Those times when you find yourself alone in nature and for some reason, your sense of awe and comfort switches immediately to a feeling of pagan animism about everything around you. As if you are so very trembling and small in the scheme of tall tree things.
Being alone in nature is something I am quite comfortable with, and actually sometimes really crave now that it’s virtually impossible to have. I did have some pre-dawn walks for a hour or so earlier this year when we were camping in the remote Flinders Rangers. My husband were still asleep in the tent and I went out by torchlight. There was a slightly similar experience to the one I’m about to tell. Perhaps because I had my dog with me, or because it was morning, or even because I grew up around this wild land, I felt awe, but not fear at the strange undersound I heard as I got closer to the hills.
There have been a handful of times when THE FEAR has involved not a wild place, but a known place, like it was for Will.
THe last time I felt it, I was feeling comfortable. It was July 2015 and I was outside our rural holiday cottage in Cornwall. A house full of my children and nephews, in-laws and husband asleep. I was outside at midnight with my astrobinoculars and camera taking night sky pictures.
Anyway, for some reason, being out there in the dark, even after a long night of Summer light, turned, er, well, frightening.
It began with a sound from the fields. The gardens were surrounded by tall hedges, puncutated by one small archway cut out with a gate, with fields beyond. The sound had a hint of human cough or maybe throat clearing, but un-animal enough to confuse my senses. It wasn’t a growl, and I’d lived rurally so it wasn’t a cow or sheep or fox sound. Or bird sound. It was just, unidentifiable. Odd. Weird.
Instinctively, in that moment, when my brain could have rationalised, it didn’t. The day spent exploring ancient nooks and crannies of Cornwall took over, and I, the I that might laugh at my reaction, was gone. THE FEAR had me.
That sound, had set my heart thumping in a rhythm for running. And I wanted to run. I just left my bincolulars and camera on the tripod and ran across the lawns to the sliding door and clambered in to the dark of house and the comfort of the lounge. After a few moments, I realised I had left all my gear outside. As I tried to slide open the door go back to get it, I tried to let the ridiculousness take over. It wouldn’t.
I forced myself, swearing in whispers, to go back out and fumble to detach the heavy binoculars, fold down the tripod and pack away my camera in what seemed like an eternity spent in the now thick ominous darkness. It was somehow, one of the most bravest acts against myself.
And that, is The Fear. I’ve felt it only a handful of times.
If you have ever felt it, you will understand.
Just as Susan Cooper must have understood, when she wrote it for Will to experience.
Have you known, The Fear? I would love to hear your tales.
#TheDarkIsReading & THE FEAR conjurs up this night. Family & UK in-laws asleep in holiday cottage. I was outside for night sky pics. Heard an odd sound from darkness in the quiet night. Terror took over, clambered into the house, heart thumping. https://t.co/u9FOXBrXBF
Because although I still have a lot to learn, my valley is claiming me through small gods.
whispering voices of sheoak
the different rhythm of the feet of my chickens that tells me they are excited to follow me and makes me laugh out loud
the sound of a blue-banded bee long before it can be seen that tells me if it’s flying with or without pollen-covered legs
the bank of clouds hugging the hillside at dawn
the swing of wind to cool southerlies
the beckoning of the wild island in winter
the first time I notice that the sun signals autumn, something about the afternoon shadows is different
the keening cry of the black cockatoo heralding a rain storm
the burst of green through soil
the unfurling leaf
hearing the blue-tongue lizard trying to walk silently on dried up leaves which betray his presence
the resurrection of moss after the hot summer
the gaze of the magpie that makes me feel small
the longer afternoon light bent through the plum tree
the warm night-scent of native franjipani under a clear night sky
coming home to the valley I live in and seeing it tucked in against the hills, cuddled by trees and feeling its welcome
the trembling of wet leaves in the sun after a rain storm
a flash of red in the fading strawberry leaves, the slow secret ripe strawberry
a face full of spider web and the apology to the spider
magpies in conference, they meet in a circle, talk and hush as you draw near
I’d love for others to write about their small gods as a way to begin, but first, listen to Small Gods by Martin Shaw or find out more at drmartinshaw.com because writing these down may be a mistake of mine, but I’m still learning how.
Sometimes a piece of writing rustles and stirs the dry leaves that fall too quickly on the pathways of our bustling lives. Like an inexplicable breath of floral-perfumed warm wind, in the harsh bite of a winters day. Rewilding you from inside.
…know that you will remember when and where you were when you first read this. You will learn that words conjured together even when read in the cold clinical light of a computer screen, can take you to a campfire in the wilderness where you huddle alone, reading words with only the flickering firelight and lamplight of the moon, with only the winking trail of the Milky Way as company.
Receiving the book was even more startling. It’s an odd thing to open a modern envelope, delivered by planes and wheels and inside find something that almost makes you think you can hear an ancient chant or drumbeat. A beautiful, tactile and totem-like book that feels like it was written and posted from deep in the wild forest. Together on the page with the incredible art of Rima Staines which is itself another soul-trembling delight, in this beautiful small book there is that alchemy of word and art in an ancient dance on paper.
The book is small and beautiful. I feels like something to be carried in a favourite coat pocket, a touchstone for breathing in the woods, feeling the old paths, when the yearning strikes. A thing to read to someone, or share because the length and format is perfect for doing just that.
I purchased a second copy, to be released into the wild. When the time and place is right to leave it there, a stranger will find it, just there on a bench or table or shelf. The note inside will ask for it not to be kept, and for it to be read, purchased if the reader has the means to, and most importantly, for the wild copy to be passed on to awaken someone else.