Every morning when I step out of my mud home, Rotty the dog hustling about my lower legs, my eyes fall to the back step. This is often because I have just tripped and wrung my ankle. It might also be because there is a swamp the other side of my door and I’m going to need wellington boots to wade through it. You see it isn’t a back step. It’s a clutter of rocks strewn at the edge of a strip of hardened earth that is supposed to be my back step. I just haven’t got round to finishing it yet. It has been languishing in this state of incompletion for about three years now.
It must have been two months ago I gave myself a bit of a talking to. Enough! Said the dictatorial quadrant of my personality to the indolent dreamer. I’m sick of looking at this damn wreck of a step. Just do it for God’s sake! So I hauled myself up by the wellie tops, averted my eyes from the 1001 other jobs itching to yank me away from the task in hand, and conjured up an idea of how that back step could be. Pulling a rusty, old oil tin from the shed, I began collecting rocks.
Two pails were filled. I deposited the stones at the edges of where my up and coming step. I now felt hungry. Grabbing a large repurposed yoghurt pot, I strode up the slope on my quest for wild greens. In the time it took me to collect a meal’s worth, the sky had thickened with clouds. They bubbled and boiled about the hill, a cabal of meteorological grumpiness. I returned to my kitchen. The greens hadn’t even made it into the pan before the sky collapsed into an onslaught of rain. It lasted about five days. That was the last time I tried to complete the back step. Now I trip over the rocks I collected instead.
The step is one of many examples of incompletion littering the bumpy terrain of The Mud. There’s the kitchen floor, which one day I’ll cover in slabs so that I can wash up without rocky lumps sticking into my boots. There’s the mayhem of broken tiles heaped about the wooden table under the olive tree. They are waiting to become a wonderful mosaic. They’ve been waiting at least two years. There’s the summer gazebo with three back rests out of five completed. Even the vegetable terrace extends just as far as the string beans, after which the rocky wall peters out mid curve.
Sometimes I wonder why I don’t simply plough on to the end of one job before taking on another. I have my reasons. If I dig a little deeper into the mud of my psyche and excavate a few fears and desires, I find a terror of completion. Because to reach a Mud Conclusion would be like death. I don’t want my creation to end. I love it. Thus I leave loose ends flapping all over the place. Untied. Unresolved.
But what am I afraid of? The weather and the seasons roll on regardless of my unease. As I sit here watching spring pull winter apart at the seams, scattering my land with clover and vetch, and the sky with clouds of swallows, it’s obvious. The revolution of the planet drags us breathlessly from old to new, and will do so until it stops turning. It’s relentless. Completion isn’t coming. There is no end. There are only pauses and movement, lulls and change. And none of it is ever what we expect.
Yet sometimes, when I sit quiet, legs crossed, eyes closed, and move from outside to inside, I find Another Place. It’s silent and deep and vast. From there it looks different. The human striving for a finished product is based on the idea that the future is somehow more complete than the present, that there is a state nearer to perfection ahead. But from the eye of the cyclone, the ever-evolving dynamic of life seems perfectly in completion right now. It’s not a static object. It’s an all-encompassing land. A place where every stage of growth and decay has its rightful place in the whole. Occasionally, on good days, I get it. This is Completion. And I’m in it.
Atulya K Bingham
Sick of the screen?
Just released! There is now a beautiful, illustrated paperback edition of Mud Mountain.
"Beautifully written and inspiring." The Owner Builder Magazine.
Want to follow my journey?