Edge Dweller

June 1, 2023

The fertile edge

I describe myself as an edge-dweller. I feel I exist on the edge of two worlds. There is one world, the world that I was born into, that is crumbling away. I was taught this was the way that things had to be. However, as I grew into adulthood, I saw quickly that this world doesn’t work. I am not sure it has ever worked, and it’s time has come. Things are getting messy and uncomfortable as it breaks down and scary at times. I fear for the future when I am in this world, but I can find comfort in the other world that is forming around me.

This newly-forming world is also messy and uncomfortable at times, but I have abundant energy to stand on this ground. As you are reading this blog, we are likely standing here on this fertile edge together. It is great to be in such good company.

Edges are where growth happens. In nature, an abundance of life occurs where two very different environments meet. Think of the coastline where the land meets the sea or the edge of a woodland that meets the meadow. Then there are the riverbanks, the lakesides and the hedgerows. Life thrives in edges: they are fertile and teaming with life.

Being an edge-dweller means standing on fertile ground where there is massive potential for change and growth. This change and growth is twofold, as it can happen both on the inner, personal level and also on an outer level leading to a change in the world around us.

The precarious nature of edges

Edge-dwelling can feel precarious at times. For many years I was afraid of the edge. It was a deep-rooted fear, and I know that many other people who have deepened into their spirituality have felt fearful of exactly what they are stepping into as well.

I began approaching the edge as I tentatively stepped onto my spiritual path and started to break away from the old world. I had a feeling deep inside, a quiet voice, that there was something amiss. I couldn’t name it, or even describe the problem. I followed a seemingly random line of enquiry, searching for that thing I didn’t know I was looking for.

As I began my explorations I noticed that although I was surrounded by fantastic friends and family, no one thought or felt like me. I even had friends who told me to be careful and that it was dangerous to explore the things I was interested in. These friends couldn’t explain to me what I should be afraid of or watch out for but just to make sure I proceeded with caution and be ‘very careful’. It was an odd feeling being alone, but yet not being alone. At times, I thought perhaps I was cracking up.

I know folk who join us in our The Way of the Buzzard community have similar stories. They have friends and family members who fear what they are ‘getting in to’. I remember one participant who came to Space to Emerge, our springtime woodland retreat in Cumbria, told me how her family were worried about her coming along.

Even though we have a website that explains exactly what is in store over the weekend - such as dance, crafting, meditation, nature walks, shamanic journeying, herbal medicine - there was a deep-rooted fear about what she was stepping in to, ‘the unknown where we would be getting up to all sorts and goodness knows what including nudity and strange rituals in the dark woods’. This doesn’t happen at Space to Emerge, or any of our retreats and I was curious to find out where this misconception stems from.

Over the years, Jason and I have mused about the source of this underlying fear. There are likely to be more, but here are three of the reasons we have identified:

The first is the fear installed by Christianity. I was brought up an Evangelical Christian and was taught to be very afraid of the ‘devil's work’. No-one explained what this was, other than it involved groups of people going out into nature and doing evil things. This teaching was a key reason why I held back from exploring my spirituality for so many years when I left that faith.

When I did finally step onto the Earth path, I found it gentle and beautiful and not at all like I had been taught growing up. I have even found it is possible to weave the two practices together. We have a good number of Christians in our community who are drawn to what we do and are members of our Mystery School.

The second is a cultural fear of paganism, I have recently learnt this was brought about by sensationalism dating back to Edwardian times that has carried on through to the twenty first century. It was taught that the resurgence in interest in paganism was something to be feared, and that it included terrible things like human sacrifice. Professor Ronald Hutton talks about this in his Gods of Prehistoric Britain online lecture at Gresham College. This message has stuck on a conscious and unconscious level. It hopefully goes without saying this doesn’t happen on any of our retreats either!

The third is a fear of dropping into the unconscious. When we tap into our unconscious, change inevitably follows. Although a person might want change, they can also fear what that change will mean. What will I have to let go of? Am I up to it? Do I really want this change?

The fairy tale is a great analogy for what is happening here. In every fairy tale there is a descent, where the person leaves the safety of the castle's walls and steps out into the world. Stepping on the Earth path is like this. It means leaving the safety of what we are taught to be true and stepping out to follow the compulsive pull inside that there is something else out there in the forest to explore. We move towards the ‘unexplainable’, which doesn’t make sense to our friends and family, and even ourselves much of the time. This move can be met with resistance. ‘Don’t go into the dark forest. You don’t know what is in there and you might get lost and never come back’.

There can be a lot of soul-searching as we wander in the forest. Like in the fairy tales, there can be periods of wandering around lost in the forest as birds nest in our hair. There might be times where we find ourselves crawling on all fours in the darkness, with dirt ingrained in our fingernails. Or times relentlessly sitting quietly at the bottom of a well, combing the hair of dragons.

But as with all fairy tales, a time does come when the light presents itself once again and it is time to step out of the forest. This is the moment when you see hands stretched out in front of you guiding you out that have been there all along, or the rope dangling there to pull yourself out that you can finally grasp hold of. This is the moment when you can emerge into a new world and take your place in helping humanity grow a new way of being.


Stepping away from the old world takes courage. There is a lot of healing to be done. It has been extremely tough on our ancestors living in such difficult times, and we have inherited their unresolved trauma within our DNA. I talk about this in my book, The Path to Forgotten Freedom: Healing Unresolved Ancestral Trauma. Then there are the traumas we have experienced in our lives, when we haven’t been seen.

It is tough looking at old wounds and gently showing them to the light to heal. And just as there are many layers to the wounds that we carry, there are many layers of conditioning to unravel too, in order to find the real person inside. But, I am a firm believer that it doesn’t get any more complicated than following what you love: following that strange, gentle pull inside. This is the soul's voice guiding you to where you truly want to be.

As Rumi says: ‘let yourself be silently drawn by the strange pull of what you really love. It will not lead you astray.’

Looking back at the last few decades as I have been adventuring on the fertile edge, several things have really helped me.

One is that I have built up my tribe around me. I now have a community made up of people who think and feel along the same lines as me. I treasure my relationships with my family and friends who haven’t joined me on this path. But I take such comfort from sharing this journey with like-minded travellers where we can grow together. This was the intent behind Jason and I creating The Way of the Buzzard, so that like-minded seekers can come together.

Another is that I have sought support from allies both in the physical reality and in the spiritual realm. I have a supervisor Jayne Johnson, who supports me in this world, and I have a whole team of spirit guides in the Otherworld. Learning how to hear guidance from my spirit guides has been an essential part of my growth and is why Jason and I are so passionate about teaching this in our Mystery School.

A third is that I have learnt to lean on the healing power of nature, in particular the trees and the animals. I have drawn strength from Oak, found sanctuary in Holly, and Hazel has helped me trust my intuition. The flight of an Eagle and the alarm call of a Blackbird have given me insights that have dramatically changed my direction in life. And I am allowing myself to flow with the natural cycles of the Earth, changing with each season. This has taught me that I don’t need to go full pelt through the year and can slow down in the winter and then ramp up again in the spring.

I have learnt the importance of finding ways to step away from duty and things I ‘must do’ to give greater priority to ‘me time’ doing the things I love. I know this is something that many people on the spiritual path are grappling with, ongoing. The pace of the world seems to be ramping up, with increasing demands on our time. But nature is still going at the same pace. The spiritual work is about reclaiming our focus and our time so that we spend it on things that are important to us. This is all part of a life as an edge-dweller.

Exploring life on the edge together

As you have made it all the way down to this point in my blog, it is likely that you are an edge-dweller like me. If some or all of the things I have talked about here have chimed with you, then you might be interested in exploring this further with us and coming along to our next online retreat.

Life on the Edge: unleash your inner maverick will run on Sunday 18th June. If you can’t make it live, we will send you the replay the following day. It will be divided into three 1.5-hour videos, so you can easily take part when you have spare moments over the following days or weeks.

We will spend the day going deeper with our explorations around what life is like living on the edge. Taking our inspiration from the dramatic coastline of North Yorkshire, we will immerse in the Summer Solstice energies of heightened power. It is also a new moon that evening, which is a great moment to set intentions for a new, stronger, more powerful way of being.

This day is perfect for someone struggling to carve out time for themselves or would like help with the discipline of carving out time and hanging out with like-minded people. It is also a great way to work with the four foundation topics from the nature connection and shamanic toolkit we teach: animal spirit medicine, tree spirit medicine, the wheel of the year and shamanic journeying. This is a space for reflection, introspection and tuning into the guidance of your spirit guides and nature. We would love to share this experience with you if you are drawn to coming along.

To find out more about Life on the Edge: unleash your inner maverick, click on this link.


To find inspiration for this blog, I took myself to an edge in nature: our local coastline in Silverdale. It was a beautiful spring morning, and the sun was warm on my face as I picked my way down to the beach. I noticed a ‘danger’ sign as I climbed the style, warning any potential swimmers about the strong tides. The strong prevailing wind had sculpted the trees into strange shapes over the years. I wobbled as I climbed over the rocks that the incoming tide would soon submerge.

This is a challenging environment but a fertile one. Morecambe Bay is the UK's largest expanse of intertidal mudflats and sand. They are vital feeding grounds for a quarter of a million wading birds, ducks and geese. It is a rich landscape and the perfect analogy for exploring my experience of living a life on the edge.

Breaking away from convention and the way ‘things are meant to be' hasn't been easy. I was presented with warning signs as I stepped on the less trodden path. Walking on this fertile ground, I was sometimes battered around the edges and shaped by these experiences. I found myself wobbling across the rocks, but there was always a helping hand to support me if I looked up and asked.

In the days preceding my visit to this coast, Jason and I had a conversation about duty and how the clock had governed our lives from a very young age. We talked about how far away this is from the idea of rewilding, the natural way of being a human. I don’t know if it is ever possible to fully move away from this deep conditioning and be governed by what is natural rather than artificial: the clock and the working week. But I know that naming what life on the edge is like has been very helpful for me over the years, and what it is like to be different from what is seen to be normal.

It can be consuming being on your own with these different thoughts and feelings going on inside. I remember when I found people like me, I grew exponentially. But most of all, a large part of my anxiety, which I had been carrying for many years, went away. Finally, I was amongst a tribe that I felt safe in.

This is what our The Way of the Buzzard retreat experiences look to kindle. A deeper understanding can develop when we feel safe in community. Emotions can come through that might not previously be felt like they are permitted, even if they can’t be explained. Just for a moment, we can feel a part of a tribe once again and carry this feeling back into everyday life.

This is a coming back to nature and our human nature. This is a remembering of our connection to the Otherworld, the non-physical reality. It is ours to access, and our time here pays dividends. A big part of the spiritual work in the twenty first century is to create the time and space we need for this introspection so that we may find our way to rewilding ourselves. This is the work.

I shall end with one of my favourite quotes, which we include in the Space to Emerge brochure each year:

“If you feel like you don’t fit into the world you inherited, it is because you were born to help create a new one.” Ross Caligiuri

It is a privilege to be standing on this edge together.

The Way of the Buzzard links

Our Summer Solstice online retreat - Life on the Edge: unleash your inner maverick

Our online school - The Mystery School

Our upcoming in-person retreats – The Tribe and England’s Last Wolf

My book – The Path to Forgotten Freedom: Healing Unresolved Ancestral Trauma

Related blog – Attention!

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About the Author


Nicola Smalley is an edge-dweller, shamanic practitioner and writer living in the Arnside and Silverdale Area of Natural Beauty in north 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. Thanks for writing this blog. I’ve recently joined the Mystery School and I feel so at home, thanks to you and Jason for creating this safe space to explore. I already had a strong nature connection esp to birds and plant life. I’m learning every day.

    I found this blog via Jacinta as I’ve just watched back the Imbolc recording and the words edge and edge dweller keep cropping up. I feel myself as though I am on an edge – of ‘normal life’ and the creativity and freedom that Earth spirituality brings. I find I use different terms to describe it to different people which says something in itself about how much I worry about what others think but also a gradual growing confidence to live my own life and to share things with others on this path.

    Thank you for expressing everything so perfectly and creatively. It’s like a joyful energy flowing into me whenever I am able to focus on this path. Moving forwards to a happier, more fulfilling place. X

  2. Thank you, Nicola ~ Your writing inspires me! I love that you said if we’d read thus far we were probably edge-dwellers like you, because I aspire to that! Also the bit about feeling part of a tribe, and everything to do with rewilding… it all resonates so deeply with me. Quick question: When you mentioned sitting quietly at the bottom of a well, combing the hair of dragons, was that from a fairy tale? (I’m researching wells for a project I’m working on.) I’m so excited for the upcoming on-line retreat! Thanks for all you and Jason bring to us!

    1. Hi Melanie. thank you so much for your note here. It is really good to hear that it chimed 🙂 And yes, that scene I described was from a fairytale. It is The Earth Gnome. It is an underworld tale of the trouble that ensues when three sisters are exiled underground for eating the forbidden apples from the King’s favourite tree. Thank you so much for your thanks!

  3. Thank You so much for this. I feel as if I am on the edge of so many things in my life and this blog made me weep. For if it weren’t for you, Nicola, and Jason, the Buzzard Tribe, all you have brought to me with the seen and unseen support of all of Nature and the help she brings in all shapes and forms, I really do not know where I’d be. This Edge Dweller way of life- a beacon in so much darkness. My hope, and unconditional love and support. Blessings to You for bringing it x

    1. Oh Anny, what a comment to read. It is such a joy to be on this path together with you and I am just delighted that our tribe and nature are giving you the support you need on this edge.

  4. Beautifully written as ever Nicola, a topic that totally resonates with me. I've never considered myself an edge-dweller but the way you describe it, straddling both worlds & endeavoring to help change this dysfunctional world into a better, more natural one – that's me. Before leaving for Space to Emerge this year my daughter listened to some of the things I said I'd be doing & looking a little concerned said it sounded like a cult – I clearly have work to do there. After Edwina's workshop I was inspired to recently make a plantain salve, when my other daughter's husband used it on his father's skin, his father said it sounded like witch craft. Misunderstanding & fear all around but hopefully we can gradually change this x

    1. Thanks for sharing this Gaynor. It is so interesting to hear of people’s reactions to ‘what we get up to’. I am pleased you the the edge-dweller concept 🙂

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