Being out in the countryside with my dogs gives me time to think. I’ve learnt the pleasure of solitude without being lonely, and that’s a good feeling for me.

Welcome to "Man with two dogs" - the family website for dog owners and dog walkers.

This is my countryside diary which appears each Saturday in the Dundee Courier newspaper.

Making connections

February 18th, 2012

FOR CHRISTMAS I dropped a thinly veiled hint asking for Edward Wilson’s Antarctic Notebooks and was delighted to receive the book. The history of south polar exploration interests me more and more and this book, written by Wilson’s two great-nephews, is an illuminating insight into the outward personality and inner strength of a remarkable man.

Edward Wilson (1872-1912) was a doctor but from early childhood he had developed a passionate interest in natural history and was a highly proficient wildlife artist. It was these joint abilities that singled him out to be chosen as Junior Surgeon and Vertebrate Zoologist to the 1901-1904 British National Antarctic Expedition led by the then Commander Robert Falcon Scott.

Wilson returned from it with a thirst for more polar exploration and research, and he and Scott had cemented a friendship that lasted until their deaths together in the Antarctic snows a hundred years ago.

While obviously Edward Wilson has close links with Dundee through RRS Discovery, I wonder how many readers are aware of his Angus connections?

His scientific achievements on the 1901-1904 Expedition had brought him to the attention of many influential people including Lord Lovat, Chairman of the Board of Agriculture’s Commission on the Investigation of Grouse Disease which had set up the Inquiry to examine why so many grouse were dying of an unidentifiable disease. Then, as today, grouse shooting was a major contributor to the rural economy and Wilson was appointed Field Observer to the Commission.

In 1906 the work brought him and his wife to live in the bungalow at the foot of Glen Prosen where he and the now promoted Captain Scott planned the final details of the 1910-1913 British Antarctic Expedition which ended, for them, in death.

Dundee and Montrose readers who are getting a bit smoother in the tooth will remember Largs music shops. Mr Eric Larg and his sister lived in the same bungalow for a number of years and were very conscious of the historical association of their surroundings. The Doyenne and I met them several times at Rottal Lodge in Glen Clova when it was a hotel.

My grandfather was a solicitor in Kirriemuir and Forfar and my father told me his father had met Captain Scott. I don’t remember any mention of meeting the Wilsons – which is possibly a bit odd as, social conventions being what they were, they all mixed in the same tight-knit social circles.

The book has come up to all my expectations. It’s a family tribute to a much loved and celebrated relative which they share with a wider audience. The text is sparing but – and this is what appeals to me – it illustrates their Uncle Ted’s love of and immersion in the natural world.

Sketches and watercolour paintings appear on almost every page – of the polar landscape, skies, sea, his companions and the penguins for which he clearly had developed a special affection. And drawings of the flora and fauna, down to the finest detail which as a scientist and naturalist he understood. Photographs of him show a neat man. His handwriting is neat, his creativity is neat – which I like.

Some of his most personal thoughts are included in the text, affirming his profound religious convictions which surely must have sustained him as he faced death, with thoughts of a wife half a world away. For me as the Man with Two Dogs, the words that have touched me most are – “Love everything into which God has put life: and God made nothing dead. There is only less life in a stone than in a bud, and both have a life of their own, and both took life from God.”

I find the connectivity between his spirituality and the world he cared about quite moving.

Edward Wilson was a polymath – his breadth of interests and depth of learning were prodigious. His discipline – his authors describe how he would stand up to work in order to finish a project in case he should fall asleep. His generosity of spirit. The quality of the man – he seems to have been the all-round good egg who you hoped your sister would marry.

So much achieved in so short a life, yet you can imagine a man of such energy castigating himself for not achieving more.

Written on Saturday, February 18th, 2012 at 2:02 pm for Weekly.