Musings of a roaming nature nerd

Nomad Abroad: England

 

Were I a more diligent blogger, thoughts and stories of my recent travels would have poured forth daily as I struggled to keep up with the immense task of documenting such a wonderful adventure. But while I jotted down notes and snapped numerous photos it has taken time for me to process all that I saw. Fully living the experiences seemed better at the time than documenting every moment. Now, as I look back on the past 6 weeks, the itch to write has risen and I will try to share a few stories and thoughts from my time away.

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While enlightening to travel abroad, it is challenging to feel like a naturalist while walking cobblestone streets, viewing thousand year old architectural feats, and running for trains in Europe’s most metropolitan cities.  But beginning our trip in olde England was the perfect introduction to European nature and the fascinating interplay between wild places and humanity. From the moment our plane landed and I spotted a Kestrel hunting in the grassy strips between the runways of Heathrow, I knew a change of perspective would be required to find nature as I know it. Having lived in the western US for a number of years now, I am used to serious wilderness. Little human contact and seemingly untouched wilds (even if in reality early natives traversed the land thousands of years ago). However, English nature-scapes were more reminiscent of my east coast roots, where human history mingles with nature amongst the boulders and pines and brooks. While hiking in the White Mountains of New Hampshire I always found it intriguing to traverse part of an old rail-bed or discover an out-of-place apple tree grown from the discarded remnants of a logger’s lunch. England had a similar feel, though granted, emerging from even older history!

For instance, Hampstead Heath is a massive green space on the outskirts of London. People trek up there from the city as an escape from the smog and noise. It is easy to get lost on the paths wending through the forested hills. Jason and I watched as another Kestrel hunted in a field and then battled with a Magpie over its freshly killed meal. We could have been a million miles from civilization at that moment. Yet the paths we walked are the very paths which the infamous outlaw Dick Turpin frequented 300 years ago. And during World War I, it was said that the huge guns in France could be heard from the hills of the Heath, echoing eerily across the channel. Human history runs so deep in the landscape of England that disentangling it from nature becomes almost impossible.

Farther west in the countryside of Dorset we climbed over grassy terraces from the bronze age and hiked along paths on which kings trod hundreds of years before. We birded at nature reserves where cows and sheep grazed peacefully and watched the sea pounding at cliffs where some of the world’s first dinosaur fossils were discovered in the 1800s. Although wilderness as I often think of it was not present, the natural scenes of the English landscape were not diminished. In fact  England served as a pleasant reminder that while humans may alter landscapes in dramatic ways, we are also wholly and inextricably part of this beautiful planet.

 

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