Last year I worked on a wildlife film about the realm of Santa Claus. It seems likes years ago as it was a time before Covid. I remember missing a connection in Helsinki because the flight from Heathrow was late taking off. Flying for the wildlife cameraman and woman this year has been near impossible. It got me thinking about Santa Claus and the Covid Curse.
I experienced something in Finland that is hard to find in most parts of the UK. Silence! And by silence I mean the total lack of human noise, and the subtle beauty of nature’s soundtrack. When snow fell from the spruce branches you could hear it land below, and corvid calls carried from far away. At times I thought I could almost hear myself freezing up.
In Finland I spent many hours in hides filming magnificent golden eagles. Once, while in the centre of a forest, a wolverine posed in front of the camera, which was a life first for me. Then out on a snow covered pasture a great grey owl, took centre stage, and what a fine flyer she was. But not just a fine flyer, a silent flyer – death on wings if you’re a vole.
Back home with Covid
Back home a year later a remarkable thing happened in a field in South Wales. Yet another hide covered me up, but something was different. Silence here too. I could not hear the distant hum of the M4 motorway. Neither could I detect aircraft heading across the Atlantic to America, nor Easy Jet flights coming into Cardiff. Lockdown was near total. and the effect on noise pollution was startling. ‘If only it could always be like this, ‘ I thought. Though in all seriousness we’re sick of this bloody virus now, some of us literally.
I had permission to film kingfishers in the most self isolated way possible. For company I had their calls, an increasing chorus of warblers and finches and the babble of the brook. All was wondrous until lockdown eased. One morning a lone motorbike seemed to be using the M4 as a drag strip, minus exhaust pipe or regard for speed limits. Just that one vehicle wrecked everything for everybody, and that was just the start of business as usual.
Everyone had been talking about lockdown getting people used to a new kind of living. We would appreciate nature more, be nicer, reassess what we found important. Maybe governments would even redirect precious public funds into improving rich habitats instead of destroying them. Fat chance of that.
Santa Claus and the Covid Curse
Perhaps I was being naive about a seed change, or just impatient to see it happen. Covid has spelt tragedy for so many individuals and their families; there cannot be a person who has not been touched. While we look for cohesive and effective action we seem to witness disarray. As a wildlife cameraman out alone in the field it is easy to feel immune from life’s everyday problems. It’s a place where my mind wanders, sometimes down apocalyptic pathways.
The Demise of Santa
I had a vision of Santa breaking Covid protocol and flying across Christmas Eve skies. After distributing gifts to the children of France he heads for the White Cliffs of Dover, a welcome sight, you would think. Rudolph senses it first, a flash in the distance as activists release the first Covid busting anti aircraft missile. Rudolph regrets the warmth emanating from his glowing nose; it’s a heat seeking missile. They have no chance.
Days later in the aftermath I walk through the carnage of intolerance, antlers, gifts, wrapping paper and bits of beard strewn across the South Downs and wonder what it’s all come to. Under the blood stained remains of Santa’s hat I find a plastic toy resembling Donald Trump. I pull the ring on the back and it says, ‘Destroy all life on earth, we don’t need it. You’ll be glad you voted for me. It’s gonna be great, really great. ‘