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A Fall in Time
Introduction and Navigation
Our lives are shaped by the paths we take, whether through choice, or by chance.
Sometimes, this takes the form of the path not taken, sometimes that we follow. Often, both. The idea of how our lives might be utterly different, hinging on just one little thing, is a popular theme, whether in the written word or romantic comedy dramas.
Back in 2010, I was working for the civil service in a northern English city. I had already made some major changes to my life, going through a divorce and trying very hard to rediscover who I was—or perhaps who I thought I should be. But I was not content, nor was I as happy as I felt I should be.
I felt there was something missing, something crucial, a path which lay beyond my reach every morning as I would walk to work, a trail tantalisingly out of sight. I knew it was there, however.
At some point in the summer of 2010, I made up my mind to make some very big changes. Changes I shall be sharing here on Substack over the coming weeks and months.
On the 14th of September 2010, a Tuesday, I caught a train just after dawn, after walking the short distance to the railway station, heavily burdened by backpack and shoulder bag, a walking staff I had harvested previously in my hand.
I headed north, initially to Edinburgh, then across to Glasgow, before going still further north.
That evening, after a long day of travel which, in turn, had followed an almost sleepless night before, I walked out from a request stop into the damp of recently-fallen rain, asking the train conductor to drop me off in what on my map looked a suitable location to spend a night or two. I could not walk that far, the weight of my pack was too great, and I was simply too exhausted.
That night, as the sky was beginning to darken, I set up my hammock between two gnarled oak trees, strung my tarp above, ate a quick dinner and fell asleep.
I was to stay out in those woods, alone, until December.
During that time, I cooked over flames every day, had to source, carry, and purify all my water, supplement my rations and supplies with wild food, from the land and from the sea.
Initially, I had intended to follow the coast further north, eventually ending up at my family’s home in Caithness for Christmas, but life didn’t work out quite as planned.
Instead, I built a shelter in those woods, exploring the area around me and immersing myself in all things natural. I slowed down, I listened and scented the air frequently, eventually understanding the language of the local wildlife and surprising myself when I could smell a deer ahead on the trail.
As far as human company went, I was alone the whole time, rarely seeing others apart from on distant boats, or the few occasions I bought some more supplies.
During the months I was out there, I kept a journal in a succession of small Moleskine notebooks, imagining myself the guardian of a tradition embraced by writers such as Chatwin, Hemingway, Laurie Lee, Thoreau and earlier adventurers and explorers.
I also handcrafted blog posts in the notebooks, then photographed the pages on my pre-smart phone, which I charged through a small solar panel. Following this, when the weather agreed, I would hike to find a spot of signal and slowly send them on to my sister, who patiently transcribed my scrawl, before uploading them to her website for others to read. Thinking about it, if Substack had existed back then, it would have been a good thing to share.
A few years later, I did share some of this adventure by way of a tumblr blog, uploading some of the thousands of photographs I had taken on my camera, and sharing snippets from those journals. Although this gained a lot of reposts, likes, and comments, and made me some good friends, it also made me not a penny.
I have been considering how best to use that adventure, adding to a Scrivener project over the years since, honing and contemplating, working out the lessons learned and those I should perhaps have paid a little more attention to. Eventually, I intend to use this as the basis for a book but, for now, I think Substack is a good home for it.
One other purpose this project can serve is to add depth and perspective to my series of essays and workbook entries all about how we can use ancestral skills and nature study to empower, to alter ourselves for the better. I had spent weeks in the woods before this adventure, but never more than two at a time, and usually not alone.
This adventure, this fall in time, was to be my apprenticeship—or, perhaps, some sort of quest, some form of initiation or testing. Not as a means to pit myself against the nature, but as a way to forge myself, to hammer out imperfections and shape something different. Many cultures have had a form of these rites, where individuals would enter wilder places alone, and come back changed. My own time out there was no different.
How I Shall Share this Adventure
I intend to use Substack Notes in order to share a daily post, starting on Thursday the 14th of September. On almost all the days I was out there I took photographs and, when I did not, I scribbled notes in my journals. I have a lot of material to share, not to mention the thoughts which have occurred to me in the years since.
Once a week, every Thursday, beginning on September the 21st, I shall share a compilation of these Notes via a letter, sent on the Substack App and also by email. These letters will also include a paragraph or two extra.
I would also like to use this opportunity to write some extra, longer form pieces, looking deeper into the experience and tying it into my life—both before, during, and after I was living feral in the woods. These will be paywalled, with a preview sent to all, but everything else shall be free.
If you wish to receive those extra paywalled essays, or would like to help support my work, please do consider becoming paid subscriber. You can also sign up for free and receive much of this adventure, along with my other letters. Thank you.
I hope you will enjoy this limited series.
I used this name for two reasons. It reflects an autumn in my life; late summer was fading when I went out there and, when I left, winter had arrived early. The name also serves as an illustration of how time can feel very different when we have no company but our own and that of the natural world around us. Time slips, it alters. Stretching and contracting both. This is something I shall talk more of in this project.