Why would anyone move into a tent and live on a mountain for eight months? A mountain with no power, no water, and no permanent shelter to speak of.
Something has to have gone wrong.
The trouble all began with a dream, and in many ways it ended with one too. Only it was a dream I had never planned. One I hadn't expected at all.
I’m lucky enough to own a small plot of land. It sits snug within the pomegranate-laden folds of Turkey’s Mediterranean. I stare out at great hulks of mountain pitching themselves into the sea. The surrounding pine thickets whir in the balmy breeze, while buzzards loop through the blue overhead. My nearest neighbour is four hundred metres away. It’s so quiet I can hear her every word when she speaks on the phone.
Land is a bit like a child. When it’s yours you lose all objectivity about it. For me, my land burgeons with charm. It’s unreasonable, but I’m convinced it’s the most beautiful place on Earth. Certainly, not so long back, I harboured a few grandiose plans for it. By 2011, it seemed the time had finally come. My 2500 square metres of the planet was about to be transformed into a living, breathing vision; a meditation centre. It was a fantasy I had cherished for years, and I’d already had one bash at manifesting it further along the coast in the Kabak valley. I had failed spectacularly. But I’m a headstrong sort, and not much prone to heeding advice. It’s the kind of personality that either does very well or very badly, depending on the circumstances.
I wasn't the only one set on this vision either. Seth and Claire, two friends from South Africa, had recently flown in to join me in the venture. They were fellow teachers and yogis, and as such we seemed to be a dream-team; a fantastic, three-pronged super-group. We had been planning our centre for months, right down to the size of the gong at the entrance.
Spring was damp and cool that year, summer late in coming. The winter grass that adorns the steep hills of Turkey’s Mediterranean rolled in thick, green waves. There was still quite a bite to the gusts of sea air blowing in too, and they slapped the cobalt water whipping it into unpredictable shapes. Seth, Claire and I set up a temporary base in the nearby seaside village of Alakir and looked forward to attacking our project. Sometimes, however, life has other plans.
Right from the beginning, it seemed nothing would work out for us. The first setback was that we couldn’t manage to lay our hands on a car. Or motorcycle. Or licenses. So for all intents and purposes, we were grounded, stuck twiddling our thumbs a good half an hour drive from the land. It gave us plenty of time to think. And talk. For reasons no one could quite put their finger on, doubts seeped in between the cracks of our plans. As the weeks groaned by, a vague but unsettling cloud of unease began to spread through our close-knit triangle. I wondered what to do.
Then, without warning a guide appeared. He trotted out from the aphotic depths of the Lycian forests one cold evening in late March. Brian was a hiker. He had the wild look all those who spend too long in the Lycian mountains finally acquire – a look I myself would soon absorb. He could often be found a thousand odd metres above sea level, cooking rogan josh over a campfire with a copy of Heidegger in his back pocket. With his shock of white hair, caustic laugh, and sawing Australian vowels, he was what you might call ‘a character’.
I perched on a beanbag next to the fire. Brian pulled himself closer to the wood-burner. He took sporadic sips out of his mug of tea and held it neatly on his lap when he was done. He narrowed his eyes before imparting his portentous message.
“Well Doll, looks like you need to get yourself tent and spend a night alone on that land. Let the Earth speak to you,” he said.
I rubbed my hands over the stove and nodded. “Of course, let Mother Nature talk to me. Listen to Gaia and all of that.”
Yet inwardly I baulked. Really? Did I have to listen? Couldn’t I just have a fabulous plan, make colourful scribbles in my notebook and get on with it? It seemed so uncomfortable, inconvenient, time consuming; trekking all the way up to the land and freezing my butt off for a night. There was no toilet, no running water. And there were all the possibilities of trouble, too. Wild boar were common in the forests, lascivious locals even more widespread. It would be a night fraught with fear and insomnia, no doubt. Nonetheless, something somewhere in me must have seen some merit in the idea, because a few days later I was scouring the house for a tent. All that I could lay my hands on was a Wendy House, the type small children use for den-making in the back garden.
Beggars can’t be choosers they say. The next day I packed the Wendy House into a small yellow day pack, along with a blanket and a bin-liner. I filled the pockets with dried apricots and nuts, and of course a bottle of water. Off I went. Off to hear my land. The plot was a good fifteen to twenty kilometres from Alakir bay, and I’d set out far too late. The sun was edging past noon as I trotted along the water’s edge, the sea collecting flecks of gold in its wavy pockets.
When I reached the end of the beach, I spotted a tractor approaching. I flagged it down. Hurling my pack into the cement-caked trailer, I climbed in myself. It was a dusty lurching ride, but it got me a good part of the way into the valley.
Two hours of hiking later, I was closing in on the still unfamiliar territory of my land. As I trotted along the dusty track, I passed gaggles of village women squatting on their front steps in their bloomers and headscarves. Some were toothless, many were wrinkled, all wore smiles and hooted their hellos at me. Bolstered by the good feeling, I clambered through the thin boundary of holly trees and pines to get into my square of earth. Ah I was here. On my own turf. I pricked my ears up and did my utmost to listen to what, if anything, that spot of turf was saying. All I heard was a few birds twittering with absurd enthusiasm.
The first question was where to set up camp. I trudged up the slope, while grass stalks, thick and lush, brushed my ankles and calves. I scoured left and right for signs.
“Come on! I’m here. Speak!” I muttered at the undergrowth. Nothing. Just the wind gently rattling the pine needles above.
Soon, I reached a small plateau at the top of the land. Here it was utterly overgrown, hemmed in by an army of barbed thorn bushes. One corner was sheltered by three magnificent old olive trees, their gnarled trunks wrangled into knotty sculptures. I dropped my pack, rubbed my shoulders, and paced about, relishing the feeling of wandering about a piece of the Earth I could call my own. My domain. It’s an incredibly visceral sensation to own land. Frighteningly instinctive. I heard the quiet but unmistakable growl of something primal inside me, and to be honest I didn’t completely approve.
Strolling past the spikes of the thorn bushes, I stopped for a moment. They were far from attractive, their pale green claws splayed in messy clumps. Still, I couldn’t escape the sensation there was more to them. They were natural barbed-wire and as such offered a protection. It was a peculiar circle of safety, and I realised a pig or human would have trouble getting through it. Looking up, I saw the olive trees towering over me, their arms outstretched like old family, or ancestors or something. It was then that I noticed, I was grinning to absolutely no one at all.
I’d found my spot.
It wasn’t difficult to erect the tent. It was made for a seven-year-old, after all. I crawled inside it, but I could neither sit up nor lie down. It was too small. The best I could do was lay flat and let my legs poke out of the flap at the front. I just hoped and prayed no scorpions were prowling, and hoped again that it didn’t rain.
Nature is fascinating when you get into it, though. It looks so dirty and menacing from the smudge-free windows of a city. Yet once you’re in it, you forget all of that, because the earth is speckled with stardust, Green magic spills out from every niche. As the sun drifted over the top of the mountains, I felt excitement rather than dread. The Wendy House, the smell of the grass, the twisting trunks of the trees, the open sky, all of them called back long-forgotten childhood moments in the outdoors, times before a rational education had stuffed reality into meaningless boxes, times when magic had been a living possibility
As twilight moved through the trees, I decided to build a fireplace. Soon enough, I was gazing at blooms of orange sparks flying through the darkness, while munching on those apricots. One by one, the stars pushed through the night sky. I looked about, listening, still waiting for the land to speak. It was then, as I perched on a rock lost in the hypnotic dance of the flames that I heard them. The land. And the Sky.
They were talking.
Atulya K Bingham
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