The fertile edge of the Dark

April 7, 2016

I have recently undertaken a Vision Quest in the Forest of Bowland, and here are some of my insights I gained from that experience which I would like to share with you today, about finding richness in the the Dark…


Finding the edge

I don’t do ‘out in the woods on my own at night’, and so my recent nighttime Vision Quest was a huge edge for me. I guess it had to be really, as that is what distinguishes a Vision Quest from a camping trip.

It was the perfect night for a it. No snow, wind or rain, just a stillness that clung in the Spring Equinox air. The pregnant waxing moon slowly emerged above the horizon, casting a luminous sliver blanket of cloud over the valley that was containing me as I embarked on my latest adventure.

I was to spend the night resting on the edge of the cliff, with the white water rapids winding beneath me, my gaze casting out above the tree canopy. As the last of the birds were flying to their roost for the night the darkness of the night enveloped my camp. Two crows flew into the forest signalling that I was alone. I was warm in my bivvy bag, with just my thoughts for company, crackling around in my head alongside the flickering flames of the campfire.


 My camp 2My Vision Quest camp in Roeburndale


In my life I have found myself perched on a similar edge many times; this rich fertile edge where change happens. In her new book If Women Rose Rooted, Sharon Blackie describes this edge as being at the ‘brink of possibilities’. In nature we see it where the woodland meets the meadow, and where the river meets the land. There is a certain richness of life at these points of change. Inside us, it’s that place deep within where we move out of the safety of the village that we know so well, and move into the dark forest of the unknowable and let go. This is our growing edge, and we often resist creeping towards it for fear of suffering. But as Paulo Coelho says in his book The Alchemist, the fear of suffering is far greater than the suffering itself. For when we are on the other side, back in the light, we can see the beauty that that experience brought us in our souls transformational journey here on Earth, at this incredible time of change.

Tonight, representative of darker times in my life, I released myself on the path of the unknowable to see where it took me. Many times metaphorically speaking I have been lost in the darkness, with the path disappearing before my eyes, wondering if I am ever going to find my way out. On this night, under the shadow of the forest I was to experience something similar, although I did not know what it would be.


Breaking down to break away

It is no surprise that I had been led to this place for my Vision Quest in the beautiful valley of Roeburndale in the Forest of Bowland, with my shamanic teacher Jayne Johnson. After all, it was this land that held me so well during one of the darkest and most turbulent times of my life just a few years ago.

It’s counter cultural to embrace the darkness. We live in a world where we strive for the ideal of eternal happiness, and where we are expected to perform our maximum potential all of the time. I know this expectation well as I had spent fifteen years of my life working in or for large multinational corporations where people cloaked themselves in their suit of protection, and worked from sunrise to sunset endlessly trying to fulfil the promised dream. I joined in, throwing myself into my career as a sustainability manager and the possibility of fulfillment that came with it, only to watch a little piece of me die away inside me as the wheel turned on its axis year after year.

I held on to my accepted life for as long as I could, but it seemed that the Universe had different plans for me. Plans that unfolded as I lay quietly by the side of the very same river I hovered above for my Quest on this night. As I have grown to learn, when I mould my body into the Earth, I can hear a different voice; quiet but so clear, and which leads me to unchartered territories.


The valley of Roeburndale


The descent into darkness

On hearing that voice in that very same valley four years ago, I found myself walking away from everything I knew as safe, and descending into the darkness. Over the following two of years I stayed in the dark, clinging onto a quarry edge in my caravan, working with my own thoughts and process. I trusted that I had been led there for good reason, and with no road map and no path I worked with the seasons of the year to guide and transform me.

It was my time out in nature that brought me to look at my dark side. She led me there, and she held me when I sat in the darkness, not able to see the light. Wondering if it would ever end. It was a long, long wait for dawn.





The welcome sound of dawn

On my Vision Quest, as with my own life, dawn did eventually come, but not in the way I was expecting it. Not with the warm glow of the sun lighting up the eastern sky. Not with the sweet sound of songbirds singing their hearts out to the rising sun. Oh how I longed for that sound, or that sight on the horizon to the left of my camp. I got neither. I waited and waited.

I waited for so long I wondered whether daybreak would ever arrive, whether I would always be left sitting in the dark. But sure enough dawn did come, in the form of the messenger from the Underworld. Crow was the first to call, his cry heralding the promise of the light. A welcome sound, for now I could sleep. Now I could begin to make a new journey in the light. My time in the dark was done, for now at least.

They say the darkest hour is before dawn, and gripped in anxiety as I waited in the blackness of my Quest this was my experience too. It was a parallel of my changing life over recent years where now, on the other side in the light, with the rich gift of hindsight, I can look back and see that difficult dark time as a blessing, and a time when real transformation unfolded. As the poet Mary Oliver says:

“Someone I loved once gave me a box full of darkness. It took me years to understand that this too, was a gift.”

Raven performing over Leicester Mill Quarry, Anglezarke

Written by Nicola. Crow and Moon photo by Jason.

About the Author


Nicola Smalley is an edge-dweller, shamanic practitioner and writer living in Anglezarke on the edge of the West Pennine Moors in Lancashire, England.
Following a career in corporate sustainability, she now runs The Way of the Buzzard with her husband Jason. Her passion is anything connected to nature and the mysteries of the Earth.

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  1. A beautiful account of your journey through the dark Nicola.

    How important it is to be reminded of the cycles great and small through which we all revolve and to recognise that light and dark are required in equal measure.

    New moon blessings xxx

    1. Thank you Lisa 🙂 – that is so nice to hear you enjoyed reading my blog. Yes, the light and dark are both required, although we do tend to want to be in the light all the time its so important to let go into the darkness from time to time xxx

  2. Well done Nicola to go through your dark rite of passage and come back into the light enriched with all its valuable teaching. Wonderfully written makes me think you should write a book. Thank you for sharing ❤

    1. Thank you Linda for your kind comments! A few other people have mentioned to me the idea of writing a book – Jason and I have a couple in the pipeline but not about me, so maybe, just maybe I might one day write one about my adventures… 🙂 x

  3. Really interesting read Nicola, I hoped you would write up your experiences. I once spent a night away from camp in the desert for the experience and I can relate to your thoughts so well and the long time it takes to experience the light again and how important it is and feels when it comes.

    1. Thanks Anne 🙂 I have a few more insights to share – this is the warm up. Ah, so you have experienced the long long night too – I was amazed at how long it took for dawn to finally arrive! And it was so so dark too. A great night 🙂

  4. Very inspiring post. I feel I’m in a dark part of my life at the moment with no understanding of why so your blog made sense to me. I look forward to reading more.

    1. That’s really good to hear that my blog helped you in some way Leanne. My message on my Quest was very clear – dawn does eventually come – the darkest hour is before dawn x

  5. Thank you for telling this! Its been 3 years since my Vision Quest and the calling has come to do this again, so it was so timely and inspiring reading your experience. I remember the never ending wait til dawn, and how reborn and wild I felt when dawn came.
    The space you were in looks so amazing!

    1. It was amazing Laura – the best Vision Quest spot. Nice and open, but also cut off so I couldn’t bottle out! Its amazing just how long that dawn takes to arrive! I wish you the very best on following your call to do another one 🙂

  6. With our sight ‘switched off’ we sometimes see with greater clarity – or hear! What did your ears tell you of the night? Remember back for all the little tell-tale sounds which can signify so much. I relived my Vision Quest in the Black Hills for many years afterwards in my memory and it still speaks to me today when something ‘nudges’ me.
    I loved your account of your Quest and it speaks with eloquence of your time there. Thank you. Blessings.

    1. Thank you for sharing your experience too John. You are right, the insights keep on unfolding for me over these weeks, although I remember in the morning thinking not much happened! Thank you so much for your feedback – I am so pleased you enjoyed reading my blog 🙂

  7. Thank you for sharing your Vision Quest Nicola. It touched something deep within me. Maybe it will inspire me to go on my own Quest.

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