Hop, jump, hop, jump over the tripwire roots that burst from waves of damp, springy soil. Limbo under the glinting thorns snagging at my hair. They can no more hold me back than the horror stories of pupils caught on branches, strangled by their own ties. Those are grown up worries and they are too big to follow me here.
I’m running. The cold air scorches my nostrils and the big bad outside world huffs and puffs beyond this hollow shrub maze. Our shelter protects us as it distorts our giggles to eerie unrecognition. It is a den, a house. It’s where the wild things are. There are bears to hunt and portals for exploring new worlds. I’ve read enough to know adventure lurks in the trees and it thrills me. Stories were always easiest to find in the wild spaces.
But hide and seek can’t last forever.
I find my squeaky plastic plimsoles soon slapping on concrete, slowing my progress. I swap stories for textbooks and am more lost than I have ever been in the woods. Air-conditioned classrooms dry up oily teenage skin as well as inspiration
Wildness is for the lazy. A waste of precious productive time. It is purposeless – unless I can include it on my CV.
I apply for the camp trip for extra-credit and interview not expecting to be chosen. I’m not sporty.
But I’m paddling, slicing through the river in my canoe with a new friend behind me and the peppery petrichor breeze rippling my hair again. I’m Huck Finn on his raft. Fresh green air and freedom fill my lungs. I’d forgotten what it felt like.
Then the boat hits a hidden current and I fly, face-first, from my seat, through the air. Splash! Silty water floods my nose and mouth. I breach the surface, spitting and spluttering, to see the pale face of my friend mirroring my shock. My paddle floats by and I hope someone catches it while I’m floundering to stop, slow down, wait. Although shallow, the river is too fast and too slippery to stand. When I finally stop fighting the current, a groove in the mossy stones catches me by the bum.
I crawl to the bank, shoulders shaking with laughter – I'd chosen the canoe over the kayak to avoid getting wet. It was a small consolation to my comfort zone after dragging it away from home for the first time, amongst strangers for a week, doing sports and leadership activities (whatever that meant).
But the shock of the water proved not enough. I was too young yet to see the significance of my accidental dip.
Now I curl the coarse picnic blanket and sling the pack over my shoulder. I check my supplies and I’m off out the murky close, down grey tenement-lined streets, dodging dog poo and holding my breath until the big green gates come into view.
I breathe deep relief amongst the sweet flowerbeds and trees perfect for reading under like Alice before she falls into Wonderland. It’s not wild exactly; it’s curated, manicured. All straight edges and precision trimming. But it’s green and fresh and the furthest I can go from the flat under current restrictions. I grab a spot on the lawn between the clamorous families and mild elderly couples and pull my laptop from my pack. They may not be here to write like me, but we share a common purpose – freedom.
I seize any chance to write outside. I’d type in a storm if it wasn’t likely to short-circuit my laptop or turn my notebook to a blurry mulch. I’d type until my fingertips numbed. Words flow best lying, as I do now, in too tall grass, pretending to be a Borrower. Since flying from a canoe, I’ve written and napped on a swing-seat in drizzle when the world felt too much. I’ve stolen snatches of time in St Andrews’ only green spaces between classes and split shifts.
All my stories have forests with fantastic creatures and wicked witches, and boats that glide through tough currents.
I know now where adventure waits. I found it and I’ve learned to answer its call.