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A story of fear and joy in Fontainebleau

Paris, resting by an old chestnut tree after a day long door to door client search.

Someone picking up chestnut fruits makes me aware they are of edible kind. I can't stop my crave for a handful of this lovely French delicacy straight from the fire. A quick decision to call it a day and I'm in a train, happy not to have to do the shopping tonight.

Five hours later the warmth of so longed for fire is giving me a false feeling of safety. I gaze at it out of a small tent, which I had consciously pitched on the top of a hill right behind a boulder. I feel here a cosy privacy a mile away from the forester's house, the last bastion of civilisation in Fontainebleau woods. The only people who occasionally visit it here are lost climbers looking for new boulders. It is midnight in mid October. One more hour and it will get down to 0C, a bit too cold for a comfortable sleep in a worn out two season sleeping bag. I throw two handfuls of nuts over the embers and get into the bag with a prospect of having a nice breakfast in the morning.

Animals' instincts are our emotions, the survival mechanisms coded in our brains. Most of human beings in the process of civilisation acquire a skill of controlling them. We can hold our desire for sex, hunger or unprompted self-defence. This however fails when we are asleep.

Have you ever had so vivid dream that you didn't know if it was real? That night for me it was the other way round. It happened but as it was happening I wasn't sure if I weren't dreaming. You might have already awakened your instincts once. It might be activated when you are asleep and something wrong is going around you. First, you sense it then you start hearing it vaguely and as your curiosity raises your central nervous system becomes more perceptive and efficient. It starts searching for more clear signs of where it is occurring. The brain's impulses jump between its dreaming section and a real world perception section. Then BANG! It gets it.

My brain got it right that time; it realised it was happening for real. Suddenly one inch wide area around my spine right from the top to the bottom covers in cold sweat, milions of invisible hair grow up like on a snarling dog. At the same instant, a wild boar, which had approached left of my tent in a search for a morning chestnuts feast, stops its loud sniffing. It acknowledges I'm awake now. It can hear very irregular work of my lungs, faster heart beat and it can smell my sweat contained with the pheromones of fear.

I wonder what the boar feels, who of us two is more frightened? "It certainly scared the shit out of me" I answer myself. At dawn, from a lying man perspective, the shadow of 300 pound boar, looks like an elephant's when projected on a fly of a tiny tent. And its sniffing whistle, which I had only heard a split second ago, sounds like the noise a psycho makes breathing through a tube whose end is placed just by your ear. Brrr... It still penetrates the deepest corners of my mind.

Unknown mixture of two feelings results in a struggle to think clearly. The fear of what's going to happen next, with the excitement of my fresh discovery of what a wild animal I am. One or two very intense seconds of situation analysis leed to a critical decision.

At this point you have two choices. You can calm yourself down hoping for the animal to give way. It instinctively knows what it had learnt during the generations of human domination over the animals' world. You can also attack. Barking like a dog works well. In most cases, certainly when it comes to encounters with badgers and boars I opt for a second.

I calm down but I find it difficult to get back to sleep again. When I'm relaxed, my breathing becomes normal. Again I can hear a noise of braking twigs further away. It's him trying his luck more cautiously this time. My body self injects with another portion of adrenaline. But this time it's different. I have won once, I've learnt, I'm wiser and for that stronger. The internal chemistry of well chosen hormones works to my advantage. They aren't fear hormones now, but those of joy. I fell as if I am leaving my body and am levitating high above the tent, controlling the surroundings. My sight, hearing and sense of smell do very rarely get as receptive as now.

Now, I understand that it's the purest joy of a hunter approaching his pray, the finest feeling of a fighter pilot who can leave the cockpit of his plane and navigate it from God's position. The animal is gone. I try hard not to forget a single detail of this morning. It was very special for both of us. I can't sleep any more, hours later with dawn I check time. My watch shows 6.30 and pretty well below zero degrees; time to dry the tent and the sleeping bag. I try to recall what I dreamed of before the boar's visit. I can't. My last thought is that I could recommend my experience as a therapy to all dream analysing maniacs.

It could go like this:
Can't stop analysing your dreams when you get up from your bed? Feel loony or addicted to your dream directory? Go camping among hungry wild animals, trigger your instincts, your pre-programmed reactions to fear. Good luck you lunatics!

No, it sounds crap.

Summary:

  • Sleeping in the wilds you are sure to meet up with animals face to face
  • With time your body and mind will prepare itself for such encounters
  • Stay cool and respect nature
  • You will discover your wild side, it's a part of self understanding process