Sometimes I just head out up there, on the other side of the hill. There’s a spot there, just where the track bends round, you go straight up through a pile of stones and it opens out into a little flat area.
That’s what it’s like around here, little spots and tucked away places. I like a flat space, long enough for my body and flat enough so I don’t feel like I’m going to slide away downhill. It’s worth exploring those nooks for that reason.
There’s one place I go, where the road goes steeply up and a zig zig track breaks off from it – what was the old road but is now just an animal track. Follow that one up a bit and eventually you’ll come to a big oak holding tight on a steep slope. Under that oak is a small spot, a ‘shelf’, and that’s where I sleep.
In that spot I have had something (probably a fox) run past my face in the night, jolting me from half-sleep, firing up my mind, making questions, starting a conversation. It can be a shocking way to begin a chat. One night I awoke to a full moon perfectly cradled in a palm – held lightly there in a beautifully shaped hand of an oak limb – that image still burns, brings significance. I lay there fully awake, as if the moment woke me up to show me something I could almost make sense of. Why, though? Why does it feel that way?
Another place that calls me back is high above the stream just outside some woods near where I live. It’s comforting within the birch strip. I have slept a whole night without waking there, which is unusual. It feels friendly. As I set up camp I saw lights flash out of the corner of my eye a few times. Tiny lights, like candles burning but from a distance. I lay there one summer night as an underleaf orchestra played a reflective piece of stream. Thousands of instruments, each with its own take on flow.
Opposite my house are some woods where nobody goes. There is no way in besides crossing the stream at the bottom of a steep incline. As if unused to people, this place brings unrest, and its rough, quarried ground allows for one single suitable shelf to lie upon. There is an edge to the place and it calls me back. I am curious to walk between how it feels to me, my feelings towards it the place, and also how it feels me, my presence. One night there I dreamt of being chased up through the tumbledown quarry, hiding behind rocks and assessing, with no apparent choice but to leave.
One night atop gritstone rock was unforgiving. From apparent stillness, a cold summer wind held me in place. Fewer movements keep the body heat in. My sleeping mat, punctured on its flat surface, made a night of embracing the hardness of things: a person’s will, enforced stillness, the temperament of rock.
In the Dark
I often scout when I walk in the day, following animal tracks, slipping down leafy, muddy slopes, wading through heather and bilberry, picking through bramble. A new spot is a feeling – a tingle of possibility, the excitement of walking back there in the dark, shunning torchlight, losing my way but always eventually finding.
For outdoor sleep unseen by humans, the longer nights of winter and her surrounding months are a preference. Walking out in the dark is not knowing – beyond the wall of daylight we use to keep in the known. I feel my way along tracks differently, stumble differently, feeling the edge of darkness, creating a different light. The dark brings me closer to a quiet unknown. Observed by different creatures, every breath I take tells my tale to the night while I sleep.
With every sleeping spot – under a tree, upon a heather bed or next to a stream – there is its peculiar night, or dream – something to be with and take home. It’s a map of sorts, of where I meet this place, of what I let in or forage for as I sleep, of learnings and integration through exploration, experience and opening up to place. What would it be like to sleep with my head two feet from a rushing stream? What if I wake with an animal in my face? What would it be like to sleep on moss or grass or rock or root? What does this add or take away from me and from the place itself?
Here there can be stumps, overgrown tracks and steep drops within a curve of wandering: with platforms to wrest from uneven ground. All ask the same thing – meet them where they are.