I dared not imagine the sort of desperate, protracted battle in which a splitting axe might come in useful overnightby Cal Flyn / September 18, 2018 / Leave a comment
At night, the border between the real and the unreal grows thin. Or, at least, it does for me.
If you too suffer from an overactive imagination, then you’ll know well the time that might be spent lying static in a hyperalert state, attuned to every creak of the floorboard or shadow skittering by the window.
Usually, tucked up in bed at home with a sturdy Yale lock on the door, such spectres are easy to keep at bay. The sounds of the night have grown familiar, and should I be frightened from my usual routine, I could rouse my partner or even—in a true emergency—call the police.
Knowing these options are there is usually all the security I need. But far from home, in the wild outdoors, I am confronted by my cowardice afresh. No lock. No phone signal. No reassuring voice. Sleeping alone in the woods, I come face to face with fear, and it is as if we’re meeting for the first time.
Wait, what was that?
Last winter I spent a week in a cabin in a small clearing at the foot of the Cairngorm plateau. It had just one room, which held a sleeping platform, woodburner, desk, a chest of drawers and not much else.
I went there to write, though I spent at least as much time melting snow for water and staring moodily out of the window to where low stands of juniper stood hunched under the weight of the drifts. The air was still, the skinny birch afrizz with twigs upon which coal tits gathered to gossip and swing.
A beautiful place to be alone with my thoughts. But each night, as darkness fell—the watercolour palette of the snowscape outside shifting from rose-gold and lavender to a deep-sea blue and slate—I found myself alone instead with my fears.
Each thump of snow slipping heavy from its branch became an unknown creature, coiled to spring. Each crack as the hut’s frame contracted became a stranger shifting his weight on the doorstep. For hour after long hour I lay awake, eyes affixed upon the plyboard ceiling, ears pricked for intruders.
On night two I caved to my weaker instincts and took the axe with me to bed. Hobbling one-handed up the ladder I felt its weight in…