James Borrell is a biodiversity scientist and science communicator researching how people and nature can adapt to environmental change.

Two things I carried on my last expediton

Whilst packing for Oman I was aware that whatever I decided to take, I would probably have to carry. That’s a wonderful incentive for packing light.

This article isn’t about those overpriced titanium sporks or indestructible sunglasses (in reality a spoon from university and £5 pair from Tesco worked just fine), or the survival essentials like water, compass and whistle. Actually these two are much lighter and far more mundane.

The first, was a cheat sheet of important birds to look out for. Sounds dull, I know, but one of the world leaders on Middle Eastern birds sent it to me on the morning I left and I wanted to keep it to hand.

The second was a poem. I’m not normally in to that, but, thinking that during the heat of the day I might have some times on my hands, I took a poem that I had long wanted to learn by heart.

 – If –

IF you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream – and not make dreams your master;
If you can think – and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
‘ Or walk with Kings – nor lose the common touch,
if neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And – which is more – you’ll be a Man, my son!

– Rudyard Kipling

* * *

I almost had it by the end.