I've always been interested in beauty in its natural form. Because of this I've learned how to look and where to look. Beauty can be found in the strangest places, but it's best found, in my experience, in places least affected by humans. This story is about me finding both human and non-human beauty.
It's far from unusual to find me in the woods or hills with a camera, binoculars, hand lens and a couple of field guides. Most of Scotland's woodlands, sadly, are barely worth bothering with. These are places where humans tramp by every 5 minutes, shouting loudly about "getting back to nature". You can find beauty on the beaten track. You can even find beauty in towns. Who says you can't study astronomy - defined as the observation of heavenly bodies - in built-up areas? In my opinion though, you're better away from people. Fortunately, I know where the wilder places are.
Last summer I was up at one of those wilder places (here in Scotland this is sadly a relative term), looking for non-human beauty (my friends would say "for once" - I'm still in my twenties, but I've been a dirty old man for years). I'd found several interesting plants, lots of lichen (try taking a really close look at lichen under a magnification of 5 or 10 times one day - it's worth it: Nature hides beauty in the strangest places) and a red squirrel. It was hot, sunny and almost still - ideal for nature photography. The woods I was in are also the haunt of Pine Martens - one native animal I've still never seen - so I'd got off the tracks and I was keeping quiet.
Then something moved in the undergrowth that was too fast for wind-blown foliage, and definitely the wrong colour. I crouched slightly, very slowly, to avoid being spotted, before realising it was too late. A friendly, but not *too* friendly very human smile flickered in my direction from barely 50 feet away, framed in shoulder-length dark hair - hair that was too dark to have been what I'd seen. My eyes dropped to well-defined shoulders and naked high, firm breasts, with nipples hardened in the slight breeze.
I was brought up reading Greek mythology, and memories of what happens to mortals who come across naked dryads in the woods jumped across my mind, but there was no sign of a pack of hunting dogs and I concluded that this woman was not a Goddess. She was in her early to mid twenties - old enough to be confident and young enough to still be naturally gorgeous. I froze, relaxed, stood, and grinned back, satisfied that I wasn't about to get blinded on the spot.
She moved back from the low bushes, confirming my suspicions and showing slender legs and a small equally nude bottom. She held up one hand to signal to me not to come any closer (although maybe there was magic in play, as I was rooted to the spot, unable to breathe) before walking back to a small pile of clothing, moving with the lithe and almost erotic grace of those familiar with walking or running on rough ground. This more or less settled her humanity, since unless the stories are very wrong wood spirits and deities don't generally wear synthetic t-shirts, white knickers and loose trousers. She dressed quickly but calmly, apparently unconcerned with her nudity but perhaps nervous of an over-reaction on my part, allowing a good view of well-toned limbs and a glimpse a dark triangle of hair between those supple legs.
Then, equally calmly, she walked back over to me. I found myself able to breathe again, and we chatted of the local wildlife - she turned out to be another keen amateur naturalist and conservationist from down in England. I tried to concentrate on her words and her deep, brown eyes. No mention was made of her state of initial undress, and I chose not to ask. We spent a couple of hours together before I had to head for home and her to her camp site. I didn't see the animals I was looking for, but that glimpse of beauty in its natural state more than made up for that.
Thanks for the story, Niall. I am not a nature boy myself, but if it is often like that, perhaps I should check it out. On the other hand, in Denmark in December... :(
By the way, the Photo Page is just updated.