Nicolette Scourse. Outing 1. 29 12 17
I am sitting cosy, snug and reassuringly enclosed by a comfortable curving back and soft cushion beneath – not too long, not too short – just right to support the thighs, nice angle. This is luxury chair design.
The wind is blowing the branches; a small bird dashes across my view. In my enthusiasm to get a rapid better look with my binos I impulsively lift my finger and I unexpectedly tilt forward… from which you gather I am not in the comfort of a living room sofa watching a David Attenborough programme. I am in the great outdoors, my favourite situation but up to now a rare occurrence… but about to be not so rare… I am sitting in my new ‘Formula One Chariot’ (Trekinetic wheelchair)!
The slight tilt was not alarming, just unexpected but without any inkling of instability. I had lifted my finger off the very sensitive joy stick too abruptly which in effect jammed on the brakes. I should have let it go slowly, as one would when slowly squeezing the brake on a bike and then I would have glided elegantly to a halt. It is my first time ‘out in the field’ and I am a slow learner at practical stuff. Peter, my husband and wonderful carer, is right into all that as he was taking lawnmowers apart when he was seven years old (he is an engineer). The thoughtful design of every tiny detail and incredible craftsmanship of this wheelchair delights him – he is on the path behind me photographing it from every angle. He is a now a ‘free man’, relieved from the business of pushing, lifting and twisting to surmount rough stones, skirting round puddles and mud, and fighting randomly swivelling wheels more suited to an errant supermarket trolley. For this particular magic wheelchair is powered and independent.
I push the joy stick forward and this amazing smooth Chariot glides silently forward like the swan out on the water just beyond me. I switch up the speed from 1 to 4 and the birds in the trees on either side of the path begin to take me seriously. The north wind is bitingly cold; it actually is, it is not just my increase in speed. But cold wind in one’s face is part of that concoction of delights of actually being out ‘in it’ – the difference between reality and the cushy viewing of nature secondhand through glass or through a cameraman’s lens on TV. From this, the birds and choice of programme, you gather natural history is my passion.
As a child aspiring to become a zoologist and then becoming an actual one, fate dealt me a duff card – polio in the last world epidemic before the vaccine. It left me unable to walk far, and a legacy of increasingly limited mobility. All too often I have been ‘so near and yet so far’ and had to miss out on seeing amazing wild animals going about their business. I swim better than I walk, so my animal encounters and experiences have had to be in or under the sea, in boats, and very short walks dependant on accessibility by car. As a school teacher, lecturer and Wildlife Watch leader this lack of normal mobility was the ultimate frustration when introducing children and adults to the excitement of discovering natural history… and in just walking the long corridors between classrooms and labs. Early on I took to nature and travel writing and later, to capturing the special moments in art. If you have ever wondered what it is like to jump overboard into open sea and be inspected by wild dolphins, there are excerpts and drawings from my recent book ‘Wild Encounters – Try Not To Smile’ on www.wildencountersthebook.com … and much else besides!
My cupboards are still full of my teaching store of found objects – tiny feathers, intricately woven bird nests, dead bumble bees, bright fragments of butterfly wings, beautiful shells, strange seeds, sculptural bones, fir cones, coloured crab shells, fish skeletons, shed delicate skins of spiders, dragonflies and grass snakes. My work place is very cluttered… many of these treasures have become momentoes of better walking days… but that is all about to change…
Hence the Formula One Chariot!
This is just the beginning…