New horizons

Life is a funny thing. I’ve always believed that every little thing happens for a reason. It’s not always obvious at the time but quite often it creates a chain reaction of events that leads to a more definite conclusion. My life has taken a few twists and turns and has been shaped by events and people and it’s funny how these things change you and how much you allow them to change you.

The biggest event that’s ever happened to me occurred five weeks ago. At a relatively later-than-expected stage of my life, I became a dad. This explains the relatively quiet activity on the writing and adventure front. I’ve still been getting out and doing bits but understandably scaled back over the last nine months or so, so I can be around if needed.

With the events that are shaping the world this year, events that I never thought I’d see, that were a antiquated thing of the past, have had me thinking from day one about what the future holds for my son. I soon realised that he, like me, will have no control over countries and world leaders, but it’s a concern all the same. I began to think of all the ways that I can steer his life in the best direction in order to ensure he has the best childhood and the tools to see him through his formative years and adulthood. I will lead him along the same path that has served me so well throughout my life, and that is the path that embraces nature, the outdoors and all things uncomplicated.

It’s the best I can do for him as a parent and even if, like many, he strays when he’s older, he can always return to the path when he’s ready. That’s effectively what’s happened to me over the years with hobbies that I involved myself in through my own dad and inevitably grew out of because they weren’t seen as trendy, and now I find myself drawn to them as clearly they made a lasting impression on me and it’s a link through to my uncomplicated and thoroughly magical childhood as well as my own dad.

My head these days is filled with the magic of watching my son develop every day and I feel the sometimes overwhelming wave of responsibility wash over me and pull me out to the sea of uncertainty but then I ground myself with the simple mantra that I know what I’m doing as I’ve got the blueprints that I’ve drawn myself with my own life and experiences. I know that his formative years will be full of days out, walks, nature immersion, laughter, music and unconditional love. I’m sure, like me, he’ll be grateful for it even if it is eventual, not immediate.

I look around me and see so many kids living a life that I don’t want for him. When he’s old enough to make his own life choices then so be it, but I definitely am not going to be a hands-off parent, just sticking him in front of a screen for hours a day or even hiding behind a screen myself so he feels second best. There are so many things that are damaging to ourselves and people around us that are accepted as normal. I always say that just because we can do something, it doesn’t mean that we should do it. 24-hour fast food restaurants for example. Is it healthy to have a burger and chips at 3am? Or as often as you like? No of course not and just because the opportunity exists, its not an endorsement for a healthy lifestyle. Mental health gets a lot of exposure these days and there’s advice everywhere about getting help, but it doesn’t tell you how to avoid the obvious traps in the first place. Prevention is better than a cure basically. How many more studies do I need to read about the overwhelming benefits of being outdoors, exercising, eating healthily versus the effect of blue light from screens, the anxiety brought on by social media, and the damaging nature of the everything-now expectation from media consumption? It’s a no-brainer to me really and this is what I intend to teach my son, that none of it is real. What’s real is true human interaction, filling your senses with touch and sound and being thoroughly present.

Going back to the point of everything happening for a reason, it feels like everything I have been through and have learnt is my experience in order to pass it on to him (and anyone else tuned in to listen). I have people in my life that have been lucky enough to have that available to them but have chosen the path of least resistance, which as we know, only leads one way. A quote from a famous song goes something like ‘be careful whose advice you buy, but be patient with those who supply it’ and it rings true here.

I’m looking forward to fulfilling my new purpose as for years it’s felt like I haven’t had one. Long days ahead learning from one another and teaching him things to give him the magic and wonder that I felt in my early years, and sometimes still do, especially now I have someone to experience it with.

In the meantime, if anyone has any advice or experiences they’d like to pass on, it would be gratefully received!

Victims of success

I’ve never really been successful at anything. Perhaps I should rephrase that. I’ve never really been successful at the things I’ve wanted to be successful at; school exams, growing a wildflower meadow and table manners. But what is “success”? From the outside looking in, I would imagine I look successful to many on some fronts or even successful to some on many fronts (I definitely look successful in Y fronts). Perhaps the definition of success is your own definition and not for anybody else to determine.

Using the Saturday Park Run as an example. I’m trying to chase down a 5k time that I set nearly four years ago. I edge closer each week, but it still seems out of reach realistically, so I determine each Saturday to be kind of successful, but not really. Then I imagine people seeing me flying along and thinking, “That guy’s fast. I’d love to be that fast. He is successful at Park Running. I bet he talks with his mouth full though”. My neighbour might see my lawn and think it looks nice and green and tidy. I look at it and wonder where the hell my wildflowers are. So it’s all personal perception I guess.

I am digressing a bit so I’ll get back to my original train of thought. People become victims of their own success. It’s a phrase we hear all the time. I remember my first week in my first big job after university. It was a pretty large company, and I was eager to make an impact and get stuck in to some interesting work. My manager gave me my pile of work for the day and briefed me on the first one. It sounded like a really important project: vital for the company’s operations. I thought, “This is great! First week and I get this! Everyone else must be pretty miffed that they’ve missed out.” I looked around. No one seemed bothered. Anyway, I got stuck in and did it, and realised it was the worst project in history. A monthly, monotonous, remedial task that everyone else hated, moaned about doing, and waited to pass it on to the new kid. It happens everywhere all the time. Being 22, and eager to please, I did a really good job. And the next month. And the next month after that. One day, a new kid started. Now was my chance to see someone else get it, and I could do something else. He didn’t get it. He got other crap jobs to do, but not mine. “Why?” thought I. The painful truth was, I’d done a very good job on it. Too good a job in fact. The compliments I received were not just platitudes, they were sincere. I had secured myself a rubbish job by being very very good at it. Looking back, I should have fluffed it up so they never gave it me again, but then, they’d have probably never gave me anything again full stop. So I had become a victim of my own success.

It’s not a phenomenon exclusive to people though seemingly. Our outdoor spaces too have become, and still are becoming, victims of their own successes. I am writing mainly about the recent report of human feces being found on paths of some of our most popular mountains here in the UK. Litter has been a problem for years of course and even food being thrown to the ground in the assumption that it will just decompose. Well, it doesn’t. The atmospheric conditions are such up there at higher altitudes that the rate of decomposition is much slower, and leaves a huge window of opportunity for unwanted species to move in. I will use Snowdon as an example. Being on the top of Snowdon these days is hectic. Along with the throngs of underdressed and underprepared humans, you have the caw-caw and constant harassment from seagulls, who shouldn’t really be there. But they are opportunistic scavengers and have followed people and their litter up there. Their poo is toxic and acidic and doesn’t belong up there and is tipping the balance of the ecosystem. Human poo is doing just about the same.

All of this is well documented and can be easily found on the internet. What can be done about it though? It’s clear that the pandemic increased peoples’ desire to go outdoors and as soon as the population were told they couldn’t go to Wales, guess where they all wanted to go, even though I would assume the majority of them had never expressed an interest before. Great, I would have thought. More people interested in getting out and exploring the outdoors. That’s what I’m here for. Unfortunately, it seems, the people getting out reflect a general cross section of society as a whole, as opposed to the pre-Covid days which was probably tipped more in favour of people who knew the country code, mountain safety, navigation, and general respect for our outdoor spaces and fellow users. Snowdon is one of my favourite places to go – but out of the tourist season. There are places I prefer going, but Snowdon is still up there for me. Even my quieter places are reporting similar problems. What can be done?

I utter many times a week “Bloody Victorians”. Himalayan Balsam. Rhododendrons. Grey bloody squirrels. The list is endless, to satisfy their curiosity and desire for the unusual. They effectively signed Snowdon’s death warrant by building a railway up there from Llanberis. Like most things they did, they probably did it with the best intentions (very much like the blokes who invented the internet. And look where that got us) and there are probably millions of people who could never dream of walking up a mountain, yet can get there on a train. Then they built the café (originally hotels). Again, this has probably saved many a person who’s ill equipped and can have a warm drink to revive themselves, but it’s dangerous. It’s domesticated a wild, natural landscape and helped everyday people to underestimate both the mountains and the outdoors. The people caught pooing on the mountains have said in their defence that there are no toilets. As my parents would always say when I was younger, “You should have thought of that before you left the house”. That preparation that an experienced outdoors enthusiast has is missing, and nature is the victim here.

In the overly-franchised future we have coming, where Snowdon will probably have its name changed due to either cancel culture, or for sponsorship reasons, the paths leading up there will be wonderfully tarmacked, and lit the whole way with florescent bulbs. There will be toilets and coffee outlets every half-mile, and three summit markers to cut queueing time. I hope I’m not right.

It’s controversial, but only resisting these things can save the wild. We need more rewinding. Bulldoze the café. Take a flask. I fear for the future in many ways, and the future of our open spaces scares me the most. I’m nearly forty and I probably sound grumpy, but these days it’s called passionate. I’ll always be here, sat in the middle ground, where common sense used to exist, and I’ll always be putting nature first.