The van died. Or rather I killed it, because it turned vampiric. So now it has been put to sleep in a corner of my land where the grass is growing rapidly under its wheels. It may or may not be resurrected later, but for now the van serves as a shelter, not as a vehicle, and I am once again on foot. This is hugely frustrating in many ways. The repairs wrecked my finances. It isn’t simple or quick to buy more transport here. And it’s a two hour trek down the mountain to the nearest town. I can’t bring materials up. Winter is coming, and I am a little stuck.
Yet while the road is out of bounds, my land shines. I am here where she wants me, embedding myself into this two acre tapestry of life. It’s a special time. A precious one. I sense the delicacy on the leaf backs as the sunlight caresses them. And it is now in my stationary state that I notice something exciting.
One by one, creatures are stealing out from their hiding places. My fellow land-dwellers have been observing me since the day I arrived. I heard Wren in the forest twittering about me. Robin Copper Breast hopped anxiously from fence post to rock. Lizard had one reptilian eye trained upon me from her nook in the wall. Watching. Waiting. For weeks she was no more than a tail end disappearing into a crevice.
The Slug Army, the Butterfly Brigade, Dragon Flies and Snails, all know in their own way that someone new is in town. And now, as summer curls gently into autumn, and the skies open their steamy lids to let miles of blue in, my fellow land dwellers venture forward.
It was Lizard who first made a move. One day I saw her basking on a rock in the afternoon sun. Her body was a mottled finger. Her head jerked up and down. But this time as I slid closer, she didn’t run. Nor did she flinch when I pulled out my phone to take photos. We sat together for twenty minutes or more, the beads of her eyes rolling, her tiny webbed feet clutching the rock. I don’t know how she felt about this sharing of space and time, but my heart oozed with joy.
And now, having trailed me for weeks, flying to and fro in a vain attempt to shoo me away, Robin Copper Breast has decided I am perhaps likeable. He has taken up residence in the bush next to my van. Because this strange metallic beast appears to be a good source of food, and he’s intent on owning the territory.
As I eat breakfast, door ajar, Robin flits over. He perches just in front of the opening, copper jacket lapels fluffed up, stick legs jutting out, as though I were some sort of wildlife burger van.
“I have a bright chest
so I can’t hide,
true I am small,
but have pluck on my side!” He twitters, head cocked, tiny body twitching.
Other creatures approach as I sit beneath the ash tree. Butterflies, always the first to bestow a pretty salutation, flutter in and out. Bees crawl enthusiastically over petals. Where thorns had previously scratched me, clusters of ripe blackberries now beckon. The Spiders who bit me relentlessly in the beginning, have abated. The land is awash with greens to forage: plantain, dandelion, nettle, chickweed, lambs lettuce.
If I were a faster builder, had I charged in with machines and blades, I would never seen the brave attempts of my new friends to step closer. I’d have slaughtered most of my wild food supply too. But I am slow, sometimes against my will. And this means I see things. The animals are communicating. They are curious. Who is this new human? And why is she here? Is she friend? Or foe? Can we work with her? If so how?
We are on the delicate edge of beginning. This is a precious moment. A coming together. The van can do what it likes, fate can keep throwing punches, winter can come too if he wants, because I am not alone. I am putting down roots. I am home.
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It was a few days ago. I was sitting in the crook of my ash tree, the moss now a dry velour seat. The ash tree is a waltz of green in summer, her slender branches swirling with foliage. I surveyed my new special space, and the access road that has finally materialised within it. Slowly, I let my aching muscles soften, and my thoughts slide. As I did, I felt the atmosphere beneath the tree alter. The tree trunk was warm. The leaves stirred. I know I am in this land because of this tree. Or rather, because I heard her.
I was never looking for community on my land quest. I wasn’t searching for ‘good’ neighbours. Or the ‘right’ crowd. I just wanted a space that could hold me while I heard the Earth. A space where I could be quiet and alone. But most of all, I waited until a piece of land spoke to me. Invited me. It took quite a long time.
So why didn’t I look for the ‘right’ people?
Community can do nothing for us, because in truth that is not what we need. It’s not the root of the issue, it’s a symptom. The fact we are searching for it at all shows we don’t really feel we are already part of a community. It shows we have been severed from something fundamental. Because on a much deeper level, what we yearn for is connection to our all-powerful soul and the Earth family from which we were born. With it support arrives as if by magic. Without it, you can be surrounded by a hundred people, not one of whom will lend a hand.
This is Earth whispering. It’s how you find your place. It’s how you become whole and belong. And when you are connected and whole, community (if that’s what you want) is always there, often in the most incredible and fortunate ways.
It all began back in May when I first signed the deeds. I had driven my van up to the area of my land feeling buoyant. All I needed was a small access road into the plot. It should have been easy, but it wasn’t.
While I prepared to create my driveway, I parked inside the dirt track of one of the local farmers, and walked down to my Eden.
“I’ll only be here a week,” I said to Farmer Luis, as he peered from his truck at my van one day. Luis had already saved me once by procuring jump leads when my battery had died. I was starting to feel like a bit of a pain in the backside.
“No pasa nada,” he nodded calmly. “No problem.” His thick silver hair had been tousled by a day in the pasture, but his features had survived unruffled.
Days came and went. Stones and boulders were moved. Rubble arrived. All the while I remained in Luis’ road. It was here I heard the spurious rumours that there were some ‘other’ English lurking somewhere in the vicinity. And I won’t lie, I wasn’t especially happy about it. I’m not someone who enjoys clustering with expats. I’m very private and fairly weird. Not a fitter-inner. Nor a socialiser.
One day, I was admiring the view from my park spot in Luis’ road. The mountains had formed a crenellated rampart pushing back the Atlantic. But the sky was an unfettered expanse of blue. Suddenly I heard the clip clop of horse hooves, followed by two British accents. I held my breath. The horses clippety-clopped to a standstill, black tails swishing. Two women gazed down at me and smiled.
I pulled on my cap and stepped out of my van, squinting under the glare of the midday sun. “Are you the other English?” I asked.
“I am.” It was the woman with the long brown hair who spoke. She had a good earthy smile, and healthy brown arms that knew hay bales and rocks and shovels. “This is a friend,” she gestured to the other woman. After a short chat it transpired that Julia and her husband owned a small-holding a couple of kilometres away with goats, chickens, horses, dogs, cats, and an awful lot of courgettes.
That evening as stars began to brew in the indigo pan of the sky, I anticipated parking in my land. The joy of the silence, and of having a place once more. Night stewed the stars until they dissolved. The potion simmered until morning leaving a trail of misty star remnants in the valley creases.
The rest is history: When I drove down my newly forged rubble driveway, of course I couldn’t drive out. It was The Other English who towed me to freedom.
So that was that. I promptly left for Santiago de Compostela, taught kids, blew up my van engine, and spent another two weeks in limbo half way down the coast going steadily bonkers. I just wanted to be home. On my land. Talking with the trees.
Eventually, by mid August, I was back, tired and demoralised. But the worst of it was, I still couldn’t park in my land! So yet again I camped in Farmer Luis’ road.
Sure enough, as the days rolled by, I began to gather attention. Luis stared in disbelief, and I hid out of embarrassment whenever he drove by, because all in all, I was starting to feel like Alan Bennett’s van lady (albeit without the plastic poop bags). Other locals would wave as they drove past, or stop at my van window for a chat. Cows strolled past and mooed. I soon became an eccentric part of the landscape. La inglesa con la furgoneta. The Other English brought me courgettes and eggs. A couple invited me for pancakes. Everyone offered to help me if I needed it. I began to wonder if this road access issue was in fact a gift from the land to plant me, like a seedling, into the community.
And then the road happened. Just like that. Nine tons of 20 mil-and-under arrived. Soon after The Other English turned up with a small tractor. And by evening, I was blessed with a driveway. I skipped back to my camper ready to enter it. But my tyre – I am by now convinced this campervan is the mechanical embodiment of The Trickster – was flat.
Despite my throbbing arms, I changed the wheel (which is so much less effort to write than actualise). Then I jacked the van back down, only to see the spare tyre was also flat! The air was now darkening, the mountains turned from emerald to spinach to slate. I stared at my campervan and fumed.
Soon a jeep roared up the hill, dust puffing out of its deliciously healthy looking tyres. Out stepped another vecino; Luis Manuel. After an awful lot of misunderstanding I realised he was offering to take me and my spare tyre down to town to fill it up.
Half an hour later we were back at my van and Luis Manuel was changing my wheel for me, because quite frankly I could barely lift the spanner at this point. “I only come up here two weeks a year in August,” he said as stood up and adjusted his glasses. “It was the right two weeks,” I answered. He grinned and shook my hand. “Any time you need help...”
What kind people eh? What supportive neighbours, and all turning up just when I needed them. Aren’t I lucky?
The thing is, none of these people are part of some ‘like-minded’ community I have just joined. I’d never met any of them before in my life. I didn’t follow my friends and huddle up next to them, either. I definitely didn’t pay any attention to the Times top 10 lists. I just sat quietly, listened to the Earth and my soul, and tried to piece a path together from their nudges. Because if the land resonates with you, and you can sense the compass of your heart, the rest falls magically into place.
We all have Edens on this planet, because we are created from it. It is our real community. Somehow, somewhere we have to trust that it’s not other people who can show us the way. We’ve been doing that for too long as a species, and it’s led us into a quagmire. There is no outside authority. There is no one who knows better. It’s down to ourselves to heed our cores and observe as they are reflected back at us through our environment.
“Do you know what?” The Other English said to me in passing a few days ago.
“What?” I replied.
“When we heard another Brit was coming, we weren’t that happy about it.”
Oh how I chortled when I heard that.
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I wanted to be a witch, because witches are dangerous, rebellious, and don’t care what people think. They can access powers that the regular world doesn’t understand, powers that override brute strength and money, powers that create and destroy. But perhaps my ideas of witchery had also been doctored. Perhaps becoming a real witch meant going back further than I had realised, delving into wilder, dirtier terrain. Perhaps it meant connecting with something more elemental. Something unashamedly raw and true. (Excerpt from Dirt Witch)
When the past bounces back.
There’s the Earth, a spinning gemstone of mud, rivers and forests. The Earth whispers. And then there’s the mirror of the moon. Argent. Lucid. The moon doesn’t talk. She yanks on the tides. She reflects. And don’t I just know it.
Let’s just say, I’ve had better weeks.
But before I speed ahead, I'll stick my foot on the clutch and reverse a little. Because this story begins at the front of July, not the back. The story begins with a teaching proposition.
“One of our summer camp teachers has dropped out at the last minute. Can you help us? Just for a couple of weeks?” It was my old friend Sue from Santiago on the phone. Long-standing blog readers will recognise her as the angel who took in Rotty the dog and I, during Rotty’s last two weeks on Earth.
I stood in my new land, phone to my ear, staring at the horizon. The mountains rose and fell in layers. They were the ECG trace lines of a cardiac cycle. The landscape seemed to be folding back on itself.
“Just think what you can do with the money!” Sue’s voice clattered into my phone like Rioja into a wine glass. And I did think. I thought of water pipes and fences. And finishing off my driveway. Because although some kind soul had eventually pulled my camper out of my land last month, I still couldn’t drive in and out.
“Alright then, give me a couple of days to get there.” I spoke quickly into the phone before letting my sickle fall on the grass. The stalks vibrated with insect life. Butterflies, bees and dragon flies rose from the meadow like summer sylphs.
Yet I took a deep breath. Because I hadn’t taught in a classroom since 2012, back when I sold my soul to the diablo of Taiwanese education in exchange for funds to finish building my earthbag house on Mud Mountain. That time, within a month of returning to Turkey, pockets fatter, soul thinner, I promptly drove my car stuffed with roofing felt up a hill in 40 degrees heat. It was a full moon. I burned out the engine. The damage decimated a good quarter of my savings. I took it as a sign that if I made pacts with the devil, life would see to it that I made little financial gain out of it. And also that motor transport and full moons are a fated combination. I even noted that you shouldn't overload your car before driving up a mountain.
Fast forward to 2018. To Spain. To my new green mountain, with its stone huts and gentle, orange cows. After a chat with my ash tree, I picked up my secateurs and hat ready to leave. As I did, I noticed the mud sitting in the creases of my hands. The shadow of the ash tree fell upon me. And somewhere moving through her leaves I saw a reflection of Grandmother Olive. Quickly, before I could change my mind, I fastened a lock on my stone cabana door, threw some of my goods inside it, then off I drove to Santiago de Compostela. To school. To teach.
In truth, it wasn’t as bad as all that. The school proved to be a homely little structure in a beautiful tree-filled garden. The children were happy and cute. And Santiago, with its medieval alleyways and burbling plazas, was as enchanting as ever. I burned the candle at both ends, partied like a Spaniard, and revelled in the St James’ festivities. Soon enough my two-week teaching stint ended. It was time to return. But the face of the moon was fattening again. La luna was becoming full.
Did I look up at the sky as the darkness spread across it? Did I listen to the whisper of the Earth, and decode the messages in the stars? Was I prepared to gaze into that white lunar mirror long enough to see the past bouncing back at me?
Thus, on the blood moon lunar eclipse I decided (as I do, sigh) to drive my van regardless. Pah! I said to myself. This no driving on a full moon is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Stuff all this astrological nonsense and superstitious voodoo. I shall drive the 350 km back to my land. And this time all will be well. Thus I topped up my radiator fluid and checked my oil before setting off, as all good, logical people do.
I must have been an hour and a half out of Santiago de Compostela, when the needle on the temperature gauge suddenly swung into the red. Naturally I was belting down a motorway at the time, with plenty of traffic pounding down the tarmac all around me, in the middle of absolutely nowhere.
Pulling onto what existed of the hard shoulder, I sat for 40 minutes, trucks buffeting the van relentlessly, waiting for the engine to cool. But there was nothing for it, sooner or later I had to drive, albeit very slowly, off the highway.
The next day, the mechanic was shaking his head gravely, and asking if I had somewhere to stay, because hey, this might take a while. As the tow truck drove me and my camper through the vales of Galicia, I watched the muddy verges flick by in the wing mirror.
So here I am, half way between Santiago de Compostela and my land, with my van engine in a thousand pieces. The new mechanic has just told me one of the cylinders is ruined (exactly the same thing that happened in 2012), and that it’s going to cost a lot more to fix than the money I’ve just earned. As I lick my wounds, I wonder why we humans are so slow to learn. So slow to change our habits and move on. So slow to accept we can’t always call the shots and force the hand of the planet. That we can’t actually ignore our souls and our callings and get away with it. Because fires and floods and break-downs keep happening. The Earth keeps whispering. And the moon keeps reflecting it all right back at us.
Many thanks to Emma Batchelor this month for providing me with a roof over my head, and a decent mechanic.
Dirt Witch is Now Out!
“Engaging and thought-provoking. The act of reading this seemed to affect me on a level beyond the words,” Claire Raciborska, Growing Wild and Free.
"Gingerly, I picked my way through the tall stalks flinching at the possibility of vipers. I was terrified of snakes, just terrified. Staring at the huge thorn bushes – great monsters baring tough green claws – I started to feel nauseous. My mind became a city at rush hour. It flashed anxious thoughts at me like traffic signals. Had it really come to this? Bumming in a Turkish field?
And then it happened – the meeting that would alter my destiny within this patch of Mediterranean scrubland. The encounter that would change me. Forever."
I remember when I first adopted my dog, Rotty. I had never been a full-time guardian of a canine before, and was of the opinion that I had to train her. So I set about the task with fervour. “Oh it’ll just be like teaching kids. Two weeks of firm boundary setting, and then she’ll do as she’s told,” I said to myself. Hee-hee.
A year later I was tearing my hair out, because dogs are not simply nice, tractable tabula rasas to be indoctrinated. They have their own will, and their own way. You may train them, a little, if they deign to submit. But take heed, for they all have their own personality, and there are rules they find acceptable to follow, and others they don’t.
I’m horribly stubborn. But after eighteen months it was sorted out. I thought I’d trained Rotty. In fact, she had trained me. I had learned to walk her properly every morning as soon as I woke up (if I didn’t, she would bark and whoop non-stop until I did). Once that walk was over she would agree to sit for the rest of the morning very peacefully while I did yoga, munched breakfast, and wrote. I’d see her caramel head lolling out of her wooden box, eyeing me with satisfaction as I worked, as if to say, “I’m so glad we’ve come to an arrangement.”
Did I train Rotty in return? Well, I persuaded her to sit before eating, and not to dig up the vegetable patch, and to mostly walk to heel. I thought I’d trained her not to kill chickens. So did my neighbour Dudu. So did everyone actually, because she was an incredible actress, and would turn her nose up in disdain whenever she passed the coop. In reality the only thing I’d managed to do was train her to murder with stealth. Because life is life, and instinct is instinct, and will always finds a way.
Fair enough. But what’s this got to do with my new Eden?
Well, as it goes with dogs, so it goes with land.
A piece of land is a world. It’s not just a hunk of rock and mud. It’s a life-filled being. And I use the word ‘being’ carefully. Because it’s perfect. It is exactly that. Being. Living. Becoming. Every metre of this planet is teaming with creatures, plants, and elements, all of which have their own will, and their own way. “What? A brook has a will and a way? A tree? A rock?” Yes. Most definitely. Try and get a rock to flow. Or a tree to grow towards the dark. You will soon see, they have their own opinion about what they are and how they will move. You can only work with them. All else is futile.
Yeees. And don’t I just know it?
Back in my new Eden, rugged beauty that she is... No sooner had I signed the deeds, than I was laying down one of my terrible do-or-die ultimatums (some of us never learn). “I want an access road in there. I want to camp in there in my van. And come hell or high water, I shall! Before July!”
Did the soft leaves of the ash tree glint a little as I put my foot down? Did the rocks shudder with just a fraction of mirth? Was there laughter rumbling under the grassy epidermis of my new home? Because that access road (and we’re talking ten metres of drivable surface here, not a kilometre of asphalt) wasn’t going to happen easily.
The men with machines wouldn’t do what I wanted for the price I wanted in anything like the time I wanted. So I decided to build the thing by hand. It took a while, and a bit of help, but we did it. The next week, a tractor compressed the aggregate. And then I drove down, gravel crunching under the campervan wheels.
I knew as soon as I was in, I wasn’t getting out again in a hurry. The wheels skidded. The clutch fumed. She couldn’t make it back up the slope.
Oh how I slammed my van door that day, storming off to complain to the ash tree. As I waded through the dripping stalks, over mounds, in and out of boulders, the turf began to suck on my frustration. Imbibing it. Filtering it. The ash tree waved as I approached. “Welcome,” she said. “Welcome!” But I was far too cross to listen.
The base of the ash tree holds a moss covered dip where her roots meet her trunk. Slumping into this natural velour chair, I sighed. The vista stretched away into a sea of whipped peaks, while creamy clots of cloud drifted overhead. Cow bells clanked in the distance. And then my eye fell upon a few splodges of indigo nestling in the grass. I peered a little closer.
The splodges were flag irises. Turning my head, I scanned my new Eden. And I gasped, because there were hundreds of them, budding heads poking up like an audience of blue pixies. Suddenly I felt my flesh relax and my mind slow. What did it matter whether I could or couldn’t get out? I had food. I had water. Clearly my land wanted to get to know me.
Over the next three days the mist drifted in, swallowing the outside world as it did. Meanwhile, one by one, the irises opened until my new Eden was a blaze of blue pennants. I worked with the stones to enlarge my road, dirt driving under my nails and into my pores. I drank from the spring. I bathed in the cattle trough. As I slept in the heart of the space, my soul finally came home to roost. My will was meeting the will of the land, and it was beautiful.
Our will is our soul’s direction. It determines our way. It propels us onto our roads. But it is only when our will meets someone or something else’s, only when relationship blossoms, that anything interesting can occur.
Some believe in forcing their individual will upon the world and making shit happen. Others think that’s “not nice” and prefer surrendering to the will of the group, or the world. But both these outlooks miss the beauty and power of true relationship, where wills synthesise. This is true will power. It’s a union of forces that creates something far greater than the sum of its parts, and transforms beings into something new.
I wanted to camp in my land, and I did. My land wanted me to stay a while, and I did. Those four days cleaned my soul and replenished my spirit. How different the world looked from up there. How different I looked, too.
If you enjoy my posts, and would like an insiders' view on what’s happening on my land, consider making a pledge to support me and The Mud Home on Patreon. For as little as $2 a month you can join my private feed where I post updates, photos and details I don’t wish to share with the world at large. I no longer post much personal matter on Facebook, and consider my Patreon feed my actual social media.