Simple techniques for hunting for unstructured experiences in spaces you already know: London vs Tallinn

I shall now continue with listing all possible ways for gaining unstructured experiences of old and new spaces.

The following two ways are slightly inspired by dreams, and include a bit of luck. They are both, however, feasible ways for going on microadventures that have the ability to give you a completely new experience of a space you already know.

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London Wanstead Flats. October 2016.

1. Wait for the fog

Lesson learned from the fogs that took hold of East London’s Wanstead Flats in October and December 2016.

A proper fog can change your surroundings within 3 minutes. (Yes, there is a post on London fog already but it deals with different nuances.) Apart from being the most existential of all natural phenomena, the fog can also make things look crazily similar to something from one’s childhood. And this skill is a mystery to me. Surely, my childhood was not spent in some never-talked-about Soviet fog. #alternativefacts

Fair point, though. In my case, the childhood reference is definitely  linked to “Hedgehog in the Fog”. It is a legendary cartoon by Yuriy Norshteyn (1975) that gets deeper with every time you watch it. Give it a try. But not when already feeling existential.

When wandering around in the fog, creatures from the cartoon can actually come to life. True story! (Yes, fine, someone placed a hedgehog doll there just for me. Yes, fine, someone who waited for the fog to arrive for a year. <3) But even if you won’t deliberately go after exorcising cartoon characters to life, the fog will introduce another world into your own.

Even if you think it strange to head out (well, you can’t really see much), then even just a short walk can quite accidentally lead you to a moment or into a scene where other type of powers seem to govern the place. And that is actually pretty amazing. And valuable.

2. Visit the wildest place of your childhood

Lesson learned from visiting the Pääsküla bog of Tallinn in December 2016.

If you happened to grow up in a bog or next to a forest, this will be easy. But if you had a place where your parents took you twice a year but which stands out the most from your early years, it is also worth the effort to visit that.

Preferrably, choose a place you have not visited for 5, 10, or 15 years. Go when you have time. Go alone.

Notice how the reality and the memory start mixing. There’s also a high chance that you have dreamt about that place so much throughout your grown-up life. At least this is what I felt when I visited my childhood kingdom – the Pääsküla bog (located in the wetlands nature reserve in the capital of Estonia). (And no, there was no nature reserve there when I was growing up.)

Walking on the streets felt like crossing the border into a dream. But entering a forest from a path which I had not used for 15 (!) years turned the entire space into a living dream. I found an apple tree that I had forgotten. It was still holding on to its winter apples, transforming them all into natural Christmas decorations.

Walking further, I noticed more paths I had not used for more than a decade. But I left them alone for now. It feels magical just to know that they are there, waiting for a visit in the future.

Apparently, that forest is more deeply engrained into my mind than I ever knew. While walking (well, making my way through) thin larches and winter bushes, I suddenly stopped dead by feeling an presence of emptiness. “There used to be a tree here”, said the quick thought entering my head. Soon, I was already scooping half-frozen leaves off the ground to test my sanity. I passed the test. The tree stump was indeed there. Who knew that forests engrained their spatial maps so softly into our memories.

But there was also a moment of disbelief. What surprised me was the visible lack of new paths and the shrunken number of the existing ones. Also, it was a sunny weekend day and barely a child could be seen. I had not ventured far at all, so maybe the children were hidden deeper in the forest. But they weren’t also around houses. Everything was empty. All these areas used to be THE place of life and adventure for 20 years of my life. A place of sickeningly high tree houses, bog rafts, map drawing, bridge counting, island living and for all types of hunting and orienteering games. But now? (Ok, I sound old, right?)

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My favourite the place for playing “home” in the early 1990s. Tallinn 2016.

Walking on the borders of semi-realities always assures me of one thing: every type of travel is possible. You see tree roots that have found their way out of the ground more briskly, yet they are the same ones you used to play under when far away from your current height. Some of the paths feel almost too strange, some you recognise but are bitter-sweetly intimidated of. Your forest has become a stranger. Not an inhospitable one, but a stranger nonetheless. And yet. And yet, and yet. You feel like it would welcome you back.

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The forest of the bygone. Tallinn, Estonia 2016.

And then you notice something else, and all the worlds become alive within each other. The sharp creek banks remind you of the careful measuring it took to jump over them, of the frog spawning locations you kept secret from the others, of the greyish Elven thickets you found your way through, of the creek suddenly becoming a sandy-bedded one, and  of the sedge tufts that you used for stepping stones when getting to the other side of the bog. Estonians are actually so fond of their sedge tufts that there’s even a famous children’s book dedicated to them. A children’s book and a theme park.

This is the thing with revisiting your childhood kingdoms. It opens up a way to change your understanding of time. Everything feels intensily possible. Once again. Although, even these words do the experience no justice.

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The road I have walked the most in my life, so far. Pääsküla bog. Tallinn 2016.
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