June 2019


I kept reading about taking a micro adventure and had little chance to do it. The chance arrived. After a long day in the hills I looked at the tent in the boot of the car, then at the rain-less sky, then at the tent, then at the sky. I closed the boot. With rucksack hefted on my back and my walking stick in hand, I headed away from the campsite and away from the tent. As I left, an unknown camper spotted me heading off at a strange hour and waved, “Have a good adventure.”

Down the road, past the river. Through the hazel coppice, into the forest. I paused at the usual spot; the three thousand five hundred year old burial mound. Could I share the forest tonight? I sometimes imagine what this man’s life must have been like. In my mind he begins as a warrior hero figure reinforced by movie tropes. Then I settled upon the reality that he was probably just like everybody else. The same desires, fears and anxieties. The same need to find purpose and shepherd our children; prepare them in any way we can and hope that they are the best of us. I have visited this mound often and sometimes imagine the ghost of this man coming back for a chat. Think of the wonders I could tell him; what we have created and achieved. Although, if he asked how we have looked after the earth since he left it a few thousand years ago I might have to change the subject as quickly and subtly as possible.

Earlier I had chosen a spot to sleep. The land rose away from the path and into the dark forest before dropping a little, plateauing for a few meters, and then plunging down steeply into the river below. I found a flat area and made a mental note of a characteristic tree on the path, one that I could find again when I returned in the evening.

When I did return and find the characteristic tree I walked into the forest and found something I did not spot on my initial recce. A plastic spike with an insect trap and a pit-fall trap below it. Someone must be sampling insects and wanted it not to be found. Yet they wrestled with the dilemma of not being able to find it themselves. So, they placed it on the plateau just beyond the high point in line with the characteristic tree! We all think the same way; me, the mystery naturalist and all of us. We all follow the patterns of thought in our heads.

The gas stove was fired up while I cleared a patch of forest floor for my sleeping bag and bivvy bag. A bivvy bag is essentially a rain coat for a sleeping bag. Not a complete waterproof barrier, but enough to survive a little rain if it arrived. Once the cup of tea was ready I settled down with a good book.

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Quite a while later the darkness was slowly pouring in and I decided to try and let the tide of sleep take me into the night. Midge flies bit as I texted the lovely Sharon my eight figure grid reference just in case I was devoured by earwigs and millipedes and she had to try and find my body. Days later I found only one small deer tick feeding from my arm; a small price to pay for a micro adventure.

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I woke up a few times. I woke to note that the farmer across the small valley had finally stopped lifting the hay at 1 A.M. On one occasion I woke to fight the irrational urge to flick on my head torch and look behind me and check if nothing sinister was in the forest. The logic in my head was that there could be nothing worse than a fox or a badger who was more afraid of me than I was of them. The other logical path was that if it was a scary man-eating forest monster from the depths of hell, it was not going to be put off by my head torch, so I should just stay still and try to go to sleep anyway.

The rain began at 6 A.M. If I had been in a tent, the sound of rain would have forced me deeper into my sleeping bag and further from embracing the reality of the world outside. The opposite was true in a bivvy bag so close to the morning. Get up, get a pot of coffee on the gas cooker, get warmed up and get on with the day and next adventure.

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After the service we headed into the hall for biscuits and juice. The little people rushed for the biscuits.  As it was so close to lunchtime only two biscuits each were permitted. And, the little man has a ritual of getting a biscuit for him, and a biscuit for me. Then he returns for his second biscuit later. Today I had to take a detour to talk to someone and told them to head on in. I was gone for only a few minutes and it was obvious that something major had happened. The little man was in floods of tears and inconsolable. The lovely Sharon explained; he had accidentally eaten my biscuit. My heart fell apart. Do I need to point out that it was not because my biscuit was gone? He was standing there waiting and simply got lost in the moment. One biscuit gone. Oh look, there is biscuit number two. The lovely Sharon and I tried to calm him down and reassure him that there are plenty of biscuits. He began to breathe more smoothly again and seemed placated by the idea of a biscuit mission. The lovely Sharon walked him across the hall with purpose, then they walked back with him in pieces, sobbing and inconsolable. Apparently there were no chocolate biscuits left and the original one he chose for me was a chocolate biscuit. This was a roller-coaster of emotions for the both of us.

 

I sat down with him on the floor at the edge of the hall and held him as we watched his siblings running and screaming, oblivious to the biscuit saga.

 

Calmer now, he said he was thirsty.  We walked back across the hall and got a cup of orange juice each. While there, he was presented with a plate and asked if he wanted a biscuit. He looked at me with a question in his eyes. He had done the maths; his biscuit and mine so close to lunch. I nodded, of course he could have another biscuit. Then, with one swift motion lacking any hint of thought or hesitation, he grabbed a biscuit and snapped it in two. He handed me half and  my heart fell apart again.