Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Hunting Psychology: Plans and decisions

I've spent a lot of time living in cites this last twenty-odd years; I lived a little way South of Brixton for five years, in Bristol for ten, and in Reading and Oxford for a couple of years a-piece. In all of these places there are reasons to be busy, things to do, places to go; in all of them you walk outside and get on the tube or on a bus or on your bike and you go and do things regardless of what the weather's doing. Certainly, you look out the window and - if it's howling down - you grab a hat or your brolly or you climb into your waterproofs if you're going out on your bike: the weather is something that might alter the way you go about your plans - but it doesn't really change the substance of your plans themselves.

I write this because it's taken a while for me to begin to accept that the weather is simply not a trivial factor if I'm planning to hunt a rabbit for my tea. I can't just walk - come rain or come gale or come shine - the same route to the same place in the same field every day and expect to do anything other than just sit there pointlessly, feel miserable, and see rabbits, not a one: the weather matters.

And really, this is a bit of a shock. I'm very much the sort of person who precisely would develop little, formulaic routines and trundle through them - bish, bash, bosh - day after day after day.

And so right from the start I've read on the forums and in books: think about the wind, which way is it blowing? It it blowing very strongly? How are you going to get to a place where you can shoot if the wind is blowing your scent towards the very rabbits you hope to find there? And all of these questions I've happily nodded towards after noting the wisdom behind them and and all of them I've systematically ignored.

But I've been trying to make an effort to stop ignoring this sort of thing and that's why the difference between setting out to go hunting and - say - setting out to get a bus to the Tate Gallery has, of late, forced itself upon me so strongly.

When I step out of the house in my - verging on the fancy dress - hunting costume and start to walk towards the fields it's different to getting the bus to the Tate in my moody bohemian attire: if the wind in West Norwood is blowing from over Peckham way - well, it matters not a jot! - I get on the same bus regardless; if the same East wind finds me heading out for rabbit in the West Midlands then I can't just hop over a gate into the fields at the same place that I did yesterday: I have to do it differently depending on the weather. And this is true! I can't just go: 'Oh that's all very well, but I have my routines, don'tcha know!' - and let the East wind help me - and the enervating whiffs of my L'eau d'Issey Pour Homme - down the same path I walked yesterday towards a little spot that I'm fond off - it just doesn't work like that. And I wish it did, as I say, because I'm a creature that likes to burrow into its habitual hiding place: Alas! - there are real reasons to pay attention to the world!

So, if I go out hoping for yesterday's cosy corner and the wind isn't right then I just have to find another way into the field - and what I find when I come into the field there and the decisions I make about what I do and where I sit, or lie or wander - they all have to be made on the spot when I get there: I can't map them out in advance; I can't know what's going to happen. And this is something I resist, but it is - undeniably - (and this is probably why I resist it) exciting: you may get nothing, you may go to places you didn't expect, you may end up going after Wood Pigeon, you may have to try your hand at a style of shooting that you're not familiar with and - given the choice - you'd avoid: unexpected things happen; choices have to be made.

And, if you're like me, you'll - like as not - still walk home rabbit-less to ponder the dusty collection of pulses in the bean cupboard. But if you do, you might also, like me, find that the weather has lifted you not merely by blowing the soot and fag-ash out of your ears, but also - and mainly - by forcing you to meet and react to life as it actually presents itself to you - rather than being carried, droopy-eyed, along the same sleepy rails of your tried and rusted accustomed routine.

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