REVIEW: An Evening With Ray Mears
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WITH the backdrop of a crackling camp fire and a gradually darkening, star-studded sky projected on a screen at the back of the stage, the scene was beautifully set for the arrival of the bushcraft legend.
The visual scene-setter then switched to atmospheric footage of a mist-shrouded lake, a canoe appearing from the distance with a solo paddler making his way silently but purposefully through this beautiful landscape.
The outdoorsy types packed in to Eden Court were by now positively salivating with anticipation. But before his arrival, nature’s soundtrack switched to a blast of the John Denver classic, Annie’s Song.
You fill up my senses
Like a night in a forest
Like the mountains in springtime
Like a walk in the rain
Like a storm in the desert
Like a sleepy blue ocean
You fill up my senses
Come fill me again
Those lyrics were the perfect introduction to what it is that we love about Ray Mears. His ability to communicate the majesty of the wilderness and relate it to our own busy, deadline-driven lives is what makes his documentaries so compelling and his bushcraft courses (30 years and counting) so popular.
Mears engaged all of the senses in his wide-ranging talk, which comes on the back of the publication of an eagerly anticipated autobiography, My Outdoor Life. From the Boreal Forest of Canada to the sun-baked desert of Namibia via some of the coldest places on Earth, we were taken on a voyage around the world to some of the remotest spots on the planet.
Mears makes many references to “the knowledge” required to survive in often inhospitable conditions, paying all due respect to Mother Nature and the many and varied creatures we share the planet with.
Knowledge – knowing what best to do in any given situation – trumps all the determination in the world when it comes to making the difference between life and death.
That knowledge is carried lightly as he talks us through everything from the process of constructing a snow shelter or lighting a fire in the great outdoors. What do you do if confronted by a grizzly bear? Well, you don’t look it in the eye, for starters.
Why is it difficult to turn your back on a bear in a bid to defuse a potentially lethal confrontation? One reason is obvious: you’re terrified about what it might do to you when your back is turned. And the other? Mears explained it is because it’s difficult to tear your gaze from a bear’s eyes once you have engaged it. “They have beautiful, beautiful eyes.”
It’s a word which peppers his talk, applied to almost all of the creatures – apart from the crocodile – which he has encountered. That love and respect for nature is clearly imprinted within his very DNA. A walking ambassador for Mother Earth, he also highlighted the work being done by many ordinary people – few of them specialists – determined to make a difference to the plight of creatures facing potential extinction, often because of the sheer stupidity of the deadliest predator of all (us).
An opportunity to jot down questions which would be answered in the second half of the presentation was seized upon with glee by a clearly captivated audience. Perhaps it’s something he says every night, but he claimed he had never received so many. The format works well, allowing even the shyest of admirers to ask something they’ve always wanted to know.
My daughter jotted down the very thing that was on my mind: “Where did you learn all of this stuff?"
He didn’t get around to answering that one – but I suspect it’s contained in the autobiography. Did others have personal questions they wanted answered?
Given the 100-plus strong queue waiting patiently for signed books and a chance to meet the man afterwards, I suspect the answer is ‘yes’…