It all began with a drumming of rain on my skylight, a skylight I’m rather proud of because I made it all by myself to watch the stars and moon out of. My bedroom may be a two-by-two hutch, but it’s amazing what you can do with four square metres if you try. When darkness steals the horizon, and the great undulate vale I belong to vanishes into the pitchy mouth of night, my stone hut begins to pulse. It beats like a rocky heart. What used to be an abandoned, poop-filled chicken coop is now a warm, vibrant world with earth-plastered walls, wooden floor, clay paint and mirrors.
My hut is not entirely finished though. Why? Because back in October, the more sensible half of me bossed the dreamer into line (when you go it alone, these internal wrangles become a way of life). And, it is true I can get rather distracted by whimsical aesthetic details like mud trees. With winter approaching, the bathroom looked more of a priority.
“You’re not allowed to do any more useless pretty things until that bathroom is finished!” My inner disciplinarian tongue-lashed me, so sure she knew what she was talking about. So there are still mosaics, shelves, a window, and a chair to make. Looking back on it, I could have done with that window. I could have done with that chair.
Yes...I said it all began with a drumming of rain on my skylight. Too bad it didn’t end there. Because November decided to throw convention to the wind and become mid-January instead. Day after day the clouds ganged up. They swelled into battalions of sodden desolation, upon which they hurled their cold wet misery at the earth. The temperature plunged into single figures, and low ones at that.
For days on end I peered out of my stone hut aghast. My kitchen now lay in a bog at the end of a slippery ridge, and reaching it was an expedition involving wellies, raincoat, hat, and umbrella. I could see my breath every time I cooked a meal. My toes were forever frozen. And I still didn’t have a bathroom, nor could I make an inch of progress on it.
Eventually conditions became so hideous, I threw a few clothes in a bag and made a run for my car. I drove to Sophie and Hakan’s place in Cantabria, enjoyed good food, good conversation, and my first hot shower in weeks, in a bathroom fit for a mud queen.
Soon I was on the road back though, because my land was calling. I also wanted to finish that wretched bathroom. Arriving back in the dead of night, I trudged up my hill, amazed to note that the rain had paused. The clouds were parted like smoky stage curtains, and through them the silky eye of a full moon gazed upon my world. The stillness was palpable. My land seemed to be holding her breath. If ever I had doubted her magic, those strokes of moonlight rekindled it.
Reaching the rocky brow of my world, I pushed open the ancient door to my stone hut. Then I pulled off my boots. I was home.
My stove came to life. Flames danced and chattered in that primal language that only our bodies understand. Sitting on my bed, I gazed up at the skylight. Indeed it was now truly a light of the sky, the glass rectangle frosted by the milk of the moon. But within hours that skylight was rattling again, as the rain thundered on it once more. It turned colder. It turned wetter. It hailed. And then it peaked with an onslaught of slushy sleet.
Finally it dawned on me. The bathroom wasn’t going to happen right now, was it? So I might as well turn my attention to the inside of my hut. Grabbing some of the mud plaster that was supposed to become wattle-and-daub, I found a large mirror and plastered it onto the wall. Then I banged the window frame into shape. I nailed in the shelf supports, and sawed the driftwood for the chair legs. The Disciplinarian was awfully quiet throughout.
I’ve had four square metres to live in. From six at night until nine in the morning, it has been my world. And when it hasn’t, I’ve been miserable and cold. Yet how grateful I am to that little hut. How happy I am that I insulated it to the hilt. How glad I am that it’s beautiful and cute and warm. This hut has sheltered me through the icy wet caprice of the worst November I’ve known.
I’m still a bathroom short of course, and the irony hasn’t been lost on my inner Dreamer, who has been throwing frequent smirks at her disciplinarian antagonist. Somewhere, for some reason, the land decided to push me inwards, and in retrospect, that was long overdue. Foregoing the inner for the outer is the biggest mistake the modern world has made. It is still making it, obsessed as it is with action and busyness, instead of introspection and meditation.
We all sit in the stone huts of ourselves, and from there we gaze through the skylights of our senses onto our worlds. We are still so sure it is something out there that will cure us of our ills. A friend. A lover. A political ideal. Money. Privilege. Status. Or even perhaps just a bathroom. And so off we go trying to right the exterior wrongs, throwing our entire weight and effort into moving mountains outside of us, many of which aren’t even ours to move.
But in truth, without inner warmth, beauty, and inspiration, the outer will continue to disappoint, and we will lose the drive to change it anyway.
So, when we close the door, light the fire, and spend some decent time inside the cabaña of our minds and hearts, what do we find there? Is it warm inside, or chilly and mean? Every soul shelter needs maintenance, care and love. Some have structural issues; many were abandoned, undervalued, or misused in the past. But to say that any of these things is a fait accompli is to thwart the magical and healing power of life. Psyches may be damaged. Souls never can be. The question is, are we prepared to put in the effort to do the renovation?
But what is renovation exactly? It's love. It's the realm of the Dreamer, not the Disciplinarian. And it only happens to spaces we care about enough to nurture and enhance. If we never want to stop and spend time inside ourselves, it says a lot about our self value.
And so today, bathroom or not, I will finally fix my window. I may, if I have time, put up the bookshelf too. Who knows, perhaps even the sculpture on the mirror will happen. Because it looks like it could be a long, dark winter out there. In here? Ah well, that’s another story.
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“You can’t get those roof joists in alone. I mean how will you line them up properly?” Farmer Quilo was studying the vacant space in front of my ‘bedroom’ hut, where I was planning to put my bathroom. His cows were chewing nonchalantly below us in my field, oblivious to the plans of builders and mud witches. They had verdure to process after all, and it’s a full-time bovine occupation.
“I think I can,” I replied with none of my old cantankerous I’ll-show-you, because Quilo isn’t a macho moron, and is capable enough that he doesn’t need to put me down to make himself feel better. He wasn’t doubting me because of my gender or my size. He honestly couldn’t see how the job could be done single-handed.
“But how will you hold the joists and bang them straight? I mean they all have to be lined up. And the ones poking out of your hut are all crooked.”
“Aha...Estoy preparada,” I answered with glee. Bending down, I picked up one of the small joists and showed him where I’d bored three holes. “Now it’s easy to bang the nail in one-handed,” I said. “I’ll bang the middle nail in first, then I can move the joist up and down and adjust it. I’ll do that with all three joists, lay a beam on top of all three, line them up, then whack the other nails in.”
Farmer Quilo’s features expanded like the face of the moon, one of those big rosy pumpkins that rise just before sunset, (because he likes a splash of vino tinto, does our Quilo). I think he’s an Asturian fusion of Celal and Dudu, with his dogs and cats and cows and beans. Yes I am lucky he’s my neighbour. But hey, I conversed plenty with the Earth before I found this spot, remember?
“Whoa!” Quilo eyed the planks and then me. “I suppose necessity is the mother of all creation,” he said – or something along those lines. Then he stepped along the path, flicking his garden gnome face briefly back. “Well, as I said, if you need help, just ring me.”
“I will, I promise,” I said. This time I meant it. I’m tired. It’s cold. I need a frigging bathroom.
The next day, for what it was worth, I looked at the weather forecast. It wasn’t inspiring. Rain was coming in shedloads, it said, not to mention the cold. I stared at the empty space where my bathroom should have been. I thought about extending that roof and those awful curvy tiles. Then I trotted down to talk to the ash tree.
“See it finished. Feel it finished. It is done,” Ash Tree said. Which is basically what he always says. And I sighed. Thus, with the sunlight dancing over his remaining leaves, I meditated and envisioned the roof extension finished. I felt the relief of it. I saw the beauty of it. After that, I climbed back up to my stone huts and banged in those three joists. They went in fast. They lined up properly. Then the pitter patter of precipitation filled my world.
Two days later my land was a cold boggy mess. It was so dreary that world politics almost glimmered in comparison. Even the cows looked disgusted, and stared at me in grumpy expectation, as if I had some control over the elements. Only the bull remained stalwart, but he is a remarkably easy-going chap. I decided to call Farmer Quilo the next day, and take a chance on the weather.
It was unbelievable really. In a week of solid rain, rising rivers, and floods, we had a single dry afternoon, and it happened to be the one that Quilo turned up on. He arrived at midday with a bag-full of tools and a stepladder, puffing a little as he pushed up the hill. But my ruddy-cheeked neighbour set to work like no tradesman I’ve ever hired. That roof was banged together, complete with tejas curvas by five pm. Totalmente. All right, I helped a bit here and there flitting about as materials delivery, but honestly? I can’t take credit for that porch. Lord knows how long I’d have messed about with it. As I threw the last few tiles up to Farmer Quilo, a stubborn-looking drizzle set up camp on my land. It turned to rain, and then to downpour.
Over the coming days, the ground transformed from solid to liquid, the air from warm feather to cold slate. Rain gathered in sodden flocks and stampeded down the slopes until it was no longer clear where the sky ended and the earth began.
It’s at such times that a builder must stop and assess. Traditionally December would be the time for such a stock-take, but Gaia has decided to suspend action early. So it is now, with a roof over my head (albeit small) and a stove chugging in the corner (albeit still with wood to cut), that I have momentarily paused for breath. And it is for a moment only, because I’m still a bathroom short, not to mention hot water. Oh hot water, what I wouldn’t do!
Did I bite off more than I can chew?
Quilo’s porch has highlighted something. It’s the first thing this year that I haven’t built by myself (notwithstanding a little help with the tejas curvas from my friends in July). As I sit in my nobbled kitchen, coffee steam wafting out of the cup, the landscape of the recent past spreads before me. With its peaks and ridges, its declivities and chasms, 2019 has been an odyssey into exertion the likes of which I’ve never known. Bitten off more than I can chew? Hey, I’ve had more on my plate than a shoestring backpacker who suddenly finds himself at an all-inclusive buffet.
Roofs have been taken off and put back on, there were battles with tiles, water pipes to connect, skylights to make and install, walls to plaster, floors to lay, holes to bash, plaster to throw, cretes to mix and apply, insulation to insert, beds to build, tables, kitchen cabinets, everything including the kitchen sink. The only two power tools I possess are a jigsaw and a drill. I have almost no electricity. Everything you see was hand-sawed, hand-mixed, hand-hammered. By me. One woman lone builder. Not to mention The Mud Home website to run, articles to write, and emails to answer, all without a proper power system installed, which means I’m starting my car to charge my laptop at times, or I have to run to the nearest cafe. Somehow (I actually have no idea how) I put together a digital lime course over the summer, too. I don’t think I’ve ever worked so hard.
Sooo with this dramatic vista of endeavour at my back, should some slack-jawed fool dare to mumble that I’m so lucky, or they wish they could have what I have because blah de flipping moan whine blah, I fear they may find themselves swiftly buried under six feet of my hand-mixed limecrete.
Yet here’s the strangest part of all this. You see, I’ve loved every minute of my stone hut endurance caper, even washing in the freezing cow trough when it was ten degrees outside. You couldn’t drag me back to civilisation if you tried (well alright, perhaps for a hot shower now and again). Am I mad? A masochist? Or is this the sheer delight of stretching into wild new realities I had no idea I could reach. I’m astounded at how my body, psyche, and energy have adapted to birth these creations. I wonder where my limits are. Where our limits are. I understand now what I am. I’m a creator of worlds. It’s in my blood and my soul. I thrive on it.
Which brings me back. Lone builder I am, and I love it. But that is because, as I’m always saying, I’m not alone. This doesn’t mean I don’t occasionally feel alone. But whenever I do, I sit with the sensation and check exactly what that feeling is. What I discover when I look inside, is that loneliness has nothing to do with people, or being solitary. It’s about being disconnected. Disconnected from myself, my environment, the voices whispering all about me, the trees and birds, this incredible planet, the force of life in and beyond us all, and the beauty and wonder it opens for us.
It’s why I love to live by myself. It’s why I don’t envy couples or nuclear families. Because they are so often lonely, conflict-ridden old shacks. For me at least, enmeshed human relationships drag me away from the very place where I feel supported and connected. They pull me away from the unconditional tenderness and wonder and magic that I find in silence and nature.
Each morning in my spinster builder life, I walk along my ridge, and the sky tells me a different story. Through the sunrise and the dew, I sense Gaia’s power reaching into my muscle tissue. I hear the trees whisper in my mind, and feel the hands of the planet on my shoulders. I’m certainly not invincible, but I am part of something that is. When I become aware, minute to minute, that I’m not enclosed in a sack of skin, but emanating far beyond it, I finally understand I’m part of a living, breathing masterpiece that actually paints itself.
So thank you dear Earth for leading me here to this enchanting place with its bounteous wildlife and benevolent neighbours. Where will you lead me next, I wonder? And what will I create with you when I get there? Who knows? Who knows?
A massive hug and thank you to the crowd of people who’ve joined us on Patreon recently, as well as those loyal supporters who’ve been with us for so much longer. Thank you so much for chipping in to get me some decent batteries and a tougher inverter so that I can keep these posts coming. It would be impossible for me to maintain The Mud Home without your contributions.
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If you want to see more photos, watch my land report videos, and get the inside story on this one-woman off-grid build, consider contributing as much as you like to support The Mud Home on Patreon.
“Gawd! I don’t know how to do this.”
I was staring at my stone wall feeling out of my depth. Not that I’m unfamiliar with this sensation. This past year I’ve been scaling learning curves sharp enough to qualify for a place in the Karakoram. The task in hand wasn’t by any means my steepest ascent either. All I had to do was bash a hole in my cute old cabaña wall for a stove pipe. It was altogether more base camp than K2.
A crick began to pinch my neck from peering upwards. Which rock? Which one should I try to pull out? I just didn’t know where to start.
Now, I wasn’t completely without knowledge. My off-grid neighbour, who had bashed a hole or two out of his own cabaña , had already set me up with some beginners’ tips: “Look, if there’s a longish rock at the top, then you know you can pull out the stones below it and the wall will still be supported.” This was good advice, except there wasn’t longish rock where I needed my stove pipe hole.
Placing my hand on the wall, I touched one rock after another, paralysed by indecision. Images of the entire thing collapsing sashayed about my mind. I saw a heap of rubble where my wall had been, and shuddered. Autumn is here. I have no time for mess-ups right now.
Closing my eyes, I pleaded for a little help. The limestone nobbles and ruts were cool. They were ancient, too. I knew from Farmer Quilo that these huts were well over a hundred years old. Even to move a few of the stones seemed a little sacrilegious.
Perhaps the sun dipped behind a cloud at that point because the room darkened, and the shadows started eating into the corners. Then I sensed it. The past. It was still sitting in the stones and the dust, buried but not dead. I felt a connection forged between now and then, like a line of presence stretching directly back to when these cabañas were first built. The area between my shoulder blades prickled. Suddenly I just knew I wasn’t alone.
You want the rock above the shelf.
I started. The hut was talking. My scalp crawled a little as I considered the idea that perhaps this old cabana, the place I’d chosen to be my bedroom, was haunted. Yet when I felt into it, I realised the voice wasn’t creepy. It was much like when I talk to my ash tree. The words were in my head, but with a tone of their own. The cabaña was friendly, perhaps glad that there was someone finally around.
Studying the rock above the shelf, I decided to reply. “But won’t the rock shelf fall down if I take that stone?” Because I’d looked at that stone before, and considered it risky.
No no no. The rock shelf is being held by plenty of others. That’s the one. Just dig out the mortar around it. Keep digging. Dig dig dig dig dig.
Ever since I arrived on this land, I’ve been chatting with it and its inhabitants. With the trees, birds, lizards and the Lion Rock. Whenever I’m daunted (which is fairly often), I stop and ask one of the great trees of the land to tell me the next step. I hear that guidance in my head as clear as a bell. Its rightness rings in my body, not my mind. It will be unbelievable to many, but the advice is always bang on. Thus I’m pulled out of the swamp of confusion with its bog pools of pros and cons, and its soggy sedge of what-ifs, onto a dry path of stepping stones. Sometimes I can’t see how stepping stone one is going to get me to stepping stone ten. But inevitably it does.
Yes, I’ve been hearing the tree voices. And the rock voices. But this was the first time the cabaña had spoken (or perhaps the first time I’d heard).
Brandishing my trusty if unfortunate screwdriver – a tool destined never once to do the job it was designed for – I began gouging out the old lime and mud mortar. It was arduous work, like tunnelling your way out of prison with a teaspoon. I became impatient, tried yanking the rock, tried working on another. At one point it seemed the stone was wedged in by a much bigger one on top of it. I began to think (as I so often do) that the voice I’d heard was mistaken.
Dig dig dig dig dig! You just need to keep digging. It will take a while. I put them in good and tight. But once that mortar is out, they’ll start wobbling.
There was no doubt about it, whoever the voice belonged to was very sure they were right.
“Okay, I’ll do as you say. And we’ll see,” I muttered.
Ten minutes later the stone shifted. Before I knew it, it was out. And Mr. Voice-in-the-wall had been correct, because the rock shelf it sat on was still firm, and the wall itself still very much intact.
Still, there remained a good half-metre of stone rampart left behind the new hole, and each rock was locked into each other like some giant, inhabitable game of Jenga. I wondered yet again if I’d manage this without the whole lot caving in. Gingerly sticking my hand in the new gap, I began pulling out more rocks. And more...
Eventually after scratching and scraping at the mortar for what seemed like an age, a spot of daylight appeared. Wahey! I’d made it! So I pushed a piece of string through the chink and ran round into the woods to the outside of the wall. I wanted to see where to start next. But when I reached the rear of the cabaña , I groaned. The string was visible alright, only it was stuck between two massive slabs, neither of which looked too keen on budging.
You can take the big one if you want. But why not take the smaller one, which is diagonal. Mr. Voice-in-the-wall was back, and once again devoid of self-doubt.
“Isn’t that going to be too high up?” I said. Then I remembered I wanted the flue tilting up slightly to help the smoke out. Hmm. It was worth a go.
Once I’d removed it, and picked out the surrounding stones, I ran back inside to see if there was any way my stove pipe would pass through the gap. It was unlikely. There were rocks in all sorts of annoying and obstructing places, and removing any one of them would bring down plenty of others. Pff.
Inside I squinted, waiting for my pupils to dilate. Then I peered into the aperture, and pulled out any remaining bits of rubble. After I’d cleared as much as I could, I stared dubiously at the remaining cavity. If the pipe actually fit in there it would be a miracle, but hey, you can’t know unless you try, can you? So I picked up the metal flue and pushed it gently in. What do you know? Perfect fit.
I could almost feel the cabaña grinning. Or was it the cabaña builder? What was it? Who was it? What are these voices, and how do they know all these things?
There was a time when I thought the trees talked and that I was communicating with their spirits. Then there was a time I thought it was me projecting some wiser, more intuitive part of myself onto the tree. Then I learned that trees emit special biochemical compounds, and I wondered if they affected our brains like magic mushrooms. Then I thought perhaps it was the tree’s beauty that was inspiring some sort of innate intelligence inside me. To this day I do not know what speaks. But now apparently the rocks and cabanas talk, too. They have old, old stories to tell and wisdom to impart.
Just like mine, humanity’s learning curve is currently pretty sharp, too. The world is changing so fast; if you blink you’ve missed whole social trends. In the face of such an incline, it’s hard not to fall into self-doubt or to sink paralysed into a mire of confusion. Our minds are continually polluted by melodrama and horror stories, after all. Yet for me, unless we really pause and hear the true voices emanating from the very dirt we walk on and in, it’s going to be tricky to take the appropriate steps towards anything at all. Action without deep, Earth-based wisdom is simply noise and haste rather than creation.
To create the life, home, or world we want, there are two fundamental things we need to cultivate: an inspired vision, and a physical road toward it. Because when our will and imagination touch the stones and the dirt, a unique path is drawn. This is the creative magic of Gaia that no one understands. Our vision paths are like arteries or tree roots stretching and branching and feeding our souls. They pulse with the fire of life, and that pulse has a voice that is forever by our side. Can you hear it? Can you feel it?
You are not lost; you are walking on the stepping stones of your life. All you have to do is be sure where you want to end up, and then listen...Listen to life and the loam, and hear what your next step is.
If you’re interested in the voices of the land, take a look at my Earth Whispering website which I’m in the process of building up to become a resource for all things Earth-intuitive.
Many thanks to the crowd of people chipping in to keep these posts coming. It would be impossible for me to maintain The Mud Home without your support. It currently funds 10GB of off-grid internet, the now vital online help from Melissa, the web hosting and platform, the mighty email list provider and small portion of my time.
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“How do you resist the temptations of capitalism? Get a haircut? Clothes pegs? Pensions and health insurance?” It was a question from one of our Patreon members.
The answer is I don’t. The fact that you are reading these words posted onto a website that I pay a number of corporations for, is proof of that. It was a good question, though. A good question provokes thought. It searches beyond the appearance of things and wonders about the underlying structure of it. It provokes a blog post from me:)
Me and Money
Money and I have shared a long, bumpy road together, and at times we’ve not been the happiest of travel partners. Once upon a time back in the noughties in Antalya, Turkey, I was earning a packet and spending more than a packet. Often on nonsense. Next (it shouldn’t be too hard to see why) I bankrupted myself, found myself in debt and out of energy. Thus began the Mud Mountain adventure, where I huddled fairly close to the poverty line and simultaneously felt ecstatically happy. For almost five years I lived from hand to mouth, threw hardly anything away, had no car, no health insurance, no pension. It was the most beautiful, fulfilling, magical time of my life. And it made me understand that there is something far more powerful and profound within us than we realise.
So... for a time there, I was of the opinion that money was the root of all evil. That if we obliterated the green scourge, and toppled the capitalist edifice that housed it, everyone would wake up to the beauty of their soul, and all our problems would vanish in a pink puff of idealistic smoke. Hmm.
The wonderful thing about being human is that we are not ossified ideologies. We are living, breathing, evolving organisms. Since 2011 when I first moved onto Mud Mountain in a tent, the world has become a completely different place. You and I are completely different people, too. It’s only eight years, but everything has changed. So if our ideas haven’t transformed alongside, we need to worry, because it means they are becoming dogmas.
What do I think about capitalism?
People yabber about capitalism a lot, and usually feel rather clever when they do. But when we talk about capitalism, what do we mean? Are we talking about the industrial profit-based economic structure that followed feudalism (which wasn’t too great either) as discussed by Marx back in 1867? Are we talking about globalisation and multinational companies? Are we referring to the monetary system and the banks? Do we mean the market economy*? Do we view buying a home-grown organic tomato from our neighbour as indulging in capitalism in the same way as buying a handbag from Prada, or a Bugatti?
There are two reasons I am today very ambivalent about the capitalist/anti-capitalist debate. First, most of it is based on the ideologies of a very small number of political and economic thinkers from one particular culture. All were alive a century or more ago (Marx, Engels, Keynes, etc), all were middle class, and frankly it shows. When these chaps were penning their theses, the world was an entirely different entity. There was basically no environmental issue at all other than on a very local level. When the presiding economic theories were born, no one was seriously considering the idea that we could run out of resources. Women had no voice. Indigenous folk and their lifestyles were considered by most ‘intellectuals’ as primitive. There was no internet. No microchips. No plane travel. Dead? My God, these ideologies are fossilised by now, and I can’t quite believe we still buy into them.
There is an idea that if we get rid of capitalism, all our environmental worries will be over. I’m sceptical about that, not least because socialist and communist countries in the past have caused as much environmental degradation as capitalist ones. The eco-crimes the Soviet Union committed in areas like Kazakhstan (check out what used to be the Aral Sea, or the nuclear bomb tests in Semipalatinsk) are pretty hard to stomach. Clearly the common denominator for environmental care isn’t, as a good tranche of environmentalists claim, simply market forces. It’s above all about consciousness and Self+Earth awareness.
For me, right now, the level of the general enviro-economic debate is exasperating. Come on! We need something new, not half-new. Not 1968. New.
The Root of the Issue
I’ve stayed in many alternative communities in my life, some places where no one even used money, and have learned to my chagrin that you could stick humans in paradise, make every single one a millionaire, give them whatever they wanted, and they’d still moan, backstab, cheat and fight. Take away money. Take away capitalism. I guarantee, humans will still be the same disputatious and miserable bunch of egos they were before. Sorry to say.
Why is that? Why? Why can’t we be content and work together? Because, as I learned when I moved onto Mud Mountain back in 2011 and my old mindset was peeled away by the dirt-streaked fingers of nature, the problem isn’t out there.
Anyone who is at one with themselves, who is grounded in their soul and has awakened to the sheer joy of who they really are and belong to, no longer needs much at all. They don’t care if people like them or hate them, they don’t see hierarchies, they don’t need to squash or manipulate people to get what they want, they don’t need people to admire their house or their car. They are complete and powerful. Not this lamentable baboon-beats-chest and points an assault weapon in yer face kind of ‘powerful’ (which is not power at all but a sorry state of inadequacy), but the kind of powerful that makes miracles and inspirational wonders arise apparently out of nowhere.
Until we are all complete and fulfilled, until we find our true sense of belonging and self-worth, we’ll keep on stealing, fighting, manipulating, objectifying, competing, wasting resources, destroying ecosystems, and feeling scared, or belittled, or inadequate. We’ll also be unable to come up with a better way of organising our socio-political or economic structures. Because we’ll always be coming from a place of utter disempowerment, rather than maturity and wholeness.
All of today’s structures are reflections of ourselves, and our psyches. The current expression of capitalism is no different. It feeds on and blooms out of a starved, immature soul. So personally, I’m not too convinced by the cobweb-draped socialist/capitalist thing.
That doesn’t mean the structures in and of themselves aren’t damaging, though...
The Structural Impact
It is true, the current economic model of psychotic growth actively strives to suppress any kind of psychological health, democracy, inner depth or environmental care. Commercial marketing aims to create infinite amounts of fear, desire or pain just to sell a product. That’s why I created a Patreon page. I’m fascinated by alternative economic models and income bridges, and thus experiment with a platform model that sustains what I do without pandering to “the market.” I love that it allows me to write all manner of posts, be genuinely helpful, and not consider profit. I also love the community it has generated. But let’s get clear, despite the hours I plough in and its popularity, I am not sustained by crowdfunding alone (and I live very cheaply).
The truth is, we are so entrenched in the commercial mindset, we only respond to its clamour. If we can get away with paying nothing, often that’s what we do. We may talk the talk and bemoan The System, but when push comes to shove, where do we throw our cash? Which is why I’m currently operating a two-thirds non-commercial, one-third commercial venture, where I create a massive amount of free material for everyone funded by Patrons, but have a small number of high quality ‘products’ which I live off. Because right now that’s what people are willing to feed me for. And (in answer to the question above) I still don’t have a pension scheme, though I do now have health insurance, thanks to Spanish residency requirements.
Now, I could I suppose could dig my heels in, shut down The Mud Home entirely, go back to my mountain and live virtually money-free. After two years on the road, I can see the lifestyle with the smallest environmental footprint is beyond all doubt, the tiny off-grid homesteading one. Nothing else comes close. It is extremely difficult to live sustainably or regeneratively any other way. It’s also absurdly inexpensive.
But from my own personal experience, I don’t think moneylessness is the way. My next book Filthy Rich will chart that adventure, and where it ultimately leads.
In short, what I see has happened is this: Pretty much everyone working in any ethical domain perceives money as bad. They think they shouldn’t have any. And the trouble with this philosophy is that if we say only unethical monsters have money (and money is a very useful tool for getting shit done, for raising awareness, for planting forests, investing in alternative energy research, and protecting wildlife), we are creating a self-fulfilling nightmare where ecocidal psychos hold the wealth, and all other people are at their beck and call. It means they have control of the media, the resources, the tech, and the political system. It severely limits our ability to make an impact.
So I no longer subscribe to the moneyless reality. Neither should you if you are involved in meaningful ethical work for this planet. Yes, there are fairer exchange systems that don’t involve banks, but they are not functioning yet, so money is what we have. It’s a tool. That’s it.
Personally, I’d like the psychos who steal our freedom, burn our forests, and use war to fill their pockets, to be poor and disempowered! I’d prefer light-filled, Earth-protecting humans to own the wealth. This is why I’m quite happy to pay my local eco-vendor for vegetables until I set my own garden up. I want to empower that person. It’s why I don’t mind paying my local hairdresser every six months. The poor woman has a child to feed. How else is she supposed to live? It's also why I love that I'm off-grid and don't give a single cent to an energy company. I want to starve them.
Money in and of itself isn't the issue. It's what we as a species value and aspire to is that needs to change. We also need to clarify collectively that some things are too sacred to enter that exchange system (love, human bodies, rivers, forests, other living creatures). We need to think way bigger than we currently are. We need to consider things like how to base an economy on creation and regeneration rather than destruction and abuse, and whether in fact energy and transport has to exploit natural resources at all. We've put humans in space, we've connected the entire world with a wireless communications web. If you tell me we can't create a regenerative economy, I'm not going to buy it.
Stepping Up into a New World
Humanity is facing all manner of issues right now. But whether I look left or right, the discussion is so limited in its outlook, it’s like listening to endless radio static. To solve the questions in front of us, it’s not adequate to hark back to Marx, or some other fossilised old twit. It’s no good leaping on the neo-liberal greed and gravy train either. Because the problem has long, crusty old roots that delve far deeper into our psyches than modern economic theories.
The real problem is that Humanity has an abundance issue. All of us; from the richest to the poorest, live in a mindset of lack. We have no faith that the planet can support us. We have no trust that without X amount in the bank we will survive (despite literally millions of examples of people surviving without a dime, and millions of others still dying despite a stack in the bank). Whether we are greedily accumulating in an attempt to ward off some imagined destitution, or hating the rich while secretly coveting their wealth and always wishing we had more, the emotional seed is the same. It’s an old, old survival program, and we need to move beyond it. Because it’s not planted in truth.
How is Life Really Sustained?
When I step away from the internet prattle and really spend time watching the improbable array of life bursting and crawling and flying and twittering and digging and spinning webs in my terrain, I soon feel I’m in some kind of alternate wonderland. In the magical world of Gaia, things manifest in the strangest of ways. Enormous trees grow from things that look like motes of dust. Infinite pools of consciousness co-exist with finite fleshy bodies. Tiny, fragile seedlings that I could break with my index finger somehow crack through tarmac.
On this incredible planet, the craziest, most dreamlike of creatures survive and thrive, and God only knows how. Humming birds, elephants, platypus, glass frogs, birds of paradise, sun fish, spider crabs, octopodes, hippopotamus, giraffes. If we pause and really observe them, the very fact these beings even exist ought to bend open the bars in our brain prisons at least a little.
Even something, say, as common as a butterfly is mind-blowing. How? How did it turn from a maggot into this colourful, symmetrically-patterned wonder? How could it possibly ingest its entire body and transform into an entirely different creature? Yes, we can call it metamorphosis and think we understand, but we don’t. It’s insane. I tell you, if I went up to the vast majority of economic and socio-political commentators and said, “Look Pete, I’ve come up with an idea for a living entity that starts life as a worm, and then weaves an awesome silken bodysuit around itself, hangs upside down for a month, eats its own body and uses it to build a flying machine, and the wings will be about 100 times bigger than the worm was, and covered in shimmering rainbow dust, and the pattern will be perfectly symmetrical and beautiful,” I guarantee you Pete would give me one of those looks, and send me straight to the Flat Earth end of the internet.
This is what we don’t seem to quite have mastered yet. Life on Earth isn’t a 2 + 2 = 4 kind of a place. It’s something far more interesting. Something far more creative and imaginative. And so are we. We can do so much better than tired old polarities and poverty mindsets. We really can. We’re butterflies wriggling around in a mesh of our own making, eating ourselves alive right now. That cocoon has become too tight. It hurts. It burns. But who knows what we’ll be tomorrow? Who knows what we’ll have created?
For an argument on how the market economy is not capitalism, see Dave Darby’s super post in Low Impact.
Other interesting ideas regarding alternative economies include:
Sacred Economics by Charles Eisenstein
Donut Economics by Kate Raworth
Being a contrary sort of a person, I'll never follow one 'Testament', or one solution. For me these are all creative ideas to build upon, expand or digest into something new. Evolution is a path, not an ideology. And one of the main limitations of economic models (that I've seen) is no proper discussion of the crucial difference between physical/material resources (which are finite, therefore risk becoming unsustainable) and non-material services/energy/gifts/ideas (which are potentially infinite). The line between the two is often unclear of course, but I think it is a better understanding of this difference that holds the key to creating a sustainable or regenerative economy.
Do you value these posts? Do you enjoy The Mud Home’s free content? Please consider contributing to the running costs on Patreon and being part of an alternative economic experiment. All patrons have access to a monthly patron-only video where I share my latest, very inexpensive, creations from my land. And the stories that go with them.
Many thanks to The Mud Sustainers and everyone who has had faith in The Mud Home and is supporting these posts on Patreon.
It’s been a slog. S L O G. With each letter in that word turning into a week-long endurance marathon where I dodge wind, mist, and rain in the pursuit of a roof or two. Some building tasks are simply not one-person affairs. Roofing is one of them.
Now, I’m not going to lie. Should you be imagining vast arenas of canopy, I must come clean: My roofs are tiny, 4 x 4 m arrangements perched upon nobbled stone huts less than three metres off the ground. Hardly castles. But what the structures lack in size, they make up for in complication. I’m basically hunkering down in a museum here in northern Spain. The exteriors must remain loyal to history. And Spanish history has a preoccupation with tejas curvas. Curvy tiles.
For many reasons, I had to wait until mid-June before I could take apart the first roof. Finally, after a week of cold, slimy fog, there was an opening. The sky briskly swept the clouds off into the distance, and changed into a vast blue overland where the only visible limits were the mountaintops themselves. The sun graced the sierra with his feisty presence. I took my cue.
Throwing together a scaffold from a plank and a couple of beer crates, I jumped out of my mind and into reality. This was altogether a good thing as I’d been thinking this darn roof through for months. And I know only too well that ninety percent of thinking is pointless, because the moment you actually begin work in the physical world, everything changes. Foreseen problems evaporate, unforeseen snags appear. The mind has never got it covered. Only the soul can do that.
So it was that I began yanking off those mottled terracotta semicircles. And oh with what zest! Quickly the roof transformed into a bare skeleton of ancient wood. True, I did notice that the tiles turned artfully heavier the further down the sharp incline I progressed. Still, it all seemed simple enough. Little did I know as I carefully stacked the old tejas against my herb garden. Little did I know.
Three days later the weather was still holding up, but I was so physically broken that I could hardly climb in my van at night. Even so, my spirit was alive and kicking, because I’d managed to single-handedly raise the roof 15 cm for a couple of discreet slit windows. I’d repaired all the rafters, extended the roof a little, and pinned the waterproofing bitumen in place too. Without power tools. Yup, I was making it happen. All. By. Myself. And I loved it. I loved breaking through the pain and exhaustion barriers, the mental barriers. My muscles were growling in content. Because it’s only when we stretch beyond our self-imposed limitations that we grow.
My cow farmer neighbour Quilo popped round. He’s a garden gnome of a chap with an apple of a face and twinkly eyes. Like my other sidekick Celal in Turkey, he’s clearly partial to a tipple here and there, and his nose is bright red as a result.
“Es muy impressionante!” Quilo said at least three times as he inspected the rafters. I grinned from ear to ear, because I thought I had it in the bag. All that remained were those tejas flipping curvas.
In the old days, tejas curvas were placed on round poles and covered in rocks to prevent them from being ripped off in the wind. But that’s not an especially stable way of anchoring a roof if you happen to be a human living in it, rather than say a cow – which is the kind of inhabitant my stone huts are designed for.
“Vale. Como hacemos las tejas?” I asked. “How? How do they work?”
Quilo stooped, grabbed a few tiles, and showed me how to lay them using mortar. Which was fortunate, because I didn’t have a clue.
“But mortar is hard,” he said. “Use the spray glue. Much better, much faster, and not that expensive. Es mucho mas facile!”
I wrinkled my nose disdainfully. Quilo shrugged. “If you need any help, just ask,” he said, knowing full well I wasn’t going to in a million, zillion years.
The next day I peered out of my van to see a champignon horizon. Darker puffballs lurked to the west, and I knew it was only a matter of time before precipitation came slinking back. So without taking my statutory day off, I mixed some limecrete to use as mortar, stacked up some tiles on the edge of the roof and clambered up in a groaning, flopping seal-like effort. It hadn’t been this hard in the beginning, surely...
Thus the torture began. It was an exacting inquisition by terracotta. As I perched on the rack of the roof, I sensed my knees and ankles groan. Then the first wet slap of bad news landed with a splat upon one of the tile tops. They were clearly going to need much more mortar than I had anticipated, and mixing the mortar was exhausting.
The ratchet turned tighter. The next issue was the pitch of the roof, which unless you happened to be a contortionist, contrived to throw every joint and ligament out of line. Then there were the irritating corrugated bumps of the bitumen which were impossible to walk in shoes without breaking. So I took my shoes off and hobbled about instead, which was hideously uncomfortable. But worst of all was the way I would slap on the mortar, lay a tile, then move to the next one, only to nudge the first one out of place. With limecrete mortar, the initial suction is vital, otherwise the tile no longer sticks. Inhale. Exhale. Breathe.
Even once I had got all of the above working, the thing was still looking an utter mess unless I wiped the head of each tile with a sponge and water. I managed a row, and was all but crippled by it. Then of course I was out of tiles. Or water. Or mortar. And had to climb down and up and down and up that roof to fetch them.
The first day of tiling ground to a dissatisfying halt. Daylight made a slow crawl off my land and an ominous spread of mist sidled into its place. Plenty of empty roof was left to gloat at me. I’d managed about four rows of tiles. But worst of all I’d made a pig’s ear of it.
It took three days of solid teeth-gritting work to both lay those tiles and clear my aesthetic bar. By which time I had decided the roof and I were at war. I vowed I’d never do it again.
But then, what do you know… a week went by. Then another. A nice dry spell slid into the region, with the slopes glittering and gleaming with promise. Before I knew it, I was gamely pulling off the tiles of cabaña number two.
Now that I’d got the hang of this roofing lark, I figured I could experiment a little. I decided to add both insulation and a skylight. Because hey, why make your life easy when you can completely overextend yourself?
Losing the Will
I began that roof three weeks ago. If I thought the first roof was a war, then this second one is a siege. For the first time ever since I began building, I’ve felt my willpower begin to leak away. The whole process is simply so hard, slow, and tedious.
Willpower is, in my experience, the linchpin of making anything happen, but it’s something most moderns are not taught how to cultivate. I’m lucky, I have a nice, tough congenital streak of the stuff, but even I can lose momentum after a while.
What is willpower? When I sit and sense inside, I feel it as a gleaming ladder of belief leading to a dream. Sometimes the body falters, sometimes the mind loses its grip, but some part of us has to stay on the ladder even if we’re resting. It’s the conviction that you will reach the end if you can just pull yourself up another rung. And then one more again. You may need to pause. You may need to call in help. You may need to modify your vision. But you do keep moving, however slowly.
One day I fell in the skylight. My nose was bashed, long scrapes ran down my arms, my legs were bruised and battered. It shook my resolve. So I abandoned the roof to its fate, drove to the beach and bought ice-cream – always a panacea for a bad day. But within two days I was climbing that scaffold again. Within three, the grazes and cuts were disappearing. Within a week, the bruises were fading too. I stared in the mirror at my nose, searching for clues of the injury. Miraculously there were none. Our flesh is Gaian. It adapts and strengthens and grows in the most incredible ways. If allowed to recuperate, it regenerates. It’s just one of the miracles of Earth. Nothing humans have come up with in the history of engineering possesses this magical capacity for self-repair and regeneration. And it’s this Gaian power we have to plug into when we’re building a house, a life, or a new world.
For me, because nature embodies this power, it’s the place I turn to for inspiration. So, I sat in the folded crook of my ash tree’s trunk as the weather churned in and out. Mist, rain, sun, wind. I gazed into the meadow and listened. “Step by step”, the ash said as the wind invigorated her slender leaves. “You can do this. You can get there. Today just get the insulation down.”
So I did. Then the sheets of bitumen. Then the skylight. Finally last week I was struggling so hard to find motivation, I called on my friends, because I knew if someone else turned up, it would push me to work.
Today the end is in sight, and even though it has tested my endurance to the limits, I know come autumn I’m going to bask under that skylight. Come winter, I’m going to sing within that insulation too. Heck yes, I’ll be supping Rioja in a T shirt while I gaze up at the stars. The effort has its own reward.
Of course, this end is only a beginning, the beginning of one new world. But I know that once the roof is on, the fun begins, because everything else from the kitchen sink to the plaster is a game. There’s a reality check though, and it can’t be avoided. You can’t play games without a roof over your head, without a dry place to sleep, and a warm place to cook and wash. You can only wing it so far.
Yes, building the basics is a slog. But it’s a one-time payment. And once it’s made, I know from experience, you dance and live the dream. Yet there’s something even more valuable and interesting still. Once you’ve held onto the rungs of willpower without giving up and letting go, once you’ve climbed step by step to the roof of your idea – no matter how slowly – you know you can do it again. Because the ladder of conviction is not some man-made, plastic piece of trash. It’s Gaian. And every time it’s used, it becomes stronger and longer and more powerful. It takes you to the stars.
Special call out to Sophie Hunter and Dianne and Bismil Gungor, who donated their sweat and time to help me with the dreaded tiling when I was running out of steam.
Thank you too to our lovely clan of Mud Sustainers and patrons on Patreon! Their contributions cover the web platform costs, 10 GB of off-grid internet, the email list, hosting, and the now vital virtual assistance from the reliable and efficient Melissa. If you are enjoying The Mud Home posts, please consider making a pledge to support it. For just $2 a month you have email priority, access to my private news feed where I share my more intimate woes and victories. Plus a monthly patron-only video from my land.
Dark mushrooms cluster over the peaks. They bubble and froth and moil in anguish. A fungus of low pressure has set up camp in northern Spain, rendering June colder and wetter than February. This is no weather for a camper. No weather for a builder either. But it’s focused me well. I know what I have to do.
Two priorities have emerged out of the fog this week like a pair of SUV headlights. I need warm shelter and a hot shower. Yesterday. In hot, dry Turkey it was different. The most fundamental issue was water. But the climate is different here. It’s good to be clear.
With this understanding of the truth of my situation, I envisage one of my cabanas insulated to the hilt, with a small stove and a wooden floor. I plot in my mind’s eye where the shower will go. And consider what kind of hot water system I will use. Then I sit under the ash tree, rest my head against her damp bark, and send my seed vision into her branches. She shakes in the breeze. Leaves drip with cold mist and a wild iris winks. I know the seed has been planted.
Back in my camper van, I pick up my phone and click on the weather app. Really, it can only be for entertainment, because its capacity for meteorological prediction here in northern Spain is just slightly less than Mystic Meg’s. On a good day, the met office can tell me roughly what will happen in the next twelve hours. That’s it.
Yes, I'm a cold, wet, hot-water-bottle-clutching desperado. But I honour this experience, because it once again clarifies how no one has a single atom of a clue until they’re physically in a given situation. You can do all the research you want, add up all the numbers, pack your bug-out bag. And then what do you know? The weather gods roll the dice in the opposite direction, and you are frozen lasagne.
Things are changing whether we deny it or not. They always have, of course. Some entities will thrive on the new climates. Some will perish. Mammals, like us humans, can only exist within an extremely limited range of temperatures. That doesn’t prevent us all sticking our heads in the nimbostratus just the same. And no this isn’t just a climate denier phenomenon. We all do it. You’re doing it. I’m doing it. Because just like divorce, cancer, and road accidents, everyone believes disaster only affects other people. He he he.
Yes, things are melting. Fast. Faster than the folk on keyboards anticipated. But what I’m seeing is this: for the first time in modern history the rich pampered West has just started to realise that maybe this environmental shitshow will affect them too. Because despite what some like to believe, the weather gods don’t just throw crap on poor people in Africa or Bangladesh, tidal waves don’t pause before the towers of big business, forest fires don’t care if you’re middle-class, ice ages freeze black and white skin just the same, and hurricanes will happily take any blighter’s roof off. You can’t bribe or buy your way out of it, though it’s fascinating to watch the elites trying. New Zealand? Mars? Hmm, we’ll see.
People are worrying about collapse and disaster and chaos, seemingly oblivious to the fact that more than half the world has been living in as state of permanent collapse, disaster, and chaos anyway. Many many people have never known security in their entire lives. For a large portion of the planet, this upheaval is just a continuation of decades of violence and trauma.
If you peer out of the house of drama, you’ll see. There is a levelling happening right now. The bowl of humanity is being shaken. The top may be at the bottom tomorrow. Or there may be no top or bottom left. Gaia doesn’t care about status. She only cares about your soul and your ability to connect with her.
The Wonderful Disaster Displacement Myths
Of course some disagree. They say that when food runs out, those with money will be able to buy it while the poor won’t. Which is a convenient short-term myth to believe in if you are wealthy, of course. No one seems to question whether anyone will actually want money if the food runs out. Money in and of itself is worthless. Its value is a collective agreement. Nothing more. If the system collapses, why should the monetary system be the only thing to remain intact?
Another fact that is often overlooked is that the world’s poor actually possess one massive advantage over their wealthier urbanite cousins: They already know how to survive on very little and in difficult conditions. They already survive with little power and water. They know how to forage and store and build shelters out of nothing. I am indebted to many a Turkish villager who taught me how to make anything from anything. Believe me, if civilisation sinks, those are the folk who will make it if anyone will.
There’s also a nice little delusion floating around that the rich will be able to move to safer climates and somehow avoid the worst. I have to chortle at this, because anyone who thinks they know where a safe clime is going to be a year or ten from now is barking. Nature doesn’t work like that. It doesn’t pore over spreadsheets before it acts and send out a five-month report. There is a higher authority than algorithms and calculations, and we can’t second-guess it.
Temperatures where I am are now sometimes soaring and plummeting at over ten degrees in a day. I noticed this in Turkey too, where summers were turning hotter and drier, winters colder, and water was becoming scarcer. What happens when ten-degree overnight drops become twenty degrees? Or thirty? Watch what’s happening now. How far ahead are people predicting floods and hurricanes? And how fast are people moving to avoid them, be they middle-class, or dirt poor? The proof is in the baked Alaska which is already melting a good ten years before it was ‘supposed’ to. No one knows what’s going to happen, or how they’re going to respond when it does. It’s all a weather-app-style guess.
The Trouble with Planning
To my mind, environmental disaster survival projections are hilarious, and they mirror the errors people make before they try to move off-grid into the wild for the first time. People always overthink and underact. They prep and plot according to what they already know. But we can’t imagine what we can’t imagine. Navigating the unknown is less about planning, and more about adaptation and response. How quickly can you change your habits? How clearly can you see what you really need, and what your next step should be?
We are smart enough and powerful enough to create a beautiful world, even now. Because nature responds to our touch in a way science doesn’t account for. I’ve always said that we could turn this planet around in ten years if we put our minds to it. But it isn’t going to happen by blithely pretending we won’t be affected, nor by sinking into depression and giving up in defeat. Nor by panicking. Nor by running to Mars. Nothing happens on the back of those energies. Magic arises when we observe the truth; namely that this planet is not an insentient spherical version of the periodic table just sitting around waiting to be manhandled. The planet and all of life within and upon it is intelligence. It’s been doing this for eons. It knows what it’s doing. Do we?
The weird thing is this...
Back here on Mud Crag the weather gods are still pissing on me. I’m camped in a sodden cloud with visibility at about five metres. I have no hot water. No warm shelter. Nothing but a vision, a planted seed. But here’s the thing...even in the midst of this discomfort, I feel more alive, more connected and more peaceful than I ever did in the modern flat I rented by the coast. I’m a happy, if chilly, camper. Each day I wake up, feel the juice of the land, hear the birds twittering and follow the weather. If the mist lifts, I work on the roof of my cabana. If it doesn’t, I feel the dirt climb into my soul and write posts like this. Something inside me is so fulfilled and content. I know each minute what I have to do, and it doesn't involve sitting and worrying.
Do you know what? This environmental crapfest might just be the best thing that's happened to humanity. Because there is so much more to life and our souls than flicking switches on and off, or buying trash we don’t need. What exactly was humanity doing anyway? Even the richest of the rich live impoverished empty lives. Pity them and their fake friends, fake wives, fake smiles and fake nooz. The whole thing is a sham and it always was. There’s so much more beauty to taste than sitting in traffic jams, staring at screens and losing ourselves in our addictions. So much more power to experience than competing for petty status chips against our fellow humans. So much more wealth to obtain than numbers on a bank balance. But sorry to say, it looks like we’re never going to touch these things unless we’re pushed.
The earth is pushing.
While I build a roof or two, and fight lone battles with curvy tiles, keeping The Mud Home going is tricky. 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.
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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.
Atulya K Bingham
"Reality meets fantasy, myth, dirt and poetry. I'm hooked!" Jodie Harburt, Multitude of Ones.