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.
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.
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.
Atulya K Bingham
"Reality meets fantasy, myth, dirt and poetry. I'm hooked!" Jodie Harburt, Multitude of Ones.