This was never my Big Dream, huddling alone on some remote hilltop, building shelters out of mud with my butt hanging out of my trousers. No, embodying Bob the Builder didn’t once appear on my bucket list of things to do before I die. If you had told me about fifteen years ago that this is what I’d be doing in the future, I would have rolled my eyes and groaned. Or laughed. Or blinked in bemusement before trotting off to the beach.
I did have a Big Dream once though. It was an incense-stick waving, flashy-toothed rapscallion that sauntered between yoga mats like the Second Coming. My dream, you see, was to run a new-age spiritual centre. You know, some mini Turkish version of Findhorn or something. I sort-of made it happen too (not in Findhorn dimensions obviously), only I soon realised my Big Dream was actually a Big Nightmare. I can honestly say, I loathed every single minute of running the hilariously named ‘Shanti’ Garden (it was about as shanti as the Battle of Naseby). Within a couple of months, I was chain-smoking in the kitchen and hoping no one would turn up. By the time I escaped, I had racked up a bevy of debts, a dash of PTSD, and an acute aversion to yoga teachers.
So much for Big Dreams.
Those who’ve read Dirt Witch know the rest. They know that I didn’t end up blissful on Mud Mountain by design. It was initially an act of desperation. I was burned out. I had no money left. It seemed like a good place to recharge my batteries while I worked out what to do next. Build a house out of mud? Nope. I had never even considered it, certainly not as a potential builder. It just sort of happened in response to a set of circumstances.
Life is life. Sometimes we have no idea what would make us happy, or what wouldn’t. Sometimes disasters are the best thing that could happen to us, while Big Dreams are the worst. Whatever decision we make, the force of Gaia weaves her magical threads through it, and turns it into something else.
I write all this because a few things have occurred to me this month. First: I’m absurdly content up here in my chicken coop bedroom, still without a hot shower, fridge, or washing machine. Happier than I ever was in the rather nice flat I rented down in the rather nice coastal town last winter. Second: Not everyone would feel the same way. Third: While I’m so glad my lifestyle inspires people, opens mental doors, and challenges the ‘comfortable’ assumptions of the modern age, I’m aware it can become yet another one of these flashing-lights (albeit LED)-adorned Big Dreams. In my experience Big Dreams can cause a lot of anxiety and strife.
“Be cautious. I moved from London to splendid isolation and it was a horrible, lonely, difficult, ‘where is everyone?’ vibe. Sometimes it's a fantasy. It's taken six years to vaguely normalise,” Rob Smith commented about his experience with life off the beaten track. He’s a far from being the only one. I know a few people who definitely didn’t thrive in the sticks.
No one particular lifestyle is for everyone. And if there’s one glob of ludicrousness I see in our faddish, commercialised culture, it’s bandwagonism. Because there is a kind of ecological one-upmanship among certain well-heeled income brackets that the more cynical forces in the market pander to.
One of the major issues in sustainability is that we are eight billion people, and when all eight billion do the same freaking thing, massive imbalances occur. Think hemp is great? It won’t be when they start hacking more of the Amazon down for hemp plantations because the latest wave of green consumers have decided that’s the new thing you need to pass through the (sustainably-sourced) pearly gates.
No, nothing is a particularly good idea if the whole world does it, and then chucks it out because another eco-fad has come in. That includes lifestyles. I’ve seen way too many people head for the country and then wreck it in pursuit of that Big Off-grid Dream. The rural life works for some (usually more introverted, less social types who find it hard to function in the ‘normal’ world). It works for people whose bodies enjoy plenty of physical work, and who are fairly self-referencing. But for others, for people with partners who are not on board, for people who are very risk-averse, for those with certain health issues, and those who enjoy plenty of social interaction, it might not be for them.
Living the Dream
I love dreaming because for me it’s about reaching beyond the edifice of the known, and sowing the seed for something new. But dreaming isn’t the same as the Big Dream...
It’s yet another balmy morning here in northern Spain, with winter not quite sure whether to bother or not this year. I stretch under my ash tree, the sunlight icing the rocks and peaks, while the valleys and towns below still snore under blankets of mist. My mornings are sacred to me, and God help you if you interrupt them. This is my time to hear the planet, hear my trees, and hear myself. It’s my time to step out from the under the grinding pistons in my head, and attempt to open up to something new.
Sitting quiet on the grass, I breathe. Through the peace, I hear a plucking below ground. A mole or a vole, no doubt. A finch flutters into the arms of the ash tree, and I spy a lizard scuttling up its rutted trunk. As images and ideas fill my mind, this graceful tree soothes me, and I wonder: Does all this wildlife dream, be it big or small? Do animals have imaginations?
Do Animals Dream?
It will sound batty to most, but when I sit very very still and observe the actions great and small of the plethora of creatures on my land, when I hear the first bee busying himself in the first dead nettle flowers, or watch a lone beetle determinedly strike out for the interior of my kitchen, or listen to the mice setting up an elaborate multiplex in my roof, scurrying here and there, gathering this and that, so organised! Or when I hear the owl coo for his lover through the dusky woodland, or the wolves caterwaul eerily into the night preparing for a hunt, it seems highly implausible that they don’t have some kind of game plan.
Traditional 20th-century science, from its whitecoat standpoint in the sterile lab, would say all this is not a plan or a vision or an ‘idea’, just instinct. It would say the mole or lizard is simply at the beck and call of genetic programming and nothing more. But most academics don’t spend their lives in the wild simply watching these creatures left to their own devices. They generally imprison them in labs and torture them. If you locked me in a cage and tortured me, I doubt I’d show you my creative genius either.
If Gaia were just one big deterministic program, as the voices of old used to say, life wouldn’t be life, it would be death. There would be no creativity. No problem-solving. And no individuality. There would be no adaptation, no opportunism (which nature is Queen at), no evolution at all. The incredible thing about life is that it creates systems and structures that outgrow themselves, that stretch beyond the limits of what they already are.
But the question is, can this creativity happen without dreaming? Without a vision? And where do all our dreams and visions come from?
I think dreams come from the pulse of life itself. Its shimmering strands push through this planet and into every living being, nudging them to deepen, heighten, expand, become more sensitive, more complex, bear fruit, create, discover, evolve, and regenerate. Life isn’t just a physical matter phenomenon; if it were we wouldn’t be able to think, or imagine, or envision. Because despite the weird tendency we have to think we are separate from the rest of the planet, we are its expression just as much as a volcano or an eagle. So if we can dream, then dreaming is something the planet either developed or adopted.
When I wander the ruts and furrows of my land, I’m sure this place dreamed of me as much as I dreamed of her. And through our dreams, the web of Gaia rippled and rolled, drawing us together. Somewhere deep and wide within and without us all, there is a vast imagination waiting to be explored. But we can only dream within the limits of our mind-systems. Voles don’t dream of trips to Mars (I don’t think…); wolves don’t dream of bathrooms with hot water. In the same way, our human dreams are still like rats forced down the narrow corridors of our minds. They aren’t really free. They exist within a given mental structure.
The mindset we find ourselves within right now is all about categorising and splitting things into polarities. Good/bad, success/failure, right/wrong, me/not me. It’s extremely hard for us to perceive things any other way. But as always with life, we have outgrown ourselves. We are in the process of dreaming ourselves out of that disjointed mindset. The planet, and the force of life running through it, already exist beyond that separation paradigm, and they are dreaming us out of it too.
This is why everything in the world looks pear-shaped, from politics to the environment. Our imaginations are stuck in lab cages. Either we’re trying to impose Big Dreams of salvation on the world, or warring against Big Nightmares of perdition. But it isn’t about that.
I learned rather painfully back in 2008 that Big Dreams go wrong when they are over-exalted, when we think they will be some sort of Promised Land, or that they will save us, or save the world, or something. Because we are seeing them in the light of success versus failure, good versus bad. Yet life herself doesn’t dichotomise in this way. There’s no right or wrong for Gaia – just lots and lots of ideas, experiments, and exploration.
A Small Idea
Someone in our lovely patron group wrote to me this week because the Big Dream wasn’t happening. The land in the country with the house wasn’t to be. So this particular person had decided instead to take a less ostentatious step and just buy an inexpensive non-building plot of land somewhere, a small place to connect with nature and camp sometimes instead.
When I heard this, something rang so true within me. It’s such a beautiful idea. For what it’s worth, for me the most important thing isn’t the off-grid home in the mountains at all (though I love it). It’s communion with the land. Because that relationship and that conversation are extremely powerful. Or therapeutic. Or healing. Or transformative. It’s the place we perceive the dreams of life. We don’t have to lunge into some massive off-grid adventure to experience it.
To stand in a small area of dirt that you are sovereign in is priceless. A space you can protect. That you can nurture and not poison. That you can grow things on, play in, camp in, sit in, meditate in, make art in, connect with spirits and animals in. And when I gaze at my ash tree, I feel her nod. Because each square metre of this rocky wonderland we call Earth, is a world in itself. It’s precious. It matters. The relationship matters. Not the Big Dream. Not the heroics. Not the happily-ever-after delusion. Only the living, breathing interconnection can move us beyond what we already are.
I discuss a lot about sovereignty, sensitivity and the object/subject paradigm with Amisha Ghadiali in the Future is Beautiful Podcast. Feel free to listen to the conversation.
Thank you so much to our wonderful community of sustainers and supporters funding The Mud Home and the Earth Whispering Blog on Patreon. You are so appreciated, and I very much value each contribution. Your support has enabled me to buy a new inverter and battery pack so I can now charge my computer at home, which is a massive relief.
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The wolf of the wind howls around my cabaña, and the ash trees shake like rattles. Constellations come and go as the sky races over them. It’s wild up here. It’s another world, a planet where human rules no longer apply. This is the real world that still waits for us beyond the lacklustre veil we threw over it so long ago. Why did we do that, I wonder. Did we think it would be easier? If so, we were wrong, because this planet entertains neither cowards nor the lazy, and in every gutless lane we choose to walk down, predators of the worst kind lurk. All these life roads are energy conduits, you see. Which trail are we following?
I’m supping a cup of tea, snug on my bed with the stove roaring like a flaming lion. Gusts hammer at my door. And of course, it is in the midst of this storm that I decide I’d rather fancy a snack.
So I pull on my hat and my head torch and open the hut door. Lo and behold, night and his snarling hounds of cold, rain, and gales pour in. Lord! It’s rough out there. I blink through the pitch. That this tiny rock dwelling feels so secure in this weather surprises me. And then of course I ponder, as I often do, just how much I really want a handful of peanuts.
Nonetheless, I head out into the open mouth of winter. All for a few nuts. Because in truth there’s a lot more to it than that. In truth I’m going because I love to rip up that dreary man-made security blanket and feel the planet on my skin and in my hair. I know when I step up to meet Gaia, she will infuse me with something every advertiser tries to con me into buying but that no corporation can provide. It’s why I’m happier on a tempestuous mountain hiking to my kitchen, than I am pushing buttons in a town flat. Or God forbid a suburb.
Stumbling along the ridge, gusts whip my hair. It’s so darn windy I have to dip my head and round my shoulders, pushing my way into it. Pausing before the kitchen hut, I stare out at the twinkling lights of the villages below. The woodland swings and whirls in the arms of the weather as though resuscitated, and I can sense the land’s energy reviving me, too. The ancient Dirt Woman within me opens an eye and growls.
There and then, I’m alive. So I take the opportunity to pee right there on the slope like some cruddy queen of the Picos, because hey, I still don’t have a bathroom. But really, is there anything quite so glorious as peeing outside, anyway? Stars and clouds blustering overhead, rocks and dirt all around, trees rattling and roaring, and little old me crouching in the middle of it all, fertilising the grass and nettles.
I know at that moment I have chosen the right energy road, because that energy is inside me and out, reverberating.
Energetic Roads and Turkish Soul
The English language is rich when discussing exterior concepts like botany or mechanics, but surprisingly inadequate when we turn inside. Inadequate compared to Turkish, for example, which has an emotional and energetic lexicon that makes even the most academic of modern Turks sound like sages. Take the English word ‘soul’, for instance. Turkish comprises an entire rainbow of words that could be used in its place*, some of which have Sufi origins, some shamanic, so when I’m writing in English about such concepts I find myself extraordinarily thwarted by my mother tongue.
One of my favourite Turkish soul words is ‘can’ (pronounced ‘Jan’). Can is life pulse, the part of the soul that carries the life force of any living entity. It’s literally the bit of you that is alive, that is life herself, that is energetic and dynamic. When you die, you don’t take can with you.
Okay, so what’s this got to do with the wild life, energy roads, and a stormy night on a windswept Spanish mountain?
As I stand on the hill feeling the can of the land rush into me, I sense this part of me that can best be described (in English) as ‘energetic’. And it doesn’t end at our fingertips. As the trees thrash and the air rolls down the mountainsides like cannonballs, it seems obvious because I can feel it everywhere. The surge of life. It’s amazing, and it’s Gaian.
The next morning when I step out in my pyjamas, another world is waiting for me. The sun is stroking the arms of the ashes, and the rocks are warming themselves like tourists on a grassy beach. Tiny birds twitter and flutter and rustle in branches. It’s the same land, and yet so completely different I’m a little awestruck.
As I walk along my ridge to heat a kettle of water for a wash, sunlight washes over my face. And I remember: solar power. As soon as I enter the kitchen cabin, I pull out my little solar panel. It’s a small unit I bought back in 2017 when I first hit the road in a campervan. And do you know what? It’s done me proud. It powers a light and my phone, which has sort of kept me going. I hoist it onto the kitchen roof and attach the battery/inverter to it. The sun hits the panel and power is sent into the battery. Some technological voodoo occurs in that device that turns the battery power pulse (12V) into a voltage my phone can cope with (5V).
It’s all power. The sun, the power stored in the battery, the power that runs along the USB cable and charges my phone battery. But without an inverter, solar power doesn’t charge phones, or cars, or fridges. The voltage is different. They are different bandwidths of the same electrical energy.
In the same way, the energetic life pulse within us is not only available at one voltage either. Just as light can be split into a spectrum of colour, life energy comes in different qualities and potentials. But the truly exciting thing is that we seem to be inverters, and batteries, and panels too. We are energetic systems. We can increase the power stored in our systems, change the pulse rate and refine the flow so as to power more incredible realities, or we can limit what we embody and dumb the pulse right down to a couple of sluggish volts, and then wonder why we can’t run a washing machine or a brand new vision. It’s all about energy, and the line we choose to follow. It’s all about our can.
No matter how we like to portray ourselves, it is actually via our can that we are usually perceived and via the same can that we make shit happen in the physical world. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that the Turkish word can is written the same way as the English word ‘can’.
Can is the reason dogs and horses know we’re bullshitting when we pretend to like them and we don’t. It’s why some people are instantly likeable, and others just irritate the heck out of us, or drain us, or bore us. Often we simply can't put our finger on why. It's the root of charisma, for better or worse, and those who've worked out how to amplify it can potentially manipulate.
It ain’t what you do, it’s how you do it:
As you may have sensed, having taken a big leap of faith and jumping into a new reality, I have found happiness. And yes, I listened to the Earth and my gut to get here. But something happened long before I let go of my mud home in Turkey, something I didn’t really mention in the Mud Mountain Blog, because in those days I was more worried about what people thought. I remember meditating for days until my soul energy (for want of a better word in English) was pulsing in a very different way, and began pushing, just like a tree branch, in a very different direction. I smelt an invitation for a new life on a new energy road and I wanted to explore it. Because if we’re not exploring or creating or loving, then quite frankly what in hell are we doing here anyway? What’s the point?
Yes. It’s not just about jumping. It’s not just about risk taking or leaving the system or throwing yourself into a forest in tent. If the energy with which we do these things is based on fear or anger or loneliness or desperation, watch out. That energy line will follow you just as you follow it, and bite you in the butt wherever you are.
It’s not about plastic, or the economy, or old white men, either. Get rid of any of them and I guarantee not much will change. There are a million other corrupted entities to fill their places, because the energy source from whence they came is the same, and we’re all still riding it.
Does this mean I support the status quo and deny reality, or think sitting about in the lotus position all day is the answer? No. I believe in respect and honour for all beings (not just humans), and I see clearly that we don’t have enough of them. Yes, we must take steps in a better direction. But for me at least, most of the ways I see people trying to manifest these things fail desperately to inspire me. Righteousness, demonisation and sanctimoniousness have never created anything beautiful. If we really want to solve the problem, connect people and raise us all up (rather than strip us all down), then we need to embody a higher potential, and start following a more transformative energy line. Because the energy with which we act is far more important than the action itself. It’s something my Power Ash has been banging on about all month. It’s something Grandmother Olive used to whisper about too, in another way.
The solar panel is up and the battery inverter charging. It’s now I turn to stare at the great ash behind me. Her branches twist and coil, illustrating quite clearly the lines of energy they follow and the direction their life force is pushing in. Each branch is a road to a different reality. Some hold leaves, some are withered and dying, some bear fruit and seeds and keys, which in turn fly off on the back of a wind to settle and create a brand new ash tree reality somewhere else.
As it goes with trees, so it goes with us. It’s the line of can we’re following, and the frequency of power we are embodying that matters. I think this is perhaps one of the most important life tools trees have taught me. They, for all intents and purposes, seem to do very little at all. But sit under them and feel their power. Feel how they transform you and the world around!
Upgrading my Power System
With any luck, by the time you are reading this I will have upgraded my solar system so that I can charge my laptop and my power tools too. With any luck the inverter will be throwing out a hefty 240V instead of 5V. I’ll be using the larger panels my neighbour gave me so that I can absorb more of the sun’s power, and have larger batteries so that I can now hold more of it for longer. The entire current(amps) in the system will increase and the resistance in the system will decrease. I’ll have massively upped my power potential and my ability to get shit done.
In the same way though, I wish to upgrade my other, more fundamental energy system; that of my can or my soul. Because it’s the key to making anything good happen. And while I chose a beautiful energy road for my land and community, I notice other areas where I’ve had less integrity. I haven’t always spoken kindly, for example, and impatience has sometimes got the better of me. I can be very resistant about letting people in, and hold onto past transgressions in a most ungracious manner.
But the times are special and the past is falling away at great speed. We can up our game now, choose new energy roads and start changing the how rather than the what, the means rather than the end. Because as one of my protagonists Harpagos wisely noted back in 500 BC: The end never comes. Never. We never reach the Promised Land. All we are ever left with is the means. The energy road. The can.
* other Turkish words for soul (or soul elements) include: ruh, tin, can, öz, nefes, gönül.
Over the past three years in Europe, I have privately thanked Turkey many times for so many things. One day I’ll write them all down. Here I just want to say that I am indebted to the Turkish language and culture for sharing its extensive and nuanced understanding of emotions and energy concepts with me. The concept of can is a Turkish concept. The energy roads were whispered to me by my ash trees.
Thank you, thank you, thank you to our lovely community of sustainers and supporters funding The Mud Home and the Earth Whispering Blog on Patreon. You are so appreciated, and I very much value each contribution. Your support has enabled me to buy a new inverter and battery pack so I can now charge my computer at home. Yippee!
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It’s only when you leave that you understand you are attached. Some invisible hook has lodged itself beneath the eiderdown of your day-to-day thoughts; A spine? A thorn? A burr? It wasn’t there before. It didn’t exist. But now it does. It was swept in on a gust from the landscape, and before you knew it you were hooked.
This is what we do, we humans. Without even being aware of it, we pull twigs and stalks and feathers from our environment, and use them to line our psyches. The strands of what was once alien turf are soon woven into a fresh nest of familiarity. It’s only when we leave that the scales are lifted from our eyes. We leave and return. And we feel it. We are attached.
In the past month, I’ve left and returned three times, mainly to escape what has been a pretty harsh beginning to winter (Asturias endured 29 days of rain in November). Today I’m back, and unabashedly attached. I inhale my view (mine, yes mine) and feel my psychological muscles relax. Each ridge on the horizon has become a piece of me. The limestone creases rest in my memory, viewable from the catalogue of my mind even while lounging in an English living room.
Then there are the trees: The ashes and hazels and holly and chestnuts. None of these were my world before, yet today they all are. We are related now. For I’m quite certain the land is as used to me, as I am to it. Robin redbreast flutters by for breakfast, nodding at me to drop him a morsel or two. He does this every day. It’s now an expectation on both our parts. Here on Mud Pico, even the sunlight is personal. I sense the slightest change in tone, and can easily tell the time by it.
The weather has also become part of me, physically and mentally. There are shattering sunsets and science-fiction cloudscapes. There is snow and rain, too. My body has long adapted to a cooler climate, my very blood has thickened because of it. I am no longer who I was. That’s what connection does. It’s a two-way highway that will alter you forever.
Attachment is a concentric affair. Fanning out from the hub of my land, other links have formed, fronds that have stretched and intertwined below the surface of the visible to create a sustaining network. I am now part of a new culture and language, both utterly foreign to me two years ago, but now so familiar. Spanish has encroached upon large quadrants of my brain territory, lighting up synapses and forging circuits that weren’t there before. Tectonic plates in my subconscious have shifted, and I realise one day when I speak to a Turkish friend that I’m saying no instead of hayır, and that no pasa nada has replaced birşey olmaz.
There are human connections too: One day a burr lodged itself in my eye. Neighbours I had no idea existed a short while back, drove me to the doctor. Others bring me wood. Then there are all my new haunts: The nearest town. The cafes with wi-fi where I grab a coffee. My favourite eateries, where the waiters know my order by heart and bring it without even asking. When I think of these things, such a warmth fills my chest. I belong. This is my hood. My patch.
Sometimes I have to pinch myself. Am I even the same person I was? And who was that Turkish woman anyway, because as with every one of my past selves, the me of yesterday has become but a ghost haunting the corridors of my memories. It’s a kind of sorcery that we can weave new realities and soulscapes in this way! How did this all happen?
It happened via attachment.
Now, many philosophies harbour an aversion to attachment. Anicca (nothing is permanent) is the mantra of Vipassana after all. Because of course nothing lasts forever, all will crumble and die at some point, and the less attached you are, the less you suffer…
Or so they say.
Certainly when my dog died in 2017, I would have agreed wholeheartedly that I had been too attached. That I shouldn’t have loved her so deeply because dogs don’t last long and all that. But after two years on the road in a campervan, wandering free and unfettered, things soon looked different. To float aimlessly without bonding, without attaching, without caring (because that’s sort of what it amounts to unless you’re an enlightened being with sunbeams bursting from every orifice) is a lame kind of malediction. It’s the cowardly curse of hyper-intellectualism, and a reason for much of the malaise of the modern world. Without attachment, you have no belonging. You are endlessly free and endlessly lost, swimming wide but shallow waters where nothing really matters. And yet it does matter. A lot. We matter. The land matters.
Having moved about plenty in my life, I’m familiar with the typical undulations of cultural and geographical adaptions. The vague nausea you sense when dropped from a great height into a strange new world. The discombobulation. The faint agoraphobia, followed by the gradual familiarising of the environment. Whenever you relocate from one home to another, from one life to another, there are stages of assimilation. It doesn’t matter if you shift to a rural off-grid life from a conventional urban setting, or emigrate, there is always a series of culture shocks, and a process of adaptation. Because belonging isn’t some fateful feature of our lives that just happens when destiny shunts us into the right place. We create it, every minute of our lives.
But here’s the thing no one talks about regarding attachment. We don’t always attach, do we? Not everywhere becomes our home, just as not everyone becomes our lover. And no one really has the answer to why that is. For if everything is simply our projection, then what does it matter if we live in Manhattan or the Gobi Desert? Wouldn’t we weave nests of attachment regardless of the location? Both the Buddhists and the existentialists would say yes, the whole thing is an illusion, but I’m sorry, on at least one level they are wrong. Maybe it takes a witch or an indigenous person to point it out.
The Call of the Land
Sometimes the land calls. Sometimes she doesn’t. And that’s because the planet herself has a trajectory in which every human plays a part. Sometimes Earth missions are short, sometimes they last decades, and sometimes we are simply not in the right place at the right time.
I remember far, far away from here, living in the east Asian island of Taiwan. It was a short commitment for me. I worked there for nearly two years, and if you’re reading anything on this website, it’s thanks to hi-tech, fast-paced Taiwan. But while we shared a short and at times quite magical connection, it was never home. I sensed very early on that we were in a temporary relationship, and I missed my homeland Turkey throughout.
Then there’s England. What happened between me and England I have no idea, but we simply do not get on, and we never have, not since the day I was born. There is no obvious external reason for my lack of affinity. My parents were decent British people. I enjoyed an excellent free state education and was offered many chances there. Yet England (and it’s specifically England, because by contrast Scotland’s west coast beguiles me) has never been my homeland. The first time I travelled abroad as a teenager, I felt as though I’d been released from some miserable dank jail. A lifetime of nausea lifted. Why?
It’s because the loamy skin of this incredible planet is alive and sentient. It absorbs us as we absorb it. It has memories etched deep into its rocky hide, and yearns for certain souls while spitting others out. Sometimes the terrain calls us hither, sometimes it pushes us away. Sometimes it’s wholly ambivalent. A communication occurs above and beyond the physical, a contract between the land and ourselves. And this is the real reason we become attached. That sense of belonging is a pledge between the planet and our souls. It’s a sign we are in the right place at the right time.
So many people are forging new paths right now. Indeed humanity itself is forging one, too. We’re inhabiting a drastically different landscape than we were ten years ago, and there’s a new culture and language to learn. But even if we are unaware of it, or buttress ourselves against it, our souls are gathering this and that from the present world around us, braiding them into a new homeland.
Yet the question of whether we will belong in this new world, whether we will love it and be loved by it, whether it will hold meaning and joy for us, and whether we will fulfil our soul missions upon it, actually comes down not only to us but the Earth herself. Will she spit us out? Or draw us closer? And who? And where? Because while we exist as a species, we also exist as cultures, neighbourhoods, and individuals. And what I’ve come to understand is this: the land speaks to us on all levels. Whether we are aware of it or not, a contract is being written between every soul and every location, every single minute.
No one has the power (or the right) to change the mind of an entire species, nor do they need to. Even countries are not the point. The nation-state is a fiction that is fragmenting, and you’d be best not to waste your energy on it. Our power and our covenants exist between us, our land and our communities, some of which occupy digital as well as physical space. It is this Homeland that counts.
So the question has to be this: Are you attached? Are you home? Do you belong? If so, good for you! Don’t let other people’s panic and drama regarding their perception of “the human story” distract you from your beautiful, vital, and very personal relationship with your space. You have work to do, and only you know what it is.
If, on the other hand, attachment and belonging are missing, then maybe the Earth and your soul are speaking to you. Maybe it’s time to listen, and to create a real Homeland of your own.
Thank you, thank you, thank you, to our lovely community of sustainers and supporters funding The Mud Home and the Earth Whispering Blog on Patreon. You are so appreciated, and I very much value each contribution.
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It all began with a drumming of rain on my skylight, a skylight I’m rather proud of because I made it all by myself to watch the stars and moon out of. My bedroom may be a two-by-two hutch, but it’s amazing what you can do with four square metres if you try. When darkness steals the horizon, and the great undulate vale I belong to vanishes into the pitchy mouth of night, my stone hut begins to pulse. It beats like a rocky heart. What used to be an abandoned, poop-filled chicken coop is now a warm, vibrant world with earth-plastered walls, wooden floor, clay paint and mirrors.
My hut is not entirely finished though. Why? Because back in October, the more sensible half of me bossed the dreamer into line (when you go it alone, these internal wrangles become a way of life). And, it is true I can get rather distracted by whimsical aesthetic details like mud trees. With winter approaching, the bathroom looked more of a priority.
“You’re not allowed to do any more useless pretty things until that bathroom is finished!” My inner disciplinarian tongue-lashed me, so sure she knew what she was talking about. So there are still mosaics, shelves, a window, and a chair to make. Looking back on it, I could have done with that window. I could have done with that chair.
Yes...I said it all began with a drumming of rain on my skylight. Too bad it didn’t end there. Because November decided to throw convention to the wind and become mid-January instead. Day after day the clouds ganged up. They swelled into battalions of sodden desolation, upon which they hurled their cold wet misery at the earth. The temperature plunged into single figures, and low ones at that.
For days on end I peered out of my stone hut aghast. My kitchen now lay in a bog at the end of a slippery ridge, and reaching it was an expedition involving wellies, raincoat, hat, and umbrella. I could see my breath every time I cooked a meal. My toes were forever frozen. And I still didn’t have a bathroom, nor could I make an inch of progress on it.
Eventually conditions became so hideous, I threw a few clothes in a bag and made a run for my car. I drove to Sophie and Hakan’s place in Cantabria, enjoyed good food, good conversation, and my first hot shower in weeks, in a bathroom fit for a mud queen.
Soon I was on the road back though, because my land was calling. I also wanted to finish that wretched bathroom. Arriving back in the dead of night, I trudged up my hill, amazed to note that the rain had paused. The clouds were parted like smoky stage curtains, and through them the silky eye of a full moon gazed upon my world. The stillness was palpable. My land seemed to be holding her breath. If ever I had doubted her magic, those strokes of moonlight rekindled it.
Reaching the rocky brow of my world, I pushed open the ancient door to my stone hut. Then I pulled off my boots. I was home.
My stove came to life. Flames danced and chattered in that primal language that only our bodies understand. Sitting on my bed, I gazed up at the skylight. Indeed it was now truly a light of the sky, the glass rectangle frosted by the milk of the moon. But within hours that skylight was rattling again, as the rain thundered on it once more. It turned colder. It turned wetter. It hailed. And then it peaked with an onslaught of slushy sleet.
Finally it dawned on me. The bathroom wasn’t going to happen right now, was it? So I might as well turn my attention to the inside of my hut. Grabbing some of the mud plaster that was supposed to become wattle-and-daub, I found a large mirror and plastered it onto the wall. Then I banged the window frame into shape. I nailed in the shelf supports, and sawed the driftwood for the chair legs. The Disciplinarian was awfully quiet throughout.
I’ve had four square metres to live in. From six at night until nine in the morning, it has been my world. And when it hasn’t, I’ve been miserable and cold. Yet how grateful I am to that little hut. How happy I am that I insulated it to the hilt. How glad I am that it’s beautiful and cute and warm. This hut has sheltered me through the icy wet caprice of the worst November I’ve known.
I’m still a bathroom short of course, and the irony hasn’t been lost on my inner Dreamer, who has been throwing frequent smirks at her disciplinarian antagonist. Somewhere, for some reason, the land decided to push me inwards, and in retrospect, that was long overdue. Foregoing the inner for the outer is the biggest mistake the modern world has made. It is still making it, obsessed as it is with action and busyness, instead of introspection and meditation.
We all sit in the stone huts of ourselves, and from there we gaze through the skylights of our senses onto our worlds. We are still so sure it is something out there that will cure us of our ills. A friend. A lover. A political ideal. Money. Privilege. Status. Or even perhaps just a bathroom. And so off we go trying to right the exterior wrongs, throwing our entire weight and effort into moving mountains outside of us, many of which aren’t even ours to move.
But in truth, without inner warmth, beauty, and inspiration, the outer will continue to disappoint, and we will lose the drive to change it anyway.
So, when we close the door, light the fire, and spend some decent time inside the cabaña of our minds and hearts, what do we find there? Is it warm inside, or chilly and mean? Every soul shelter needs maintenance, care and love. Some have structural issues; many were abandoned, undervalued, or misused in the past. But to say that any of these things is a fait accompli is to thwart the magical and healing power of life. Psyches may be damaged. Souls never can be. The question is, are we prepared to put in the effort to do the renovation?
But what is renovation exactly? It's love. It's the realm of the Dreamer, not the Disciplinarian. And it only happens to spaces we care about enough to nurture and enhance. If we never want to stop and spend time inside ourselves, it says a lot about our self value.
And so today, bathroom or not, I will finally fix my window. I may, if I have time, put up the bookshelf too. Who knows, perhaps even the sculpture on the mirror will happen. Because it looks like it could be a long, dark winter out there. In here? Ah well, that’s another story.
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“You can’t get those roof joists in alone. I mean how will you line them up properly?” Farmer Quilo was studying the vacant space in front of my ‘bedroom’ hut, where I was planning to put my bathroom. His cows were chewing nonchalantly below us in my field, oblivious to the plans of builders and mud witches. They had verdure to process after all, and it’s a full-time bovine occupation.
“I think I can,” I replied with none of my old cantankerous I’ll-show-you, because Quilo isn’t a macho moron, and is capable enough that he doesn’t need to put me down to make himself feel better. He wasn’t doubting me because of my gender or my size. He honestly couldn’t see how the job could be done single-handed.
“But how will you hold the joists and bang them straight? I mean they all have to be lined up. And the ones poking out of your hut are all crooked.”
“Aha...Estoy preparada,” I answered with glee. Bending down, I picked up one of the small joists and showed him where I’d bored three holes. “Now it’s easy to bang the nail in one-handed,” I said. “I’ll bang the middle nail in first, then I can move the joist up and down and adjust it. I’ll do that with all three joists, lay a beam on top of all three, line them up, then whack the other nails in.”
Farmer Quilo’s features expanded like the face of the moon, one of those big rosy pumpkins that rise just before sunset, (because he likes a splash of vino tinto, does our Quilo). I think he’s an Asturian fusion of Celal and Dudu, with his dogs and cats and cows and beans. Yes I am lucky he’s my neighbour. But hey, I conversed plenty with the Earth before I found this spot, remember?
“Whoa!” Quilo eyed the planks and then me. “I suppose necessity is the mother of all creation,” he said – or something along those lines. Then he stepped along the path, flicking his garden gnome face briefly back. “Well, as I said, if you need help, just ring me.”
“I will, I promise,” I said. This time I meant it. I’m tired. It’s cold. I need a frigging bathroom.
The next day, for what it was worth, I looked at the weather forecast. It wasn’t inspiring. Rain was coming in shedloads, it said, not to mention the cold. I stared at the empty space where my bathroom should have been. I thought about extending that roof and those awful curvy tiles. Then I trotted down to talk to the ash tree.
“See it finished. Feel it finished. It is done,” Ash Tree said. Which is basically what he always says. And I sighed. Thus, with the sunlight dancing over his remaining leaves, I meditated and envisioned the roof extension finished. I felt the relief of it. I saw the beauty of it. After that, I climbed back up to my stone huts and banged in those three joists. They went in fast. They lined up properly. Then the pitter patter of precipitation filled my world.
Two days later my land was a cold boggy mess. It was so dreary that world politics almost glimmered in comparison. Even the cows looked disgusted, and stared at me in grumpy expectation, as if I had some control over the elements. Only the bull remained stalwart, but he is a remarkably easy-going chap. I decided to call Farmer Quilo the next day, and take a chance on the weather.
It was unbelievable really. In a week of solid rain, rising rivers, and floods, we had a single dry afternoon, and it happened to be the one that Quilo turned up on. He arrived at midday with a bag-full of tools and a stepladder, puffing a little as he pushed up the hill. But my ruddy-cheeked neighbour set to work like no tradesman I’ve ever hired. That roof was banged together, complete with tejas curvas by five pm. Totalmente. All right, I helped a bit here and there flitting about as materials delivery, but honestly? I can’t take credit for that porch. Lord knows how long I’d have messed about with it. As I threw the last few tiles up to Farmer Quilo, a stubborn-looking drizzle set up camp on my land. It turned to rain, and then to downpour.
Over the coming days, the ground transformed from solid to liquid, the air from warm feather to cold slate. Rain gathered in sodden flocks and stampeded down the slopes until it was no longer clear where the sky ended and the earth began.
It’s at such times that a builder must stop and assess. Traditionally December would be the time for such a stock-take, but Gaia has decided to suspend action early. So it is now, with a roof over my head (albeit small) and a stove chugging in the corner (albeit still with wood to cut), that I have momentarily paused for breath. And it is for a moment only, because I’m still a bathroom short, not to mention hot water. Oh hot water, what I wouldn’t do!
Did I bite off more than I can chew?
Quilo’s porch has highlighted something. It’s the first thing this year that I haven’t built by myself (notwithstanding a little help with the tejas curvas from my friends in July). As I sit in my nobbled kitchen, coffee steam wafting out of the cup, the landscape of the recent past spreads before me. With its peaks and ridges, its declivities and chasms, 2019 has been an odyssey into exertion the likes of which I’ve never known. Bitten off more than I can chew? Hey, I’ve had more on my plate than a shoestring backpacker who suddenly finds himself at an all-inclusive buffet.
Roofs have been taken off and put back on, there were battles with tiles, water pipes to connect, skylights to make and install, walls to plaster, floors to lay, holes to bash, plaster to throw, cretes to mix and apply, insulation to insert, beds to build, tables, kitchen cabinets, everything including the kitchen sink. The only two power tools I possess are a jigsaw and a drill. I have almost no electricity. Everything you see was hand-sawed, hand-mixed, hand-hammered. By me. One woman lone builder. Not to mention The Mud Home website to run, articles to write, and emails to answer, all without a proper power system installed, which means I’m starting my car to charge my laptop at times, or I have to run to the nearest cafe. Somehow (I actually have no idea how) I put together a digital lime course over the summer, too. I don’t think I’ve ever worked so hard.
Sooo with this dramatic vista of endeavour at my back, should some slack-jawed fool dare to mumble that I’m so lucky, or they wish they could have what I have because blah de flipping moan whine blah, I fear they may find themselves swiftly buried under six feet of my hand-mixed limecrete.
Yet here’s the strangest part of all this. You see, I’ve loved every minute of my stone hut endurance caper, even washing in the freezing cow trough when it was ten degrees outside. You couldn’t drag me back to civilisation if you tried (well alright, perhaps for a hot shower now and again). Am I mad? A masochist? Or is this the sheer delight of stretching into wild new realities I had no idea I could reach. I’m astounded at how my body, psyche, and energy have adapted to birth these creations. I wonder where my limits are. Where our limits are. I understand now what I am. I’m a creator of worlds. It’s in my blood and my soul. I thrive on it.
Which brings me back. Lone builder I am, and I love it. But that is because, as I’m always saying, I’m not alone. This doesn’t mean I don’t occasionally feel alone. But whenever I do, I sit with the sensation and check exactly what that feeling is. What I discover when I look inside, is that loneliness has nothing to do with people, or being solitary. It’s about being disconnected. Disconnected from myself, my environment, the voices whispering all about me, the trees and birds, this incredible planet, the force of life in and beyond us all, and the beauty and wonder it opens for us.
It’s why I love to live by myself. It’s why I don’t envy couples or nuclear families. Because they are so often lonely, conflict-ridden old shacks. For me at least, enmeshed human relationships drag me away from the very place where I feel supported and connected. They pull me away from the unconditional tenderness and wonder and magic that I find in silence and nature.
Each morning in my spinster builder life, I walk along my ridge, and the sky tells me a different story. Through the sunrise and the dew, I sense Gaia’s power reaching into my muscle tissue. I hear the trees whisper in my mind, and feel the hands of the planet on my shoulders. I’m certainly not invincible, but I am part of something that is. When I become aware, minute to minute, that I’m not enclosed in a sack of skin, but emanating far beyond it, I finally understand I’m part of a living, breathing masterpiece that actually paints itself.
So thank you dear Earth for leading me here to this enchanting place with its bounteous wildlife and benevolent neighbours. Where will you lead me next, I wonder? And what will I create with you when I get there? Who knows? Who knows?
A massive hug and thank you to the crowd of people who’ve joined us on Patreon recently, as well as those loyal supporters who’ve been with us for so much longer. Thank you so much for chipping in to get me some decent batteries and a tougher inverter so that I can keep these posts coming. It would be impossible for me to maintain The Mud Home without your contributions.
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“Gawd! I don’t know how to do this.”
I was staring at my stone wall feeling out of my depth. Not that I’m unfamiliar with this sensation. This past year I’ve been scaling learning curves sharp enough to qualify for a place in the Karakoram. The task in hand wasn’t by any means my steepest ascent either. All I had to do was bash a hole in my cute old cabaña wall for a stove pipe. It was altogether more base camp than K2.
A crick began to pinch my neck from peering upwards. Which rock? Which one should I try to pull out? I just didn’t know where to start.
Now, I wasn’t completely without knowledge. My off-grid neighbour, who had bashed a hole or two out of his own cabaña , had already set me up with some beginners’ tips: “Look, if there’s a longish rock at the top, then you know you can pull out the stones below it and the wall will still be supported.” This was good advice, except there wasn’t longish rock where I needed my stove pipe hole.
Placing my hand on the wall, I touched one rock after another, paralysed by indecision. Images of the entire thing collapsing sashayed about my mind. I saw a heap of rubble where my wall had been, and shuddered. Autumn is here. I have no time for mess-ups right now.
Closing my eyes, I pleaded for a little help. The limestone nobbles and ruts were cool. They were ancient, too. I knew from Farmer Quilo that these huts were well over a hundred years old. Even to move a few of the stones seemed a little sacrilegious.
Perhaps the sun dipped behind a cloud at that point because the room darkened, and the shadows started eating into the corners. Then I sensed it. The past. It was still sitting in the stones and the dust, buried but not dead. I felt a connection forged between now and then, like a line of presence stretching directly back to when these cabañas were first built. The area between my shoulder blades prickled. Suddenly I just knew I wasn’t alone.
You want the rock above the shelf.
I started. The hut was talking. My scalp crawled a little as I considered the idea that perhaps this old cabana, the place I’d chosen to be my bedroom, was haunted. Yet when I felt into it, I realised the voice wasn’t creepy. It was much like when I talk to my ash tree. The words were in my head, but with a tone of their own. The cabaña was friendly, perhaps glad that there was someone finally around.
Studying the rock above the shelf, I decided to reply. “But won’t the rock shelf fall down if I take that stone?” Because I’d looked at that stone before, and considered it risky.
No no no. The rock shelf is being held by plenty of others. That’s the one. Just dig out the mortar around it. Keep digging. Dig dig dig dig dig.
Ever since I arrived on this land, I’ve been chatting with it and its inhabitants. With the trees, birds, lizards and the Lion Rock. Whenever I’m daunted (which is fairly often), I stop and ask one of the great trees of the land to tell me the next step. I hear that guidance in my head as clear as a bell. Its rightness rings in my body, not my mind. It will be unbelievable to many, but the advice is always bang on. Thus I’m pulled out of the swamp of confusion with its bog pools of pros and cons, and its soggy sedge of what-ifs, onto a dry path of stepping stones. Sometimes I can’t see how stepping stone one is going to get me to stepping stone ten. But inevitably it does.
Yes, I’ve been hearing the tree voices. And the rock voices. But this was the first time the cabaña had spoken (or perhaps the first time I’d heard).
Brandishing my trusty if unfortunate screwdriver – a tool destined never once to do the job it was designed for – I began gouging out the old lime and mud mortar. It was arduous work, like tunnelling your way out of prison with a teaspoon. I became impatient, tried yanking the rock, tried working on another. At one point it seemed the stone was wedged in by a much bigger one on top of it. I began to think (as I so often do) that the voice I’d heard was mistaken.
Dig dig dig dig dig! You just need to keep digging. It will take a while. I put them in good and tight. But once that mortar is out, they’ll start wobbling.
There was no doubt about it, whoever the voice belonged to was very sure they were right.
“Okay, I’ll do as you say. And we’ll see,” I muttered.
Ten minutes later the stone shifted. Before I knew it, it was out. And Mr. Voice-in-the-wall had been correct, because the rock shelf it sat on was still firm, and the wall itself still very much intact.
Still, there remained a good half-metre of stone rampart left behind the new hole, and each rock was locked into each other like some giant, inhabitable game of Jenga. I wondered yet again if I’d manage this without the whole lot caving in. Gingerly sticking my hand in the new gap, I began pulling out more rocks. And more...
Eventually after scratching and scraping at the mortar for what seemed like an age, a spot of daylight appeared. Wahey! I’d made it! So I pushed a piece of string through the chink and ran round into the woods to the outside of the wall. I wanted to see where to start next. But when I reached the rear of the cabaña , I groaned. The string was visible alright, only it was stuck between two massive slabs, neither of which looked too keen on budging.
You can take the big one if you want. But why not take the smaller one, which is diagonal. Mr. Voice-in-the-wall was back, and once again devoid of self-doubt.
“Isn’t that going to be too high up?” I said. Then I remembered I wanted the flue tilting up slightly to help the smoke out. Hmm. It was worth a go.
Once I’d removed it, and picked out the surrounding stones, I ran back inside to see if there was any way my stove pipe would pass through the gap. It was unlikely. There were rocks in all sorts of annoying and obstructing places, and removing any one of them would bring down plenty of others. Pff.
Inside I squinted, waiting for my pupils to dilate. Then I peered into the aperture, and pulled out any remaining bits of rubble. After I’d cleared as much as I could, I stared dubiously at the remaining cavity. If the pipe actually fit in there it would be a miracle, but hey, you can’t know unless you try, can you? So I picked up the metal flue and pushed it gently in. What do you know? Perfect fit.
I could almost feel the cabaña grinning. Or was it the cabaña builder? What was it? Who was it? What are these voices, and how do they know all these things?
There was a time when I thought the trees talked and that I was communicating with their spirits. Then there was a time I thought it was me projecting some wiser, more intuitive part of myself onto the tree. Then I learned that trees emit special biochemical compounds, and I wondered if they affected our brains like magic mushrooms. Then I thought perhaps it was the tree’s beauty that was inspiring some sort of innate intelligence inside me. To this day I do not know what speaks. But now apparently the rocks and cabanas talk, too. They have old, old stories to tell and wisdom to impart.
Just like mine, humanity’s learning curve is currently pretty sharp, too. The world is changing so fast; if you blink you’ve missed whole social trends. In the face of such an incline, it’s hard not to fall into self-doubt or to sink paralysed into a mire of confusion. Our minds are continually polluted by melodrama and horror stories, after all. Yet for me, unless we really pause and hear the true voices emanating from the very dirt we walk on and in, it’s going to be tricky to take the appropriate steps towards anything at all. Action without deep, Earth-based wisdom is simply noise and haste rather than creation.
To create the life, home, or world we want, there are two fundamental things we need to cultivate: an inspired vision, and a physical road toward it. Because when our will and imagination touch the stones and the dirt, a unique path is drawn. This is the creative magic of Gaia that no one understands. Our vision paths are like arteries or tree roots stretching and branching and feeding our souls. They pulse with the fire of life, and that pulse has a voice that is forever by our side. Can you hear it? Can you feel it?
You are not lost; you are walking on the stepping stones of your life. All you have to do is be sure where you want to end up, and then listen...Listen to life and the loam, and hear what your next step is.
If you’re interested in the voices of the land, take a look at my Earth Whispering website which I’m in the process of building up to become a resource for all things Earth-intuitive.
Many thanks to the crowd of people chipping in to keep these posts coming. It would be impossible for me to maintain The Mud Home without your support. It currently funds 10GB of off-grid internet, the now vital online help from Melissa, the web hosting and platform, the mighty email list provider and small portion of my time.
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“How do you resist the temptations of capitalism? Get a haircut? Clothes pegs? Pensions and health insurance?” It was a question from one of our Patreon members.
The answer is I don’t. The fact that you are reading these words posted onto a website that I pay a number of corporations for, is proof of that. It was a good question, though. A good question provokes thought. It searches beyond the appearance of things and wonders about the underlying structure of it. It provokes a blog post from me:)
Me and Money
Money and I have shared a long, bumpy road together, and at times we’ve not been the happiest of travel partners. Once upon a time back in the noughties in Antalya, Turkey, I was earning a packet and spending more than a packet. Often on nonsense. Next (it shouldn’t be too hard to see why) I bankrupted myself, found myself in debt and out of energy. Thus began the Mud Mountain adventure, where I huddled fairly close to the poverty line and simultaneously felt ecstatically happy. For almost five years I lived from hand to mouth, threw hardly anything away, had no car, no health insurance, no pension. It was the most beautiful, fulfilling, magical time of my life. And it made me understand that there is something far more powerful and profound within us than we realise.
So... for a time there, I was of the opinion that money was the root of all evil. That if we obliterated the green scourge, and toppled the capitalist edifice that housed it, everyone would wake up to the beauty of their soul, and all our problems would vanish in a pink puff of idealistic smoke. Hmm.
The wonderful thing about being human is that we are not ossified ideologies. We are living, breathing, evolving organisms. Since 2011 when I first moved onto Mud Mountain in a tent, the world has become a completely different place. You and I are completely different people, too. It’s only eight years, but everything has changed. So if our ideas haven’t transformed alongside, we need to worry, because it means they are becoming dogmas.
What do I think about capitalism?
People yabber about capitalism a lot, and usually feel rather clever when they do. But when we talk about capitalism, what do we mean? Are we talking about the industrial profit-based economic structure that followed feudalism (which wasn’t too great either) as discussed by Marx back in 1867? Are we talking about globalisation and multinational companies? Are we referring to the monetary system and the banks? Do we mean the market economy*? Do we view buying a home-grown organic tomato from our neighbour as indulging in capitalism in the same way as buying a handbag from Prada, or a Bugatti?
There are two reasons I am today very ambivalent about the capitalist/anti-capitalist debate. First, most of it is based on the ideologies of a very small number of political and economic thinkers from one particular culture. All were alive a century or more ago (Marx, Engels, Keynes, etc), all were middle class, and frankly it shows. When these chaps were penning their theses, the world was an entirely different entity. There was basically no environmental issue at all other than on a very local level. When the presiding economic theories were born, no one was seriously considering the idea that we could run out of resources. Women had no voice. Indigenous folk and their lifestyles were considered by most ‘intellectuals’ as primitive. There was no internet. No microchips. No plane travel. Dead? My God, these ideologies are fossilised by now, and I can’t quite believe we still buy into them.
There is an idea that if we get rid of capitalism, all our environmental worries will be over. I’m sceptical about that, not least because socialist and communist countries in the past have caused as much environmental degradation as capitalist ones. The eco-crimes the Soviet Union committed in areas like Kazakhstan (check out what used to be the Aral Sea, or the nuclear bomb tests in Semipalatinsk) are pretty hard to stomach. Clearly the common denominator for environmental care isn’t, as a good tranche of environmentalists claim, simply market forces. It’s above all about consciousness and Self+Earth awareness.
For me, right now, the level of the general enviro-economic debate is exasperating. Come on! We need something new, not half-new. Not 1968. New.
The Root of the Issue
I’ve stayed in many alternative communities in my life, some places where no one even used money, and have learned to my chagrin that you could stick humans in paradise, make every single one a millionaire, give them whatever they wanted, and they’d still moan, backstab, cheat and fight. Take away money. Take away capitalism. I guarantee, humans will still be the same disputatious and miserable bunch of egos they were before. Sorry to say.
Why is that? Why? Why can’t we be content and work together? Because, as I learned when I moved onto Mud Mountain back in 2011 and my old mindset was peeled away by the dirt-streaked fingers of nature, the problem isn’t out there.
Anyone who is at one with themselves, who is grounded in their soul and has awakened to the sheer joy of who they really are and belong to, no longer needs much at all. They don’t care if people like them or hate them, they don’t see hierarchies, they don’t need to squash or manipulate people to get what they want, they don’t need people to admire their house or their car. They are complete and powerful. Not this lamentable baboon-beats-chest and points an assault weapon in yer face kind of ‘powerful’ (which is not power at all but a sorry state of inadequacy), but the kind of powerful that makes miracles and inspirational wonders arise apparently out of nowhere.
Until we are all complete and fulfilled, until we find our true sense of belonging and self-worth, we’ll keep on stealing, fighting, manipulating, objectifying, competing, wasting resources, destroying ecosystems, and feeling scared, or belittled, or inadequate. We’ll also be unable to come up with a better way of organising our socio-political or economic structures. Because we’ll always be coming from a place of utter disempowerment, rather than maturity and wholeness.
All of today’s structures are reflections of ourselves, and our psyches. The current expression of capitalism is no different. It feeds on and blooms out of a starved, immature soul. So personally, I’m not too convinced by the cobweb-draped socialist/capitalist thing.
That doesn’t mean the structures in and of themselves aren’t damaging, though...
The Structural Impact
It is true, the current economic model of psychotic growth actively strives to suppress any kind of psychological health, democracy, inner depth or environmental care. Commercial marketing aims to create infinite amounts of fear, desire or pain just to sell a product. That’s why I created a Patreon page. I’m fascinated by alternative economic models and income bridges, and thus experiment with a platform model that sustains what I do without pandering to “the market.” I love that it allows me to write all manner of posts, be genuinely helpful, and not consider profit. I also love the community it has generated. But let’s get clear, despite the hours I plough in and its popularity, I am not sustained by crowdfunding alone (and I live very cheaply).
The truth is, we are so entrenched in the commercial mindset, we only respond to its clamour. If we can get away with paying nothing, often that’s what we do. We may talk the talk and bemoan The System, but when push comes to shove, where do we throw our cash? Which is why I’m currently operating a two-thirds non-commercial, one-third commercial venture, where I create a massive amount of free material for everyone funded by Patrons, but have a small number of high quality ‘products’ which I live off. Because right now that’s what people are willing to feed me for. And (in answer to the question above) I still don’t have a pension scheme, though I do now have health insurance, thanks to Spanish residency requirements.
Now, I could I suppose could dig my heels in, shut down The Mud Home entirely, go back to my mountain and live virtually money-free. After two years on the road, I can see the lifestyle with the smallest environmental footprint is beyond all doubt, the tiny off-grid homesteading one. Nothing else comes close. It is extremely difficult to live sustainably or regeneratively any other way. It’s also absurdly inexpensive.
But from my own personal experience, I don’t think moneylessness is the way. My next book Filthy Rich will chart that adventure, and where it ultimately leads.
In short, what I see has happened is this: Pretty much everyone working in any ethical domain perceives money as bad. They think they shouldn’t have any. And the trouble with this philosophy is that if we say only unethical monsters have money (and money is a very useful tool for getting shit done, for raising awareness, for planting forests, investing in alternative energy research, and protecting wildlife), we are creating a self-fulfilling nightmare where ecocidal psychos hold the wealth, and all other people are at their beck and call. It means they have control of the media, the resources, the tech, and the political system. It severely limits our ability to make an impact.
So I no longer subscribe to the moneyless reality. Neither should you if you are involved in meaningful ethical work for this planet. Yes, there are fairer exchange systems that don’t involve banks, but they are not functioning yet, so money is what we have. It’s a tool. That’s it.
Personally, I’d like the psychos who steal our freedom, burn our forests, and use war to fill their pockets, to be poor and disempowered! I’d prefer light-filled, Earth-protecting humans to own the wealth. This is why I’m quite happy to pay my local eco-vendor for vegetables until I set my own garden up. I want to empower that person. It’s why I don’t mind paying my local hairdresser every six months. The poor woman has a child to feed. How else is she supposed to live? It's also why I love that I'm off-grid and don't give a single cent to an energy company. I want to starve them.
Money in and of itself isn't the issue. It's what we as a species value and aspire to is that needs to change. We also need to clarify collectively that some things are too sacred to enter that exchange system (love, human bodies, rivers, forests, other living creatures). We need to think way bigger than we currently are. We need to consider things like how to base an economy on creation and regeneration rather than destruction and abuse, and whether in fact energy and transport has to exploit natural resources at all. We've put humans in space, we've connected the entire world with a wireless communications web. If you tell me we can't create a regenerative economy, I'm not going to buy it.
Stepping Up into a New World
Humanity is facing all manner of issues right now. But whether I look left or right, the discussion is so limited in its outlook, it’s like listening to endless radio static. To solve the questions in front of us, it’s not adequate to hark back to Marx, or some other fossilised old twit. It’s no good leaping on the neo-liberal greed and gravy train either. Because the problem has long, crusty old roots that delve far deeper into our psyches than modern economic theories.
The real problem is that Humanity has an abundance issue. All of us; from the richest to the poorest, live in a mindset of lack. We have no faith that the planet can support us. We have no trust that without X amount in the bank we will survive (despite literally millions of examples of people surviving without a dime, and millions of others still dying despite a stack in the bank). Whether we are greedily accumulating in an attempt to ward off some imagined destitution, or hating the rich while secretly coveting their wealth and always wishing we had more, the emotional seed is the same. It’s an old, old survival program, and we need to move beyond it. Because it’s not planted in truth.
How is Life Really Sustained?
When I step away from the internet prattle and really spend time watching the improbable array of life bursting and crawling and flying and twittering and digging and spinning webs in my terrain, I soon feel I’m in some kind of alternate wonderland. In the magical world of Gaia, things manifest in the strangest of ways. Enormous trees grow from things that look like motes of dust. Infinite pools of consciousness co-exist with finite fleshy bodies. Tiny, fragile seedlings that I could break with my index finger somehow crack through tarmac.
On this incredible planet, the craziest, most dreamlike of creatures survive and thrive, and God only knows how. Humming birds, elephants, platypus, glass frogs, birds of paradise, sun fish, spider crabs, octopodes, hippopotamus, giraffes. If we pause and really observe them, the very fact these beings even exist ought to bend open the bars in our brain prisons at least a little.
Even something, say, as common as a butterfly is mind-blowing. How? How did it turn from a maggot into this colourful, symmetrically-patterned wonder? How could it possibly ingest its entire body and transform into an entirely different creature? Yes, we can call it metamorphosis and think we understand, but we don’t. It’s insane. I tell you, if I went up to the vast majority of economic and socio-political commentators and said, “Look Pete, I’ve come up with an idea for a living entity that starts life as a worm, and then weaves an awesome silken bodysuit around itself, hangs upside down for a month, eats its own body and uses it to build a flying machine, and the wings will be about 100 times bigger than the worm was, and covered in shimmering rainbow dust, and the pattern will be perfectly symmetrical and beautiful,” I guarantee you Pete would give me one of those looks, and send me straight to the Flat Earth end of the internet.
This is what we don’t seem to quite have mastered yet. Life on Earth isn’t a 2 + 2 = 4 kind of a place. It’s something far more interesting. Something far more creative and imaginative. And so are we. We can do so much better than tired old polarities and poverty mindsets. We really can. We’re butterflies wriggling around in a mesh of our own making, eating ourselves alive right now. That cocoon has become too tight. It hurts. It burns. But who knows what we’ll be tomorrow? Who knows what we’ll have created?
For an argument on how the market economy is not capitalism, see Dave Darby’s super post in Low Impact.
Other interesting ideas regarding alternative economies include:
Sacred Economics by Charles Eisenstein
Donut Economics by Kate Raworth
Being a contrary sort of a person, I'll never follow one 'Testament', or one solution. For me these are all creative ideas to build upon, expand or digest into something new. Evolution is a path, not an ideology. And one of the main limitations of economic models (that I've seen) is no proper discussion of the crucial difference between physical/material resources (which are finite, therefore risk becoming unsustainable) and non-material services/energy/gifts/ideas (which are potentially infinite). The line between the two is often unclear of course, but I think it is a better understanding of this difference that holds the key to creating a sustainable or regenerative economy.
Do you value these posts? Do you enjoy The Mud Home’s free content? Please consider contributing to the running costs on Patreon and being part of an alternative economic experiment. All patrons have access to a monthly patron-only video where I share my latest, very inexpensive, creations from my land. And the stories that go with them.
Many thanks to The Mud Sustainers and everyone who has had faith in The Mud Home and is supporting these posts on Patreon.
It’s been a slog. S L O G. With each letter in that word turning into a week-long endurance marathon where I dodge wind, mist, and rain in the pursuit of a roof or two. Some building tasks are simply not one-person affairs. Roofing is one of them.
Now, I’m not going to lie. Should you be imagining vast arenas of canopy, I must come clean: My roofs are tiny, 4 x 4 m arrangements perched upon nobbled stone huts less than three metres off the ground. Hardly castles. But what the structures lack in size, they make up for in complication. I’m basically hunkering down in a museum here in northern Spain. The exteriors must remain loyal to history. And Spanish history has a preoccupation with tejas curvas. Curvy tiles.
For many reasons, I had to wait until mid-June before I could take apart the first roof. Finally, after a week of cold, slimy fog, there was an opening. The sky briskly swept the clouds off into the distance, and changed into a vast blue overland where the only visible limits were the mountaintops themselves. The sun graced the sierra with his feisty presence. I took my cue.
Throwing together a scaffold from a plank and a couple of beer crates, I jumped out of my mind and into reality. This was altogether a good thing as I’d been thinking this darn roof through for months. And I know only too well that ninety percent of thinking is pointless, because the moment you actually begin work in the physical world, everything changes. Foreseen problems evaporate, unforeseen snags appear. The mind has never got it covered. Only the soul can do that.
So it was that I began yanking off those mottled terracotta semicircles. And oh with what zest! Quickly the roof transformed into a bare skeleton of ancient wood. True, I did notice that the tiles turned artfully heavier the further down the sharp incline I progressed. Still, it all seemed simple enough. Little did I know as I carefully stacked the old tejas against my herb garden. Little did I know.
Three days later the weather was still holding up, but I was so physically broken that I could hardly climb in my van at night. Even so, my spirit was alive and kicking, because I’d managed to single-handedly raise the roof 15 cm for a couple of discreet slit windows. I’d repaired all the rafters, extended the roof a little, and pinned the waterproofing bitumen in place too. Without power tools. Yup, I was making it happen. All. By. Myself. And I loved it. I loved breaking through the pain and exhaustion barriers, the mental barriers. My muscles were growling in content. Because it’s only when we stretch beyond our self-imposed limitations that we grow.
My cow farmer neighbour Quilo popped round. He’s a garden gnome of a chap with an apple of a face and twinkly eyes. Like my other sidekick Celal in Turkey, he’s clearly partial to a tipple here and there, and his nose is bright red as a result.
“Es muy impressionante!” Quilo said at least three times as he inspected the rafters. I grinned from ear to ear, because I thought I had it in the bag. All that remained were those tejas flipping curvas.
In the old days, tejas curvas were placed on round poles and covered in rocks to prevent them from being ripped off in the wind. But that’s not an especially stable way of anchoring a roof if you happen to be a human living in it, rather than say a cow – which is the kind of inhabitant my stone huts are designed for.
“Vale. Como hacemos las tejas?” I asked. “How? How do they work?”
Quilo stooped, grabbed a few tiles, and showed me how to lay them using mortar. Which was fortunate, because I didn’t have a clue.
“But mortar is hard,” he said. “Use the spray glue. Much better, much faster, and not that expensive. Es mucho mas facile!”
I wrinkled my nose disdainfully. Quilo shrugged. “If you need any help, just ask,” he said, knowing full well I wasn’t going to in a million, zillion years.
The next day I peered out of my van to see a champignon horizon. Darker puffballs lurked to the west, and I knew it was only a matter of time before precipitation came slinking back. So without taking my statutory day off, I mixed some limecrete to use as mortar, stacked up some tiles on the edge of the roof and clambered up in a groaning, flopping seal-like effort. It hadn’t been this hard in the beginning, surely...
Thus the torture began. It was an exacting inquisition by terracotta. As I perched on the rack of the roof, I sensed my knees and ankles groan. Then the first wet slap of bad news landed with a splat upon one of the tile tops. They were clearly going to need much more mortar than I had anticipated, and mixing the mortar was exhausting.
The ratchet turned tighter. The next issue was the pitch of the roof, which unless you happened to be a contortionist, contrived to throw every joint and ligament out of line. Then there were the irritating corrugated bumps of the bitumen which were impossible to walk in shoes without breaking. So I took my shoes off and hobbled about instead, which was hideously uncomfortable. But worst of all was the way I would slap on the mortar, lay a tile, then move to the next one, only to nudge the first one out of place. With limecrete mortar, the initial suction is vital, otherwise the tile no longer sticks. Inhale. Exhale. Breathe.
Even once I had got all of the above working, the thing was still looking an utter mess unless I wiped the head of each tile with a sponge and water. I managed a row, and was all but crippled by it. Then of course I was out of tiles. Or water. Or mortar. And had to climb down and up and down and up that roof to fetch them.
The first day of tiling ground to a dissatisfying halt. Daylight made a slow crawl off my land and an ominous spread of mist sidled into its place. Plenty of empty roof was left to gloat at me. I’d managed about four rows of tiles. But worst of all I’d made a pig’s ear of it.
It took three days of solid teeth-gritting work to both lay those tiles and clear my aesthetic bar. By which time I had decided the roof and I were at war. I vowed I’d never do it again.
But then, what do you know… a week went by. Then another. A nice dry spell slid into the region, with the slopes glittering and gleaming with promise. Before I knew it, I was gamely pulling off the tiles of cabaña number two.
Now that I’d got the hang of this roofing lark, I figured I could experiment a little. I decided to add both insulation and a skylight. Because hey, why make your life easy when you can completely overextend yourself?
Losing the Will
I began that roof three weeks ago. If I thought the first roof was a war, then this second one is a siege. For the first time ever since I began building, I’ve felt my willpower begin to leak away. The whole process is simply so hard, slow, and tedious.
Willpower is, in my experience, the linchpin of making anything happen, but it’s something most moderns are not taught how to cultivate. I’m lucky, I have a nice, tough congenital streak of the stuff, but even I can lose momentum after a while.
What is willpower? When I sit and sense inside, I feel it as a gleaming ladder of belief leading to a dream. Sometimes the body falters, sometimes the mind loses its grip, but some part of us has to stay on the ladder even if we’re resting. It’s the conviction that you will reach the end if you can just pull yourself up another rung. And then one more again. You may need to pause. You may need to call in help. You may need to modify your vision. But you do keep moving, however slowly.
One day I fell in the skylight. My nose was bashed, long scrapes ran down my arms, my legs were bruised and battered. It shook my resolve. So I abandoned the roof to its fate, drove to the beach and bought ice-cream – always a panacea for a bad day. But within two days I was climbing that scaffold again. Within three, the grazes and cuts were disappearing. Within a week, the bruises were fading too. I stared in the mirror at my nose, searching for clues of the injury. Miraculously there were none. Our flesh is Gaian. It adapts and strengthens and grows in the most incredible ways. If allowed to recuperate, it regenerates. It’s just one of the miracles of Earth. Nothing humans have come up with in the history of engineering possesses this magical capacity for self-repair and regeneration. And it’s this Gaian power we have to plug into when we’re building a house, a life, or a new world.
For me, because nature embodies this power, it’s the place I turn to for inspiration. So, I sat in the folded crook of my ash tree’s trunk as the weather churned in and out. Mist, rain, sun, wind. I gazed into the meadow and listened. “Step by step”, the ash said as the wind invigorated her slender leaves. “You can do this. You can get there. Today just get the insulation down.”
So I did. Then the sheets of bitumen. Then the skylight. Finally last week I was struggling so hard to find motivation, I called on my friends, because I knew if someone else turned up, it would push me to work.
Today the end is in sight, and even though it has tested my endurance to the limits, I know come autumn I’m going to bask under that skylight. Come winter, I’m going to sing within that insulation too. Heck yes, I’ll be supping Rioja in a T shirt while I gaze up at the stars. The effort has its own reward.
Of course, this end is only a beginning, the beginning of one new world. But I know that once the roof is on, the fun begins, because everything else from the kitchen sink to the plaster is a game. There’s a reality check though, and it can’t be avoided. You can’t play games without a roof over your head, without a dry place to sleep, and a warm place to cook and wash. You can only wing it so far.
Yes, building the basics is a slog. But it’s a one-time payment. And once it’s made, I know from experience, you dance and live the dream. Yet there’s something even more valuable and interesting still. Once you’ve held onto the rungs of willpower without giving up and letting go, once you’ve climbed step by step to the roof of your idea – no matter how slowly – you know you can do it again. Because the ladder of conviction is not some man-made, plastic piece of trash. It’s Gaian. And every time it’s used, it becomes stronger and longer and more powerful. It takes you to the stars.
Special call out to Sophie Hunter and Dianne and Bismil Gungor, who donated their sweat and time to help me with the dreaded tiling when I was running out of steam.
Thank you too to our lovely clan of Mud Sustainers and patrons on Patreon! Their contributions cover the web platform costs, 10 GB of off-grid internet, the email list, hosting, and the now vital virtual assistance from the reliable and efficient Melissa. If you are enjoying The Mud Home posts, please consider making a pledge to support it. For just $2 a month you have email priority, access to my private news feed where I share my more intimate woes and victories. Plus a monthly patron-only video from my land.
Dark mushrooms cluster over the peaks. They bubble and froth and moil in anguish. A fungus of low pressure has set up camp in northern Spain, rendering June colder and wetter than February. This is no weather for a camper. No weather for a builder either. But it’s focused me well. I know what I have to do.
Two priorities have emerged out of the fog this week like a pair of SUV headlights. I need warm shelter and a hot shower. Yesterday. In hot, dry Turkey it was different. The most fundamental issue was water. But the climate is different here. It’s good to be clear.
With this understanding of the truth of my situation, I envisage one of my cabanas insulated to the hilt, with a small stove and a wooden floor. I plot in my mind’s eye where the shower will go. And consider what kind of hot water system I will use. Then I sit under the ash tree, rest my head against her damp bark, and send my seed vision into her branches. She shakes in the breeze. Leaves drip with cold mist and a wild iris winks. I know the seed has been planted.
Back in my camper van, I pick up my phone and click on the weather app. Really, it can only be for entertainment, because its capacity for meteorological prediction here in northern Spain is just slightly less than Mystic Meg’s. On a good day, the met office can tell me roughly what will happen in the next twelve hours. That’s it.
Yes, I'm a cold, wet, hot-water-bottle-clutching desperado. But I honour this experience, because it once again clarifies how no one has a single atom of a clue until they’re physically in a given situation. You can do all the research you want, add up all the numbers, pack your bug-out bag. And then what do you know? The weather gods roll the dice in the opposite direction, and you are frozen lasagne.
Things are changing whether we deny it or not. They always have, of course. Some entities will thrive on the new climates. Some will perish. Mammals, like us humans, can only exist within an extremely limited range of temperatures. That doesn’t prevent us all sticking our heads in the nimbostratus just the same. And no this isn’t just a climate denier phenomenon. We all do it. You’re doing it. I’m doing it. Because just like divorce, cancer, and road accidents, everyone believes disaster only affects other people. He he he.
Yes, things are melting. Fast. Faster than the folk on keyboards anticipated. But what I’m seeing is this: for the first time in modern history the rich pampered West has just started to realise that maybe this environmental shitshow will affect them too. Because despite what some like to believe, the weather gods don’t just throw crap on poor people in Africa or Bangladesh, tidal waves don’t pause before the towers of big business, forest fires don’t care if you’re middle-class, ice ages freeze black and white skin just the same, and hurricanes will happily take any blighter’s roof off. You can’t bribe or buy your way out of it, though it’s fascinating to watch the elites trying. New Zealand? Mars? Hmm, we’ll see.
People are worrying about collapse and disaster and chaos, seemingly oblivious to the fact that more than half the world has been living in as state of permanent collapse, disaster, and chaos anyway. Many many people have never known security in their entire lives. For a large portion of the planet, this upheaval is just a continuation of decades of violence and trauma.
If you peer out of the house of drama, you’ll see. There is a levelling happening right now. The bowl of humanity is being shaken. The top may be at the bottom tomorrow. Or there may be no top or bottom left. Gaia doesn’t care about status. She only cares about your soul and your ability to connect with her.
The Wonderful Disaster Displacement Myths
Of course some disagree. They say that when food runs out, those with money will be able to buy it while the poor won’t. Which is a convenient short-term myth to believe in if you are wealthy, of course. No one seems to question whether anyone will actually want money if the food runs out. Money in and of itself is worthless. Its value is a collective agreement. Nothing more. If the system collapses, why should the monetary system be the only thing to remain intact?
Another fact that is often overlooked is that the world’s poor actually possess one massive advantage over their wealthier urbanite cousins: They already know how to survive on very little and in difficult conditions. They already survive with little power and water. They know how to forage and store and build shelters out of nothing. I am indebted to many a Turkish villager who taught me how to make anything from anything. Believe me, if civilisation sinks, those are the folk who will make it if anyone will.
There’s also a nice little delusion floating around that the rich will be able to move to safer climates and somehow avoid the worst. I have to chortle at this, because anyone who thinks they know where a safe clime is going to be a year or ten from now is barking. Nature doesn’t work like that. It doesn’t pore over spreadsheets before it acts and send out a five-month report. There is a higher authority than algorithms and calculations, and we can’t second-guess it.
Temperatures where I am are now sometimes soaring and plummeting at over ten degrees in a day. I noticed this in Turkey too, where summers were turning hotter and drier, winters colder, and water was becoming scarcer. What happens when ten-degree overnight drops become twenty degrees? Or thirty? Watch what’s happening now. How far ahead are people predicting floods and hurricanes? And how fast are people moving to avoid them, be they middle-class, or dirt poor? The proof is in the baked Alaska which is already melting a good ten years before it was ‘supposed’ to. No one knows what’s going to happen, or how they’re going to respond when it does. It’s all a weather-app-style guess.
The Trouble with Planning
To my mind, environmental disaster survival projections are hilarious, and they mirror the errors people make before they try to move off-grid into the wild for the first time. People always overthink and underact. They prep and plot according to what they already know. But we can’t imagine what we can’t imagine. Navigating the unknown is less about planning, and more about adaptation and response. How quickly can you change your habits? How clearly can you see what you really need, and what your next step should be?
We are smart enough and powerful enough to create a beautiful world, even now. Because nature responds to our touch in a way science doesn’t account for. I’ve always said that we could turn this planet around in ten years if we put our minds to it. But it isn’t going to happen by blithely pretending we won’t be affected, nor by sinking into depression and giving up in defeat. Nor by panicking. Nor by running to Mars. Nothing happens on the back of those energies. Magic arises when we observe the truth; namely that this planet is not an insentient spherical version of the periodic table just sitting around waiting to be manhandled. The planet and all of life within and upon it is intelligence. It’s been doing this for eons. It knows what it’s doing. Do we?
The weird thing is this...
Back here on Mud Crag the weather gods are still pissing on me. I’m camped in a sodden cloud with visibility at about five metres. I have no hot water. No warm shelter. Nothing but a vision, a planted seed. But here’s the thing...even in the midst of this discomfort, I feel more alive, more connected and more peaceful than I ever did in the modern flat I rented by the coast. I’m a happy, if chilly, camper. Each day I wake up, feel the juice of the land, hear the birds twittering and follow the weather. If the mist lifts, I work on the roof of my cabana. If it doesn’t, I feel the dirt climb into my soul and write posts like this. Something inside me is so fulfilled and content. I know each minute what I have to do, and it doesn't involve sitting and worrying.
Do you know what? This environmental crapfest might just be the best thing that's happened to humanity. Because there is so much more to life and our souls than flicking switches on and off, or buying trash we don’t need. What exactly was humanity doing anyway? Even the richest of the rich live impoverished empty lives. Pity them and their fake friends, fake wives, fake smiles and fake nooz. The whole thing is a sham and it always was. There’s so much more beauty to taste than sitting in traffic jams, staring at screens and losing ourselves in our addictions. So much more power to experience than competing for petty status chips against our fellow humans. So much more wealth to obtain than numbers on a bank balance. But sorry to say, it looks like we’re never going to touch these things unless we’re pushed.
The earth is pushing.
While I build a roof or two, and fight lone battles with curvy tiles, keeping The Mud Home going is tricky. I could never manage it without my paid virtual help. So if you find meaning or inspiration in this blog, please consider contributing on Patreon. For just $2 a month you have access to my private news feed where I post updates and thoughts I don't wish to share with the world at large, plus a monthly video from my land.
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How to avoid creating a living hell out of your paradise
“Do you feel the change?” The ash tree croons. “Can you sense it? We’ve turned a corner.”
I stroke her rough old bark and look up into the hydra of her boughs. She’s a multli-armed diva clutching fresh clusters of sprouting leaves like green castanets.
She’s right. I felt it too. We’ve moved into another phase. Things are happening now. The sun has filled my land, stuffing everything with photons. The slope is a flower-spattered delight. And the speed at which the vegetation grows is almost terrifying. May in Asturias is a lot like the Devonian era. Burdock leaves have suddenly reached my thighs, while grass, ferns, nettles and brambles are bursting and sprawling and spreading across the land.
The first thought one might have is: “It’s out of control.” And that would of course be true.
I stifle the urge to fetch the sickle. Because even a wilderness loving mud hag like me can feel a tremor of panic at the rampant growth. “Ooh the grass, ooh the brambles, the ferns! They’re everywhere!”
Normally this is the time the lawnmowers hit the green. Or the strimmers. Or some other eardrum-murdering, fuel-devouring, small-creature-ripping device. I’ve watched them on the verges of the towns, ear mufflers on, clipping life into neatly manicured squares. As the ‘untidiness’ is strimmed away, every wild flower the bees and other insects depend upon is swiftly decimated in one afternoon, while the rest of us are gifted a headache.
Oh how we humans love to turn beauty into hell.
But how to cut the grass?
It’s become a lazily unquestioned habit to assume that machines are easier and faster than anything else. Nowhere is this so patently wrong as with strimmers and grass. They are inefficient, slow, noisy, heavy and clumsy to use, nerve-wracking and expensive. For the doubters, watch this entertaining video of the annual strimmer versus scythe competition in Somerset. The UK is a hotbed of traditionalist grass cutting. Would you expect to find a scything association anywhere else?
Yet is even scything necessary? As I scan my expanse of ungovernable fertility, I begin to wonder how we moderns turned into such control freaks. It’s odd. Why this fear in the face of the prolific power of nature? What do we suppose will happen if we don’t ‘control’ it?
But what about the brambles? The weeds? The endlessly growing grass? Won’t it...take over?
These are common worries rattling around the busy conduits of most land owners’ minds. Many people refuse to buy larger plots for fear of not being able to manage it all. I think I harboured the same anxiety at one point. Five years alone on a Turkish hill taught me a thing or two about managing, though. For the most part, the less you do of it, the better.
So the grass grows. But unless you need to use that particular area (and we’ll come to that in a minute) what difference does long grass make to anything? Either cows will come and eat it all, or winter will come again and it will die back. And even if it kept on growing forever and ever into the sky...would that matter really? Really?
Actually it would matter a lot. But not to us. For the millions and millions of creatures that thrive in untamed meadows and woods – bees, beetles, ants, spiders, snakes, lizards, skinks, rodents, moles, hedgehogs – who feed the wild cats, raptors, badgers, foxes, wolves, you not managing your space is a life-saving measure.
The Control and Productivity Disease
We’ve all been infected by the control disease, though the symptoms vary from person to person. Some control freaks are perfectionists, some of us suffer a misplaced sense of responsibility for everything, and then there are the greedy types who really do want to exploit everything for their own ends. More often than not all three of these strands are fused together in differing degrees within us.
On top of that, we’ve also grown up in a world where we’ve been taught that everything and everyone has to be ‘productive’. The constraints for this productivity are exceedingly narrow. Productivity in the modern capitalist sense never seems to refer to anything other than money made and quantities of products generated. The quality, beauty, intelligence, kindness, peacefulness or longevity of a thing is necessarily excluded from the calculation.
What does this mean for homesteaders, gardeners and land owners?
As a result, when most people greet a beautiful piece of land for the first time, what do they do? They immediately start stressing out about how to control it and make it ‘productive’. Thus Farmer Manish or Homesteader Julie kill themselves and their Eden by planting huge orchards or growing way more crops than they need, which in turn require outhouses to be stored in, plus pickers to pick, and vehicles to be transported to market in. Before you know it profit margins are calling the shots, panic and pesticides appear. It’s hell all over again.
Turning paradise into a nightmare is more common than you might imagine.
Moving my eyes upwards, I watch the sea mist rolling over the rocky crown of the sierra. Those peaks are an ancient rampart, the frontline against the chaotic Atlantic weather. As I stare, I can feel the choppiness of my mind. There are thousands of voices within it, none of them mine. Words and ideas I’ve absorbed from all and sundry, the majority of whom didn’t know what they were talking about.
The problem is not the grass or the size of the land. The toxic root of the trouble is our limited way of thinking. Our indoctrination. The only way we can live beautiful lives is to start unpicking our neurotic thoughts. To start questioning. Everything. Why does the land have to be productive, for example? And what does that mean? Nature is already productive. It’s already perfect. We, on the other hand, are ill. Not bad. Not evil. Just ill. And until we’re healthy, we continue to enslave both ourselves and everything we come into contact with.
It doesn’t have to be this way though. At all.
How to Surthrive?
There is a difference between control and responsibility. It’s a subtle difference. And subtleties are usually lost in our world of cheap slogans and sound bites. As any recovering codependent will tell you, the remedy for control freaks is to become crystal clear about boundaries, about where your areas of responsibility are, and where they are not.
When I entered my land, this was why I spent a year getting to know it before making any major decisions. Because while I’m guardian of a hectare, I don’t need all that for myself. I don’t even need half a hectare. 1500 metres is ample for me to grow the vegetables I eat, the fruit trees I’d like, and still have oodles of living space.
Thus I felt it out. Where was the sun? Where was the water? Which areas were sheltered (better for plants that like warmer weather)? Which areas felt like they wanted to be left alone? Which areas were simply so beautiful I wouldn’t want to change them? Where was the privacy? Where was the shade? Where did the wild cat like to hunt? Where did the wild irises bloom? And crucially, where do all the delicious weeds I love to forage grow?
I allowed all my senses to absorb my new world. I sat with it. Smelt it. Watched it. Heard it. And I became clear, very clear: I clarified which was my space, which was nature’s space, and where the overlapping zone was in that Venn diagram.
My territory is the part I ‘manage’. It’s the zone where I may cut grass and lay down paths. The area where I build huts, or plant vegetables. This is the area of my responsibility. And I can tell you now, you will make your life a lot easier if you keep that area relatively small, because every step you walk is going to count.
This is the rest of my land, and it doesn’t need much managing. I don’t worry if it becomes overgrown, because that’s part of its beauty. It’s the area where I may wander and listen to what nature would like. And I trust that what nature wants is going to be good for me too at some point, because we are neighbours and we help each other out. I may abstain from entering some parts altogether, leaving them instead untouched for flora and fauna. Other parts are communication spaces, or meditation zones.
My advice for people wanting to earn a living from their land
Even if you want to begin a market garden, you don’t need anything like the space you think you do. For your own sake, keep your area for cultivation small. Listen to Oliver Goshey’s super podcast, which discusses this among other things, because they had the same experience (three people ran a sustainable permie enterprise on just half an acre). You can grow an enormous amount in a very small space if you organise your system well. As Oliver says, “the larger your area, the less efficient it becomes.” It will cost you more time, energy and money to maintain, because your Eden is your mirror, and just as you enslave it, it will enslave you back.
As for the rest of your terrain, why not let it be? Become its guardian rather than its task master. Give something back to the planet that provides for us all. Leave a space for wildlife, for thistles and weeds. Leave a space for Gaia.
More info on the beautiful art of scything:
More info on leaving areas to nature:http://marymary.ie/we-are-the-ark
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Atulya K Bingham
"Reality meets fantasy, myth, dirt and poetry. I'm hooked!" Jodie Harburt, Multitude of Ones.