The Unseen

“Quite so,” Sherlock Holmes answered, lighting a cigarette, and throwing himself down into an armchair. “You see, but you do not observe…That is just my point. Now, I know that there are seventeen steps, because I have both seen and observed.” – A Scandal in Bohemia

And I know that there were two foxes beside a lane busy with walkers and cyclists last week, because, well, I was looking for them, and one tends to see what one is looking for.

Fox snow rest 7 Jan 20

Here’s the first, a very large male fox which I didn’t recognise. Almost certainly, he is a visitor from outside the parish who is wandering in hope of meeting a vixen or two; we are right at the peak of the breeding season. He saw many people that afternoon, but they were oblivious to him.

And here’s the second, a much younger male who is a local resident.

Fox watching at dusk2 7 Jan 20

He, too, went unnoticed by the family cycling by, and a walker with music buds in her ears. And if people want to walk through the countryside glued to their phones, they have every right to do so of course; but what is the accumulative effect of missing so much? 

We see, in the spirit of Dr Watson, that the Surrey Hills are green and pretty. We do not observe, as Holmes would have us, that goldfinches sing from the telephone wires and herb-robert brightens roadsides in the spring, that roe deer have left footprints in the mud and woodcock display over quiet fields at night. Therefore, we also do not notice how ‘tidiness’, over-mowing, over grazing and hedgerow cutting are impoverishing us. It doesn’t matter if we cannot put names to all the species we see; simply observing them and acknowledging their uniqueness is the key to their world.

When we do slow down, take a break from social media, turn off the music, we observe the most marvellous things.

Spider web 10 Jan 21

It may be a bit late for a New Year resolution, but here is a challenge: every time you go out for a lockdown walk, find just one natural thing – even as small as a spider’s web – and think about how it fits into the grander tapestry. 

22 thoughts on “The Unseen

  1. Excellent post. The beauty of a spiderweb, covered in dew and sparkling, rivals anything on a screen. I wonder what memories most folks will have……the constant barrage of images or the majesty of nature?
    The fox photos are superb.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! The frost was marvellous this morning. Shimmering silver hills. We are experiencing very high visitor levels at the moment due to the lockdown and I hope at least some of them take the time to look up from their phone and take some proper memories home with them.

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  2. Sometimes I think it is ok if most of the visitors to parks or hikers in the back country miss the wildlife. Because when they do, most are taking their cell phones out and disturb animals trying to make a selfie or come too close. I still remember a guy chasing snow geese through the bog near Fraser river delta, with his iPad in hands. Or hundreds of tourists in Jasper trying to make a photo of some scrawny little bear by the side of the road. Ridiculous.

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    1. I have seen plenty of that too (…especially in Jasper) and it makes me wince. I think in a way, it’s another type of ‘seeing without observing’ – someone sees a bear, but doesn’t truly observe with respect and awe that it is a wild animal, and not only are they privileged to see it, but that it comes with very different rules from pets.

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  3. Adele, thank you for the reminder. When I am at my farm, I often go at 2.8 miles per hour: the speed of my tractor! I may go slowly, but I sometimes do not SEE or hear what is around me. Thank you for the reminder. We are co-inhabiters of the world. We are not meant to be in charge, although we act like it.

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    1. Good point! Yes, tractor speed helps but we still need to actively look and listen too. I like that quote by Yeats: “The world is full of magic things, patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper.”

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  4. Adele, such pretty foxes! I think that I’d rather most people didn’t see! For what would transpire if they did. It’s kind of a double edged blade, but i think nature is better off that they don’t see!

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    1. I understand that perspective, but I see every day what generally nice people do to nature through not ‘seeing’ it, not realising how their innocent-seeming choices cause so much harm. In the end, if people blind themselves to nature, some of them also react very badly when forced to acknowledge it, e.g. a fox minding its own business walking across a garden can become a major incident to someone who hasn’t taken on board that wildlife exists in the neighbourhood.

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  5. It’s never too late to decide to do things differently – to observe and appreciate. Walking with me is an exercise in stopping to observe (and an annoyance for those who just want to get those kms completed). I love to see what’s there.
    Lovely post – thank you. 🙂

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    1. 🙂 yes, I’m sure we would! At least we can go on virtual walks together through our blogs. If you ever visit England (in some far off time when we can travel again), do let me know!

      The frost was magical yesterday morning. It’s gone back to grey and gloomy now but that still has an interesting atmosphere.

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  6. You make some interesting distinctions. I agree that we need to better observe and acknowledge, and that is how we learn and perhaps modify our attitudes and behaviour to our own and nature’s benefit. But I also worry that the fox (for example) that is seen may be harrassed or even worse. Many creatures survive in proximity to humans through stealth. Thanks for the food for thought and also for the lovely photographs.

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    1. Thanks for your thoughts. It is a complex balancing act. I would say that those who wish to ill-treat wildlife will do so whether it is visible or not; they have their ways of finding it, as we learned to our cost some years ago in a horrific incident that my local wildlife has never really recovered from.

      Most species are not vulnerable to that kind of persecution however – thrushes, flowers and earthworms are rarely actively hunted. The challenge that they face is that the people buying up their habitat are totally single-minded: it’s all about their horses or golf, and wild corners are ripped out to make extra space for their hobbies. Stealth is no protection against such people. I’m also deeply conscious that people who spend their lives ignoring nature will probably crash right into it one day, e.g. a fox wandering down their road, and inexperience turns a nothing of a meeting into a ‘wildlife is invading! We’re all doomed! Get rid of it!’ rage.

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      1. Thanks Adele. I get what you are saying. Habitat destruction is far more devastating in the long term than persecution of selected species, as destructive, cruel and as distressing as that is.
        When I was thinking of animals that survive through stealth, the example of leopards come to mind. It is remarkable that some individuals manage to survive unnoticed in areas that would seem too unfriendly and well populated (by humans). Another example is poisonous snakes. A local snake catcher (he rescues and relocates to conservation areas) is often called out to densely populated residential areas to remove snakes such as mambas many of which are years old – they are only removed (or killed) once they are randomly spotted.
        On the subject of destructive gardening practices, we have new neighbours and once a week they get a ‘garden services’. For several hours it feels like we are living next door to an industrial park rather than a suburban garden as noisy machines strim, leaf-blow and mow everything into a state of near sterility. What can be done about such mindsets I have no idea.

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    2. Sorry to hear that you’re dealing with the ‘clean out everything’ types too. There are no easy answers and sadly a fair proportion of people will never care. I really respect the work of people who relocate tropical snakes!

      In terms of the wider issue, every situation is different and there are certainly moments when it’s definitely better for wildlife – especially controversial species – to slip under the radar. My comments were mostly about species are actually very obvious, but overlooked by people too impatient to see. Those people then go on to do them unwitting harm. Hedgehogs are a good example. Nearly everyone loves them, but few people take the time to understand how they use the land. Therefore, we have otherwise nice people fencing, strimming and obstructing them into extinction.

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      1. Yes, hedgehogs are a good example demonstrating the peculiar ‘blindness’ of even nice people! I suppose we are all on a learning curve but some people are more open to learning than others …

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