Today we sit inside the willow dome, instead of our usual spot outside by the fire. I notice I'm feeling uncomfortable.
I like having full view of the plants and the sky, and today, even though it's not totally blocking everything out, I'm feeling hemmed in by the structure.
I say this. It's not universal. "I prefer the womb-like feeling of being in an enclosed space," someone else says.
It's funny because I've been thinking a lot about structure this past week. I'm working on a presentation for work, and have been wrestling with getting all my thoughts and ideas organised into the right framework.
Martin says it's a question I should keep in mind for today's session. And he begins, explaining the Four Directions, as understood by the School of Lost Borders.
West, where he's sitting, is about adolescence and struggle. North is about adulthood and responsibility, East about spirituality, death and rebirth, and the South about childhood and playfulness.
We spend a quiet moment tuning into ourselves and then each go off in the direction that we feel drawn, paying attention to what happens.
Despite a thought to go west, a place of struggle, I feel drawn to the south. Playfulness. It's a direction I haven't walked in from here before, perhaps because there's a hedge in the way, and it has felt closed off to me.
I cross the threshold of the space, and start off east, turning south when I hit a track.
I'm calm, and content to just follow whatever happens.
Behind the hedge, south from where I started, is a field I feel drawn to get into. But I can't. It's surrounded by fences, with no gate. Behind it, further south, is another field where horses are grazing. It looks nice, and I decide I'm going to find a way in.
I continue south, down the track, and turn off west into a small thicket, thinking I might find a way into the field behind.
I look down. There's a beautiful grey, black and white feather at my feet. Wood pigeon. I smile, "I must be on the right path," I think, and pick it up. The thicket is overgrown and dark, and I claw my way through the undergrowth, following a faint trail made by an animal or child... my coat rips on a thorn. It all feels playful, and also strangely symbolic, like a descent described in mythic stories.
As I reach the fence, and look into the field, to my surprise I see two swings hanging from a tree, one made from a tyre, the other made from a metal hoop, and a trampoline behind. It's a child's makeshift playground - right in the place of childhood and playfulness. I had no idea this was here.
There's no way in to the field through here though.
Blocked, I carry on through the undergrowth to a small clearing, and then back out to the track. I'm determined to get into the playground, so I carry on south, remembering that I've seen a path that goes off in the right general direction further down.
After a few metres I bump into a woodsman walking up the track. (This really is turning into a mythic fairy tale!) I ask him if he knows how to get to the tyre swing, but he doesn't. "Something that some kids have set up I reckon," he says.
I thank him anyway, and carry on walking.
At the bottom I turn the corner, and there in front of me is a six-bar metal gate that opens onto the horses' field. It's shut, and padlocked. I walk to it, and take in the scene.
There are three horses grazing on a hale bay immediately to the left, two are chestnuts with their heads down in the bale, the third, all white, patiently waiting its turn. One of the chestnuts, the dominant one(?) snorts loudly as if to say keep away - then goes back to feeding.
Directly in front of me is a large tree, beech I think, with blue, red, white, green and yellow buddhist prayer flags hanging from some of the lower branches, they're fluttering gently in the breeze. The bark from the ground up to my chest height has been worn away - I guess where the horses have been rubbing to scratch themselves.
To the right, and a little bit up a slope through a nettle patch, are the swings, hanging from a different tree, and the trampoline. There's no one around.
Result. I have to go there, and I climb up onto the gate. Only thing is, I'm a bit scared of horses, and I hang there for ages, wondering if they'll come over to me if I drop over the gate into their side of the field.
After a long while, I chicken out.
The main track carries on south, via some high locked gates, leading to woods behind. From where I am I've seen a gap next to them, so I decide to do that instead.
I take that path, walk round the gates, and into the woods... there's another path cutting across mine at the end, and I see a large hairy grey dog running free (and playfully) up and down it. Another smaller black dog approaches from the east. He's wearing a bell and it tinkles as he runs. I smile. They're having fun.
There's nowhere to get to from here without it taking a while, and I decide to go back to the horse gate. Nothing's changed. The three horses are still there, exactly as before.
I mount the gate, and decide, what the heck. Gingerly I drop over to the other side, and slowly walk (north), to the swings - keeping a wary eye on the horses all the time. They don't even lift their heads.
I sit in one of the swings, the metal one, and have a quick swing. I get off. The tyre one is full of water, and the trampoline looks like it may not support my weight. I run my hand over it but don't climb on.
There are tons of bracket mushrooms on a fallen tree trunk in front of me, I wander over to it and run my fingers over them.
"I'd stay longer if there was someone to play with," I think, and head back to the gate. The horses still haven't moved.
I clamber over the gate, and there on the ground in front of me is a large backbone - probably from a fox. I pick it up, it's a bit greasy, and I debate whether to bring it with me. I decide not to, and put it back.
I walk north, back to base, and cross the threshold back into 'normal' time.
I reflect on what happened. It was all a bit unexpected. The horses, the prayer flags, the tree, the play area. There's something deep and symbolic in this short journey.
I try to decipher it. The horses are the wild? The tree with its flags are spirituality? And somehow they're all connected to having fun - better with other people around. I hesitated from fear at the gate, but found some backbone on the way out.
It's a bit like trying to work out a dream. Even more strangely, it is all very relevant. The themes of the wild, spirituality and having fun are exactly what I've been thinking about at School of the Wild.
Author & Curator
Nigel Berman is the founder of School of the Wild.