At Last Light

With their keen sense of smell, badgers are a tricky species to photograph and patience is the only fitting key. After locating a suitable habitat, wooded dell with a beck flowing through, it’s the freshly dug-up earth in front of large, bean-shaped holes with dry grass outside that shows a potentially active badger sett. Finding a space down-wind where I can sit for at least an hour before sunset, I drape myself in camouflage gear, snuggled in warm, water-resistant clothing because the wait is long and my limbs need to remain as still as possible. It’s a time to clean your mind of thoughts disrupting the flow of imagination, until you sync with the hour and place until breathing is calm and the urge to move little.

Tall old oak and beech trees sway gently in the breeze above me with their bright leaves of fresh green and sheep bleat from across the Bowland Hills. Sunlight streams through the canopy, first golden, soon pastel and lilac. A brush-stroke of burnt orange rests on an oak’s textured bark, aglow for a while then thinning.

Somewhere a tractor travels back to a farm, then stillness. Pigeons squawk, ruffling the quiet and a hoot tells me of the presence of an owl. Again, it’s quiet. Waves of violet marble a sky dropping hue after hue.

The sun is setting and the last light hovers on the edge of the dell. There it is. The earth has come alive. Squeals and rabbles, chattering and harrumphs down below. The window of opportunity is open.

A nose appears from the sett entrance, followed by another and I aim my camera, quietly, gently and steadily while my heart beats fast and my lips are set in a smile. A frame, two, three, then the badgers are off on their foraging.

The light fades into midnight blue.

The cubs come out as the moon rises and for a few minutes, the animals play like creatures drawn by an illustrator hopeful that moments of wonder like these may just exist. They do.

I withdraw backwards from the sett and the dell, trying not to break twigs or stumble in the dark as I circle back out and away from their nightly world.