There's a fabulously beautiful forest on the High Weald I like to visit throughout the year. Most forests in the area are restricted, but the owners have granted permissive access to the public. Every May, a small part of the forest is transformed by carpets of English bluebells into a fairytale landscape with a stream running through it. I've long wanted to photograph deer among bluebells, but I have yet to benefit. A couple of years ago, I crossed the stream to explore the other side of the bluebell wood, which is adjacent to a large field. Fallow deer graze there in evening.
A fallen mature beech tree blocked the path. Someone had placed a Fallow deer skull on the trunk. I noticed the antlers had been sawn off. I felt sad about the deer and the tree. It made me think about that old philosophical question or some version of it: "If a tree falls down and no-one is around, does it have any meaning?" Most British people no longer belong to any of the three great monotheistic religions, but it is quite common for Brits to hold quasi-religious beliefs, often involving some kind of unseen agent. Everything happens for a reason, they say. It was meant to be, is another. But if this is true about innocuous events, so it must also be the same for tragic events. I just don't buy this at all. I wouldn't disabuse someone of their beliefs if they are beneficial in some way. My view is that many events don't have any meaning until someone tacks meaning onto them. Wood-boring insects might come along and be delighted at their new home and source of food. Woodturners could reuse the wood and create beautiful works of art from them. The landowner could cut up the tree into logs and take them away for his wood-burning stove. I wondered about how the tree fell. Did a gale blow it over? Was it rotten? And what about the Fallow deer? Was it a poacher or a professional stalker? I found the death of the Fallow deer easier to put into perspective, even though it was sadder, because someone was to blame for it. A person took a decision to aim their gun at the deer's heart and pull the trigger. But the tree just fell. Whatever the reason (weak roots or heavy rain loosening the soil) it probably fell without an obvious cause. There was no unseen agent or hidden force responsible for its demise. It was standing one minute and then it wasn't. On my way out the bluebell wood, I noticed something attached to a tree. An old UKIP banner had been cut, reversed and made into a makeshift sign reading "PRIVATE WOOD. KEEP OUT". I'd been trespassing and it was now time to jump over the ditch or be deported.
I love deer stalking. I blame the time when, at the age of eleven, I spotted a group of deer in the New Forest. Reaching into the back seat for the camera, the deer were too quick and I missed the shot. I can improve my chances of seeing deer, if I visit the right locations, but much of it comes down to being in the right place at the right time, such as on Sunday evening, when I spotted a Roe deer buck out of the corner of my eye, hiding in the ferns. I've become very good at identifying anomalies in random patterns. I had to adjust my perspective slightly, as a fern was obscuring his face. The ISO sensitivity of my camera had to be increased, because of the light levels and I was surprised to even get a sharp image with a shutter speed of just 1/40th of a second. Moments later, the buck darted off. I could hear him barking for several minutes.
Earlier in the evening, I entered the forest via a newly created public right of way, running through a farm. I spoke to a kindly man at the entrance, who provided directions. His face reminded me of someone, but I couldn't put my finger on it. Deeper into the woods, I kept having random thoughts about two pals from primary school and their mum and dad. Coincidences happen more often than we realise, but this surely was one coincidence too far. A local landscape photographer is convinced that I "copied" one of his compositions. He's unable to accept that someone else looked at the scene and had the same idea (expand the comments section). I think the human mind is hard-wired to see patterns, which aren't really there; to believe our ideas are more "special" than they really are. Back in the winter, I took a photo of the starling murmurations by deliberately blurring them with a slow shutter speed. I called it a Blurmuration and mentally patted myself on the back for creating such an original title. A quick Google search cut me down to size. Someone else had got there before me.
It was now 20:30 and I had to leave the forest in time to catch the Fallow deer entering crop fields over the road. The newly created right of way is extremely useful, not only for observing deer undetected, but because I can safely leave, without having to walk along a busy country road. In the distance, I could see the man I met earlier, with his wife. They were out for an evening stroll in their estate. They came over and spoke to me about my camera and very kindly granted me permission to enter their grounds to photograph the deer. Just as the man reminded me of someone, his wife also seemed familiar. I'm quite a modest person and I didn't want to make a fool out of myself by asking, so I gave them my card and invited them to view my work online.
An email from the man confirmed that an extraordinary coincidence had occurred! I had indeed randomly met two old family friends in the middle of nowhere on a summer evening. Twenty five years after I last saw them and twenty miles from home. And what a beautiful part of the world to be reunited! My mother and I always talk about them when we have conversations about primary school. The UKIP sign has now gone, shooting rights have been removed and they are now building an extremely impressive mansion on the grounds of a disused farm they purchased in the last couple of years. I am free to come and go on their estate and I'm pleased to say that the only shooting from now on will be with a camera and 500mm lens. I look forward to showing you the results.