The sun had finally set, it was dark out and there we were, 17 girls, marching intrepidly through the darkness on a night-walk, without any sense of direction, yet full of trust on our last night together. We were linked, not only physically; holding onto the shoulder, piece of clothing (or ponytail) of whoever stumbled in front of us; but also as a group, a team, a wild pack of young women who had just spent the weekend together – joined together in silence, laughter, and some bug-induced screams.
As we crawled out of the pitch black forest, all following our fearless leader and Education and Community Chef, Vero, through the vicious countryside of Salisbury, the girls were chattering and murmuring with excitement of the unknown and the stark contrast to a night stroll in the city. Following in line with the silence activities we had practiced over the weekend – a practice designed to bring presence, understanding, connection and tranquility with oneself, the group and the natural environment we were occupying – Vero suggested we return to that place of silence for the remainder of the walk, which would lead us through a tall, grassy field. And so we did – without hesitation.
We walked in silence through the darkness – the only sound being the rhythmic swooshing of our passage through the calf-high grass, a gentle breeze rustling, and our steady breaths – all in alignment. In this moment, a moment of peace and stillness, I knew that the weekend had been a success. Despite all of the previous trepidation and frenzied excitement that often accompanies the unfamiliar, we were able to return to that place of silence, peace and harmony as a group. We settled in that silence as we walked the entire way back to the campsite, comfortable in it, with the each other and with the nature around us.
One of our first activities to start the weekend at Pertwood involved choosing a “value” card, a word that best described our feelings related to what we wanted to achieve out of the weekend. The word I chose was “teamwork”, not fully understanding at the time how big of a role that concept would actually play throughout the few days together. As a group, there was a consistent level of respect, compassion and openness that was reflected in just about every activity we had, whether it was simply cleaning up, writing poetry as a group, or sitting comfortably around the campfire sharing stories and being silly. I found that having the security and strong foundation of the group created a space for independent exploration as well. We would wander off independently in a natural setting to reflect, write and simply be, before coming together as a unit to share our thoughts, observations and musings. There was a shared and communal feeling of tranquility that seemed to wash over all of us at one point over the weekend, as we fell into a group synergy, a shared rhythm that only added to the feeling of comfort and ease.
Even though I was acting as one of the adults supervising the young women in the Generator programme, my experience at Pertwood was more memorable and valuable than I could have ever initially anticipated. I was given the rare opportunity to silence the noise of the city and shake off the daily (often arbitrary) stresses, fears and uncertainties of life. And based on the beautifully shared poetry and feedback from the rest of the young women - the feeling was mutual.
I also felt an overwhelming sense of nostalgia– surrounded by a group of enthusiastic, vibrant young women – roaming and exploring the natural environment we were occupying with a childlike sense of wonder and imagination. It isn’t often that we are able or even willing to want to explore, maybe even get lost, embracing the unknown and building a sense of confidence and self assuredness that we often envy in children. This feeling was infectious, and it was amazing to see everyone else also let down their guards and catch the whimsical sense of adventure in the air.
As author, Rebecca Solnit beautifully summarizes in her book Wanderlust: A History of Walking, “…when you give yourself to places, they give you yourself back; the more one comes to know them, the more one seeds them with the invisible crop of memories and associations that will be waiting for when you come back, while new places offer up new thoughts, new possibilities. Exploring the world is one the best ways of exploring the mind, and walking travels both terrains.”
Thank you Pertwood, thank you to the lovely group of young women in the Generator programme and to Silvia, Vero and Jocelyn for making it an unforgettable weekend.