This weekend I was busy with visitors. In the pre-Christmas round of get-togethers, relatives arrived from London for a few days in the country. My visitors and their children were amazed, when looking out of the kitchen windows, to see pheasants on the lawn and squirrels vying with goldfinches, great tits and great spotted woodpeckers on the bird feeders. Judging by their reactions, the London exposure to, and interaction with, wildlife, and indeed any animal life, must be very limited. It was an interesting experience watching my guests and their children cope with the exuberant presence of my Labradors. The mutt-owning lifestyle obviously doesn’t suit everyone, and while I am oblivious to the hair on the carpets, the dog-snot on the hall windows and having to step around a proliferation of animal-beds, I was amused to see my guests regarding a proffered toy from the mouth of my friendliest Lab as if it was a biohazard. Luckily, the children were much more embracing of canine culture. The weather was mild, so the children were eager to help with some of the chores around the holding, which they enjoyed. Watching little pairs of arms trying to encircle thick slices of meadow hay, while stoically following me up the hill to dole them out to the ponies, made me smile. My neighbour has taken delivery of some sheep and I every time I baa-ed to them the sheep baa-ed back. Try as they might, the children could not get the sheep to ‘talk’ to them, and I told them it was because the sheep couldn’t understand their London accents. That made me smile too.
City dwellers set free
On the Sunday, I took them all for a walk on the Forest to see if we could locate any of my free-roaming ponies. There were plenty of ponies about but not the ones I wanted to find. Even so, the sight of such large animals wandering close by was very exciting to them. The children could not believe that a place as beautiful this existed, and it was wonderful to see this magical landscape through their eyes. They were asking questions, one after the other, and while their parents kept asking them not to badger me with their enquiries I was keen to encourage their interest and stimulate their learning. We spent some time looking at animal tracks and other bush signs, which were easily recognisable in the soft mud beside the tracks. We also tried to identify the several different tree species we encountered, from the leaf litter on the ground and their size and shape. Every time they asked me what was over the hill, I told them to go and look for themselves, and they’d run off excitedly into the distance. The Forest was able to provide them with an experience of freedom and exploration that their city-dwelling, urban-bound lifestyle generally denies them. It made me realise how very fortunate I am to live here, but sharing my enthusiasm for the landscape with next generation gave me the biggest smile of all.