If You Go Down to the Woods Today

is the co-founder of the Dark Mountain Project, of which he was director from 2009-2017, He is the author of nine books - three novels, two poetry collections and four works of non-fiction - all of which, it turns out, tell the same story: how we walked away from the wild world, and how we might get home again, if we can. He runs the Wyrd School which teaches wild writing and art and lives in the west of Ireland.
For the last three years, after each of the Uncivilisation festivals we have run, we have heard one particular complaint: that there is just too much on the programme. Every year, people tell us that there were so many things on at the same time, all of which they wanted to see, that they had to choose what to miss rather than what to experience

Of course, this complaint is generally offered in a nicely supportive, tongue-in-cheek tone, but still we always promise ourselves that we will take it on board, not least because doing so would involve less work for us. And every year, we completely fail to do so. I’m afraid to report that for our fourth and last annual festival, in seven week’s time, we have failed again, in spectacular fashion.

My problem, as the main curator of the event, is that I keep coming across interesting people doing brilliant things, and I want to showcase them all. In my excitement, I tend to forget that I’m not running Glastonbury: I don’t have a site the size of a small city to play with, or a big team to make it happen, or a big budget.

What I do have, though, is the support of a big pool of talented people with a lot of goodwill towards the project, who are prepared to use their time and energy to put together some brilliantly creative expressions of their own visions. Speaking purely selfishly, the thing I value most about the Dark Mountain Project in its entirety is the opportunity it has given me to meet so many interesting people. I’ve made a lot of new friends, learned a lot of new things and had a lot of new experiences which I will carry with me for the rest of my life.

As we’ve already explained here, this is going to be our last annual festival (though by no means the end of Dark Mountain events). To celebrate the occasion, we have created a programme that is packed with a greater breadth of experiences than I think we have ever managed before.

Today, we have unveiled the full programme on the festival website: so have a look for yourself, and see if you agree. If you do, you can book tickets for the festival through the site as well. We won’t be selling tickets on the weekend itself, so they do need to be bought in advance.

What are my personal highlights? There’s a lot to choose from, but a few things certainly leap in my direction. I’m looking forward to hearing Orion editor Jennifer Sahn talk about the end of nature writing, and I want to make the session by novelist Margaret Elphinstone in which she talks about her novel set during the Mesolithic period. The Saturday night music session, curated by our friend Chris T-T, may well be the best musical lineup yet, and I’m particularly pleased that we’ve managed to get ourselves a stand-up comedian for the Saturday night. Yes, really.

What else? Well, for months I’ve been hearing Dougie Strang, curator of this year’s Parachute Stage, talking about this mysterious ‘roadkill charnel house’ he’s been creating, so I can’t wait to see what it looks like and what he does with it. Steve Wheeler’s ‘Rewilding Academy’, which runs throughout the weekend and includes outdoor activities like barefoot running and slow walking, sounds like just the ticket after spending months putting this thing together.

I’m particularly proud of the fact that we will be leaving a permanent memorial at the Sustainability Centre which will last long after our festivals are a memory: a ‘Life Cairn’, created in memory of extinct species around the world. We will be building this cairn in a public ceremony on the Saturday, and you can read more about it here in the first of a series of blogs which will be running over the next six weeks on the festival website. As well as posts introducing some of the themes and sessions at this year’s event, we’ll also be gathering together memories from previous years, celebrating the experiences we’ve shared as the festival has grown and changed. If you have stories, reflections or thoughts on festivals past and would like to share them on our festival blog, we’d love to hear from you.

Most of all though, I’ll just be grateful to be there, and to have had the opportunity to work with so many good people to put these festivals together. What comes next for Dark Mountain events? Well, my partner in crime Dougald will be hosting an open conversation on just this subject on the Saturday afternoon. He’ll be back with more about that soon, over on the festival blog. For now, have a look at what we’ve got planned, pass on the invitation to others you think will get the spirit of Dark Mountain, and I look forward to seeing many of you in August.

Uncivilisation 2013 takes place from  15th to 19th August at the Sustainability Centre, near Petersfield, Hampshire. The full festival programme can be found here. Festival tickets are available here.


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