I once heard it said "that you don't know your limits until you've passed them!" Having taken time to think about the sentiment I find myself in total agreement, the logic being both wise and profound. During my life I have been happy to "run with the pack" - my early years of specimen hunting were conducted in accordance with the form waters of the era. If big fish were being caught, I'd be there, or there abouts. Same can be said for birding and particularly my Kent listing. If something was going down - I was there, generally front of the queue! Both scenarios have provided many fond memories, of great times, associated with this type of group obsession. Indeed, much of the enjoyment came from a sense of belonging, being in the company of like-minded souls. I cannot, honestly, say anything against either form of involvement, my own experiences were a blast. So what's changed?
It shouldn't take the IQ of Einstein to arrive at the very obvious answer - ME! I suppose it is a normal consequence of getting old that I should no longer seek approval from my peers? Or is there another angle to this change of heart? Could it be that I 'm pushing myself to see what else is out there to be discovered/experienced beyond the accepted boundaries of being part of the crowd. A bit late, perhaps, but better late than never!
My angling still revolves around catching specimen sized fish but, and this is now very important, I have to do so in a manner that enhances the experience. It is no longer paramount that I catch the biggest, any decent fish will happily suffice if caught using the tackle and techniques with which I am most comfortable. I certainly have no intentions of returning to the lunacy of having to compete with other anglers as well as the fish we were targeting. I've been incredibly fortunate, during my life, to have caught some fantastic fish and, even today, my PB list is still very respectable in comparison to those of many modern anglers. So with that as my cushion, it becomes quite easy to go off at tangents with my angling projects. Night fishing for pike, catching eels in winter or chasing a 30 lbs carp in a canal, with a sixty year old stick - got to be done because I'm unaware of any other anglers having done so in the past? This doesn't mean I'm unique, as surely, there will have been other guys, with similar outlooks, seeking ways of breaking from tradition whilst yearning fulfillment. What it does mean is that I'm no longer one of the gang. I'm labelled a loner, an outsider, a loser, a non-conformist (been there - got the "T-shirt"), by those who are comfortably ensconced within the ranks of these wonderful pastimes. Every individual is fully entitled to an opinion and, recognizing that, is one of the great benefits of the aging process. I have no requirement to get embroiled in debate, or justify my actions, with anyone. I will simply go where my heart takes me.
Likewise my birding has gone off on a very weird tangent. Looking back at the wonderful experiences I enjoyed, as an active member of the Kent birding scene, it seems inconceivable that I've lost enthusiasm for the hobby. When Bev and I first met, long before we were a couple, she only knew me as a birder (twitcher!). It was full on 24/7 Kent listing - fantastic, adrenaline inducing, total lunacy and, here's the crux, absolutely pointless in as much as it did nothing more than satisfy an ego!
Patch watching is a great antidote to twitching, it allows you to get excited about very common species because they take on a whole new dimension when the limited habitats of a small area are included in the equation. I knew something was very amiss when I stopped my regular Newland's Farm patrols. Gavin Haig uses the term "phasing" to explain the loss of enthusiasm; it seems to capture the vibe. Like my angling PB list, the birding lists that I have accrued would still be very enviable to the next generation. I don't require test tube swinging lab rats, or a committee of ex-school teachers (check out the CV's of your county bird club committee) to tell me what I have, and haven't, seen. I am perfectly capable of making my own decisions as to what is, or isn't, included on any list I wish to maintain. Once again I find myself on the outside - Oh the shame! To have refound a way to make birds a part of my outdoor time, has been an uplifting experience. Two woodcocks were the unlikely catalyst but, I have to admit, that watching that pair of Whooper Swans, flying over Iden Lock, had me grinning like an imbecile. Probably a good job I was alone?
I have to continue to live my life in accordance with the rules I use to govern my existence. Family will always be number one, in any situation, but my desire to stretch myself, beyond the comfortable, has a part to play as life moves on. Once that bloody carp has been caught, who knows where my next challenge will take me? One thing's for sure it won't involve following any crowd.