If you want to know what this blog is about…
The wildside is just outside your door
My son found a male bullfinch yesterday and brought it home. It was alive, bu totally disheveled. He just picked it up from the ground with no fuss. We didn’t know what was ailing it, so I prepared a cardboard shoe-box with some kitchen paper on the bottom, practiced some holes, a couple of windows on the lid that I covered with more paper so it would have plenty of air and some light, and we let it rest. When my family left I prepared a room where I teach Math and some other subjects and where it could not hide so easily, and opened the box. The bird hoped onto my finger, so I thought it might have escaped from someone’s cage. Got some water in a little jar lid, some breadcrumbs and I left the room.
Two hours later I came back and it was flying around the room, away from me, so I could determine a few things. First, nothing was broken, second it was not a cage bird, third it was not sick but probably in shock when my kid found it. I guess it had a close shave with some cat and somehow managed to escape. Or maybe my son scared the cat without noticing.
My wife brought some seeds and we decided to keep it until this morning, let it feed, drink and get better, or die in peace if we had figured it all wrong.
Later that afternoon my wife saw the bullfinch eating seeds so we were pretty confident it was getting better. I play soccer every Thursday during June and July, so I left as usual. When I came back, my dog, a wonderful boxer bitch called Xare, had broken into the room —my son had not closed the door right— and there had been some commotion, but it turned out she had tried nothing. She is a cute tame animal. This is her, learning not to eat bees (which she didn’t learn).
So I went into the room again this morning and the bullfinch began to fly like crazy. I called my kids, sent my wife out to see where it went and we opened the window. Took it two seconds to fly away. Flew to a tree some 20 yards away and from there to the ground, to a place where there is old concrete broken by the weather and the underbrush. And there it started to peck the ground and drink from the plant stems while it merrily hopped around. My elder son checked on the finch with my binoculars until it left. 20 minutes later I took my other son to summer school, and on my way back through the forest I saw a bullfinch perched on a branch some 15 yards away, its beautiful salmon colored chest towards me. It stayed for a moment and then flew gracefully away into the forest. I do not know if it was our bullfinch. It was too far to tell, but since they are not so common here and it was not 200 yards away from my house, I like to think it was him, saying thank you and goodbye.
The only thing left for me to do was to go back and remove the eighty thousand turd drops it left scattered all through my small classroom.
I do the same with hawk-moths. When I find them during the day I take them to that room and let them rest. At night I open the windows so they can leave. Some leave, some don’t. Those I preserve.
The wildside we ignore
I have been running for four years now. I am slow, but constant. I get my three weekly rides no matter what and I have managed to keep up with the rhythm. I run some 17 miles a week. I used to run in parks, eluding roads, eluding sidewalks. Now I only run on mountain trails, paths and fields. I used to run with my earphones on, in the good company of the rock bands of the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s I love, some pop, soundtracks and opera too. Now I run in the mountains I do not listen to music anymore. I listen to the wildside. Because it is there, all the time. Particularly on bad weather days when the few people who go to the mountains on weekdays is reduced to just me running in the rain with Xare, mine the only car in the parking lot.
In the trees or flying around I meet dragonflies, butterflies, bumblebees, hummingbird hawk-moths, death’s-head hawk-moths, squirrels, robins, blue-jays, crows, great and blue tits, goldfinches, thrush, bullfinches, raptors of different kinds I am not yet able to identify beyond family, vultures… On the ground, roe deer, horses, sheep, goats, cows, (not so wild these few last), stag beetles, golden ground beetles, all sorts of spiders, shrews, mice, weasels, slow-worms, snakes and every now and then some viper (which here are small and non-lethal)… In the puddles ponds and lakes I find salamanders, newts, tadpoles, toads, dragonfly larvae, herons, turtles, carps, river crabs, cormorants, mallards…
You just need to walk silently and listen. You will realize there are myriads of birds chatting with each other, calling and answering, in spheres centered on you, that you can block and find wider ones with fainter calls. Spheres within spheres of birds talking in a natural cacophony. And it is constant. You can hear the insects flying by, the frogs jumping back into the ponds. You can hear the game ranging through the underbrush, the mallards calling. I find wild boar traces daily, but never met one. However, I was flown over by a huge vulture on a wonderful day, not 20 yards above me and I could hear the wind through its wigs as it soared motionless, so graceful. All I could do was look up and open my arms. So uplifting.
Do you know vultures smell wonderfully? I do not mean they can detect something from far with their sense. I mean they actually smell of perfume. Amazing, uh? An animal that gets its head inside corpses’ entrails. Who would have said, right? Take nothing for granted. I met two young roe deer learning to fight in the late winter, on a terrible rainy windy day I ended up drenched to the bone. I watched them for over two minutes. Then they saw me and vanished. You see how thin their legs are, how fast they move and the underbrush they vanished through, and you cannot help but admire them. So lithe… you meet the sheep and they are all watching you and your dog, until the leader snorts and they all flee with a wonderful soft rumor of hooves on short grass. Horses come to you if you stop and you can fondle their soft fur. If you care to melt, it is not you and then nature, it is just nature and you are just part of it.
Wolves and bears are very rare where I live. They are seen now and then less than fifty miles to the south, but not here. I know there are foxes, badgers, owls, and lots of other wonderful creatures that roam the nights and I will probably never see. It is good to know they are there nonetheless. Then you have the trees that make the forests all these creatures call home. The beech forests I love most , with the dry leaf covered grounds that surround them, the larch forest with its grassy carpet, the pine forests covered with ferns… each tree creates an ecosystem and a landscape peculiar to him. Everything fits, everything matches.
Then you have flowers, plants, mushrooms fungi… layers and layers of wildlife. We were talking about magic the other day. This is another sort of magic. More real. Requires another sort of sensitivity to connect with.
You do not need to visit Africa
We do not need to travel far to find the wildside. It is right there, where the buildings end. It is full of wonders we can enjoy if only we do not take them for granted. It makes walking outdoors so much of a richer experience if we care to look beyond and see something more than just bugs, birds, trees and plants. You find a lot of people who go to the mountains and talk their heads off or walk at full speed just looking one step ahead. They are acting in the wildside as they do in the city. They are missing the point to some extent.
I am no expert in wildlife, not even close. I gave you a list of the few creatures I identify. There are a few more, but not many. However, I am an enthusiast and get in tune with nature very easily. There is a natural empathy I feel towards almost every living creature (I do hate flies, rats, pigeons and some other creatures). Each time I roam the hills my life expectancy grows with each beat of my heart. When I reach a summit and look at all those mountains around me I am often overwhelmed by a feeling of belonging that is exhilarating. I am so grateful to have the chance to be there, to go there whenever I feel good, but specially whenever I don’t. You take a couple of hours to roam, to exert body and senses, and you cannot help but to return calm and restored, to face your problems under a new light and with a fresh attitude. And at the same time I am grateful to be there, I am sorry for all those who can’t. But most of all I am sorry for those who can and are not.
Do not underestimate the healing virtues of walking the wildside. It restores body and mind in ways nothing else can. And its free. Next time you go out there, why not tomorrow, don’t just walk and breathe. Look and see, hear and listen, smell, touch. Shed your urban self for once and be the animal. Be the wildside.
About the Pictures
The first picture is just a single shot image processed from RAW as HDR, in which I blackened the background to achieve a more dramatic effect. Posterior treatment to enhance color, contrast and detail. Xare was shot with my old SGS I9000 and is more a joke than anything. The shot of the river Urederra is a 5 frame HDR with some contrast enhancing, but the colors are the ones you actually find in that astonishing river.
This pictures can be printed in photo paper, canvas, metal or acrylic surface from 8″ to 24″ and 48″, or in greeting card format. You can check them by clicking the images above. I am all in for customizing pictures. All of them can be retouched in many ways, texts altered, changed or deleted. Ask freely.