Tawny Clark is huffin’ and puffin as she knows what she’s missing
We’ve all been there. ‘You should’ve come yesterday, there were loads of them,’ or ‘we see them all the time,’ maybe even, ‘I just put the bins out and there it was.’
Other people’s wonderous wildlife encounters. Times you just miss out on something incredible or hear someone else’s once in a lifetime experience and wish whole-heartedly it’d been your story to tell.
Yes, of course you’re happy for whoever it is, yet you yearn with every fibre of your being that you’d been the one feeling the unfathomable spine-shivers, summiting that eagle-soared peak, reaching that mythical Nirvana.
Sadly, sometimes, despite the richness of your imagination and your sterling efforts to empathically channel the immeasurable ecstasy of that other person, you’re still just the Michael Collins to the Neil Armstrong’s and the Buzz Aldrin’s (yes, I did have to look him up!).
I’ve been lucky to have a fair few momentous encounters myself, so I mustn’t gripe, but I almost think that makes it worse; I know full well those sensations I’m missing out on.
Ignorance is bliss, so why do I feel ceaselessly compelled – by some instinctive, primordial drive – to pursue enlightenment, through nature? To experience the Sublime.
The natural world exists by its own rules. It’s indifferent to the frivolous schedules and ‘entitled’ demands of humans – regardless how we sometimes will it to conform.
So many times, this summer, I’ve found myself rummaging the second-hand aisles of the ‘wildlife encounters’ stall. Forced to be a passive observer, while unbelievably lucky others have marvelled at otters and peregrines in their gardens – respectively floating downstream and feasting on pigeons.
I’ve not been idle in my quest. I was doggedly determined to fulfil my dream of visiting the puffins on Skomer Island.
There’s nothing so devastating as having the trip you’ve been eagerly anticipating for months being cancelled…on the day.
The kids were up and dressed before the sun (without nagging). The picnic packed the night before. Dog sitter all arranged. Bags at the ready and we’re about to set off west, when a last minute, devastating, email pings into the inbox. Sailings cancelled due to nine-foot swell.
Through heartache and salty tears, I somehow summoned the will to immediately rebook. It’ll be ok, I promised myself, it’ll happen. There’s time.
Weeks later we found ourselves once again preparing to embark on this magical, long-awaited and very much needed adventure. Armed now with a pinch more caution, albeit way more desperation.
I remained up-beat. I’d been checking the weather, the swell, every day, every hour, every minute leading up to this. The forecast was perfect – sunshine, early twenties, a gentle breeze but not too hot. This was it.
This time, at least the cancellation email arrived the night before.
Typically, just as I’d packed the bags and made the picnic.
Northerly winds, the boat would be unable to dock. Sorry.
A brutal double-blow. To rub salt into the cavernous wound, there was no availability for four, for several weeks. We were doing this together, as a family, or not at all.
The next available trip was due to sail perilously close to the end of the breeding season, when puffins leave the island to over-winter at sea.
With nature’s calendar seemingly in a terrible hurry this year and knowing I wouldn’t cope with the possibility of arriving to a puffin-less isle, I made the heart-wrenching decision not to book again. Resigning myself, somewhat sulkily, to sitting it out for yet another year.
Instead, I’ve teeth-clenchingly endured a summer of Skomer stories.
‘You must go, it’s incredible,’ ‘I’ve been twice this year,’ ‘I was there yesterday, it’s wonderful.’
I’ve begrudgingly ‘awwed’ and ‘wowed’ at innumerable pictures of the splendidly clownish seabirds, held aloft on smartphones and tablets.
For me, nature and emotion are one. In nature, I feel. To be a passive recipient of two-dimensional images, although nice, feels an altogether unnatural or inherently superficial way to experience something so wondrously four-dimensional and deeply personal. It’s just not the same.
With The Attenborough himself set to champion the magnificence of Skomer in the upcoming BBC Wild Isles series, I’m sure boat trips will be fully booked for the foreseeable future.
Perhaps, Skomer is forever destined to be my Everest, an unscalable peak, an impossible, unattainable goal; yet the beaten-down optimist says the thornier the bramble the sweeter the fruit, I WILL make it one day, and it will be all the more treasured for the turbulent journey.
Support our Nation today
For the price of a cup of coffee a month you can help us create an independent, not-for-profit, national news service for the people of Wales, by the people of Wales.