Writing about geese the other day brought to mind one of my most favourite of all places on the planet.
For some years, at the end of the last century, I travelled quite often to England. My parents went back in 1987 and had a home in Devizes, not far from Stonehenge. They were quite elderly by then, so I visited a few times a year.
Their lives, and mine, changed radically at the end of 1986 when I decided it was time I bought some sort of property. I had been living in the upstairs apartment of a house in Long Beach, NY. I had no lease, just paid cash and it was super cheap, and adequate.
This had afforded me the opportunity to go travelling with my buddy Tim who took me on some memorable trips. At the time I had become persona-non grata chez my aunt and uncle, which was rather bitter-sweet.
Kay and Ray retired in 1977 and moved to a small town 40 miles from Bangor, Maine. I could get to my parents place in England more quickly than I could get to Dexter! I loved the place, way out in the sticks. Hard to get to, but such a beautiful part of the world. And I loved spending time with Kay and the dogs, of course.
Ray had stopped “pestering” me, but he was a very difficult man and each time I visited there were fights and arguments that, frankly, I didn’t need. My work life was stressful enough. So my visits to Maine got shorter and shorter. Eventually Ray gave me an ultimatum. When I visited, it would have to be for at least a week because otherwise it wasn’t worth the gas to come and collect me at Bangor airport.
For once I took a stand, saying “then I won’t be coming”!
So for those few years I had the money and the time to go adventuring.
But then I met someone and everything changed!
I wanted to spend as much time as possible with my new “friend” and decided that if I was no longer going to travel, I should upgrade my living situation and I should invest in a property that would build equity. Timing is everything, as I’ve said before, and that part of the plan was a bit of a fizzle (the equity part).
My friend lived in England and helped me to find a place for my parents when they decided to move back. I could not have done it alone. I was given a basic budget (very basic!) and told to go find a house. Jeepers is all I will say about that!
How often I would have visited my parents if I had not found myself so frequently in England, I am not sure. Let’s just say that I was suddenly a whole lot more motivated to visit the country of my birth.
Exploring parts of Britain with my friend was so much fun. It was a real gift, as I should otherwise never have got to know my country and certainly, I would never have gone to the village of Slimbridge.
Sir Peter Scott was the only son of Antarctic explorer Robert Falcon Scott. He was an ornithologist and extraordinary artist who dedicated himself to preserving the British countryside.
Sir Peter was also the founding chair of the World Wildlife Fund (it was he who designed the famous panda logo).
In 1946 Sir Peter created the Severn Wildfowl Trust at the village of Slimbridge on the Severn Estuary.
The Nene goose seen here is one of the species he brought back literally from the edge of extinction.
From a mere 30 birds left in existence, in 1962 Sir Peter was able to re-introduce the species to its native Hawaii.
The Nene, or Hawaiian goose was one of my favourites. Knowing how nearly we lost them made them special. We were able to feed these gentle birds and feeling their beaks scoop grain from my hand was so delightful. You needed to be a little more cautious when offering grain to some of the other birds!
The Severn Wildfowl Trust became the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust which now has 10 centres across Britain. The Slimbridge centre comprises some 416 acres of lightly wooded wetland. Walkways take you to cleverly camouflaged hides where you can look out over the estuary and watch the many thousands of birds coming and going. These days you can even take a canoe along certain waterways which would give you a better view of the land based wildlife which abounds.
It is rather difficult to describe the magic of the Slimbridge WWT Centre. To me it was largely an experience of sound. I stood still and listened to the chatter of a myriad of birds. The sound of geese flying over my New York house is very reminiscent of the Slimbridge experience, only there it was thousands of times magnified and it was endless. I was enthralled.
The wetlands could not fail to excite me, as I am a great admirer of birds and swans in particular. It was winter when I went to Slimbridge the first time, and it was cold, atmospheric. My friend and I watched together as swans came in to land, and as they did their incredible run across the water before getting airborne. What magnificent creatures! How beautiful they are. And how wonderful were all the ducks, geese and so many other water birds. And the small creatures we saw.
The Wetlands Trust will always be special to me in part because I went there with someone I love, and for all the clamour of bird calls, I found it to be so peaceful. Perhaps it was that I felt very close to Nature, surrounded as I was by so many of her wonderful creations.
This is a place that lives in my heart.