Wild Camping on Arran – Rosie Shishin Dembski

This year my little boy asked to celebrate the seasons, and we began with Imbolc, the half-way point between Winter and Spring. We wrote seeds on coloured paper that we felt we were planting in our lives, and planted them in the earth. One of mine was to push past my fears when I feel a heart‘s desire. I felt constricted from how small my life is because of them.

Sometimes I am really meeting life, and at others I am experiencing everything through layers of armour and buffering. Someone described this as going underwater. When I swim in the sea in Winter, I have to fully meet it. I remember decades ago wild camping in Canada with a friend for two weeks, with a canoe, tent, no GPS or phone, among bears, lynx, moose, beavers. It reminds me of what makes me happy and alive.

We planned half-term. My husband had a conference and wanted to take the kids to Germany to their grandparents. I wanted to do something alone. One of my buffers is people. I am hiding behind them somehow. I had this desire to go wild camping again, this time alone. I tried out a tarp and hammock instead of a tent. I approached all my fears like questions and problems. The fears remained, but I was better prepared. Storm Ciara came and went. I moved my trip by three days because of Storm Dennis, which prevented the ferry to Arran from running.

When departure day arrived, I was so afraid that I felt frozen like a rabbit in headlights. I knew that my desire to do this was still there, but I couldn’t feel it. I came off the ferry and walked very fast, with less than an hour to find somewhere before nightfall. I found a wood, and despite rain and dark managed to set up camp. Everything was okay for now and yet my fears were still completely out of control. I watched them whir around my head and slept little. Two elemental fears stood out: surviving the cold in February and being alone. The rest were mostly noise. Very loud noise!

I awoke to a deep pink dawn, glittering on a pond not far away, in the gloom of the trees. It looked so transient that I got up at once to admire it. Then it was gone. I walked to the seashore and watched a lone seal in calm waters. After breakfast I tried sitting but it was too claustrophobic under the tarp. I tried kinhin instead.

I set off in the rain and remembered—rain is beautiful too. The moss on the trees glowed pale green through the greyness; the birches silver. Tiny droplets hung like jewels on red branches. I also found a huge fallen-down tree with a wall of roots facing west, perfect to block off the south-westerly winds that were coming.

Walking with my fears worked better. I had recently been sitting with a friend, while working through exercises in a book by Peter Levine called Healing Trauma. We were feeling in our body a difficult painful place, full of tension and then alternating this with finding somewhere (which I doubted finding) that felt peaceful and being with that. I discovered a peaceful flow of energy in my legs. We found the peace grew, and the pain reduced each time till it was gone. I knew it would not always work like that, but the possibility was a beacon of hope. I found that this peaceful energy is there most of the time. It is the feeling of grounding I have been searching for, for a long time. When I am aware, I can tune into it while noticing the storms going on elsewhere in me.

So I tried this while walking in the forest, and found that I could hold this all together, in a different way of being.

I moved camp to the fallen tree in the rain and my sleeping bag got damp. All my clothes and shoes were different degrees of wetness from walking all day. I realised that I might not make three more days without getting cold and sick. With more high winds due, tomorrow was probably the last ferry I could take. And so I returned.

I shivered my way home, disappointed yet glad I had made this trip and faced my fears. I wanted to return sometime and do all the things I had not managed to do. The barrier of fear is mostly gone. I felt stronger.

Back home, I had a shower and slept twelve hours straight. I wanted to be alone, paint and sit. It was hard to be back. My dissatisfaction with the everyday fabric of my life felt amplified tenfold. I noticed myself doing lots of little things to deaden it and escape. When I tried not to do them, I found myself doing them anyway, so instead I just noticed. I searched for this peaceful place and stayed with this and the overwhelming desire to get out of my life. It was difficult and exhausting but I could hold these things together. It is a mind thing but also a whole body thing.