Foster is a British barrister who feels so deeply about the natural world he has spent most of his life living as an animal. He’s written a strangely fascinating book about his experiences and says the exploration of life in the wild has been far more rewarding than his high flying career at the bar.
53 year-old Forster’s Being a Beast was released last month and chronicles periods of his life when he abandoned the trappings of human existence to live as a badger, a deer, an otter, or a fox. He tells his stories with an enthusiastic dose of philosophy and science.
“I was a very arrogant, presumptuous, fantastically self-confident barrister. Even by barristers’ standards,” he told The Guardian.
Foster says his pride masked the truth, which was that he was a broken man. His pride ebbed away as he began his attempts to live like an animal. He said, “I continued at the bar, I carried on working. But I became increasingly introspective.”
Although there are plenty of stories about men and women who have a profoundly spiritual experience with nature, Foster’s are unlike the typical tales of life in remote wilderness.
In order to really experience natural life, Foster immerses himself in the sleeping, social, eating, and fossicking habits of a particular animal— and sometimes takes his children along for the ride.
Some parts of his book make it all sounds quite lovely:
“Quite a lot of being a badger consisted simply in allowing the wood to do to us what it did to a badger: being there when it rained; keeping badgers’ hours; letting bluebells brush your face instead of your boots.”
Other parts start to sound a little strange:
“We crawled down to the river, lapped from a pool where leeches waved at our lips, and crawled back to our chamber, where we fell asleep, side by side and head to toe, as all good badgers do.”
And then quite odd:
“Badgers have a thick outer coat of coarse hair over a softer inner layer. Both trap air very efficiently. To strip off would take me a long way from the badger’s sensory world. I was much closer to it in my old moleskins and tweed coat.”
Until finally, his experiments in nature become downright disturbing.
Foster explains that just as otters sniff out each other’s spraint (or otter dung), he and his children took on these habits too, getting to know the smell of each other’s poo.
When Foster decided to live as a deer, he let his friend release a bloodhound to chase him so that he could experience the adrenaline rush of being hunted. Fortunately for Forster, the dog gave up the chase when it found him.
Dangerous and smelly extreme camping aside, at the heart of Forster’s adventures are the same questions that have caused many of us to turn to nature for answers: Who am I? How real are my relationships? What does it mean to be human?
Foster told the NewStatesman, “We all live in the wild … we are necessarily wild animals, even if we choose to wear clothes instead of skins.”