“It is only once you practice skills, put them into action, then knowledge becomes real. You must practice to make knowledge real.“
– Ray Mears
I crept along a narrow track. To my left were trees. To my right, a grassland. I was pacing slowly. I was not alone. In front of me was a a tall, silent man named Tom, he was an expert in tracking. Behind me were the others in our group. We crept in single file behind, slowly we mimicking his movement, as he raised his binoculars and peered to the right over a shoulder-high ridge.
Around thirty deer grazed in front us, not more than fifty metres away. Tom had brought us the herd with surgical precision. I stared in awe as the deer had not heard us, and in doing so, they had allowed us to admire them.
I stared through my binoculars and traced their silhouettes: Sika deer. Medium brown, medium sized deer. Native to Japan. They are a close relative to Fallow deer,native to Britain. I watched intently, assessing their every, gracious move. As I scanned the quarry I gasped, as a deer paced elegantly into the group. It was a pure, golden white calf. A ghost-like, angelic silhouette. So blonde it nearly glowed. I had never heard of seen such a deer before.
After a short time they sensed our presence. Deer have poor eyesight – only up to sixty metres, after which they rely on their excellent sense of smell and hearing.
Spooked. They decided to leave, and so did we. We continued onwards down the path.
We continued to another pasture which rose into a hillock. We skirted the fence line and observed some deer sat upon the crest of the hill. Deer are not unintelligent animals and a hill will provide excellent security against predators, and rivals.
We moved onward and upwards, spiralling around the contour of the hill. When we arrived we discovered they had already gone, and we were alone. We stood in the landscape. Like black smudges in a see of gray and green.
We convened to discuss our our journey so far. But while the group colluded my instinct was to remain observant. As the group talked I witnessed a shock of white float past in the dusk air.
It was a barn owl gliding silently. She was another ghost in the dusk-light. Her saucer-like face peered down at us. I have never seen a barn owl before. And I will now never forget that sight. It was perfection.
To our right was the crest of the hill, and on the top of it was the iconic silhouette of a Land Rover Defender. We heard the Land Rover let off its horn, and Tom knew that it was a signal for us to come forward. “It’s Ray, he wants us to come see him”, Tom said.
By the time we reached Ray it was fully dusk, and it was drawing darker. His figure had a kind of solitude on that hill, not of sadness, but of quiet confidence. Ray is obviously comfortable being in the company of nature. I shook his hand, as did the rest of the group.
He told us that we should “get to know your landscape, get to know everything closely so that when something changes, you know everything about it.” Observing nature is the key skill which underpins bushcraft.
“It is very easy to acquire knowledge. But it must be put into practice”, he explained, “It is only when you practice skills, put them into action, then it becomes real. You must practice to make knowledge real.”
And as he said those words the wind blew and the night fell deeper.
This experience was recorded during the Woodlore Tracking Course.