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.
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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?
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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.
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I wanted to be a witch, because witches are dangerous, rebellious, and don’t care what people think. They can access powers that the regular world doesn’t understand, powers that override brute strength and money, powers that create and destroy. But perhaps my ideas of witchery had also been doctored. Perhaps becoming a real witch meant going back further than I had realised, delving into wilder, dirtier terrain. Perhaps it meant connecting with something more elemental. Something unashamedly raw and true. (Excerpt from Dirt Witch)
When the past bounces back.
There’s the Earth, a spinning gemstone of mud, rivers and forests. The Earth whispers. And then there’s the mirror of the moon. Argent. Lucid. The moon doesn’t talk. She yanks on the tides. She reflects. And don’t I just know it.
Let’s just say, I’ve had better weeks.
But before I speed ahead, I'll stick my foot on the clutch and reverse a little. Because this story begins at the front of July, not the back. The story begins with a teaching proposition.
“One of our summer camp teachers has dropped out at the last minute. Can you help us? Just for a couple of weeks?” It was my old friend Sue from Santiago on the phone. Long-standing blog readers will recognise her as the angel who took in Rotty the dog and I, during Rotty’s last two weeks on Earth.
I stood in my new land, phone to my ear, staring at the horizon. The mountains rose and fell in layers. They were the ECG trace lines of a cardiac cycle. The landscape seemed to be folding back on itself.
“Just think what you can do with the money!” Sue’s voice clattered into my phone like Rioja into a wine glass. And I did think. I thought of water pipes and fences. And finishing off my driveway. Because although some kind soul had eventually pulled my camper out of my land last month, I still couldn’t drive in and out.
“Alright then, give me a couple of days to get there.” I spoke quickly into the phone before letting my sickle fall on the grass. The stalks vibrated with insect life. Butterflies, bees and dragon flies rose from the meadow like summer sylphs.
Yet I took a deep breath. Because I hadn’t taught in a classroom since 2012, back when I sold my soul to the diablo of Taiwanese education in exchange for funds to finish building my earthbag house on Mud Mountain. That time, within a month of returning to Turkey, pockets fatter, soul thinner, I promptly drove my car stuffed with roofing felt up a hill in 40 degrees heat. It was a full moon. I burned out the engine. The damage decimated a good quarter of my savings. I took it as a sign that if I made pacts with the devil, life would see to it that I made little financial gain out of it. And also that motor transport and full moons are a fated combination. I even noted that you shouldn't overload your car before driving up a mountain.
Fast forward to 2018. To Spain. To my new green mountain, with its stone huts and gentle, orange cows. After a chat with my ash tree, I picked up my secateurs and hat ready to leave. As I did, I noticed the mud sitting in the creases of my hands. The shadow of the ash tree fell upon me. And somewhere moving through her leaves I saw a reflection of Grandmother Olive. Quickly, before I could change my mind, I fastened a lock on my stone cabana door, threw some of my goods inside it, then off I drove to Santiago de Compostela. To school. To teach.
In truth, it wasn’t as bad as all that. The school proved to be a homely little structure in a beautiful tree-filled garden. The children were happy and cute. And Santiago, with its medieval alleyways and burbling plazas, was as enchanting as ever. I burned the candle at both ends, partied like a Spaniard, and revelled in the St James’ festivities. Soon enough my two-week teaching stint ended. It was time to return. But the face of the moon was fattening again. La luna was becoming full.
Did I look up at the sky as the darkness spread across it? Did I listen to the whisper of the Earth, and decode the messages in the stars? Was I prepared to gaze into that white lunar mirror long enough to see the past bouncing back at me?
Thus, on the blood moon lunar eclipse I decided (as I do, sigh) to drive my van regardless. Pah! I said to myself. This no driving on a full moon is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Stuff all this astrological nonsense and superstitious voodoo. I shall drive the 350 km back to my land. And this time all will be well. Thus I topped up my radiator fluid and checked my oil before setting off, as all good, logical people do.
I must have been an hour and a half out of Santiago de Compostela, when the needle on the temperature gauge suddenly swung into the red. Naturally I was belting down a motorway at the time, with plenty of traffic pounding down the tarmac all around me, in the middle of absolutely nowhere.
Pulling onto what existed of the hard shoulder, I sat for 40 minutes, trucks buffeting the van relentlessly, waiting for the engine to cool. But there was nothing for it, sooner or later I had to drive, albeit very slowly, off the highway.
The next day, the mechanic was shaking his head gravely, and asking if I had somewhere to stay, because hey, this might take a while. As the tow truck drove me and my camper through the vales of Galicia, I watched the muddy verges flick by in the wing mirror.
So here I am, half way between Santiago de Compostela and my land, with my van engine in a thousand pieces. The new mechanic has just told me one of the cylinders is ruined (exactly the same thing that happened in 2012), and that it’s going to cost a lot more to fix than the money I’ve just earned. As I lick my wounds, I wonder why we humans are so slow to learn. So slow to change our habits and move on. So slow to accept we can’t always call the shots and force the hand of the planet. That we can’t actually ignore our souls and our callings and get away with it. Because fires and floods and break-downs keep happening. The Earth keeps whispering. And the moon keeps reflecting it all right back at us.
Many thanks to Emma Batchelor this month for providing me with a roof over my head, and a decent mechanic.
Dirt Witch is Now Out!
“Engaging and thought-provoking. The act of reading this seemed to affect me on a level beyond the words,” Claire Raciborska, Growing Wild and Free.
"Gingerly, I picked my way through the tall stalks flinching at the possibility of vipers. I was terrified of snakes, just terrified. Staring at the huge thorn bushes – great monsters baring tough green claws – I started to feel nauseous. My mind became a city at rush hour. It flashed anxious thoughts at me like traffic signals. Had it really come to this? Bumming in a Turkish field?
And then it happened – the meeting that would alter my destiny within this patch of Mediterranean scrubland. The encounter that would change me. Forever."
I remember when I first adopted my dog, Rotty. I had never been a full-time guardian of a canine before, and was of the opinion that I had to train her. So I set about the task with fervour. “Oh it’ll just be like teaching kids. Two weeks of firm boundary setting, and then she’ll do as she’s told,” I said to myself. Hee-hee.
A year later I was tearing my hair out, because dogs are not simply nice, tractable tabula rasas to be indoctrinated. They have their own will, and their own way. You may train them, a little, if they deign to submit. But take heed, for they all have their own personality, and there are rules they find acceptable to follow, and others they don’t.
I’m horribly stubborn. But after eighteen months it was sorted out. I thought I’d trained Rotty. In fact, she had trained me. I had learned to walk her properly every morning as soon as I woke up (if I didn’t, she would bark and whoop non-stop until I did). Once that walk was over she would agree to sit for the rest of the morning very peacefully while I did yoga, munched breakfast, and wrote. I’d see her caramel head lolling out of her wooden box, eyeing me with satisfaction as I worked, as if to say, “I’m so glad we’ve come to an arrangement.”
Did I train Rotty in return? Well, I persuaded her to sit before eating, and not to dig up the vegetable patch, and to mostly walk to heel. I thought I’d trained her not to kill chickens. So did my neighbour Dudu. So did everyone actually, because she was an incredible actress, and would turn her nose up in disdain whenever she passed the coop. In reality the only thing I’d managed to do was train her to murder with stealth. Because life is life, and instinct is instinct, and will always finds a way.
Fair enough. But what’s this got to do with my new Eden?
Well, as it goes with dogs, so it goes with land.
A piece of land is a world. It’s not just a hunk of rock and mud. It’s a life-filled being. And I use the word ‘being’ carefully. Because it’s perfect. It is exactly that. Being. Living. Becoming. Every metre of this planet is teaming with creatures, plants, and elements, all of which have their own will, and their own way. “What? A brook has a will and a way? A tree? A rock?” Yes. Most definitely. Try and get a rock to flow. Or a tree to grow towards the dark. You will soon see, they have their own opinion about what they are and how they will move. You can only work with them. All else is futile.
Yeees. And don’t I just know it?
Back in my new Eden, rugged beauty that she is... No sooner had I signed the deeds, than I was laying down one of my terrible do-or-die ultimatums (some of us never learn). “I want an access road in there. I want to camp in there in my van. And come hell or high water, I shall! Before July!”
Did the soft leaves of the ash tree glint a little as I put my foot down? Did the rocks shudder with just a fraction of mirth? Was there laughter rumbling under the grassy epidermis of my new home? Because that access road (and we’re talking ten metres of drivable surface here, not a kilometre of asphalt) wasn’t going to happen easily.
The men with machines wouldn’t do what I wanted for the price I wanted in anything like the time I wanted. So I decided to build the thing by hand. It took a while, and a bit of help, but we did it. The next week, a tractor compressed the aggregate. And then I drove down, gravel crunching under the campervan wheels.
I knew as soon as I was in, I wasn’t getting out again in a hurry. The wheels skidded. The clutch fumed. She couldn’t make it back up the slope.
Oh how I slammed my van door that day, storming off to complain to the ash tree. As I waded through the dripping stalks, over mounds, in and out of boulders, the turf began to suck on my frustration. Imbibing it. Filtering it. The ash tree waved as I approached. “Welcome,” she said. “Welcome!” But I was far too cross to listen.
The base of the ash tree holds a moss covered dip where her roots meet her trunk. Slumping into this natural velour chair, I sighed. The vista stretched away into a sea of whipped peaks, while creamy clots of cloud drifted overhead. Cow bells clanked in the distance. And then my eye fell upon a few splodges of indigo nestling in the grass. I peered a little closer.
The splodges were flag irises. Turning my head, I scanned my new Eden. And I gasped, because there were hundreds of them, budding heads poking up like an audience of blue pixies. Suddenly I felt my flesh relax and my mind slow. What did it matter whether I could or couldn’t get out? I had food. I had water. Clearly my land wanted to get to know me.
Over the next three days the mist drifted in, swallowing the outside world as it did. Meanwhile, one by one, the irises opened until my new Eden was a blaze of blue pennants. I worked with the stones to enlarge my road, dirt driving under my nails and into my pores. I drank from the spring. I bathed in the cattle trough. As I slept in the heart of the space, my soul finally came home to roost. My will was meeting the will of the land, and it was beautiful.
Our will is our soul’s direction. It determines our way. It propels us onto our roads. But it is only when our will meets someone or something else’s, only when relationship blossoms, that anything interesting can occur.
Some believe in forcing their individual will upon the world and making shit happen. Others think that’s “not nice” and prefer surrendering to the will of the group, or the world. But both these outlooks miss the beauty and power of true relationship, where wills synthesise. This is true will power. It’s a union of forces that creates something far greater than the sum of its parts, and transforms beings into something new.
I wanted to camp in my land, and I did. My land wanted me to stay a while, and I did. Those four days cleaned my soul and replenished my spirit. How different the world looked from up there. How different I looked, too.
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Atulya K Bingham
"Reality meets fantasy, myth, dirt and poetry. I'm hooked!" Jodie Harburt, Multitude of Ones.