How to avoid creating a living hell out of your paradise
“Do you feel the change?” The ash tree croons. “Can you sense it? We’ve turned a corner.”
I stroke her rough old bark and look up into the hydra of her boughs. She’s a multli-armed diva clutching fresh clusters of sprouting leaves like green castanets.
She’s right. I felt it too. We’ve moved into another phase. Things are happening now. The sun has filled my land, stuffing everything with photons. The slope is a flower-spattered delight. And the speed at which the vegetation grows is almost terrifying. May in Asturias is a lot like the Devonian era. Burdock leaves have suddenly reached my thighs, while grass, ferns, nettles and brambles are bursting and sprawling and spreading across the land.
The first thought one might have is: “It’s out of control.” And that would of course be true.
I stifle the urge to fetch the sickle. Because even a wilderness loving mud hag like me can feel a tremor of panic at the rampant growth. “Ooh the grass, ooh the brambles, the ferns! They’re everywhere!”
Normally this is the time the lawnmowers hit the green. Or the strimmers. Or some other eardrum-murdering, fuel-devouring, small-creature-ripping device. I’ve watched them on the verges of the towns, ear mufflers on, clipping life into neatly manicured squares. As the ‘untidiness’ is strimmed away, every wild flower the bees and other insects depend upon is swiftly decimated in one afternoon, while the rest of us are gifted a headache.
Oh how we humans love to turn beauty into hell.
But how to cut the grass?
It’s become a lazily unquestioned habit to assume that machines are easier and faster than anything else. Nowhere is this so patently wrong as with strimmers and grass. They are inefficient, slow, noisy, heavy and clumsy to use, nerve-wracking and expensive. For the doubters, watch this entertaining video of the annual strimmer versus scythe competition in Somerset. The UK is a hotbed of traditionalist grass cutting. Would you expect to find a scything association anywhere else?
Yet is even scything necessary? As I scan my expanse of ungovernable fertility, I begin to wonder how we moderns turned into such control freaks. It’s odd. Why this fear in the face of the prolific power of nature? What do we suppose will happen if we don’t ‘control’ it?
But what about the brambles? The weeds? The endlessly growing grass? Won’t it...take over?
These are common worries rattling around the busy conduits of most land owners’ minds. Many people refuse to buy larger plots for fear of not being able to manage it all. I think I harboured the same anxiety at one point. Five years alone on a Turkish hill taught me a thing or two about managing, though. For the most part, the less you do of it, the better.
So the grass grows. But unless you need to use that particular area (and we’ll come to that in a minute) what difference does long grass make to anything? Either cows will come and eat it all, or winter will come again and it will die back. And even if it kept on growing forever and ever into the sky...would that matter really? Really?
Actually it would matter a lot. But not to us. For the millions and millions of creatures that thrive in untamed meadows and woods – bees, beetles, ants, spiders, snakes, lizards, skinks, rodents, moles, hedgehogs – who feed the wild cats, raptors, badgers, foxes, wolves, you not managing your space is a life-saving measure.
The Control and Productivity Disease
We’ve all been infected by the control disease, though the symptoms vary from person to person. Some control freaks are perfectionists, some of us suffer a misplaced sense of responsibility for everything, and then there are the greedy types who really do want to exploit everything for their own ends. More often than not all three of these strands are fused together in differing degrees within us.
On top of that, we’ve also grown up in a world where we’ve been taught that everything and everyone has to be ‘productive’. The constraints for this productivity are exceedingly narrow. Productivity in the modern capitalist sense never seems to refer to anything other than money made and quantities of products generated. The quality, beauty, intelligence, kindness, peacefulness or longevity of a thing is necessarily excluded from the calculation.
What does this mean for homesteaders, gardeners and land owners?
As a result, when most people greet a beautiful piece of land for the first time, what do they do? They immediately start stressing out about how to control it and make it ‘productive’. Thus Farmer Manish or Homesteader Julie kill themselves and their Eden by planting huge orchards or growing way more crops than they need, which in turn require outhouses to be stored in, plus pickers to pick, and vehicles to be transported to market in. Before you know it profit margins are calling the shots, panic and pesticides appear. It’s hell all over again.
Turning paradise into a nightmare is more common than you might imagine.
Moving my eyes upwards, I watch the sea mist rolling over the rocky crown of the sierra. Those peaks are an ancient rampart, the frontline against the chaotic Atlantic weather. As I stare, I can feel the choppiness of my mind. There are thousands of voices within it, none of them mine. Words and ideas I’ve absorbed from all and sundry, the majority of whom didn’t know what they were talking about.
The problem is not the grass or the size of the land. The toxic root of the trouble is our limited way of thinking. Our indoctrination. The only way we can live beautiful lives is to start unpicking our neurotic thoughts. To start questioning. Everything. Why does the land have to be productive, for example? And what does that mean? Nature is already productive. It’s already perfect. We, on the other hand, are ill. Not bad. Not evil. Just ill. And until we’re healthy, we continue to enslave both ourselves and everything we come into contact with.
It doesn’t have to be this way though. At all.
How to Surthrive?
There is a difference between control and responsibility. It’s a subtle difference. And subtleties are usually lost in our world of cheap slogans and sound bites. As any recovering codependent will tell you, the remedy for control freaks is to become crystal clear about boundaries, about where your areas of responsibility are, and where they are not.
When I entered my land, this was why I spent a year getting to know it before making any major decisions. Because while I’m guardian of a hectare, I don’t need all that for myself. I don’t even need half a hectare. 1500 metres is ample for me to grow the vegetables I eat, the fruit trees I’d like, and still have oodles of living space.
Thus I felt it out. Where was the sun? Where was the water? Which areas were sheltered (better for plants that like warmer weather)? Which areas felt like they wanted to be left alone? Which areas were simply so beautiful I wouldn’t want to change them? Where was the privacy? Where was the shade? Where did the wild cat like to hunt? Where did the wild irises bloom? And crucially, where do all the delicious weeds I love to forage grow?
I allowed all my senses to absorb my new world. I sat with it. Smelt it. Watched it. Heard it. And I became clear, very clear: I clarified which was my space, which was nature’s space, and where the overlapping zone was in that Venn diagram.
My territory is the part I ‘manage’. It’s the zone where I may cut grass and lay down paths. The area where I build huts, or plant vegetables. This is the area of my responsibility. And I can tell you now, you will make your life a lot easier if you keep that area relatively small, because every step you walk is going to count.
This is the rest of my land, and it doesn’t need much managing. I don’t worry if it becomes overgrown, because that’s part of its beauty. It’s the area where I may wander and listen to what nature would like. And I trust that what nature wants is going to be good for me too at some point, because we are neighbours and we help each other out. I may abstain from entering some parts altogether, leaving them instead untouched for flora and fauna. Other parts are communication spaces, or meditation zones.
My advice for people wanting to earn a living from their land
Even if you want to begin a market garden, you don’t need anything like the space you think you do. For your own sake, keep your area for cultivation small. Listen to Oliver Goshey’s super podcast, which discusses this among other things, because they had the same experience (three people ran a sustainable permie enterprise on just half an acre). You can grow an enormous amount in a very small space if you organise your system well. As Oliver says, “the larger your area, the less efficient it becomes.” It will cost you more time, energy and money to maintain, because your Eden is your mirror, and just as you enslave it, it will enslave you back.
As for the rest of your terrain, why not let it be? Become its guardian rather than its task master. Give something back to the planet that provides for us all. Leave a space for wildlife, for thistles and weeds. Leave a space for Gaia.
More info on the beautiful art of scything:
More info on leaving areas to nature:http://marymary.ie/we-are-the-ark
It's hard work keeping The Mud Home going while I build a roof over my head. I could never manage it without my paid virtual help. So if you find meaning or inspiration in this blog please consider contributing on Patreon. For just $2 a month you have access to my private news feed where I post updates and thoughts I don't wish to share with the world at large, plus a monthly video from my land.
Many, many thanks to the dear Mud Sustainers and all those already supporting on Patreon for helping to fund this website and enabling it to continue.
May is nearly here and I’m not ready. Nowhere near. The roof hasn’t been touched, I’m only just getting the hang of the mortar, and my ‘bedroom’ is still a dusty heap of rotten wood. I can feel the pressure inching up my abdomen. It would be easy to panic now.
In fact last night I did panic. It was a fairly average case of the 3:00 am prod-of-terror. One minute I was happily asleep, the next minute my ‘to-do’ list decided to unfurl in its entirety beneath my eyelids. And it demanded solutions to everything, there and then. No matter how fast my neurons fired, I couldn’t find enough answers. There beneath my duvet, roofs collapsed, money ran out, and a hundred and one hitherto unforeseen disasters lurked in the darkness. These calamities never showed their faces, but growled menacingly from my subconscious.
I’ve spoken to a lot of builders. Most seem to have a 3:00 am panic from time to time. Because there’s something about building which engenders a huge leap of faith. You are constructing something larger than you, and many times it’s not at all clear how it’s going to materialise. At all. I’m standing at the threshold of such a time. How easy it would be to throw up my hands and yell into the brisk north-westerly coursing across my land, “Agh! I’ll never make it in time. I can’t do it! I give up!” Or indeed just run away and never come back.
But I’m in this with Gaia. Even in the pre-dawn pitch, I know deep down as long as I keep stepping forwards, I’ll get there – usually just in the nick of time. It’s a question of trust now. And trust is something we moderns sorely lack. That’s why we love calculations and future prediction models and algorithms. That’s why we obsess about plans, and tie ourselves in knots trying to stick to them. Because we don’t trust that Gaia has our back. We don’t trust life. We don’t trust ourselves.
I’m passionate about creating tiny off-grid Edens for so many reasons: They are liberating, sustainable, and invite a deep awareness of the environment and our impact upon it. But perhaps my favourite aspect is the process of the build itself. The trust it demands of me. It’s me and the land joining forces to create a new world. As soon as I physically begin working with a vision in mind, creation just sort of happens. I honestly don’t know how. It's a kind of magic.
The power to create isn't to be found in plans or solutions. Nor is it some sort of macho brute strength phenomenon. Power is in life itself, and either you are aware of it and access it, or you aren’t.
Today as I stand, wellie-clad, feet firmly planted upon the cool dirt, I sense it. The very life inside me. That wave of power. And I know if I trust it, I can ride it. That creative force makes a mockery of my 3:00 am mind and its limited ideas of who I am and what I can achieve. It has no understanding or interest in my schedule either. It makes no guarantees to finish by any time other than the right one.
Scanning my Eden, my eyes fall onto the burgeoning pasture. The meadow has exploded now. The grass is on a mission upwards with thousands of tiny flowers twirling in its midst; buttercups, daisies, wild violets, and birdsfoot trefoil all bob in the wind like rainbow stars while fat honey bees cavort with dead-nettle flowers*.
When you stare into the face of Gaia, you have to wonder. How do the flowers ‘know’ how to bloom? It is after all an immense engineering project for a tiny little plant; the pushing of the stalk upwards, the development of the stigma and stamen, and the sudden cranking open of their petal umbrellas. Whatever the answer, we can safely assume flowers don’t wake up at 3 in the morning in a panic about it. The intelligence is within them. It’s in life itself.
We humans are part of the same matrix of power and life and intelligence. Our growth and ingenuity move out of it. Yet I wonder, do we realise it? Because here we are at the edge of creating a new world for ourselves, and we've woken up in lather. We’ve known for a while that our house wasn’t stable, (heck, the thing was built on dodgy ground anyway), but the renovation work looked so daunting. Where to start? And how deep to go? So we’ve overthought everything and done a perfect nothing, because it all just appeared impossible. Now of course the roof tiles are falling off, and the walls are beginning to buckle, so we have to act. Yes, it’s 3:00 in the morning of the modern world, and we're suddenly awake. It would be easy to panic now. Easy to throw up our hands and give up. But building new worlds doesn’t happen like that.
It’s always when I’m teetering terrified on a scaffold without a clue what I’m doing, vision in mind, hammer in hand, that I realise I have to stop trying to think my way out of it, and allow life itself to work through me. I’ve set my best intentions of how I want my building to look and feel. I'm following through. Now there’s nothing else for it. It’s time to have a little faith and climb on that roof. Oh course, there are the usual crowd of hopeless naysayers (when are there not? And when have they ever been right?) but nowadays I'm adept at zoning them out. Because the limitations are in their minds, not in my reality. And not, most importantly, in life.
In the world of the modern human there's a brave new house to be built. But while blind panic may galvanise us to act, it's hardly a vision. We need to claim our future, rather than feebly just trying to avoid calamity. The outer work is all well and good, but without some serious inner renovation frankly we are toast. It was our old school mindset based on fear and mechanised contingency that got us exactly where we are now.
It's time to step towards a more beautiful world with a little trust that something larger than us, something that doesn’t adhere to schedules and man-made predictions, will take our hand. Without that trust we are lost. Without that trust we create nothing magnificent at all. We simply stare ahead and see doom.
Remember back on Mud Mountain when the bulldozers came? It seemed like the end of the world. Yet what do you know eh? My new world is full of honey bees and vultures, clean spring water and wolves, cobbled huts, and organic free range cows... Apparently, when you trust in the planet, sometimes the end of the world can be an upgrade.
At the moment I'm paddling like mad just to keep everything running, and need to offload a lot more 'drudge' to my paid virtual help over the next few months. It really is pretty hard to keep The Mud Home going while I build a roof over my head. So if you find meaning or inspiration in this blog please consider contributing on Patreon. For just $2 a month you have access to my private news feed where I post updates and thoughts I don't wish to share with the world at large, plus a monthly video from my land.
Many many thanks to the dear Mud Sustainers and all those already supporting on Patreon for helping to fund this website and allowing it to continue.
Do you feel it? The movement? Can you sense it tugging on your soulstrings, beckoning you hither? This way or that way, we will always move, the switchbacks of our life paths only visible in the rear-view.
Everything on our planet is characterised by its refusal to stay still. Everything moves, and in a particular direction. But which, and why? And how can that help us understand our own direction? Because we are in a time of great change, and the roads are many.
I’m standing at the crest of my land, in the shadow of my cabanas. This is the human zone in the scape, the area where I spend the most time and exert the most influence. In a few weeks, once I’ve repaired the roofs, it will be the place I sleep in, wash in, cook in.
Raising my head up from the rim of my wheelbarrow, I spy the walnut tree that sits at the lower end of my terrain.
“Hey, this way,” she murmurs from afar. “This way.”
I feel the summons not in words but in...in... an impulse. It’s one I ignore, because I’m hunched over, mud smeared up to my elbows, sieving clay for mortar. Yet an hour later, something is still nagging at me, an arboreal finger scratching at the back of my mind. I haven’t visited the tree. Thus movement begins.
As I step through the grass, round the brambles and over the rocks, I’m constantly invited this way and that. Distractions are everywhere. The ash tree calls loud enough that I make a detour. As I finger the lattice of her trunk, and sense The Movement of life itself, I ponder on the direction each branch takes. Of course each one is searching for light, but how various their ways of attaining it! Every single branch creates its own unique path to the sky.
I move again. Down the slope, which is itself moving. Down. It follows the call of gravity. Picking my way through a gap in the stone wall, I see iris stalks pushing fresh through the dirt. Straight. Direct. Vertical. There’s no messing about with the bulbs. They are the Roman roads of flower stems.
Finally I arrive. How different the vista from the walnut tree. I can almost see into the arroyo from here. The water is dancing down there, reeling from rock to bank, forming its own glassy road.
“Do you see? We are all moving in sync,” whispers the walnut tree. “Everyone is doing their job.”
If you are guardian of a natural space for any length of time, you will notice this too. Everything knows what it’s doing, and everything has a role. Brambles protect, flowers attract, rocks give structure, water and soil nourish, sunlight energises, bees pollinate, ants clean, worms compost, and on and on it goes. Everyone’s path weaves into everyone else’s, creating a miraculous network of movement.
Staring up at her bare crown, my eye glides along the walnut’s boughs. They curl and twist in ways quite different from the ash. The ash is an upward mover, arms ever reaching aloft, looking for the sky. The walnut prefers breadth to height. She has another mission.
If the walnut were human she would look at the ash and compare herself. “Maybe I should be striving to go higher,” she would say if she felt inferior. If walnuts trees were ideologists, they’d have placards saying, “walnuts are the way!” And then sit around and bicker about exactly which kind of walnut was best.
But of course trees (as far as we know) don’t suffer inferiority complexes, or ideologies. For them there is no hierarchy, no pyramid of importance, no one “right” way of doing anything. There is only the urge to move in a certain direction. And from tree roots to wind patterns to gulf streams, everything participates in The Movement while embodying their own special dance.
Suddenly, as I stand beneath the walnut tree, I feel the call. I want to express my intuition in words, write about The Movement, and let it speak through me. But in an instant, a terrible heaviness crashes upon me. As I clutch the walnut’s trunk and my gaze sweeps the vale, the devil on my shoulder snarls.
“Pah! How is writing about nature and movement going to help anything? You need to do more! Protest. Or go to Africa and fight the poachers. Or plant a million trees. Now. Time is running out!”
We are in a time of great challenge and change. The old-and-established is shaking. The new is crouched below the horizon, waiting, and who knows what it holds? It’s easy to feel lost in such times, and not know what we should do. But ‘should’ is part of the old. It’s a man-made linguistic structure aimed at coercing us to do something we naturally might not. Who needs this unsolicited advice from our inner guilt police?
In truth we know what to do. Even with all the gimmicks and manipulation and addiction vying for our souls, we know. Because we are living Gaians, thus part of the pulse of life that has evolved in and over this planet. It courses through our veins, igniting our passion and stoking our wonder. From the far side of our hearts it beckons, nudging us this way, or that. Perhaps the steps we take appear meaningless, like my amble to the walnut tree. May be they don't even appear to be a step, such as pausing for a week or a month to allow some zeal to bloom. Yet everything we do is as vital as each breath.
We all know. Really we do. The trouble is we don’t act on what we know. We listen to other people, copy their way instead of forging our own. Or we chicken out. Or we can’t be bothered. Or we are guilt-tripped into doing or not doing, or cajoled by someone else’s reason. But it could all change in an instant. Because when we follow the invitation, and step along our natural path, the world begins to transform into something altogether different.
The pressure is on us all now, and many are the soapbox orators parading ideas as divine truth. Some say it’s all down to the economy. Others claim tech is the answer. Others point to psychological causes, and others spiritual. Some people are busy trying to break down the old system, others are trying to come up with ideas for a new one, yet others are on the front lines fighting for environmental laws, while some are protecting animals. Some people are reducing their meat intake, while others are creating sustainable smallholdings, some people use their art to express their ideas, others are protesting, some folk are creating Edens and Arks, others are sharing information, and others are working out what to do with waste.
Such a marvelous array of activity could only exist on Earth! But will we support each other in our missions, or cut each other down because we think our way is ‘better’?
It’s absurd to jump upon one branch and assume it’s the root of it all (roots very rarely occur in the singular, they are networks). There isn’t a hierarchy of impact, but an ecosystem of influence, and every single living being has their own part to play.
The Movement of life is within us, speaking through our emotions and our imaginations, calling each of us to be who we are. Everyone has a job to do, a path to walk, or perhaps just the tiniest step to take. Now is surely the time for us to participate in the dance of our world, and take it.
Do you enjoy this blog?
The Mud Home is expensive to run and takes much of my time to manage and write. If you find meaning or inspiration in it, please consider becoming contributing on Patreon to express you'd like it to continue. For just $2 a month you have access to my private news feed where I post updates and thoughts I don't wish to share with the world at large, plus a monthly video from my land. I don't like social media, and view my Patreon feed as my way of connecting more personally with The Mud Home community.
Thank you current Mud Sustainers for helping to fund this website and allowing it to continue.
Two years ago she left. Who she was, and why she came or went remain enigmas, unsolved and unsolvable puzzles that click and grind in my heart, and prick the backs of my eyes.
I still look for her on the mountain ridges when the clouds pull back from the peaks, even though she whispers to me not to. The black dolmans of the vultures overhead remind me. This is the way of the planet. Its calico of atoms and molecules and cells and organisms is in a perpetual flutter, existing and vanishing through time.
Some think animals don’t possess souls – as if anyone knew what a soul was. As if anyone knows what anything really is. A few decades ago we thought we knew a rock was solid. Then we learned about bosons and quarks, and were suddenly not quite so sure. Tomorrow we will think we know something different. Next year something else. So much opinion in a world of flapping uncertainty. Such desperation to be right, and to claim to have it sewn up.
Yet knowing is what we don’t. Why we live. Why we die. What the fundamental essence of our reality is, and whether it has a point. For all our hot air: We. Don’t. Know.
So she crossed from life to death, and whatever and whoever she was no longer inhabited that canine body, leaving it inert and cold, a heap of fur-covered matter. Other life reproduced within her corpse, moved in, took over. Bacteria, flies. But they weren’t her. They were something or someone else.
Two years on I’m still baffled. How is it that another species became my best friend and provoked such love and sorrow within me? How is it that I could emotionally connect with an animal at all? Whether you believe there really was a connection, or that I simply projected it, is almost irrelevant. Both my inner and outer realities were transformed more powerfully by an animal stimulus than by a human one. Yet instead of quickly inserting an ‘answer’, I’d rather sit with the question. Because questions are alive. And answers are dead. Nowadays I know the difference.
Today I find myself moving still, climbing into a new reality which in itself is alive and transforming. Roots and rocks and stalks and hands intertwine in a thick bed of mud. I’m simultaneously dying and being born. Each rock I shift evolves me. Each tree I plant is a new world within a world.
Nonetheless something still haunts me.
I often wonder, did my dog know about here? In some non-verbal animalistic way, was my life plan playing out within her, just as hers continues to do within me?
I haven’t mentioned it publicly until now, but by chance or design my land lies at the very place on the road where Rotty the dog first became sick. It is as unsettling as it is true. Back in 2017 we stopped here for three days to visit a vet, before setting off on the final journey to Santiago de Compostela. After she died, I never wanted to return to this place. So I didn’t, for a while. But the mysterious mind of life seemed to harbour another idea.
Thus last year I traveled the length of the Iberian peninsula searching for my new Eden. I could smell it was close. There were so many choices, yet nowhere was ever quite right. Then one day I took a deep breath and drove back to the very same town my dog first began to crumble into dust. Staring into an estate agent window, I saw a rugged plot with three cabanas...As we drove up the mountainside to view it, I think it was the stone walls that drew me, lining the road like a brigade of square-jawed gnomes. But it could equally have been the rippled mantle of the sierra existing and vanishing with the clouds.
On the 21st February 2018 – a year later to the day after my dog died – I put in my first offer for this land. It wasn’t accepted. But somewhere I knew it was still mine because a dog angel was beside me, whispering.
So here I am another year on, guardian of that same piece of land. And I'm remembering still. The humus of new memories heaps upon the old, and from there new shoots emerge. Yet the knots in my heart remain unsolved and unsolvable. I drive 1000 metres into the sky, to the same peaks I visited with my fur companion two years ago, ever hungry for answers. It’s another planet up here, one where certainty never existed, and mystery is all anyone knows. If souls exist anywhere at all, they are here.
As I stare across the skyborne lake and into the whipped white peaks, reality squeaks on its hinges. The silence is so piercing, it shatters every thought. The cellophane of human consciousness is stretched as thin as the air, existing, and vanishing simultaneously. Is it physical matter that arises before me? Or is it my imagination? And where exactly is the frontier that separates the two?
Yet it is in this snow-capped place of unknowing, that I stumble again into what I’m always searching for. The magic. The wonder. The tenuous vitality of it all. Who cares about our clever theories, our beliefs or our hypotheses? The smartest answer in the world will never satisfy our souls. Life is everywhere. And no one understands it. Why or how we all exist. Who we really are. We. Don’t. Know.
Perhaps this is why I love wild nature so much. When I look into her eyes and breathe her spirit, the question and the answer finally merge. And when they do what I’m left holding is not the closed box of a solution, but an unsolvable, inexplicable creation.
If you find meaning or inspiration in this blog, please consider becoming contributing a little on Patreon to help support it. For just $2 a month you have access to my private news feed where I post updates and thoughts I don't wish to share with the world at large, plus a monthly video from my land. I don't like social media, and view my Patreon feed as my way of connecting more personally with like minds.
Many thanks to the gang of Mud Sustainers already funding this website and allowing it to continue.
I was awoken by an ethereal chime. Blinking, I rolled over in the warm nest of my duvet. It was my phone. A few muscles in my torso lurched and yanked themselves to attention, because I knew who it was. The foreign police office.
Hesitating a moment, I let the phone ring one more time while I gathered my wits and my words. It’s bad enough dealing with a bureaucrat when you’re fully conscious, but duelling with administration in a language you’re still rather inept at, when you’ve just woken up? I didn’t rate my chances too highly.
“Hola!” I tried to sound chirpy.
“Esta la señora Bingham?”
And thus el señor Foreign Police Officer began to put me through my paces. “I’m sorry, we can’t accept this insurance policy,” he said. I repeated back to him to make sure I’d understood correctly. “No acceptan?”
“Because there is a limit in this policy for the days in the ‘ospital. And no enough coverage for expenses.”
I was caught between teeth gnashing despair at the fact that I still – after three weeks of slog – hadn’t cleared the insurance hurdle in my residency gauntlet, and glee at the realisation that I had understood everything he’d said. At the very least, these dealings were good Spanish practice.
“So what is an acceptable limit for expenses?” I pushed on, determined to eke some irrefragable information out of the call.
“Hmm, no es concreto.”
“No es concreto? So how did you decide this policy wasn’t okay if there’s no concrete rule?” I sat up in bed and fought the urge to lob my phone at the door.
“Well, it’s a bit low.”
I breathed slowly and deeply, and tried to circle my opponent. “Right, so just for the sake of argument, roughly what figure would you count as not low?”
El señor of the pencil-pushers wasn’t so easily cornered. Politely and carefully, he voiced his conclusive response. “I don’t know.”
Aghhh! I could feel something hot and bitter rising in my guts, so I dug my heels in a little deeper. Hell! At the very least I had to make a dent in the bureaucratic machine, wedge a small spanner in between its mindless whirring cogs, a toothpick even. “Right. But you must have seen insurances before and passed them. So can you tell me a company which offers health insurance that you like?”
There was a pause. El señor seemed to be scratching his head. “To be honest, I haven’t seen this before. Most of the people ‘ave official jobs or are students, so it’s different.”
I crashed back on my pillow and pulled my duvet up to my chin, before admitting defeat. I’d not even achieved the tiniest of chinks in the armour. Not so much as a scratch. When you’re an independent attempting to slip between the soul-shredding wheels of The System, you have to be nothing short of a ninja to find a gap. I hadn’t found it yet. Groaning to the very depths of my being, I hung up.
I’m no greenhorn when it comes to residency applications. This is the fourth I’m obtaining in my life, and it’s always a protracted kind of torture for an immigrant, because desk jockeys the world over live in an alternate universe in which neither reality nor humans matter. It’s a blip in the space-time continuum where the only truth is boxes on forms, ticks, stamps, and signatures.
As I flung the duvet back and huffed my way into the bathroom, I uttered a few expletives. Though I did still have my favourite weapon lurking up my dirt-filled sleeve. Stubbornness. If you can just hang on and keep pushing long enough, sometimes, just sometimes, even The System’s pistons break under the strain.
The following week I trawled every insurance broker in the vicinity, collecting policies. The company whose policy I’d already signed up for agreed to change theirs to limitless days of hospitalisation too, all while shaking their heads and muttering that they’d issued at least three hundred of these to residency seekers and never seen a demand like this before. Soon I was ready. I flexed my fingers, limbered up, and prepared myself for my fourth trip to the big city in two weeks.
Now, government offices in Spain run on interesting timetables. In fact, everything in Spain does. Opening and closing times are arbitrary and idiosyncratic, the windows for action incredibly narrow. I’m surprised they haven’t made an app for it. “Esta ‘app’ierto?” is an opportunity just waiting for a Spanish techie. For building permits, for example, the office in my locality is open between exactly 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. on a Tuesday or Thursday. That’s it. Turn up on Friday, and you’re stuffed until Tuesday. The Foreign Police (an hour’s drive away) grace us with their mostly grumpy presence between 9 a.m. and 12 noon. I’m telling you, hitting these official slots requires dedication of focus.
Twas just over a week ago, and after a sleep-deprived drive through the rush hour traffic of Gijon, I parked up and began the now-familiar hike to the Foreign Police Department. It was freezing, the air caking onto my cheeks in icy wads. Soon enough, I was sitting on the half-broken chairs, clutching my number, along with a cohort of other disenchanted residency seekers: The Syrian sisters who cackled loudly behind me, the pretty Chinese student who glared in silent fury at the inefficiency, the young Nigerian chap who was so agitated he kept walking up to the desk, and then would be ordered to sit and wait a bit more. I’m an old hand at this game, but even so. All the Zen in the world doesn’t detract from the psyche-mauling truth that despite not being a criminal you’re wasting days of your life being treated like one. Days. Weeks. I tried not to think about it as I waited and waited and waited for my number to be called (because the electronic number system was broken and no one knew who was supposed to go when).
Finally my moment arrived. The weary young woman who inevitably supervises the extranjero desk sighed when she saw me, and I took some pleasure in that. Was I wearing her down? I thrust the five policies under her nose, and asked her which would be acceptable. She gathered the papers and disappeared behind a door, presumably to ask el señor of the early morning wake-up call.
Minutes passed. More minutes passed. I closed my eyes and meditated. Finally she returned.
“No. No. No. No.” The policies struck the desk one by one in disappointing thuds. She shook her head gravely, and then raised a couple of hairs in her right eyebrow. “But we could accept the old policy if they add ‘no limit of ‘ospitalization’ on it.”
“What about the expenses being too low though?” I asked.
She shrugged and cocked her head in the direction of the secret inner office. “He said it’s okay, but you must come back with this new policy, and a receipt from your bank to show you’ve paid it.” I nodded. And oh how happy I was, as I danced out of the Police Department for a coffee and a tortilla. Alas! My jubilation didn’t last long.
The next day I drove to my insurance broker (in another town in the wrong direction) to collect my documents. Now, I always try to be generous about people in my writing, but I’m afraid in this case exasperation wins. Hasan the insurance broker was one of the most incompetent lumps I’ve ever had the misfortune to deal with. Truly, I exaggerate not. It would take a good five WhatsApp messages to clarify exactly when he’d would be in his office, and even then I’d turn up and two out of three times he wouldn’t be there.
This time, after climbing the office stairs and pushing the 1980s shiny wooden door open, I was amazed to find the man actually in the office. He briefly flicked his head at me, and began distractedly printing off the new policy details while blabbing on the phone to his friend.
“I need a receipt,” I said, when eventually he hung up.
“You get it from the bank.”
“Yes but it was a week ago and the payment still hasn’t gone through! Can you call the company and find out why?”
“Oh it will happen, don’t worry.” Hasan waved me away.
So I waited another week. As you do. Nada. Not so much as a cent moving from my account. So I inhaled deeply, and made the journey yet again to Hasan’s office (the 7th so far), because if you don’t see people face to face, nothing happens. The rain was driving hard, and by the time I’d walked through the town, my jeans were wet through and my boots were squelching. I entered the wood clad room bedraggled and dripping. Naturally, Hasan wasn’t there. So I took a seat and explained my predicament to his colleague.
“How strange. The payment should have gone through. I wonder if there is a mistake,” the young woman said.
“I’m sure there is a mistake,” I replied, pulling off my coat and wondering if the steam billowing out of my ears was visible yet.
Hasan’s colleague scanned through the policy, soon pulling out the IBAN number of the account that had been charged. The problem was obvious even from my side of the desk.
“I don’t know where he got that number from, but it isn’t mine.”
“Not your IBAN?”
At that moment, useless Hasan entered the office. His colleague waved the paperwork at him and expounded the details of his cock-up. Meanwhile a terrible feeling stole through me, because I thought I knew where Hasan had found that mistaken IBAN number. Flicking hastily through my bank transfer receipts which he was supposed to copy my account details from, I soon found the one I was looking for. I’m afraid, this is the moment I lost it.
There is only so much patience a human possesses. Only so much. Standing up, I pulled my index finger out, feeling six weeks of frustration rising up and pouring out through my eyeballs. “Look Hasan, you’ve copied my landlady’s IBAN number onto that policy instead of mine!” I so wanted to add, “you lazy, deficient half-wit!”, although I think that point was probably conveyed telepathically.
Hasan mumbled and blathered a bit, gaped at the numbers as though they were figures in some arcane sudoku puzzle, and finally said, “yes I see. You’ll have to call her and tell her to return the payment.”
“No Hasan.” I said, still standing. “You have to call her. Right now.”
He shifted and squirmed, before pulling out his phone. I could see the sweat forming around his hairline. His colleague lowered her head, and the room turned rather quiet.
That night I drove back to the coastal town I’m holed up in for winter, still fuming. The moon was full and eclipsed, or so I heard, because the Asturian sky was thickset with clouds rendering the more distant movements in the solar system invisible. As I walked to my door, I huddled to fend off the rain, which was driving even harder than before.
It was just before midnight when I peered out of my window and saw something odd sticking out of the river. It looked like a massive metallic elbow. Opening the latch for a better look, I realised the water level had risen preposterously high, and that the river was roaring. A crowd of people had gathered at the bank too. Something was afoot.
The rain continued to hammer down throughout the night. It was a gnashing snarl of a downpour, the likes of which I’d never witnessed here before. I awoke the next morning to see that the river had burst its banks and flooded the road. In fact, every major river in Asturias overflowed that day. Towns were evacuated. Roads closed. I saw the wayward metallic elbow was in fact the canoe jetty and gang plank which had been completely ripped out, and were swaying upended in the river.
As I gazed at the sheer power present in the cascade of the river, suddenly I felt grounded in a way I hadn’t for weeks. Because there is a higher authority than The System and its desk-bound army. There is a higher authority than the ruling elite, too. As I listened to the drum of the rain, I mulled it all over. I’ve spent six weeks (about three or four days a week), have driven over 1000 kilometres, and spent about 800 euros, trying to legalise my status. And I still don’t possess the idiotic photocard that The System erroneously thinks proves my existence.
Am I coming full circle? Because I’m remembering Mud Mountain, and why I shifted off-grid in the first place. There comes a point when the risk of being non-legal becomes far easier to survive than the pain of the bureaucratic process itself, you see. Once freedom has been tasted, you don’t opt for the chicken coop again, Europe, UK, or otherwise.
The tide has pulled back now. The water level has receded. But as I watch the resident flocks of white egrets happily taking advantage of the freshly wetted meadows, and the migrant storm petrels fishing (without papers) out at sea, I wonder how we humans got ourselves into this enslaved mess. My land is waiting just up the road with her three water sources, her bounteous earth, her wood to burn, her rocks to build with. She cares not a hoot about jurisdiction and cards and obedience. Her only demand is relationship.
Ah poor, old, decrepit System. Don’t cry if we leave you behind. You are unable to evolve, unable to adapt. Your steel claws are becoming blunter, your promises of security lamer by the day. How long before you lose us completely? How long?
If you find inspiration in this blog and The Mud Home site, and would like to express that you want it to continue, please consider making a pledge on Patreon to support it. For just $2 a month you join my private news feed, where I post photos and musings I don't wish to share with the world at large, plus a monthly patron-only video from my land.
Many thanks to the dear Mud Sustainers, and all those already contributing on Patreon. You keep this blog alive.
“We think of ourselves as ‘in’ landscape, but sometimes we forget that landscape is also in us,” Sharon Blackie, The Enchanted Life.
It had been little more than a week. A flying visit to Britain and back, to that old moneyed island so sure of itself, yet in fundamental terms as precarious as anywhere else. With the ageing seams of Westminster pulled taut, the tension was palpable.
For those outside the UK, I am of course referring to Brexit, which when you’re inside the country/ies is a drama of outstanding proportions, the Houses of Parliament now apparently a film co-directed by Quentin Tarantino and David Lynch. Yet, strangely, fascinatingly, as soon as you leave the British coastline, disappears into the Atlantic mist.
Blinking, I stepped out of the tiny Santander airport. The rain was hammering on the tarmac, a million sodden sticks rapping on the drum of the Earth. It was like stepping out of a dream. Or at least someone else’s dream. Because we are all dreaming, aren’t we? The question is what kind of dream?
As I drove along the back of Cantabria and Asturias, the familiar arc of the mountains reached inside me. Everything was recognized. The swerves of the A8 so beautifully irrational, the glimpses of the Cantabrian sea thrashing at the cliffs of my heart. The closer I drew to home, the more intimate the land became. Until each rock and ridge were mine.
My dog died in the folds of this dirt. I found my land within it too. I’ve cried tears of sadness and joy here that have seeped into the Celtic soil. This topography and I now share history. And I marvel at how beautiful this place is. How resilient this capacity for bonding we hold within us. This power that despite the onslaught of propaganda against it, despite all our losses and disappointments, pushes on out through the cracks of our defences like wild flowers breaking apart concrete.
This is life. And it cannot be stopped. It will not be stopped. No matter which devices are contrived to ‘control’ or destroy it, they will fail. Because those devices are based on illusion, the illusion that we are separate. The odd concept that we are somehow not all expressions of this life force, growing from the earth of this incredible planet, breathing the same air.
We forget, we are not simply in the world. The world is in us too. Literally.
Soon enough I’m back on my land, rake in hand, staring out at my new world. As I gaze upon the hills, sunlight from 93 million miles away strikes the mountain flank, and the grass shimmers emerald beneath its touch. Some of that light is reflected off the mountainside, travelling until it hits my eye and enters my cornea. It then passes through the lens onto the retina, which converts the image into an electrical impulse for the brain to create my visual reality with.
A similar type of invasion occurs when I smell the sea. Or breathe. Or heat is transferred via touch. Or sound waves enter my ear. Everything I eat and drink literally becomes a part of me. There is no point in our lives when we are not being transformed by the landscape in which we find ourselves. Separation is a physical impossibility.
People who don’t know me too well often misunderstand my love of independence as isolationism, and my love of solitude as a refusal to connect. People also often wonder how I manage ‘all alone’. This is because somewhere along the line, we have have confused independence with separation. And healthy boundaries with trench warfare. There is no alone. There is no isolation. What there is, is plenty of noise pollution, distraction, intolerant (even violent) opinion, empty babble, and dubious agendas when interracting with humans. So naturally I try to avoid those types of engagement, because they pull me out of the experience that I am a living branch of this miraculous Earth tree pulsing full of star light.
We inhabit a time (perhaps we always have) where words and concepts are bandied about without much analysis of their meaning. Thus somehow in the group mind, independence has come to signify securing the perimeter and installing a few machine gun nests. If people looked inside themselves a little more than they looked outside, they might become clearer. What we really want when we bang on about independence is sovereignty over our own lives.
Meanwhile, back in the hippy love camp, the concept of ‘oneness’ and connection has been equally bastardised. Oh the ‘We are all one,’ shtick. It usually cruises under our noses under the guise of a vapid meme, probably with a sunset attached, where connection equals becoming the human equivalent of a bunny rabbit.
Thus in this vein:
Independence = Building walls, sealing borders and buying artillery.
Oneness/Connection = Being ‘nice’ to everyone, having no boundaries, and letting everyone screw you over.
These two misnomers have been created (or at least exploited and cemented) by left/right liberal/conservative politics. And this is why I won’t throw my energy into that arena. Because no matter which political football team you choose to support, it’s not founded in truth. The game is not founded in truth. What it’s founded in, is the manipulation of words and ideas to create conflict – divide and rule power games where the masses fight about vague concepts they often don’t understand for someone else’s gain. It’s sad. And I can’t believe in a day and age where you can access this much information, so many people are willing to throw their valuable life energy into giving some alien group they’ve never met, and who probably (once they’ve nabbed their vote) wouldn’t even give them the time of day, that much power.
Back in my corner of dreamland, three stone houses cling to a crag. The sun dips under. The air thickens into a silver paste. I walk to my favourite rock. Each rut on her hide is familiar. Each nobble is transmitted onto my retina in pearly light before the image is inverted and recorded somewhere in my mind. When I close my eyes I can still see my rock. She has become embedded in my memories, and thus a part of who I am. I grapple with the idea that this space has even changed my neural pathways.
Do we really understand what affects what in this world? Can we be so sure of how we influence this dream we call reality?
As I hunch down, my body heat enters the stone. Simultaneously her coolness enters me. The wind brushes my cheek, and as I smile the warm air from my lungs mixes with the air of the land. The eye of the moon rises, blinking through the clouds.
The entire planet (and beyond) is both within us and without us. It's communicating with us every second of every day and night. It’s feeding us, energising us, purifying us, inspiring us with its beauty and intelligence, responding to us, and creating with us in every thing we do. When you know this in your bones, when you sense it with every step you walk and draw on its power, then you are truly sovereign over your life. You are free.
If you find inspiration in the Earth Whispering Blog and would like to express that you want it to continue, please consider making a pledge on Patreon to support it. For just $2 a month you join my private news feed, where I post photos and musings I don't wish to share with the world at large, plus a monthly patron-only video.
Many thanks to the dear Mud Sustainers, and all those already contributing on Patreon. You keep this blog alive.
“Yeah, you can eat this laurel,” said the owner of the nursery. He was a sturdy man with a generous smile. Stretching out a hirsute hand, he pulled one of the sapling’s leaves off and stuffed it in his mouth to prove the point. “Should survive up where you are, though you won’t see anything for three years, because...” and here he started babbling about raices while spitting out bits of leaf.
For the umpteenth time I pulled out my phone and typed the new word into the online dictionary. Raices. Roots.
“Once this tree has a decent root system, then it grows pretty fast. But three years. You need to be patient.” The tree seller dropped the potted laurel back on the ground, and the leaves shook on impact.
Standing there in the nursery, I felt the sun warm my spine. In the background, behind the polytunnels of baby trees and the car park, mountains pushed up crisp and clear. Within those colossal peaks my land was waiting.
I snapped my eyes back to the laurels. “OK, I’ll take three of them,” I said. “Plus that holly you showed me. You know, the independent female that didn’t need a male,” I winked at the tree seller. He guffawed. I grinned in return, feeling rather pleased that I could now express a soupçon of wit across the rickety scaffold of my Spanish.
A week later all the baby trees were planted, with fences to protect them from goats and eggshells to protect them from slugs. I sat between them, watching the rocks come alive in the gloaming, their ancient bodies pulsing. Slowly. Patiently.
On the rim of my land, my eye fell upon a full-grown holly bush. My gaze flitted from the baby I had planted, to the adult in the woods, and then to the enormous ash tree behind my stone hut.
If you want to see how to make incredible things happen, just watch nature, because nothing and no one is as powerful at creating worlds as She.
Thus I return to last month’s post. To one way of making things happen. Though in truth we are all unique, each with our own growth rhythm and style. When we sit with the Earth and let her speak to us, if we look for her secret messages within the ridges of rocks or the bifurcating stems of leaves, we are always reminded of our way.
The Process of Making Things Happen
Watch a tree, how it happens, and you will learn everything you need to know about manifesting new realities. All trees – imagine an enormous powerful oak, or the evergreen tower of a red pine – start as lifeless kernels until they are planted, and watered. For quite a while nothing appears to happen. Yet in truth, as soon as the kernel hits the wet dirt, something shifts. And if it continues to shift in a certain direction, the seed germinates. This is a kind of alchemy. I’m fascinated by it, because no one really understands it. It’s the spell of the dirt.
There is the potential. The seed. Lifeless. Doing nothing other than holding the idea of a tree within it. The seed hits the dirt, and something changes.
After germination, everything moves in increments. Step by tiny step. No step on the sapling’s path is superfluous. Each is necessary. It just keeps moving bit by tiny bit in the direction it wants to go. Namely toward the sun.
Whether we still feel it or not, we are born out of the dirt of this planet, just like the trees and the slugs and the grass. Despite what education systems and social conditioning ‘teach’ us, we create new versions of ourselves exactly like our planet does, using the very same dirt alchemy.
The seed is your vision. Your dream. It holds great potential, but...until it is planted in the real world, in the dirt of the planet, in the messy physical plane, it is lifeless. It will never germinate. That magical alchemy will never happen. Nothing will appear.
Planting vision seeds in the real world seems to be what most people struggle with. And I think it’s because we see a seed, and then a full grown tree, and have no idea how to bridge the gap. So we panic. Because we think we have to have the entire process covered from start to finish, because that’s what we’ve learned at college, or in business management courses, or from architect’s plans.
But you cannot have the process covered. And if you do, you’ll be throwing your plan away pretty soon (if you ever stop tinkering with it and start putting it into action). Because as soon as you take the first step and plant the seed, neither you nor the world is the same.
The secret to making things happen is to move in increments. Consistently. Patiently. With one eye on your dream, and the other on where you are now. Without worrying too much about the rest of the journey. This is as true for house building as it is for book writing or land buying. Because life is a cauldron of enchantment which when stirred causes miracles to emerge.
Six Tree Steps to Making it Happen
1. Find your seed.
Your dream is your seed. Make sure it’s the right one. Are you planting a maple tree seed? Or an orchid bulb? Or a hawthorn? Be sure. Know what you want and why, because you will get what you ask for. The most potent seeds are forged within kernels of trust, joy, and inspiration, while seeds born of anger, fear, and low self esteem tend to develop into weak, unsatisfying realities.
Hindrances: Even at this early stage, people can start losing faith. They think they can’t have what they want, so begin reducing the dream seed to fit into some box that they have been made to believe is reality. I notice I’ve done this a lot in my life. Perhaps in truth we only expand the cage bit by bit.
2. Dig the ground.
The way I till the ground is to start brainstorming all the things I’d feasibly have to do to obtain my dream. I write them down on paper: List, mind map, or picture format, it doesn’t matter. The crux is to move that non-physical dream some way into the physical world.
Once I’ve brainstormed every task or action I can think of, I put the steps in some kind of order. Yes, I might be an earth-whispering hippy, but even I have a to-do list. Unfortunately this isn’t the '70s, and to be free in this age of corporate insanity, you need to be organised. Now, I'm not saying I take my plans too seriously, because life enjoys a good chuckle at any planners' expense. Nevertheless, this process transforms my otherwise nebulous unattainable vision, into concrete doable steps.
Hindrances: Here, because we suddenly see a bit of effort is required, the insurmountable obstacles start popping up in people’s minds. So if I find myself thinking I can’t dig the ground and plant a seed because (insert your excuse), I make another list with all my excuses on it. Then I resolutely set it aside (or burn it) and start acting and thinking as though the solutions have magically appeared.
People are often bemused when they ask me, "but what are you going to do about (insert random worry about some detail at the nether end of my to-do list)" and I reply, "No idea. Something will turn up." To their abject annoyance, it always does. Doubt and worry are the mental equivalent of Monsanto Roundup. They are carcinogenic. Don’t apply them to your seed.
Believe it or not, trees also form action plans. They calculate where they think the maximum sunlight will be X years from now, and push out branches accordingly. I'm pretty sure they don't worry too much about number 10 on their to-do list either. For more on tree intelligence and problem-solving capacity, read this article: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/radical-conservation/2015/aug/04/plants-intelligent-sentient-book-brilliant-green-internet
Don’t become obsessed by money.
Notice “raise money” is not number one on the list. That’s because it definitely isn’t the first thing you should be worrying about. Huh? Really?
Money is a tool, not a vision. And take it from me, as soon as you start believing in your vision enough to do something about it, weird and wonderful things happen. Life starts believing in you. Other people start believing in you. Support appears. As long as you’re open to different ways of raising money, and not clinging to some sort of ‘poor me’ scarcity mindset that refuses to let it in, funds will arrive.
3. Plant the seed!
And this is where the majority of folk falter. They just won’t budge out of the stalls. If this is you, ask yourself: Are you really only going to buy seeds for the rest of your life? Really? Is your life just going to be a shelf full of jars that you look at? On your deathbed are you going to be proud that you just dreamed?
You plant your seed by taking the first thing on your new to-do list, and doing it.
You may find yourself looking at that initial step and realising it needs its own to-do list. Very normal. I do that all the time. Just break down step one into mini steps. Increment by increment. That’s how trees to do it. Follow the trees.
This is the first place overwhelm hits. “Oh so many steps! How can will I ever take them all?” Remember: You don’t have to take all the steps. You just have to take one, and once you’ve taken that initial leap, the world is no longer the same. This is such an overlooked and profound truth. The world is no longer the same when you take one action in it because you have now changed it.
When I moved onto Mud Mountain in Turkey, I didn’t know how to bang a nail in. I could never in my wildest dreams have imagined I’d be building my own house within six months or writing a blog about it. How could such a thing be possible? And yet, what do you know? You see, our knowledge of our world and ourselves is horribly limited. Once you’ve stepped onto a different life track, incredible things happen.
4. Water the seed. Consistently.
Some seeds grow into trees. Some give up. If you ask me, it is completely okay to give up if you realise you don’t want to be that tree anymore. Far more worthy to have stretched out of seed mode and then conclude you need to change course, than to remain a dry kernel forever doing a big fat nada.
I’ve given up on plenty of planted seeds. Van life, for example. Pah! It’s definitely not for me. I’m very glad I tried it though, and it brought me to my land, so it was a valuable seed to plant.
Watering the seed means to keep moving through your continually evolving to-do list. Patiently. Consistently. Throw on too much water (or effort), and you drown the poor seedling. Neglect it, and it withers up. It's a balance. The trick is to make sure you’re enjoying each step of the process for what it is, while simultaneously keeping the end vision in mind and pushing gently towards it. One foot in the now, one in the future.
5. Let the plant grow.
Healthy, blooming, mature trees grow organically. Life and the Earth weave their magic into them and they alter their growth pattern in accordance. They adapt to wind, sunlight, food, predators, and the needs of the forest community too. Life is not static. That static ‘thing’ is an idiocy of the human mind.
A Seed Well Planted
Over two years ago I planted a seed. I threw myself from the Mediterranean coast of Turkey on to the Atlantic coast of Europe. There was the usual throng of naysayers braying at my back. “It’s very expensive you know, how will you survive?” “You can’t find land there for that price!” “You don’t have a network! It will be hard without friends.”
Today, I sit in my new Eden. Looking up, I see the horizon has become the canvas of an impressionist, mountain backs dappled violet, green and grey by the brush of the clouds. I am amazed. The seed I planted has now become a sapling. Next year it will grow higher still until one day it’s as grand as this ash tree I’m sitting under.
Curling into my favourite nook in the trunk, I raise my eyes into the arms of the ash. The last leaf has recently fallen. Her branches are bare now, all energy pulling back underground. To the roots. Raices. Where she dreams of new pathways, considers fresh outgrowths, and consolidates her power for the year ahead.
Want to create a new reality?
I’m not sure if this is due to my land’s influence on me or not – it’s a powerful space; abundant, endowed, enabling – but I’ve felt a calling to push out an extra side shoot on creating new realities.
I don’t know exactly what this will entail in terms of content, but over the winter, for anyone who signs up in the box below, I’ll be sending free material and ideas on making change happen, increasing your power to create, and following through on your dreams. So if you’re interested, put your name and email address in the box.
Don't forget to confirm your email address, by clicking on the link in the first email (check your spam folder if you can't see it).
If you enjoy the Earth Whispering Blog and would like to keep it running, please consider making a pledge on Patreon to support it. For just $2 a month you join my private newsfeed, where I post photos of my land developments and musings I don't wish to share with the world at large, plus a monthly patron-only video.
Many thanks to the dear Mud Sustainers, and all those already contributing on Patreon. You keep this blog alive.
You want to escape the system and find your dream space. You’ve read about it. Googled it to death. You’ve drooled so long and hard over those mud homes and natural wildernesses that you’ve run out of saliva. But for some reason the dreaming never seems to shift into reality. You’re still stuck in your hateful job. You still haven’t found your space. Do you really believe you can? Somehow you can’t pull yourself out of that stale old life, and slide into something dazzlingly and awe-inspiringly new. Why not?
“Why don’t people leap?” Is a question I often ask myself. I would. I’m a leaper. And leapers are always in good spirits when they find they’ve landed in the right place. Because you never quite know for sure, do you? It’s a risk.
Now I wouldn’t deny, even by my standards this particular leap turned into a somewhat protracted, nail-biting flight. At times I felt I was grabbing at vines and branches to soften the descent. Air currents buffeted me in places, other times I was battling head winds. Even when could clearly see my landing space, it seemed to take an eternity to reach the ground, my heels skidding through the mud never quite coming to a halt.
This month however, it happened. I landed. And such a gratitude has been welling up in me, because my rugged beauty is wonderful. As I potter in and out of my cabanas, I marvel at how perfect these ancient structures are. How useful. How full of character and potential. Each stone is a mottled and magical being waiting to tell me his story.
When I gaze out from the stout coolness of these huts, I see the mountains folding back on themselves in rocky pleats. Each valley hides another world, and another reality. The wind blows. All about me tree fingers are releasing what they have gripped tightly onto all summer, leaves fluttering to the ground like rusty confetti. Some see autumn as an ending, but for me it is often a beginning. An opening into a cave where I find new ideas and inspiration sprouting from the humus of the old.
No longer am I lost and rootless, camping beneath the dictates of the World At Large. I am yet again queen of my domain. I can do whatever. I. like.
Yes I’m a leaper. Because once you’ve sipped from the chalice of freedom, it’s impossible to put up with the dregs convention throws at you. You will leap and leap, on and on, because you know there is nothing to lose and everything to win. Still as I breathe the clean air and feel the land join my heart, I know there are many others still drooling with hunger, still yearning. And yet for some reason unable to make it happen.
Thus this post becomes an odd mixture of whimsy and ideas. There’s an art to making stuff happen you see. And in the light of a few discussions this week, I will try to share some of what I know.
How to Make Stuff Happen
Since the day I started blogging up on Mud Mountain, there has been a continual trickle of emails and correspondences along the lines of: “I’d love to do that. But...” and then out spin the reasons, like a threadbare roll of carpet underlay. This isn’t a judgement. What I hope to point out in this post is that the reason you aren’t going for your dream is not what you think it is. If you want to cling to a reason, it's your call and absolutely your right, but it's incredibly disempowering.
I know some folk just enjoy the dream, and that’s totally acceptable to me. I have dreams I have no intention of fulfilling. Imagining is fun. Whatsmore, I certainly don’t believe everyone should do what I’m doing. Who knows what’s the most fulfilling course of action for you? And there are many different ways to buck The System and be yourself: You could throw on a backpack and travel the world, buy a campervan, leave your job and volunteer in an elephant sanctuary. The most valuable thing anyone can be doing is living from their heart and soul, and if you’ve been so brutalised by The System that you no longer know what they are or yearn for, then the most valuable thing is to take time out to relocate them.
But if you do deeply and truly want a way out, and feel thwarted, then read on. Because the way out is you.
The Insurmountable Obstacle
Whenever someone longs for something but doesn't go for it, there’s usually an ‘insurmountable obstacle’ lurking somewhere in their mind. This phantom issue then serves as a buffer from a deeper truth. The person may be afraid to take a chance, or perhaps don't believe they deserve any better, or just can’t muster the willpower to really commit to their dream. To leap.
By far the most common “insurmountable obstacle” I hear about is money. Most folk who come to me saying they don’t have enough funds, have more than I do. I’m not proud of that. I’m not against money either, it’s a very useful and empowering tool. I’m definitely not starting some sort of moneyless woman competition. I’m just pointing it out. Your money limitation cannot be the real reason you’re not living off-grid in nature, because this lifestyle is the most inexpensive there is. Most out-of-system lifestyles are cheap to run. It's 'normal' life that's expensive. So you can do this. That's good news.
Let’s get into some real figures here, only to widen ideas about what is really possible: Currently I’m living a beautiful life in Europe on about 600 Euros a month, and a third of that goes on running The Mud Home website. So in fact I could be getting by on 400 Euros (well below the minimum wage). Europe. This is Europe. Not Asia. Not Turkey (because that was the excuse when I lived there, “oh you’re so lucky, you’re in Turkey, you can’t do that in Europe.”) Don’t cling to the figures though and start using them as another thing to contort your mind around. In Turkey I was getting by (admittedly not very comfortably, yet ecstatically happy) on 150 Euros. Perhaps tomorrow I'll start spending more. Perhaps I'll spend less. I'm not attempting to live the cheapest life on the planet or be better than anyone. I'm just trying to show alternative realities exist, and that the point isn't a number on a spreadsheet. The point is the vision in your soul, and breathing life into it.
The truth about money is, no one ever thinks they have enough. So you’ll never reach the stage when you think you do. Why? Because what you actually want is security, and the brutal fact is there isn’t any. Even if you have a million pounds, or Euros or dollars. That’s why these top CEOs are still raping the planet to eke out a bit more profit. Because in their minds, they still don’t have enough.
This all becomes so clear once you step outside the prison walls of The System, but from within it can be hard to imagine life without: a pension scheme (that you continue to pay into, but may or may not receive), health cover (for the myriad ailments you acquire because life in The System is so unhealthy), a regular salary (to spend on a whole bunch of things you don’t need because you are burned out and miserable).
Of course it’s not just money. There are a plethora of other ‘insurmountable obstacles’ in people’s minds. I'm not making light of people's issues here. We all have our struggles and have to overcome them. Sometimes those difficulties change our paths entirely. But the myth that you can't create a new, inspired life for yourself is both untrue, and cruelly self-limiting.
I’ve met folk who’ve left the system and begun new lives with every single limitation imaginable: Children, age, serious health issues, single, not single, woman, man, in every country in the world people hack their way out of the grind and shimmy off grid to create Edens for themselves. Did they manage it by sitting on Facebook all day? Or by saving money ad infinitum? Or by huffing and puffing and assuming everyone else has it easy? Was it a piece of mud cake for any of them? Nope. These people did it by climbing out of the soft padded cells of their minds, and into the wilderness of real life. At some point they took a risk. Our Facebook Group is full of such people. They are all amazing, and all have different limitations. None of them are millionaires. Not even close.
The Bottom Line
For me there’s only one question you absolutely have to sort out in your mind here. Do you want a new life? Really? If the answer is no then I very much respect you for your honesty. Good for you! Now you are clear, you can focus on what you do want, and go for that. Perhaps you already have it! But if the answer is yes, then it’s time to act. Don't dawdle any longer, because nothing in the world is secure. You have little to lose.
Next month I’ll share my own method for how I go about that. How to get from A to B. How to make big things happen in real life, step by step. Because I think perhaps a lot of the time people just don’t know where to start. It's not an exhortation, just some ideas for what they are worth.
In the meantime I’ll be pottering up on my land, a plot which cost me half the price of Mud Mountain in Turkey yet incredibly is five times larger, with running water, a spring to drink from, and three beautiful stone cabanas on it. And all this in expensive old Europe where apparently no one can do anything because of red tape and high prices. I never believed such a thing was possible, because Europe had long been an insurmountable obstacle to me. Until the day it wasn't. You see it isn’t about the numbers. This world is made of magic stardust, and anything can happen.
If you enjoy the Earth Whispering Blog and would like to keep it running, please consider making a pledge on Patreon to support it. For just $2 a month you join my private news feed where I post photos of my land developments, and musings I don't wish to share with the world at large, plus a monthly patron-only video.
Many thanks to the dear Mud Sustainers, and all those already contributing on Patreon. You keep this blog alive.
"I loved reading this book if just for the eloquent depictions of starting a homestead from scratch. You won’t get hippy-dippy tree hugging instead, you will be entertained and mentored on the trials and joys of building a homestead while bonding with and appreciating the nature around you." Thomas on Amazon.com
"The way Atulya writes is captivating. Over the last two years, I had been struggling to concentrate for any length of time in order to read a book. I was so gripped by this book that I actually read it in a day!" J Bilton on Amazon.uk
"Magical, mystical, brilliant as ever," Mrs Ann Kirk on Amazon.uk
"...Inspiring in its all its 'dirty' glory. The challenges faced, the problem-solving using heart AND mind, and the coming home to one's own self - I enjoyed it tremendously and have already recommended it to friends and family!" Recovering Idealist, Amazon.com
"Atulya Bingham is undoubtedly brave, not only because she lived in a tent on a mountain by herself. That's elementary compared to writing and telling about the experience in the way she does--nakedly and honestly." KK on Amazon.com
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.
If you enjoy the Earth Whispering Blog and would like to keep it running, please consider making a pledge on Patreon to support it. For just $2 a month you join my private news feed where I post weekly updates from the soap opera of my off-grid life, plus a monthly video.
Many thanks to the dear Mud Sustainers, and all those already contributing on Patreon. You keep this blog alive.
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.
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 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)
Atulya K Bingham
"Reality meets fantasy, myth, dirt and poetry. I'm hooked!" Jodie Harburt, Multitude of Ones.