I was wakened by a screech so violent, I thought the earth had split in two. As I dragged my fingers across my bleary eyes, I realised it wasn’t an explosion, but the crashing of a massive rock. The ground was shuddering. The house was vibrating. Fear filed out of its network of submerged tunnels and formed a solid army of dread.
There was another crash, and a terrible crack. Beyond that I could hear the gruff roar of an engine. And I knew in that instant it was over.
In fact, I’d known this was coming. Dudu had informed me of the plan a couple of weeks earlier. But I hadn’t expected it to be like this.
“Oof the pomegranates are such a pain. Need too much water, they do, and we don’t have enough rain,” Dudu had said when I popped round for some lemons one day. “So they’ve decided to split the land up into three.” She was talking about her children.
“And...?” I had moved my stool a little closer to her, wondering what was in store.
“My daughter’s gonna take the part by your land. They’re sticking a cabin on it, and making an olive grove. Digger’s coming in a couple of weeks to clear it.”
I’d heaved a sigh of relief that day. Because since I’ve been here, there has been talk of a road being carved between me and Dudu. This new plan would put pay to the road forever. And an olive grove is about as good as it gets. Olives can be grown organically, need little water and create beautiful evergreen orchards. Even the building concept possessed angles of optimism. A small log cabin perched on the far corner of the land.
Yet two weeks later, I was standing at the fence between mine and Dudu’s land, tears rolling down my cheeks, knowing it was over.
Whenever I hear the grinding tread of an excavator, or the teeth-jarring scrape of its bucket on rock, my skin turns to glass. Because mass destruction is occurring. Habitats are being wrecked. Ecosystems are being wiped out. In seconds, ancient trees are ripped asunder (and unless you are dead yourself, you hear the life torn viscerally out of them). It doesn’t sound much different to a bomb going off in a shopping mall. And if you’re a hedgehog, or a snail, or a sleeping dormouse, no doubt it isn’t any different at all.
Not that I’m in any position to preach a sermon. I also had my land bulldozed ten years ago, before I changed. Before the land changed me. I’m not even completely against dozers. Like everything, if they are used sparingly and thoughtfully, they can be excellent tools, for digging a pool say, or creating a flat space for a house. It’s the loveless, uninspired, destroy-everything-within-the-fence-without-even-getting-to-know-what’s-there approach that sends my hair darting out on end.
It took three days for the excavator to complete its dirty deed next door. In truth, as land mauls go, this was gentle. They left the majority of the mature trees standing; the olives, almond trees and a carob. But as that mechanical claw beat the branches from pines and turned the land inside out, it sank in. This was no longer my private world. No longer my secret garden. Someone was moving in next door. I realised the wisdom carob had spoken a premonitory truth back in November. It was time to let go. I could feel the hand of life on my shoulder, gently pushing me on.
This year was the turning point for my valley. Since February a grand total of four plots have been bulldozed in my area alone. None of them are visible, but all of them are within a kilometre of my land. People are coming. It’s getting busier. Though this may not necessarily be the bleak cliché it appears. We’re not talking multi-storey concrete monstrosities. Dudu’s children, for example, are building with a dream in their hearts. To escape the city. To grow their own food. To live more peacefully. This may be the feathery tip of a new wing beating out a more minimalist path across Turkey’s socio-cultural sky. And I’m all for it.
But on a personal level the dozers woke me up. I love, nay need, my privacy. There are times when I don’t want to see a human face for a week or more. I yearn to lose myself in the forest and hear her quiet message. Hear her twitterings, her scamperings, the whisper of her trees. And through them hear myself.
I grieved for three days after the bulldozing. I wondered if I’d get used to the change, whether I should accept it and adapt to it. Perhaps in time I’d warm to it? One day may be I’d be grateful for the company? Eventually however, my mind, forced as it was out of its comfort zone, dared to face the alternative.
Not once in the five years I’ve been here have I ever considered letting this space go. I have imagined growing old here. Dying here. This land and I have grown together after all. It’s both my child and my mother. But when I finally allowed myself to wander the alien territory beyond my home, my eyes opened wide. Wading across the boundary of my rigid future plans and possessive clingings, I stepped into a field of possibility. And as I roamed a little more extensively within it, I realised it wasn’t just a field, but a vast and rambling continent, a wilderness of new adventures waiting to be explored.
The longer I spent in my imagined terra incognita, the more alive I felt. Ideas sprang forth. Visions burst into being. And soon, I realised, new life was flowing. In my veins. In my land’s veins. And in the veins of the world.
To be continued...
(Many thanks for following me on this journey, which isn’t coming to an end, but is drastically changing course. That road is still being charted in my heart and mind, so hang in there with me. I’ve no idea what the next instalment is, but I can say wholeheartedly while sadness is there, it is outshone by the anticipation of new adventure, new creations and new beginnings).
Atulya K Bingham
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