Muddy Boots and Kestrels

I’ve always enjoyed being dirty – it’s reminiscent of a childhood spent falling in rivers, building dens in the woods, catching fish with plastic bowls and just generally being a child. I would always come home filthy – my clothes, my face, twigs in my hair.

As an adult, the equivalent now is coming home filthy from hikes, from conservation volunteering or from trekking through mud and rivers in a carefree manner on walks. I have always bought the same brand of walking boots, Hi-Tec, because they’re resilient, durable, waterproof and wonderful boots. Each pair I’ve had I’ve worn until they’re virtually falling off my feet and yet the grips have stayed good until the end. The pair I took to Iceland, for example, were genuinely fine, albeit a little worn when I arrived, having already been regularly used in the UK. After three months of being exposed to seemingly constant hikes and unforgiving, sharp volcanic rock, they had been torn to shreds. Literally. But despite no longer being waterproof (they were full of holes) they were still good boots. I remember the funny glances I’d get from the rangers and my work colleagues when they’d see the state of them but I had faith in those boots and that brand, even when I was pretty pissed at having soaking wet feet AGAIN. I don’t generally show brand loyalty but this is something I will not budge on; I will always buy high-tec boots.

Even though I take a lot of pride and get a lot of gratification from putting outfits together, as an environmentalist and as a general outdoorsy person, I am always more comfortable in walking clothes as they’re Simple & practical. Nobody cares what you look like on top of a mountain and those that do – about how themselves or others look – are fools.

What I’m getting at in a very long-winded way, is putting on my walking boots and waterproof coat and heading outside feels good and natural to me. I’ve gotten into a bad habit (I blame winter) of lingering inside on my days off but today was a clear, cold spring day and my dad gave me a nudge to get outside. I grabbed my new binoculars (they’re so powerful I could cry) and headed out for a short walk for fresh air and of course, birdwatching.

The walk I chose was in the proximity to an opencast mine thats been opened and active for a couple of years now; it’s a monstrosity visually, audibly, environmentally, everything. Pile up all the abhorrent words you can think of and that’s probably not enough for this horrendous blot on the landscape for a tiny seam of coal, especially considering how close it’s coming to people’s homes. As my walk consisted of walking down a wooded track towards it, I wasn’t surprised that I didn’t spot much by way of wildlife. The noise of the machines and vehicles was loud and oppressive and even rabbits, which are usually rampant in this area, were curiously absent. I stopped at the end of the track to observe the enormous vehicles and the mess they were making before turning around and heading back, Clutching my new binoculars to my stomach so as not to risk damaging them with the rhythm of my walking, like a pregnant woman would place a protective hand on her bump.

Feeling disheartened at not seeing anything, I trudged through the thick mud in the direction of Home before I heard a distinctive bird of prey ruckus in the canopy above my head. I looked up just in time to see a Kestrel swoop into a nest; it’s too early for there to be chicks so can only assume it was a partner or the single adult I’d seen land making a racket. I almost damaged my face ramming to binoculars up to my eyes to watch the adult take off again.

I loitered around for an unknown amount of time, switching my position and watching the skies. Watching the skies meant I wasn’t watching where I placed my feet and I accidentally wandered into deep, thick mud that sucked greedily at my feet and was reluctant to allow them back. Suffice to say, my boots ended up filthy – I didn’t mind.

Whilst I watched, I caught the Kestrel in flight in the binoculars; it did massive circuits above me, watching me, until another Kestrel appeared and I was treat to a display between the two as they swooped at once another. I was laughing quietly and gasping with joy watching them dance in the sky until finally they disappeared over the horizon and I headed home with muddy boots and a warmed heart.

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