‘Wrong estimation of the intelligence of animals, and the inability to sit without making any sound or movement for the required length of time, is the cause of all failures when sitting up for animals.’
Jim Corbett, The Man-Eating Leopard of Rudraprayag
Oh, my hat is frozen to my head,
my feet are like two lumps of lead.
I’m stuck out here, half-drenched, half-dead,
from standing under your window.
Cold, Haily, Windy Night, trad. folk song
The winter badger watching at the Hawthorn Sett is turning into a bit of a challenge. I spent a couple of hours up there last night, and still didn’t see a badger.
To be honest, I don’t think my heart was in it, hence the title of the post. I’m discovering that it takes a certain amount of mental effort to go out and sit in the cold and dark, quite different to the long, warm evenings of summer. I left home later and planned to stay later in the hope of catching the badgers if they’re emerging late, which meant that it was dark when I set out. It was a bit of a wrench to leave the warmth of home and go out into the cold, foggy darkness (our village has no street lighting, so it really is pitch dark). I take a shortcut through the churchyard to get to the Hawthorn Sett, and the fog drifting through the ancient, tottering, century-shadowed gravestones gave a touch of gothic horror to the night.
I planned to stay until 9.00pm or so, but I was cold and fidgety and I couldn’t settle. Since badger watching depends on sitting still and quietly, this is never good. I stuck it out for a couple of hours until the church clock struck 8.00 and then I headed home through the fog-shrouded trees. Once again, no sign of badgers.
As I’m writing this in the warmth of my living room on Sunday I’m inwardly cursing myself for packing up early. But at the same time I have to admit that it takes effort to sit out and maintain the level of focus required. Now, don’t get me wrong – we’re talking about watching badgers here, not climbing Everest or playing Kasparov at chess. Nevertheless, sitting in a dark wood, keeping alert for the slightest sound while remaining motionless, does require you to be in the right state of mind. And last night, I wasn’t. Maybe I’ve been distracted by my new job and had too many other things on my mind. Maybe it was just cold.
Of course, let’s keep a sense of perspective. They’re only badgers, after all. I wasn’t even expecting to get a very good view of them, or learn anything very new. But the very act of just getting a glimpse of them has become a goal in itself. Perhaps this is the point of my badger watching: to give myself a challenge, intellectually and physically. To – like Sherlock Holmes – ‘escape from the commonplaces of existence’.
Sorry about the introspective nature of this post. Sitting alone in the dark for protracted periods in a lonely place tends to do that to you. I’ll take a few weeks off from watching this sett. I’ll give the vegetation time to die down so I get a better view, dig out my Swedish army parka (a wonderfully warm garment – like a duvet with sleeves) and then I’ll be back – focused, alert and warm as toast – and I’ll show these stripey fiends who the boss is!