‘I hover on the edge of instant death, or in trepidation of being whisked on a journey of drug-filled frenzy and madness.’

I wake with a start. Robbed from dream sleep by those damn crows dancing their morning ritual.

Dampness fills the air. I listen as rainwater follows its path to ground; a sure sign we had overnight rain. As I stir, I disturb a Lace Web spider, its web half built across my narrow domain. I ignore it, knowing a bite from these common critters can be painful.

My home is a simple shack, a ram-shackled excuse for no fixed abode. It is concealed from the outside world on the edge of dense woodland, miles away from the maddening crowd I call civilisation.

Week in and week out, I see no other human soul rambling the landscape. Hints of the outside world sometimes trespass the air, like a distant tractor or the drone of a plane on route above the clouds.

Catching the wind that blows from all quarters, far off train noises will conjure up memories of commuting and a need to live by the clock. I still have a watch I never use, hanging as a pendant above the warped hardwood door to my shack.

No one it seems ventures this far from their cosy, safe and maybe hectic lifestyles. At least not to linger and absorb the essence of peace and tranquillity, or like me, to test the strength of their sanity and wisdom.

My neighbours are a weird affray of wildlife. Encounters with majestic creatures large and small bewitch my days. Some are friendly, the odd one a bit too needy and a rare few, best kept well away from.

Fortunately for me, none are a direct danger to life and limb, unless, like my fellow humans who live over many horizons, the wrong kind of look might stir the devil inside them. For the unwary, there is indeed danger lurking in the British countryside.

I talk to all the animals, knowing I speak only to myself. On rare occasions, the hairs on my neck prickle, instinct suggesting my words are understood. Gradually, I am learning the body language of many species, as if my presence and respect for my habitat are fused within this labyrinth of the English countryside.

I struggled over many weeks to build the shack that I live in.

It started as a lean-to of branches and leaves, then as I scoured the remoteness of my neighbourhood, I found the wonders of recycling from manmade materials. Doggedly I dragged each piece through muddy fields, over hedgerows and alongside herds of grazing cattle.

Each time was a hard and long slog. Mud was my friend, my enemy, and my salvation. Strange that after a while, I failed to notice that I had become a man encased in mud. I used it for instant glue, a means of building immunity and to protect my feet.

Nervous roe deer would freeze in my passing. The threat of a stranger expired over time, seeing me now as a dimwit safe to ignore.

Frequently, I now wash naked in the stream running through a chine in the lower valley. In doing so, I maintain my dignity and the need to feel revitalised. The right kind of mud makes impressive soap and dry moss pads the moisture from my aging skin.

I am always amazed at what I find here in the wilderness. Rubbish that by the greedy urges of the thoughtless, ends up this far away from the selfish slimes who dump it. I never witness these events. To thank them would conflict with my versions of right and wrong, as guilty as I am for exploiting such human contamination.

I live on a thread of existence. I kill nothing except the invisible fish from a small lake an hours walk away. I am no fisherman. Often it is a day wasted in mental and physical drudgery, daydreams of putting the world to right as nothing bites my makeshift hook and bait.

Long ago I was taught about the ways of nature. The natural food chain of predator and victim forever conflicts with my stone age genetics. Even as an alien enslaved within this rural landscape, I still cannot bring myself to harm any other creature.

Safe to say that I am as thin as a garden rake. Nourishment comes from a variety of greenery, what grows from the ground and the bareness of natural air and sunlight. Autumn is the best time for me when nature offers up the wonders of fruits, nuts and berries.

In spring and summer, flowers and young shoots make tasty salads, and when I dare to eat a vision of what looks like a mushroom, I hover on the edge of instant death, or in trepidation of being whisked on a journey of drug-filled frenzy and madness.

The day will come, if it hasn’t already!

I squirrel away little stashes of goodies tucked away from prying eyes, kidding myself that I and I alone only know where they are.

A sixth sense is forever pricking my conscious hours, for I know creatures watch my every move. As the night draws in darkness and fear of the unknown, sometimes I sit huddled outside the place I shakily call home.

On a clear night, I become mesmerised by the sky above me. A trillion stars’ twinkle stories of their creation or death, in present earthly time nothing more than a hole in universal blackness.

My eyes track floating satellites and space junk circling the earth and witness fragments from other worlds burn as shooting stars. Sometimes I wonder if other lonely souls watch the same sequence of events and what discoveries await their mind.

Lost in my gaze towards such entertaining bliss, I sense many pairs of eyes focused on this strange inferior human invading nature’s paradox.

During daylight hours, the sounds of nature are a wonder to behold. At night, definitely within my backyard woodland, brutality and rivalry play out a nightly deafening ritual.

At first, I trembled each night away. The dark is one thing, but nightly pandemonium in the woods could be frightening. The thin wall of fibre board, galvanised sheeting and straw bales offered little protection from a predator with intent.

Every night is the same, but now such noises send me into a deep refreshing sleep, oblivious to the barbaric and bloodthirsty death many smaller inhabitants of this forest will have succumbed to by morning.

In winter, raw cold easily penetrates to my very bones. My skin becomes pale and taut and my nose drips like an old brass tap. As hardened as I am to such harshness, to break my mundane routine I try to brush myself up, wrap up warm and venture on a hike to a small town to the west. There I might buy a few essentials and attempt to mingle, a lacking social skill I am still in awe of in others.

I amaze myself that on such occasions, the bright and gregarious elements of my personality come alive. I chat with whoever I meet and enjoy the company of strangers. I distant any thought of what they might think of me, tempted only to catch their eye for a hint of judgement. Seldom do I find any. Only when I see a newspaper or hear others talking of a worldly horror does my heart sink.

Then I feel lost on foreign soil and I can’t wait to get home. Usually, I am exhausted from the long trek back, scratched by random bramble thorns and horrid barbs of wire farmers are so keen on using.

I once had a good job, one with status and credibility. From that, I am paid a meagre pension, straight into a bank account that remains one of my last links to the world my soul is tormented by. As much as I pretend, some links cannot be shaken, like the hand mirror essential to my vanity, my rusty razor and a small crackly radio. Music brings me forgotten pleasures and memories I refuse to abandon.

I have never been a bad person and here I am, imposing punishment for deeds never done. At times the inner me beckons the rest of me to withdraw into my own little world, smacking my wrists for not being braver towards the world I want to run from.

I have desires boarding on the whimsical. An irk of emotions in turmoil as much as me just deluding myself.

To be alive should be the most precious gift, to be part of this dimension in time on planet earth. The grit of honest dirt under my feet shows me I still have much to learn, at the same time empowered by its richness to produce life. I know how fucking incredible it is to be alive, to love and be loved and to have all the blessings of humanity bestowed upon me.

Part of me still wants to embrace those long-lost treasures. I could, if I chose to, step back into the rat race. There is much credence to be had by doing so, but when I imagine the scenario in my head, I become daunted by the prospect.

Friendships and relationships mean hard work. Give and take go hand in hand with compromise, adapting and just putting up and shutting up. I’ve done it all, along with the euphoria of mutual love and sexual exploits that fuse two beings together. Just talking about it fills my heart with that contented warm feeling, surely what living should bring to us all.

I once shared my life with an amazing dog. A fellow idiot who became my soulmate, my reason to exist and knew what I was thinking before I thought it. Only those who have loved a dog will understand the raw emotion when a dog dies. For those we have loved in life, the bond between us never dies.

If I were to exist only as a lonely old man, on my pension and befriended only by a tiresome television and the dire walls of a bedsit, I would do so filled with the love that still runs through my thickening veins.

I thank the powers that might be. I know many live in a bleak and dismal canvas of life, blessed only by the damnation and wickedness of others. Had I not been born with such a bloody conscience, I might not give a fig.

On balance, my wretched dwelling and the mud that challenges my life might represent anyone’s home and lifestyle. The brightest rainbow could mirror the many perspectives on life, each colour a different aspect of light or reality.

Here on the edge of the woodland forest, I see many rainbows arched above the hills and valleys before me. Each hue for me can be a vivid memory of a period in my life, every one like gold etched upon my frail and wondering mind.

Footprints remain embedded in my beating heart. To love and to have lost are the keys to understanding what life is about, equally squaring up to how nature will always challenge our endurance.

I could go on, but the hermit that haunts me needs to rest.

I am somewhat prone to day-dreaming, pondering about life and living a parallel existence away from the prevailing storm I am in love with.

Everyone needs a bolthole; to escape outside the limits of what is real and what is false, fanciful notions free to embrace at will, one of the many fundamental rights of life.

In danger of becoming a madman, rather than the mud man I long to be, it surely has to be that each and every life must have meaning.

Is mine to live alone in the woodland, next to creatures that never judge or argue? Or should I be torn towards a worthier destiny far removed from a muddy redemption?

I cannot escape the latter. If I did, the magic of mud that clings like shit to a blanket to everything it touches might never rub off on someone else.


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