THE NATURE OF NATURE
A few years ago, my ex-wife broke her neck in three places in what was a fairly innocuous-looking riding accident. The horse simply stumbled and Sophia was projected head-first into the ground. She’s fine now and at the time of writing is still riding, as is our teenage daughter Fizz, whose passion for horses never dwindled through what for many would have been a period of re-evaluation.
Fizz has had her share of spills over the years, but is a relaxed and accomplished rider and her relationship with her pony is one of depth and understanding. I love to watch them, especially in the open countryside, though it will always be with mixed feelings that I sit there, camera poised, as they thunder towards another immovable jump.
Is it natural for a person to sit on half a tonne of fundamentally nervous animal, and leap over a huge log? Indeed, what does a picture of a girl on a pony have to do with nature? The answer is simple. Humans have been riding horses for thousands of years. The desire to tame an animal, build a relationship and work with it is part of human nature. It fulfils us, and even if the aim is simply companionship, or a few adrenaline rushes, that connection and feeling of trust with another species is very addictive.
For me this is epitomised when an animal’s hunting skills are put to use. Many of you will have seen the old Chinese fisherman and his team of cormorants tied with string (bizarrely featured in a recent advert for a bank). He keeps all the bigger fish and his birds get to eat all the tiddlers. A falconer once described to me how he would hunt grouse on the moors, using his highly trained dog (pointer) and peregrine falcon. The dog would sniff out a grouse, but then just ‘point’ at it, the falcon would be released to climb to a staggering height, the dog would then be commanded to flush out the bird, and the falcon would stoop down, knock it out of the sky and land on it. The falconer would then exchange the grouse for a piece of meat, the dog would get a treat and so on. Wonderful. Perhaps one day I might get the chance to witness this (photographing it might prove too much of a challenge!).
So, yes, this is a nature image and for me an evocative one. The power lies in the overwhelming sense of freedom, thrill and control that it conveys. The fact that my beautifully packaged genes are up there risking life and limb fills me with wonder. OK, I admit that in this situation my ex-wife’s (slightly crazier) genetic contribution is probably dominant, though I’d like to think that mine is doing an admirable job of holding on.
© Patrick Fox (2009)