I’m now back at EIA from India. I’ll have to agree with a colleague on my lack of any kind of suntan, as I spent most of my time positioned firmly out of the sunshine, indoors, attending a suite of tiger conferences which included the release of India’s latest tiger census figures.
Recently, Debbie filled you in on these events by way of her blog Reading Between the Tiger Numbers. And yes, quite possibly the award for “most memorable moment” of the conference, along with the release of the census figures, goes to the Chinese delegation’s apparent reliance on NGOs to prove the existence of the illegal tiger trade in China – rather than proactively undertaking the investigations that could uncover and combat the underground trade (and help raise tiger numbers even higher).
But I also remember another comment. At a time where so much of the natural world is either being parcelled out or branded with an economic value; where it seems to me we’re dangerously close to living in a world where everything is being eyed up as a potential commodity – or at the very least, where commercial value trumps all other ways of defining and understanding our relationships with the world – one observation from a participant gave me hope. That participant spoke about the importance of engaging with and promoting the spiritual value of nature, as a means to conserving it.
For me, simultaneously experiencing and being part of the natural world is a spiritual experience, and I believe that’s also the case for millions, if not billions, of other people. Many different faiths have teachings relating to nature, and idea of people experiencing nature “together” has a marvellously unifying force.
So whilst in India, I did manage to greet the open air in Ranthambore Tiger Reserve, Rajasthan. My internal marvellings at the rugged silvery landscape, the unique light (perfect for painters, I reckon) and the wildlife we saw were simultaneously reflected out loud by my travelling companions in our jeep.
We’d set out very early in the morning. As our jeep wound along the dust road, we turned a corner and suddenly ground to a halt. Just ahead, an imposing male tiger was marking a tree. We had suddenly found ourselves in his territory. My heart leapt, my legs ran to jelly, and every last bit of breath left my body. Frozen, we watched as the tiger turned and started walking towards us. And he kept on coming. Slowly, we backed up.
It all seems to be in slow motion now. After many incredibly, what must have been long seconds, he changed course and climbed into the bank of bushes next to him. Craning my neck, I caught one last glimpse – he’d turned and paused so I could see him side-on. One gliding movement was all it took for his stripes to literally melt into the foliage and dissolve away.
Then of course we all turned to each other and couldn’t say very much. So that was a “shared moment”.
(And I eventually remembered to breathe again.)
I read one definition of “the Sublime”, as a concept, being something that inspires both fear and awe. We’ll always remember the experiences that lift our spirits – in fact, reveal our spirits. Pointing that out is nothing new. The originality lies in the truly endless opportunities the natural world offers to have such experiences, whether it’s seeing a wild tiger in India or experiencing the first bursts of spring here in the UK.