Why don’t you try this challenge this year?
Once a season this year I am spending a night out in the same woods.
It’s a simple idea: a way to see how the world changes, to measure my own year and make plans, and to experience the outdoors in a variety of ways.
A mixed bag, this one. There was no video, alas. But there’s some excellent memories for me, and that’s worth a fair amount (to me at least, if not to you, dear reader!).
I spent the spring equinox alone in the woods with my thoughts. I was back there for summer with friends and laughter. For the autumn equinox I wanted to share ‘my’ woods with people new to microadventures, to try to see the experience through fresh and un-jaded eyes. I asked a friend, Adventurer / Geography teacher (Fearghal / Mr O’Nuallain), if his class would like to spend a night in the woods. So far, so good.
But various train issues meant that the intrepid teenagers didn’t escape from London until well after dark (hence the lack of film). Absolutely torrential rain had been bucketing from the sky all afternoon. So this was to be a soggy, night-time microadventure!
They were a great bunch of kids, and this was a brilliant opportunity for them to be away from school, away from the frameworks, regulations, constraints, peer-pressure, and pre-judgements that dog many teenagers through their school days. I’d never met these kids. I knew not nor cared how academic, naughty or popular they may be. I was just interested to see what they made of my woods and a night out of doors.
And it was a triumph. The hour-long soggy hike up a hill didn’t break them. They agreed to my request that they turn off their phones for the night. They enjoyed their first experience of pitching bashas and gathering firewood in the dark. They enjoyed the food I cooked on the fire (I was amused later though to see secreted Chicken McNuggets being warmed over the fire!), and really enjoyed toasting marshmallows. There was the predictable noise and hilarity of trying to get teenagers to wriggle into bivvy bags and go to sleep. But they were far more responsive and helpful with packing away at 5am than I had imagined.
The day’s school timetable meant they had to get a train at dawn (in lashing rain, again) and therefore had not one minute of daylight on the whole microadventure. This was a real pity as the woods and the landscape so close to London are beautiful. I was massively impressed with the teenagers. They were polite, well-behaved, enthusiastic, kind to each other, and lots of fun to be with, even in conditions which would have broken many, many adults. One of them was even brave enough to touch a frog! Well done, Precious, Dammy, Kendy, Julie, Adonia, James, and Princess.
Here’s what I concluded from our pitch-dark, brief, rainy microadventure:
- Kids from the city can get a massive amount from just one simple night away from the city.
- Kids will refrain from phone-addiction for a night if there are stimulating alternatives (playing with fire, camping in the woods, touching a frog).
- Sleeping out in pouring rain is fun and beautiful in its own way, IF you are properly equipped to get a dry night’s sleep.
- Sharing ‘my’ woods and my outdoor life with people who had never done it before made me grateful that I do this stuff regularly, and reassured me that I’m not weird in finding it refreshing, reflective and invigorating.