advent of technology. One such person was Oliver Wendell Holmes who in 1861 wrote ‘how we …
… skim off a thin, dry cuticle from the rapids of Niagara, and lay it on our unmoistened paper without breaking a bubble or losing a speck of foam. We steal a landscape from its lawful owners, and defy the charge of dishonesty and the sights which men risk their lives and spend their money and endure sea-sickness to behold, — these sights, gathered from Alps, temples, palaces, pyramids, are offered you for a trifle, to carry home with you, that you may look at them at your leisure, by your fireside, with perpetual fair weather, when you are in the mood, without catching cold, without following a valet-de-place, in any order of succession, — from a glacier to Vesuvius, from Niagara to Memphis, — as long as you like, and breaking off as suddenly as you like; — and you, native of this incomparably dull planet, have hardly troubled yourself to look at this divine gift …
– ‘A Photographic Trip Across the Atlantic’ by Oliver Wendell Holmes , 1861
I find that words have the same effect, especially if they are recording an aspect of the wild. Even worse, if a new blog post is due and I know that I want to find something to write about, I find it very hard to totally relax into my surroundings. When you are observing or tracking animals, awareness is the key and surrender is always a prerequisite to that awareness. When I have an agenda, I do not allow the self to completely dissolve. I walk or sit with thoughts in my head, with ego-related issues swimming round and round, “What would people think if I posted that? how could I get that to show up on the screen?” To rid myself of this curse; in order to become more of an ‘animal’ in awareness and connect more readily with the wild, it is important sometimes, actually perhaps 90% of the time, to walk out into the woods with no intention of recording anything at all.
Primitive peoples historically had no access to writing, books, cameras or computers. Their only way of recording what they saw was to hold it within their bodies and share it orally through anecdotes and stories directly to other members of their tribe. In this way, they kept themselves alive within the world around them and the world remained alive within them. Nothing had a chance to stagnate, nothing had a chance to be forgotten, the relationship remain intact. But when modern people start investing more importance to photographs, TV programmes, books and social media feeds than they do to the actual living world around them, things start to fall apart; they start to separate from their animal selves. They start to shut down this living, breathing two-way relationship with the wild. They start to objectify it; start thinking that their relationship with their screens is worth more than a living, breathing relationship with the earth itself. I could spend hours at the computer looking at photos of tracks and landscapes or videos of animals – it could rack up to far more hours than I would ever spend looking at the same things out of doors, so I have to keep myself in check. It is far easier to stay at home and watch YouTube but then, how much have we lost by doing so? The subtle nuances of the land, the multidimensional aspects of the weather; the glorious reciprocity, the rapt engagement, the direct and essential conversation.
If aliens came down to earth right now, they would see millions of people looking through their lit-up devices at photoshopped pictures and TV programmes, whilst the wonder of the world lies unseen. Most of them have never seen real animals in real life, never seen the subtleties surrounding their environments. They live in a world where technology reflects back to them a human idea of what the world is like, a fully-formed Echo Chamber where everything is objectified, manipulated, diminished and disturbed. No wonder we as a species, no longer have a hope.
So, although I love to write and take photos about a lot of what I see and to publish it online, most of the time I don’t. Most of the time I allow myself to slip into the world of direct experience that cannot be modified in any way by technology and the world remains exactly the way it is; alive, animate and aware. My focus is allowed to be drawn away from a human audience towards a more-than-human experience that relies on my complete and undistracted attention and involvement. When the real world becomes my primary focus, then everything starts to fall into place, everything colludes to work together, indeed everything becomes One.
And anyway, I function better that way.