A Focus On Nature

A Focus On Nature, Advent Calendar, Now for Nature

Grandmother to NowforNature – James Common

Welcome to our 2016 Advent Calendar series (#AFONAdvent)! This year, our theme is “The Gift of Inspiration”. For each day, one of our members has written a blog post about someone who has inspired them, and how that inspiration has lead to them being where they are today. Each member is a shining example of a young person who is acting Now for Nature. We hope that you enjoy the series and have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

When discussing ‘the gift of inspiration’, many will surely choose to praise their favourite author, or perhaps the presenter of a particularly emotive TV show. For me, however, the source of my inspiration lies much closer to home. With my Grandmother – Vera Harrison – who, unfortunately, passed away last year.

I owe an awful lot to my dear old Gran, including my passion for nature, writing and, you guessed it, nature writing. With some of my earliest memories consisting of sunny excursions around my local area, in search of conkers in autumn, and Cuckoos in spring. Her knowledge and passion for the outdoors clear to see as, at an early age, as she tutored me in the finer art of tree identification, foraging and wildlife gardening. Only to make me write-up notes upon our return – a habit I maintain until this day. My earliest, somewhat tatty notebook – bursting with spelling mistakes and fond memories – still firmly in my possession some fifteen years on. Nestled in a box full of feathers, pressed orchids and other interesting items unearthed during our early travels.

Throughout these early escapades, no matter the activity, one thing remained wonderfully constant: our choice of destination. Every journey focussed on one particular place – the River Blyth and woods, fields and ramshackle urban areas that surround it. A river located a mere stone’s throw my Grandmothers former home which, to this day, I cherish dearly. An upbringing in the company of the greatest naturalist I have ever known revealing the secret life of this special place. From the preferred nesting sites of the local Kingfishers to the best spots from which to ogle Otters. Unmatched spectacles which continue to inspire daily. My visits remaining equally as frequent, despite the lack of my walking companion.

The inspiration I have gained from the river, and thus the lady who gifted it to me is too much to summarise here. Though, in its purest form, it has inspired me to act on behalf nature. Childhood encounters with Tawny Owls, Goldeneye and semi-urban Foxes instilling a love of natural world and an undying appreciation of its beauty. With further encounters, more recent in nature, reminding me just what it is we, as conservationists, are fighting for. The river and her wildlife undeniably responsible for my pursuit of a career in nature conservation, for my choice of education, for my hobbies and for much of my writing on the subject.

My grandmother and her beloved river have, however, inspired greatly on a much more intimate level. Inspiring me to be myself, quirks, flaws and all. The wilderness bestowed upon me acting as a sanctuary over the years: to laugh, cry, smile and ponder in blissful solitude.  The river standing as my go to retreat during the various tough times of my life – embracing me time and time again, whether coming to terms with my sexuality, pondering future decisions or indeed, grieving. The gentle lapping of water, the rustle of leaves and raucous cries of Jays highlighting, over and over, the beauty of nature and of life. Providing motivation to go on, to look forward and enjoy the things I do regardless of the opinions of others.

I am grateful for a great many gifts, but the wisdom and experience granted by my Grandmother most of all. I will continue to visit the river: to learn, enjoy and motivate myself for years to come. But also, to remember who I am, and who put me here.

James is a nature writer, conservationist, blogger and naturalist from Northumberland. He studied for a BSc(Hons) Animal Conservation Science at Cumbria University, and is currently at Newcastle University for a MSc in Wildlife Management. His personal blog can be found at: Commonbynature.co.uk, and you can follow him on Twitter at @CommonByNature

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