What is an explorer? One definition states it is “a person who explores a new or unfamiliar area”.
Sometimes it feels like there’s nothing new or unfamiliar left in the world. Humankind’s footprint is all over it, and it can feel like there’s nothing that hasn’t already been written about, filmed, photographed etc. But that doesn’t mean we can’t still get a thrill out of being explorers.
This week I’ve been enjoying watching SpringWatch on TV. Every year the programme finds new ways of showing us what is all around us in a way that makes it seem like they’ve literally just discovered it. Yesterday we were treated to live footage of a bird called the Nightjar. Chris Packham was practically exploding with excitement, much the way I’d imagine the explorers of the Galapagos islands did when they discovered new species.
Except, the Night Jar isn’t a new species. Sure, it is rather secretive, due to its nocturnal habits, and its plumage helps it blend into the background, but it isn’t new. So why the excitement?
There’s a kind of excitement that comes of seeing something old from a new perspective. It literally feels like you have just made a discovery. For a brief moment you feel like an explorer.
I was recently asked to create a poster for a biodiversity project and was handed a list of names of native Irish plants and bumblebees to study. When I started to research the plants, I soon realised that the images found online were not quite as useful as I’d thought they’d be. Sometimes it was difficult to tell the actual scale of one flower next to another, and in particular, next to each species of bumblebee (which also come in different sizes!). The intricacies of the petal formations were also difficult to decipher from most photographs available online. So I went to the library and took out some books. This helped me work out what season each flower could expect to be found in bloom, and offered a few more details about habitat, size etc. But I felt I needed more. So I put my explorer hat on and went out into the field. One by one I found what I was looking for, sometimes after days of hunting, and other times when I was least expecting to stumble across them. Native Irish wildflowers like Kidney Vetch, Common Knapweed, Birdsfoot Trefoil, and bees such as the Common Carder Bee, the buff-tailed bumblebee and more were all out there, hidden in plain sight.
I hadn’t discovered any new species. But at each “discovery” of these unusual plants I got that buzz of excitement of an explorer. If I hadn’t needed to draw these flowers and bees in such detail, I wouldn’t have needed to go looking for them and I would have missed out on that feeling altogether. I literally would not have known what I was missing.