I remember when I first adopted my dog, Rotty. I had never been a full-time guardian of a canine before, and was of the opinion that I had to train her. So I set about the task with fervour. “Oh it’ll just be like teaching kids. Two weeks of firm boundary setting, and then she’ll do as she’s told,” I said to myself. Hee-hee.
A year later I was tearing my hair out, because dogs are not simply nice, tractable tabula rasas to be indoctrinated. They have their own will, and their own way. You may train them, a little, if they deign to submit. But take heed, for they all have their own personality, and there are rules they find acceptable to follow, and others they don’t.
I’m horribly stubborn. But after eighteen months it was sorted out. I thought I’d trained Rotty. In fact, she had trained me. I had learned to walk her properly every morning as soon as I woke up (if I didn’t, she would bark and whoop non-stop until I did). Once that walk was over she would agree to sit for the rest of the morning very peacefully while I did yoga, munched breakfast, and wrote. I’d see her caramel head lolling out of her wooden box, eyeing me with satisfaction as I worked, as if to say, “I’m so glad we’ve come to an arrangement.”
Did I train Rotty in return? Well, I persuaded her to sit before eating, and not to dig up the vegetable patch, and to mostly walk to heel. I thought I’d trained her not to kill chickens. So did my neighbour Dudu. So did everyone actually, because she was an incredible actress, and would turn her nose up in disdain whenever she passed the coop. In reality the only thing I’d managed to do was train her to murder with stealth. Because life is life, and instinct is instinct, and will always finds a way.
Fair enough. But what’s this got to do with my new Eden?
Well, as it goes with dogs, so it goes with land.
A piece of land is a world. It’s not just a hunk of rock and mud. It’s a life-filled being. And I use the word ‘being’ carefully. Because it’s perfect. It is exactly that. Being. Living. Becoming. Every metre of this planet is teaming with creatures, plants, and elements, all of which have their own will, and their own way. “What? A brook has a will and a way? A tree? A rock?” Yes. Most definitely. Try and get a rock to flow. Or a tree to grow towards the dark. You will soon see, they have their own opinion about what they are and how they will move. You can only work with them. All else is futile.
Yeees. And don’t I just know it?
Back in my new Eden, rugged beauty that she is... No sooner had I signed the deeds, than I was laying down one of my terrible do-or-die ultimatums (some of us never learn). “I want an access road in there. I want to camp in there in my van. And come hell or high water, I shall! Before July!”
Did the soft leaves of the ash tree glint a little as I put my foot down? Did the rocks shudder with just a fraction of mirth? Was there laughter rumbling under the grassy epidermis of my new home? Because that access road (and we’re talking ten metres of drivable surface here, not a kilometre of asphalt) wasn’t going to happen easily.
The men with machines wouldn’t do what I wanted for the price I wanted in anything like the time I wanted. So I decided to build the thing by hand. It took a while, and a bit of help, but we did it. The next week, a tractor compressed the aggregate. And then I drove down, gravel crunching under the campervan wheels.
I knew as soon as I was in, I wasn’t getting out again in a hurry. The wheels skidded. The clutch fumed. She couldn’t make it back up the slope.
Oh how I slammed my van door that day, storming off to complain to the ash tree. As I waded through the dripping stalks, over mounds, in and out of boulders, the turf began to suck on my frustration. Imbibing it. Filtering it. The ash tree waved as I approached. “Welcome,” she said. “Welcome!” But I was far too cross to listen.
The base of the ash tree holds a moss covered dip where her roots meet her trunk. Slumping into this natural velour chair, I sighed. The vista stretched away into a sea of whipped peaks, while creamy clots of cloud drifted overhead. Cow bells clanked in the distance. And then my eye fell upon a few splodges of indigo nestling in the grass. I peered a little closer.
The splodges were flag irises. Turning my head, I scanned my new Eden. And I gasped, because there were hundreds of them, budding heads poking up like an audience of blue pixies. Suddenly I felt my flesh relax and my mind slow. What did it matter whether I could or couldn’t get out? I had food. I had water. Clearly my land wanted to get to know me.
Over the next three days the mist drifted in, swallowing the outside world as it did. Meanwhile, one by one, the irises opened until my new Eden was a blaze of blue pennants. I worked with the stones to enlarge my road, dirt driving under my nails and into my pores. I drank from the spring. I bathed in the cattle trough. As I slept in the heart of the space, my soul finally came home to roost. My will was meeting the will of the land, and it was beautiful.
Our will is our soul’s direction. It determines our way. It propels us onto our roads. But it is only when our will meets someone or something else’s, only when relationship blossoms, that anything interesting can occur.
Some believe in forcing their individual will upon the world and making shit happen. Others think that’s “not nice” and prefer surrendering to the will of the group, or the world. But both these outlooks miss the beauty and power of true relationship, where wills synthesise. This is true will power. It’s a union of forces that creates something far greater than the sum of its parts, and transforms beings into something new.
I wanted to camp in my land, and I did. My land wanted me to stay a while, and I did. Those four days cleaned my soul and replenished my spirit. How different the world looked from up there. How different I looked, too.
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