The next 13 Years Wilde guest blog comes from Stephen Le Quesne. I have met Stephen several times at AFON conferences and he does so much to encourage youngsters to get involved with wildlife. He works with schools, creates information booklets and is setting up a wildlife club for children on Jersey. He has worked for BBC Springwatch several times and I was really pleased when he asked to write a guest blog for this series.
13 Years Wilde – The unknown Naturalist
As I sit down to write this it has just started to rain, bringing a freshness and coolness to the air after the very high temperatures that we have been having over the past few days. It is quite apt that I am writing this as it is raining because the rain sums up me when I was 13 years of age, because I was always outside, and I mean always. Whether it was rain, sun, fog, mist, cold or hot I was always somewhere on the family farm where I was brought up, and this farm up-bringing has stayed with me as I have grown up and pursued a career as a Naturalist and Conservationist.
During the past 12 months I have focused a lot on my childhood and my formative years due to the fact that I have been having counselling for depression and anxiety, ever since I returned from Australia, which was around this time last year. If you follow me on my blog and website, you will know that I am very open about my illness and how it relates to the outdoors and wildlife, mainly because I just want to do some good. What I have learned about myself and about my childhood is what I am now going to share with you.
Me as a 13 year old was a really difficult time and so was most of my childhood from 12-16 years of age, mainly because I was bullied heavily at school, with little or no emotional support, which took its toll on my confidence and who I was, and which I now know laid down the initial seeds of depression, which I am still battling today. I have many memories of pain and feeling alone, trying to find my place in the world, which are now fading. On the flip side I have the memories that have stayed with me as bright as ever, this is also something I am determined to give to children now within my role as a Naturalist an Educator. I can best describe me as the ‘Unknown Naturalist’ as I loved the outdoors, but did not really know that I did, I just considered it as a normal thing. One thing I did miss out on is that there was no mentor or expert to guide me to the path that I am on now and I am just really grateful to my grandparents who encouraged me to explore as much as I can, and follow exactly what I want to in life.
As a 13 year old I did not know what a Naturalist was or what bird-watching was (it was never taught at school), all I knew was the smell of freshly cut grass, the best way to crawl through bramble bushes, how the smell of freshly dug potatoes permeates through the air and how to build dens. If there was one thing that took up most of my time as a 13 year old it was den building. I would spend hours collecting materials, thinking about how to construct my den and how I would waterproof it from the elements. Due to this and be known to me I got to know the different types of grass, the life stages of the bramble plant and the food chains of the undergrowth. I also spent a lot of my time building things and searching for disused bits of wood, metal and other materials, not worrying about getting dirty, crawling through the dust or injuring myself, even when I used to in the derelict greenhouse that could have fallen at any moment. I explored, explored and explored and even now I could tell you every inch of the farm, how it smelt, sounded and felt like.
I look back when I was 13 and I see a troubled, fragile 13 year old, who was determined to do well at school but who sought out the outdoors as a place of safety, a place of refugee, where I could escape and feel free. At that age I was completely connected to the natural world and completely oblivious to the fact that I was. Even though I had no mentor to guide me and teach me (Gerald Durrell lived down the road, but I never met him!) I had the complete freedom of the farm and countryside around me. There was no fear or stranger danger, just my imagination and me and without even realising I now know that I created an intimate portrait in my mind of every tree, plant and animal that I encountered. One of my greatest joys was putting on my wellington boots and coat, whenever there was a thunderstorm and either walking in the rain and following the storm as it passed through. Sometimes I would just watch the storm, mesmerised by its power and how each clap of thunder made the ground shake, I was completely humbled, filled with joy and passion, yet fascinated at something that looked so simple but in fact was so complex.
I would definitely say that my Naturalist skills have now improved, because as soon as I knew that I could follow a career in conservation I did, mainly because of the memories I have held since childhood and the knowledge that the outdoors brings me absolute joy, even in the darkest times, and that is something I am determined to share and give to the young naturalists of today.
Stephen Le Quesne