It is 3pm on a Saturday afternoon in May.
The sun is looming behind a thin layer of cloud. The grass under my bare feet is long and damp and I can feel the breeze against my face and catching on my ears. Overhead, the birds are calling out to each other in sharp little spirals of sound.
I am standing under the open sky, and I am alone in the dark.
Around me, but distant, there is rustling as others begin to move towards the sound. Heaping my weight onto my back foot and feeling tentatively forwards with the other, I wait for the next drum beat to tell me where to go.
It is to my left, though it’s completely impossible to know how far away. I turn and waddle awkwardly forth. My main focus is staying upright, not treading on anything prickly (or dead) and, of course, the drum beat.
After a while, the ground beneath my feet tips up to meet my knees and I’m whirling, suddenly off balance, on a hill. With an unknown amount of space yawning behind and around me, I begin to crawl. Though my sense of balance (along with smell and hearing) was one of my precious remaining senses, it’s become nothing but a nuisance since the very real possibility of toppling backwards.
Soon enough, the hill I am slithering up produces a lattice work of dead branches and trees. To my groping fingers and helplessly clinging knees, these coarse, slender little shapes are impossibly dense, threatening and endless.
My entire body is tense with fear. Without sight I am a giant unwieldy baby, crawling around in the dark. The world around me has become a strange unearthly place full of intense sensations and slimy danger.
In a moment that I am later told we all had, I stop to fix my crooked and crouching posture and my staccato panicked breathing, my variously slack and twisted expression. “Hoof.” I say, or something like it, shaking my shoulders out and breathing a little peace back into my bones, standing still, waiting.
I crawl towards the noise. My hands find prickles in the grass and guide the rest of me across them. I may be smiling. The hill is steadily climbing and I seem to be moving along some kind of mostly grassy course. This is fine. There is the sharp smell of grass, the dusty smell of dead leaves and the distant but persistent musk of the damp earth.
Another fallen tree. This time, with something else on top of it. A weird piece of tree, all smooth and curved.
…And with string on it…
It’s the drum. Suddenly my body flushes with endorphins and I rock back on my heels grinning stupidly under my blindfold. A disembodied hand guides me to a spot a couple of feet away and I sit gratefully down.
We are all quiet for a moment, wherever it is we have come to, still blindfolded and cross legged on the ground. When we finally pull them off, the sunshine has fought through the clouds and streams through the forest like rain, flooding the hillside with colour. Sweeping around us, mountains rise and fall, rolling with green and red and brown. The meadow where we began (forty metres and a hundred hours away)stretches in a thick green carpet.
Getting my eyes back and looking around at other people getting theirs, I found myself thinking about how I move forwards in my life, and how seldom I rely on the instincts I am absolutely chock full of to motivate that movement. Looking into other people’s faces I felt my feelings latching on to theirs, my vision informing my posture and my position on the hill. I was coming back.
Blindfolded, my sense of feel had been fully engaged, my ears (which can reach around corners much better than my eyes can) totally plugged in to the world. Feeling my way through the forest had taken maybe seven times the effort it would have taken just to walk, but as an experience was worth seventy times more.
I was surrounded by others making the same journey, but by making my way there without them I was free to explore the edges of my own instincts.
Opening my eyes to the others who had made the same journey, all together and alone, I felt proud and connected. Independent, but in common: the difference between intervening and walking beside.
When our environment turns against us and things become unclear, we all have to feel our way forwards, stumbling at times, scared to fail or hurt ourselves, conscious of who might be watching. But, relying on those hidden instincts, we move with purpose: fully alive to the world around us, drawn by the drum.