Standing high on a mountain fell with the harsh emptiness of the Lake District stretching away into low cloud, I can see the supposed wilderness around me. I can hear the birds singing, and their alarm calls cutting through the gusts of wind buffeting my body. I can even smell the deep earthiness of the sphagnum carpets when I crouch down and disturb the moss with gentle fingers. But something is out of sync, grating, almost. The peace I usually find here is absent.

I’ve always sought refuge in the energy of wilderness, and today I’m searching for freedom, hunger for which strikes with such physical intensity I am often compelled to run outside to relieve a sudden claustrophobia. To my distress, that hunger is striking now, here, in one of the wildest places in England. I am a mere visitor, observing through a glass wall which I cannot cross. I am disconnected.

Suddenly I’m overwhelmed with panic. Where can I go now, if the wildest places aren’t wild enough? I look around, as if there might be a wilder spot just up the ridge or over the shoulder of the fell that I’ve missed. There’s not. A well of frustration bubbles up and over, washing over my skin and leaving a tense, hot, prickling sensation behind. Underneath that frustration is nothing but a pit of listlessness I know all too well. The panic keeps rising. If I can’t find the answer, I’m afraid the pit will engulf me again.

Walking is good, but running is better, so I set off at a jog to try and shake the desolation that’s sweeping over me in the wake of the frustration. I push myself hard up the crest of the hill and my heart pounds in shock, beautiful, clean, sweet shock, as three red deer hinds a mere ten metres away startle into a run and gallop away, hooves pounding. The crisis abates a little. A skylark ascends on some invisible string high into the sky, pouring its song back down to earth, and there is birdsong drifting up from the valley.

Its familiarity is comforting, so I head off the fell, thinking strong, strident thoughts to keep myself clear of the edge of that pit, making my way towards the scrubby slopes and woodland stretches by the reservoir edge. Even after years of practice, it’s difficult to focus when I’ve got that frustration roiling under me, but the trees are teeming with young birds flitting here and there, their calls persistent, insistent, incredibly loud. After a while, concentrating becomes easier.

As I’m looking for the birds, my eyesight sharpens. Every movement, every peripheral flicker and flutter, every dart across my line of sight seems accentuated. I listen for calls, my ears growing more sensitive to the rustle of leaves or the flutter of wings. Signals from my eyes and ears begin to overlap, to merge, to become one, and I’m no longer looking or hearing but sensing. The smells of the trees, the damp earth, ramsons, fungi, a rotting branch rise up in waves. A multi-faceted image of the wood is forming unbidden in my mind, a translation of everything my senses are drinking in, a breathing, living picture of everything around me. Somewhere between the fell and the heart of the trees I’ve become connected.

Watching the birds develops into sensing the entire wood, a feeling I’d have needed as a hunter- gatherer for the drive of survival thousands of years ago. This deep, instinctive and unconscious amalgamation of all my senses is filling that hunger I felt up on the moutainside. The unnecessary has fallen away, the necessary aligned perfectly both within myself and within the huge web of the natural world around me. I feel like I have a place.

Granted, it’s not the same place the hunter-gatherer occupied, and it never will be. But for that brief time in the woods, I’d found a door in that glass wall, and the key. I wasn’t just an observer. I felt part of the incredible intricacies threading everything in the biosphere into one glorious whole, and I realised the wild space I seek when that claustrophobia sets in isn’t a physical place high on a mountainside or deep in a forest. It’s a state found within ourselves which reshapes us, enables us to slot more neatly into our place in the natural world: our place as living creatures, a place shaped a little more like our ancestors from pre-history, a place of better balance, of immersion in the world which we need to survive. I’m a step closer now, and next time the wilderness calls, it’s the first place I’ll be headed.

Modified from the original post on

About the Entry

  • Blogger name | Miriam Lord
  • Site name | Encounters of a Simple Kind
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  • Why should someone visit your site? I write about my personal experience of nature and my relationship with the natural world. I aim to raise conservation issues through telling stories of my time in nature, linking them to broader contextual issues such as biodiversity decline and conservation success.
  • Entry Number | 23

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