A mystery of wild nature discovered but not entirely solved… So here I am walking through Ashdown Forest, deserted from a human point of view, but teeming from all other perspectives. I’m walking through the waist-high forest of bracken under a canopy of beech and oak. Not going anywhere particularly, just kind of following this track.
Is it a track? It’s not on the map; I’m in the middle of nowhere. But it definitely looks like a footpath.
Maybe my tiny mind is telling me that only humans can make tracks, and I’m forgetting that there’s lots and lots of life in the forest that I don’t notice, as I crash through the undergrowth. Fallow deer, fox, rabbit, badger all live here and have feet and weight that can flatten flowers and leaf mould to make paths. But they’re so light-footed, and why would they be as interested as me in cutting through from here to there?
It has occurred to me to stop and look properly at the ground. Now I see that it is absolutely wriggling with life… Wood ants! Enoromous things with big black arses. Billions of little feet – I can hear the rustle and clatter if I stop and listen. Can ants make a trail by themselves, rather than lumbering humans or hippos? Surely not.
Ten steps further and there it is. A mountainous ants’ nest, as high as the bracken. Worker ants, flying ants, bouncer ants, and a big queen in there somewhere. Sticks, pine needles, leaves and bright green caterpillars all being dragged inside to build extensions and feed the babies.
If they can build a castle, they can definitely build a highway. I doubted but now I believe. It was a different type of engineer who made this after all.
Wake up, Chris! There is much more to the world than meets your muffled senses. There are a million other mysteries that will never be explained (thank goodness). Open your eyes, sure. But open your ears, flare your nostrils, touch what you find, and if you find it beautiful, give it a lick.
Nature will most likely lick back.
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Nature experiences are very important for children of all ages, I think. To raise awareness of the urgent issue of the lack of them these days, a film – Project Wild Thing – has been made. It is super. It draws on this event I found myself at last year, as well as other antics by the film crew, and it will be showing at these cinemas around the UK at the end of October. Watch and support!