The group of horses silently pricked up their ears, their bodies and gaze focused on something they had seen in the far distance. They stood quietly watching and I followed their eyes, trying to see what had alerted them. They were quite calm however, and whatever had concerned them did not initiate a decision leading to flight so, in a few minutes, they dropped their heads and began to graze again.
Animals tend to spend a lot of time watching, listening, observing and waiting, their patience usually infinitely greater than ours. Much of the last year so many of us have had to learn to watch and wait and it has often not been easy.
We have not merely had to wait at home but have had to put much of our mental and social activity into hibernation. Curiously enough, in earlier centuries, people in northern climes stayed “local” in the winter, lacking the modern comforts to go out “whatever the weather”. However, a series of festivals from Thanksgiving to Christmas, Epiphany, St Hilary’s Day and Candlemas, for example, were social reasons to celebrate and ensured that everyone was busy. Our hibernation this past winter has been somewhat stricter.
Last Spring, the weather was glorious and we all biked and walked with gusto, observing the exquisite details of spring. During this third lockdown such enthusiasm is waning, perhaps not least because the weather keeps us trapped inside more. Life has seemed smaller and almost certainly more sedentary.
We probably all have been watching more television – I know I have been. For me, some of the most engaging programmes have been those created by Sir David Attenborough. In order to gather the necessary footage, the cameramen must spend a huge amount of time simply watching and waiting for the right moment. Highclere was lucky to welcome one of the key members of his team, cameraman Gavin Thurston, to share some of his stories on our media here just after he published his book “Journeys in the Wild”.
It contains a wealth of stories. For example, he describes going into an African forest and, unable to see anything amongst all the greenery, his guide, however, would point out what was there. Slowly, over a few days, his eyes and brain acclimatised and became able to see what was really there all along. In order to bring us the documentary, he had to train himself to sit, still and silent, for however long it would take to get the shot he wanted, for the animals to feel safe enough to act naturally.
Most of us have tried to be patient this past year but it has been, and remains, challenging. In between it all we are bombarded with news. We wait for news, seek out news, compare figures and, depending on our personalities, find it upsetting or resign ourselves to it. Now, at long last, it does seem as if the world is beginning to turn a corner and that there is a hope that life might resume once more. It will be interesting to look back and perhaps consider what we might have done differently.
Watching animals, they are always ready to anticipate danger but otherwise they stay calm. If they are unsure they prefer to be safe rather than sorry. In most cases they need to be fit and they often work as a team.
In the early days of the first lockdown we took heart and succour from nature and we could probably learn a lesson or two from her along the way too. There is sometimes a value to watching observing and waiting which it would be good to remember.