“Go to nature in all singleness of heart… rejecting nothing, selecting nothing and scorning nothing; believing all things to be right and good, and rejoicing always in the truth”. So said  the Victorian art critic, writer and social thinker, John Ruskin, to members of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood in their mission to challenge the conventions of contemporary art in the mid -1800s.

I was standing in a field, head down. scanning the world immediately beneath my feet. “Have you lost something?”  came a voice interrupting the solitude.

“No.” I replied, looking up to see a young man leaning on the gate that gave entrance to my grassy domain.

“It’s just that I’m going to let these sheep in,” he explained.  A trailer full of them that I somehow hadn’t noticed. I approached the fence and clambered over to better watch the sheep tumble over each other in their urgency to leave the crowded trailer.

“What were you looking for?”

“Someone told me I would find Adder’s Tongue Fern around here, but I’ve had no luck.” I said. “You’re standing in it” he replied with a smile. And so began another spring.

This was one of many embarrassing moments I encountered as I searched the backwaters of the Isle of Wight for wild plants and flowers to photograph and record. I was a novice in every sense of the word. But I had an expensive camera with an impressive macro lens, green wellington boots and a sturdy weatherproof coat – all of which suggested a man who knew what was what in this wild world beyond the town. Knowledge would be a long time coming, however… in fact the more I learned, it seemed the less I actually knew.

Like most people I had spent most of my adult life simply walking through nature, treating it as no more than a sensual backdrop to a gentle stroll. Now I was determined to be in it, up to and over the tops of my green wellies. To immerse myself in Tennyson’s nature, red in tooth and claw… so long as no animals were hurt during the course of my visits! What they did in their own time was their own affair – that’s nature’s way after all.

My guides along the way were many. Local people, walkers and farmers mostly, happy to divulge the whereabouts of broomrape growing by the side of a woodland track or bird’s nest orchids hiding deep in the leaf litter of a quiet copse. Some were easy to track down, although the instructions on how to get to them were often vague – as with the adder’s tongue fern. Nature often hides in plain sight… you have to learn how to see it. Perhaps that was the true meaning behind Ruskin’s advice?

I still jump in the car most weekends, often revisiting old haunts and catching up with old friends, like the early purple orchids. I know for a fact they will soon be out – but I like to check… just to be sure. And to get a picture or two.