I am a wife and a mother and I live in France. I was born and bred in England. Nature was always my thing. I roamed suburban Southampton when I was young, obsessively collecting and cataloguing all the wildlife (and its remains) I could get my hands on. I had tadpoles in jars on my bedroom windowsill, folders holding collections of feathers, books with my drawings of butterflies and beetles, matchboxes containing snail shells and dragonfly wings. I spent every free hour during the day looking under lone oaks for owl pellets, picking galls off low branches, identifying garden birds and estuary waders and at night I was out with my home made detector, searching for signs of bats amongst the stands of ash on the Common.
When I came to decide the career I was going to pursue at school I chose art and ended up with a Master’s Degree in Textile Design from the Royal College of Art in London. From there I moved to Italy and then onto Hong Kong, where I worked overseeing fabric production in mills all over China. In 1998 however, my work there came to an abrupt end. I had unwillingly become part of the ‘fast fashion’ industry and I was right slap bang in the middle of the machinations of rampant commercialism, with slave labour and impossible cost-cuts bombarding me from every direction. I was totally disillusioned by the endless cycle of cheap and meaningless production in the East for huge companies in the West, whose consumers would throw the clothes away just as quickly as we could make them. I feared for the environment, for the safety and rights of the workers, for the animals used for many of the products and for my own mental health.
So I quit.
Perhaps it was wrong of me to do so, perhaps I should have taken the corporations on; tried to turn the attitudes of the West away from all that senseless consumerism but I felt too overwhelmed by it all. The only thing I felt I could do was to begin by changing my own behaviour. So I moved to the Alps with my family; far away from the mass production of the Far East.
I started to homeschool my two daughters after reading ‘Last Child in the Woods’ by Richard Louv. We spent the better part of seven years outside following a Forest School/Unschooling curriculum. In addition, I took bushcraft and survival skills workshops, did such things as making a flat bow from a quarter trunk of ash, and trapped, prepared and ate squirrels. I spent hours fishing for my supper, collecting Roman snails from along the damp walls of the village we lived in, studied the language of plants and foraged for mushrooms and berries, and perfected campfire cooking. Most of all, I immersed myself in the language of the mountains that surrounded me, I started again to catalogue the things I found in the woods. I desperately needed to make a connection to what mattered most – nature, for my own and my children’s sake.
Here, I was in luck. Lynx, wolves, marmots, martens, red squirrels, dormice, bearded vultures and beavers all live in this mountainous landscape, alongside more common woodland animals. And they often leave signs of their passing. To my delight.
I started to study animal tracking seriously, I read the books of Tom Brown jnr., Tamarack Song and Jon Young (and started studying his Kamana Nature Awareness Correspondence course) and it still gives me the greatest pleasure to be absorbed in this world just outside my back door everyday; it is the real world, not a man-made one that is reflected back to us through the computer or iPhone screen.
And the blog?
Having been on a search for many years for a word that would describe me best, I decided on Vagabondeuse. This of course, derives from the Old French vagabond, from the Latin vagari ~ to wander. Meaning: ‘a person on a trip of indeterminate destination and/or length of time’ or ‘one who wanders from place to place, having no fixed dwelling, or not abiding in it’. Living in France, as I do and being a woman, as I am, it was necessary to change the masculine vagabond into the feminine: vagabondeuse. Simple.
I think it suits me well, as I tend to be a bit of a wanderer and I am happiest whilst doing nothing much else but being out and about looking around. The best thing is when I have a few hours or even days to kill with no fixed agenda; nothing to achieve and I can let my nose lead me from one thing to the next at will. And then, I can record it all here.
L. V. x