It was always an odd thing to do, overnight camping on the moor. I’ll never do it, but I wasn’t surprised when Karl gave it a go. The moor has a vaguely spooky reputation and Karl can’t resist that kind of thing. He once spent the night in a derelict house in the middle of nowhere. I don’t regret giving that a miss either.
On returning from his overnight sojourn, Karl told me all about it in the pub over a couple of beers. Because I know the moor quite well, I was interested to hear where he’d found to camp. Up there it’s pretty bleak even in early spring. Not much shelter and yes – it is spooky at times.
“I cheated really”, Karl began. “You know those big clumps of rhododendrons near the edge of the moor? Well I waited till dusk and managed pitch my little tent right up close to a huge clump of them, away from the paths so I’d be out of sight.”
“You wouldn’t expect to see anyone on the moor that late anyway,” I replied.
“No but I wanted to be inconspicuous. Invisible if possible. I tucked myself away in case anyone was nosey enough to ask what I was doing.”
“Okay, so it’s dusk and you managed to camp out on the moor. I can’t really say anything about being inconspicuous – I’d have climbed right inside those rhododendrons and stayed there till morning. So then what?”
“Nothing much. I slept quite well on and off, but It was noisier than I expected. Odd little sounds during the night, a stiff breeze sighing through the rhododendrons and that copse of silver birches made a kind of moaning sound. Then there were owls and little scuttling noises. Plus a few people wandering across the moor in the early hours.”
“Really? What were they up to?”
“I didn’t ask. I just heard footsteps on the path round about 1am then again round about 2am. In both cases I peeped out to see someone legging it across the moor towards the stone circle. Taking a short cut after a late night I suppose.”
“And that’s it?”
“No, not all of it. There was something else but it’s not easy to put it into words. Nothing spooky or anything like that, but I did become very aware of something weird out there. Something on the moor, in the moor and sort of – sort of everywhere.”
“Ah – what kind of weird? Something juicy going on in the stone circle?” I’d become more interested.
“No, nothing like that, but strange enough for a few goosebumps. I became aware of myself in an odd way, aware of everything. The tent, sleeping bag, bumpy ground, prickly heather, darkness, the moon, stars, rhododendrons, wind. All that and more, all together. Intensely concentrated. As if I’d become aware of all the background input we usually filter out.”
“You weren’t smoking anything then?”
“I don’t as you know – and it wasn’t only the noises and the people. The moonlight was bright enough to see they were just people so they weren’t much of a mystery . I had to make sense of unfamiliar surroundings and that was where the strangeness seeped in. It wasn’t voluntary.”
“What wasn’t voluntary?” I wasn’t quite following him at that point.
“The need to make sense of it all. It just pressed in on me like a great cloud of something soft, alien and knowing. It invaded the tent, invaded my mind and I, the essential person I am – I had nothing to do with it.”
“Surely that’s fairly easy to explain –“
“It is, but we don’t usually get a sense of how unimaginably vast it is, the vastness of everything beyond peripheral awareness. The infinite complexity of reality, we just screen out most of it because we have to.”
“I suppose it is vast when you think about it.”
“But that’s the point, you can’t think about it – it thinks about you.” Karl finished his beer before going on. “We aren’t conscious of what we can’t know, but it’s there all the time.”
“What, the vastness?”
“Plus the thing inside us making sense of every little sound, every smell, shadow, footstep and breath of wind, plus the moon, the stars, the sky, the history of it all, the people who made that stone circle. Even the taste of it all, the taste of the moor and those rhododendrons. As if it’s on your tongue, in your ears, your eyeballs, your mind. The thing is – we can’t stop it because it’s the fact of being conscious, making sense of things.”
“Which is just as well…”
“But we can’t stop screening out almost all of it via inference. What matters now, what doesn’t matter now, it’s all inference. Millions of years of evolution plus the outside world plus our personal history and even the whole universe. All contact is inference – all the time – inference. It’s ancient, much more ancient than the moor.”
“Doesn’t sound so bad – inference. We all do inference. My mum does a lot of inference and she does it all the time too.”
“It isn’t personal though – it isn’t you doing it. It’s unimaginably old – goes back to the primordial soup and it’s inside you but it isn’t you. Even the amoeba does it – this is food, this isn’t food. This thing inside us never stops and neither does the vast complexity outside. It owns you, every waking moment, all those possibilities every minute, every second, forever.”
“The internet and social media are like that clump of rhododendrons,” Karl added, “hiding places.”
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