The van died. Or rather I killed it, because it turned vampiric. So now it has been put to sleep in a corner of my land where the grass is growing rapidly under its wheels. It may or may not be resurrected later, but for now the van serves as a shelter, not as a vehicle, and I am once again on foot. This is hugely frustrating in many ways. The repairs wrecked my finances. It isn’t simple or quick to buy more transport here. And it’s a two hour trek down the mountain to the nearest town. I can’t bring materials up. Winter is coming, and I am a little stuck.
Yet while the road is out of bounds, my land shines. I am here where she wants me, embedding myself into this two acre tapestry of life. It’s a special time. A precious one. I sense the delicacy on the leaf backs as the sunlight caresses them. And it is now in my stationary state that I notice something exciting.
One by one, creatures are stealing out from their hiding places. My fellow land-dwellers have been observing me since the day I arrived. I heard Wren in the forest twittering about me. Robin Copper Breast hopped anxiously from fence post to rock. Lizard had one reptilian eye trained upon me from her nook in the wall. Watching. Waiting. For weeks she was no more than a tail end disappearing into a crevice.
The Slug Army, the Butterfly Brigade, Dragon Flies and Snails, all know in their own way that someone new is in town. And now, as summer curls gently into autumn, and the skies open their steamy lids to let miles of blue in, my fellow land dwellers venture forward.
It was Lizard who first made a move. One day I saw her basking on a rock in the afternoon sun. Her body was a mottled finger. Her head jerked up and down. But this time as I slid closer, she didn’t run. Nor did she flinch when I pulled out my phone to take photos. We sat together for twenty minutes or more, the beads of her eyes rolling, her tiny webbed feet clutching the rock. I don’t know how she felt about this sharing of space and time, but my heart oozed with joy.
And now, having trailed me for weeks, flying to and fro in a vain attempt to shoo me away, Robin Copper Breast has decided I am perhaps likeable. He has taken up residence in the bush next to my van. Because this strange metallic beast appears to be a good source of food, and he’s intent on owning the territory.
As I eat breakfast, door ajar, Robin flits over. He perches just in front of the opening, copper jacket lapels fluffed up, stick legs jutting out, as though I were some sort of wildlife burger van.
“I have a bright chest
so I can’t hide,
true I am small,
but have pluck on my side!” He twitters, head cocked, tiny body twitching.
Other creatures approach as I sit beneath the ash tree. Butterflies, always the first to bestow a pretty salutation, flutter in and out. Bees crawl enthusiastically over petals. Where thorns had previously scratched me, clusters of ripe blackberries now beckon. The Spiders who bit me relentlessly in the beginning, have abated. The land is awash with greens to forage: plantain, dandelion, nettle, chickweed, lambs lettuce.
If I were a faster builder, had I charged in with machines and blades, I would never seen the brave attempts of my new friends to step closer. I’d have slaughtered most of my wild food supply too. But I am slow, sometimes against my will. And this means I see things. The animals are communicating. They are curious. Who is this new human? And why is she here? Is she friend? Or foe? Can we work with her? If so how?
We are on the delicate edge of beginning. This is a precious moment. A coming together. The van can do what it likes, fate can keep throwing punches, winter can come too if he wants, because I am not alone. I am putting down roots. I am home.
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It was a few days ago. I was sitting in the crook of my ash tree, the moss now a dry velour seat. The ash tree is a waltz of green in summer, her slender branches swirling with foliage. I surveyed my new special space, and the access road that has finally materialised within it. Slowly, I let my aching muscles soften, and my thoughts slide. As I did, I felt the atmosphere beneath the tree alter. The tree trunk was warm. The leaves stirred. I know I am in this land because of this tree. Or rather, because I heard her.
I was never looking for community on my land quest. I wasn’t searching for ‘good’ neighbours. Or the ‘right’ crowd. I just wanted a space that could hold me while I heard the Earth. A space where I could be quiet and alone. But most of all, I waited until a piece of land spoke to me. Invited me. It took quite a long time.
So why didn’t I look for the ‘right’ people?
Community can do nothing for us, because in truth that is not what we need. It’s not the root of the issue, it’s a symptom. The fact we are searching for it at all shows we don’t really feel we are already part of a community. It shows we have been severed from something fundamental. Because on a much deeper level, what we yearn for is connection to our all-powerful soul and the Earth family from which we were born. With it support arrives as if by magic. Without it, you can be surrounded by a hundred people, not one of whom will lend a hand.
This is Earth whispering. It’s how you find your place. It’s how you become whole and belong. And when you are connected and whole, community (if that’s what you want) is always there, often in the most incredible and fortunate ways.
It all began back in May when I first signed the deeds. I had driven my van up to the area of my land feeling buoyant. All I needed was a small access road into the plot. It should have been easy, but it wasn’t.
While I prepared to create my driveway, I parked inside the dirt track of one of the local farmers, and walked down to my Eden.
“I’ll only be here a week,” I said to Farmer Luis, as he peered from his truck at my van one day. Luis had already saved me once by procuring jump leads when my battery had died. I was starting to feel like a bit of a pain in the backside.
“No pasa nada,” he nodded calmly. “No problem.” His thick silver hair had been tousled by a day in the pasture, but his features had survived unruffled.
Days came and went. Stones and boulders were moved. Rubble arrived. All the while I remained in Luis’ road. It was here I heard the spurious rumours that there were some ‘other’ English lurking somewhere in the vicinity. And I won’t lie, I wasn’t especially happy about it. I’m not someone who enjoys clustering with expats. I’m very private and fairly weird. Not a fitter-inner. Nor a socialiser.
One day, I was admiring the view from my park spot in Luis’ road. The mountains had formed a crenellated rampart pushing back the Atlantic. But the sky was an unfettered expanse of blue. Suddenly I heard the clip clop of horse hooves, followed by two British accents. I held my breath. The horses clippety-clopped to a standstill, black tails swishing. Two women gazed down at me and smiled.
I pulled on my cap and stepped out of my van, squinting under the glare of the midday sun. “Are you the other English?” I asked.
“I am.” It was the woman with the long brown hair who spoke. She had a good earthy smile, and healthy brown arms that knew hay bales and rocks and shovels. “This is a friend,” she gestured to the other woman. After a short chat it transpired that Julia and her husband owned a small-holding a couple of kilometres away with goats, chickens, horses, dogs, cats, and an awful lot of courgettes.
That evening as stars began to brew in the indigo pan of the sky, I anticipated parking in my land. The joy of the silence, and of having a place once more. Night stewed the stars until they dissolved. The potion simmered until morning leaving a trail of misty star remnants in the valley creases.
The rest is history: When I drove down my newly forged rubble driveway, of course I couldn’t drive out. It was The Other English who towed me to freedom.
So that was that. I promptly left for Santiago de Compostela, taught kids, blew up my van engine, and spent another two weeks in limbo half way down the coast going steadily bonkers. I just wanted to be home. On my land. Talking with the trees.
Eventually, by mid August, I was back, tired and demoralised. But the worst of it was, I still couldn’t park in my land! So yet again I camped in Farmer Luis’ road.
Sure enough, as the days rolled by, I began to gather attention. Luis stared in disbelief, and I hid out of embarrassment whenever he drove by, because all in all, I was starting to feel like Alan Bennett’s van lady (albeit without the plastic poop bags). Other locals would wave as they drove past, or stop at my van window for a chat. Cows strolled past and mooed. I soon became an eccentric part of the landscape. La inglesa con la furgoneta. The Other English brought me courgettes and eggs. A couple invited me for pancakes. Everyone offered to help me if I needed it. I began to wonder if this road access issue was in fact a gift from the land to plant me, like a seedling, into the community.
And then the road happened. Just like that. Nine tons of 20 mil-and-under arrived. Soon after The Other English turned up with a small tractor. And by evening, I was blessed with a driveway. I skipped back to my camper ready to enter it. But my tyre – I am by now convinced this campervan is the mechanical embodiment of The Trickster – was flat.
Despite my throbbing arms, I changed the wheel (which is so much less effort to write than actualise). Then I jacked the van back down, only to see the spare tyre was also flat! The air was now darkening, the mountains turned from emerald to spinach to slate. I stared at my campervan and fumed.
Soon a jeep roared up the hill, dust puffing out of its deliciously healthy looking tyres. Out stepped another vecino; Luis Manuel. After an awful lot of misunderstanding I realised he was offering to take me and my spare tyre down to town to fill it up.
Half an hour later we were back at my van and Luis Manuel was changing my wheel for me, because quite frankly I could barely lift the spanner at this point. “I only come up here two weeks a year in August,” he said as stood up and adjusted his glasses. “It was the right two weeks,” I answered. He grinned and shook my hand. “Any time you need help...”
What kind people eh? What supportive neighbours, and all turning up just when I needed them. Aren’t I lucky?
The thing is, none of these people are part of some ‘like-minded’ community I have just joined. I’d never met any of them before in my life. I didn’t follow my friends and huddle up next to them, either. I definitely didn’t pay any attention to the Times top 10 lists. I just sat quietly, listened to the Earth and my soul, and tried to piece a path together from their nudges. Because if the land resonates with you, and you can sense the compass of your heart, the rest falls magically into place.
We all have Edens on this planet, because we are created from it. It is our real community. Somehow, somewhere we have to trust that it’s not other people who can show us the way. We’ve been doing that for too long as a species, and it’s led us into a quagmire. There is no outside authority. There is no one who knows better. It’s down to ourselves to heed our cores and observe as they are reflected back at us through our environment.
“Do you know what?” The Other English said to me in passing a few days ago.
“What?” I replied.
“When we heard another Brit was coming, we weren’t that happy about it.”
Oh how I chortled when I heard that.
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I wanted to be a witch, because witches are dangerous, rebellious, and don’t care what people think. They can access powers that the regular world doesn’t understand, powers that override brute strength and money, powers that create and destroy. But perhaps my ideas of witchery had also been doctored. Perhaps becoming a real witch meant going back further than I had realised, delving into wilder, dirtier terrain. Perhaps it meant connecting with something more elemental. Something unashamedly raw and true. (Excerpt from Dirt Witch)
Atulya K Bingham
"Reality meets fantasy, myth, dirt and poetry. I'm hooked!" Jodie Harburt, Multitude of Ones.