One summer morning back in 2011 something significant happened. The sun had turned into a blazing white ogre. It had a pelt of fire and a stare that could fry the skin clean off a capsicum. It was the end of July. And July on the southern coast is when folk run for shade, or water, or air conditioned malls. Nothing can survive in that heat. Grass withers. Mammals flop dejectedly under trees. Even the great pines, some at least a hundred years old, no longer stretch for the heavens. Their stance becomes one of stoic endurance as a lifeless dust slowly coats their branches.
This wasn't in itself significant, however. Summer happens every year. Granted, we always forget. From the lamenting every July you’d be forgiven for thinking it was the first summer to ever see the wrong side of 40 degrees. Streets empty, people flake out in gazebos. Sometimes they refuse to get out of bed at all.
‘Çoook sıcak yaaa!’ (It‘s sooo hot!) They wail before they drop back and reach for an ice-cream.
But that July, the July of 2011, I wasn’t one of those late risers. I had to be out of my tent by seven. It was no longer because I was bounding with enthusiasm vis-à-vis any number of construction projects, nor was it eagerness to watch the pink wave of dawn roll over the mountain peaks. I had to be out, because being ‘in’ was tantamount to wrapping yourself in cellophane and bedding down in a Turkish bath.
I reached forward and pulled myself out of the canvas. Immediately I winced and grabbed back my hand. I’d branded myself on one of the tent pegs that had the misfortune of being in the sun’s path. Finally I stood up and surveyed my Queendom. It was a sorry sight, a rolling slope of yellowing expiration. The top terrace of the land, where my tent was pitched, was even worse. It was south Turkey’s answer to the Gobi. Cracks zigzagged through the waterless earth. And where there were no cracks there was dust.
I turned to head for ‘the kitchen’. It was then that I noticed it. The significant thing. There, a little in front of the tent, was a small patch of green.
I blinked. No. Nothing could ever grow independently on this broiling plateau of death. It was impossible. I moved towards the mysterious green entity in disbelief. There before my eyes a plant was sprouting. ‘Seeing is believing,’ they say. Well sometimes it’s the other way round. Now I believed, and thus I saw. As I picked my way through my desert, I found tens of these plants. Where had they come from? It was as though they’d been waiting all summer for everything to collapse, before they raised their hairy little arms and shouted, ‘Ha ha! Our turn now.’
I think I mentioned that I had read a certain book. And it stated when you love your domain, everything in it tilts towards you. After my experiences with carpet-sweeping ants and kitchen-cleaning lizards, I was gradually becoming something of a natural magic apostle. The land itself was my balm, the animals my affection. What about the vegetation though? Was there a reason this strange little plant had popped up? Should I make a tea out of it? Was it medicinal? Hallucinogenic even?
The days went by and the peculiar heat-spurning plants grew. They weren’t particularly attractive, a little like rosemary but floppier and messier. And that was unfortunate. I can become obsessed with aesthetics at times. The plant was ugly, so I began to ignore it. I think I might have even called it a weed.
Then one day I noticed this ‘weed’ cluttering about a tiny grape-vine remnant I was trying to salvage. At some point in the past either a person or a bird must have dropped a grape seed. The seed had struggled. It had sprouted. Now, in midsummer a few feeble cricket-eaten leaves were hanging desperately onto existence. Every now and again I’d throw my washing up water over them and try and talk the baby vine into surviving. Now here was this opportunistic weed cashing in and usurping the moisture! Grrr. I stormed towards the prolific newcomer with intent.
Ha! In one quick snatch I’d uprooted it. I threw it to one side. Or rather I tried to throw it, because it was sticky, as if secreting oil. Pausing a little, I noticed a smell. It was a cross between lavender and eucalyptus. I took a deep breath. The aroma was out of this world! And it was coming straight from the ugly heat-loving weed. I found the fragrance so refreshing I began to use it for washing in, a sort of natural aroma-therapy. When I did I was swept away by the cooling sense of well-being it bathed me in.
As the summer deepened, our village became steeped in such high temperatures we all developed heat rashes. Our legs itched. Our arms itched. And the hotter it got, the more red spots appeared. I washed in my weed-water. My rash vanished.
Soon enough the sun began to shed its monstrous summer bulk. As it slimmed it dropped lower in the sky. The days drew in. My herb receded back into the earth. I never learned its name. No one around here seemed to know. ‘Smelly weed’ was the best anyone could do.
Since then all sorts of other natural growth has come to my attention. I have only two acres of land but it’s a living, breathing apothecary. Some of it is edible, some drinkable. Some plants heal ailments, others nourish, some are so beautiful to look at you can’t help but feel inspired. There are gels and fragrances and poultices, berries and potpourri, colour therapy, pollen and herbs. And each month the selection changes, as do my needs. We are all–from the earth, to the plants to the animals–moving in sync.
This rediscovery of what at one time must have been common knowledge is enthralling. I’ve merely stroked the grassy surface of my wonderland. But I’m sensing very deeply that well-being isn’t something we have to struggle for years to earn. It’s our birthright. It’s where we come from. All we have to do is go home, live there and notice it.
How does anyone go from not being able to bang a nail in, without either bending it or smacking a finger, to constructing a house, in the space of six months?
The answer lies far from building manuals, and workshops, and training. It resides a long way from the Turkish mountains too. But first, let me rewind to the beginning of my building adventure. The first month on my land. Just one woman, a tent, and a dubious stick creation that paraded under the term ‘washing-up rack’.
The month of May was gobbling up its days like they were baklava. Syrupy, sweet days they were too, with clear skies of cobalt, and mountain outlines sharp enough to cleave the unblemished blue into bite-sized triangles. The green slopes that rolled and swirled about me were on the brink of yellowing, late spring flowers itching to scatter their seeds. It was with this backdrop that I embarked on my first construction project. The toilet.
There were always plenty of questions about my lifestyle. But, it was in particular my bathroom habits that seemed to ignite people’s curiosity. Where did I crap? How did I wash? After a couple of weeks of answering nature’s many calls in various ‘off-land’ locations, I accepted that some sort of bathroom was imperative. Thus I made one . . . in a manner of speaking. And, as with every new step I took up there on my mountain, I looked to the land to show me the way first. Was there a spot that nature had divined would be my WC?
I found a small rock-strewn cove at the edge of the forest. It was surrounded by wild shrubs and trees. Thorn bushes scratched at the gaps with their thick green claws. Pushing through an olive tree, I edged into the space within. I was almost invisible to the outside world. Yet, the clearing looked out onto the pomegranate fields beyond. A loo with a view? Ha ha! It seemed my bathroom space had made itself known. But how to go about constructing it? It was then that I drew on the only building resources I had. Den building. And I had to dig quite far into my memory to pull those now indispensable life lessons out. The last time I had made a den, I'd been seven or eight years old, at most.
I don’t know if all children build dens, but I think most of the kids on my street did. There were bedsheet hideouts, shelters woven from branches, and my favourite was a moss-carpeted kitchen I made with a girl called Isabelle Dobby. We crafted it under a knotty old tree near her house using the gaps in the roots as cupboards and shelves. Yes, indeed. A moss carpet. It was state-of-the-art in the den world, even if I say so myself.
Back in Turkey, well over thirty years on, this was all coming back to me. As I examined the circle of greenery at the edge of the forest that was bidding to be my bathroom, I looked at it as a child might. I studied the shape of the rocks, the placement of grasses, the spaces. Then, I rolled up my sleeves and set about the brambly little circle. Oh what happy hours I spent that day, clearing a showering area, collecting small stones to spread on the floor to stop the ground becoming muddy, inventing a neat little canister-with-hose-shower. But, it was the bathroom ‘door’ that was my pride and joy. I found two sturdy sticks, buried them in the ground, searched out a third branch that arced beautifully and rested it over the other two sticks. And then…wait for it…I NAILED THEM TOGETHER. This may seem like rather a piffling achievement to other more experienced artisans, but for me it was the first thing I’d ever nailed in my life. And voila! A doorway appeared. I found an old curtain and pegged it over the top (den-building tactics revisited) and that was that.
It might seem that I’m over simplifying, but that bathroom ‘door’ was a turning point. It was the baby step that empowered me to move on from toilet to tool shed to wooden deck to house, all in the space of half a year. Each time it was the same process. Look at the land, look at what you have, use some logic and just try it out.
About two months later, one of my neighbour’s relatives turned up to take a look about my homemade kingdom on the hill. She tucked a grey, silken headscarf around her head and wobbled as she walked the length of the track. On arriving before the toilet, she tweaked the curtain and peered inside. Next, she looked at my tent and my kitchen, with its tree-branch hooks and random wood slats for shelving. She turned up her nose.
‘Ooh, I don’t like it at all. Its … it’s like a kid’s game or something. Why don’t you make a proper house?’
She was right. It was just like a kid’s game. And that’s exactly what made the entire adventure so much fun, and ultimately possible at all.
Now, two years on, I’m sitting in a roundhouse made of mud. My kitchen is a rubble-filled mess. There are stray stones everywhere, and my sink seems to change places every day. There are still gaps all over the walls where I need to finish the earthplaster. The window sills are not yet in, nor do I have any furniture. I sleep on the floor in a sleeping bag, like a child in a backyard. Does the chaos drive me crackers? No. Strangely, it doesn’t. Because it’s a game. A big, muddy game. And I love every single minute of it.
“So you can’t watch any television up there?”
I shook my head. My cousin Jeanette tugged at her bangs and sat back in her armchair. We were far from the hills of Turkey now, snuggled in my aunt’s home in deepest, darkest Norfolk.
“But, I do have the internet. There’s a great little USB device I can use in Turkey. As long as my computer’s charged I can connect pretty much anywhere.”
Jeanette grinned. “Internet in a tent? That’s hilarious.” Then she picked up her coffee cup. “But I could never live like that, I mean no electricity. It’s great, I love hearing about it, but I’d never do it.”
From the distant place her eyes went, I gauged she was imagining the implications of my life in all its powerless waterless glory. And from the look on her face the implications weren’t good.
My 94 year-old gran was huddled in the leather sofa next to us, ears straining to follow the conversation. She screwed up her brow on her beautiful (and yes my gran is still beautiful) face.
“Did you say you have internet in your tent?” She said. Gran’s eyes – eyes that have seen the birth of television, world wars, the Berlin wall go up and then down, and the techno-revolution – wrinkled in disbelief. She crossed one leg daintily over the other and folded her hands in her lap. “Well, I never did!” She said. “I couldn’t fathom it even in a house. But a tent!” From the way her face had crumpled we gathered she was caught somewhere between amazement and dismay. “Ooh,” she shuddered, “It’s all beyond me.”
We all laughed. The light was already dying in the room, so my aunt reached over and flicked on the lamp. The hedgerow outside faded out of sight. Suddenly Jeanette pulled herself upright. Her eyes widened like a pair of licorice allsorts. She opened her mouth.
“Oh my God!” We all turned in her direction. She was staring at me, appalled. “You mean you can’t use HAIR STRAIGHTENERS?”
Back in the Carrefour tent on the dry summer hills of a Turkish village, I woke up. The sun had just crawled over the first mountain peak. From my bed I could see the slopes bathed in the rosy glow of fresh morning. The birds were chirping in such a state of excitement, it was infectious. I had no alarm clock wrecking my slumber, no job to get up for. It was still not even six am. Yet I sprang out of that bed like a hare with a pin in its backside. I didn’t want to miss those early morning hours. They are sublime.
As life goes by I realise just how gifted humans are. We are adaptable beyond belief. Yesterday’s inconceivable nightmare becomes tomorrow’s reality. And all realities have their pros and cons. I was without power which had its limitations. But a new life was unfolding. And the fact was I loved it.
I’d been on the land about three months now, and something of a routine had emerged. As soon as I had stepped out of my tent, I stretched, and walked about my domain. It was the beginning of July, and those early hours were pleasantly cool. The plants gleamed as the first rays of sunlight hit them and everything on the land began rushing about its business before the heat of the day set in. There were no rough man-made noises. No cars, no machines. Instead I was wandering within a symphony composed by nature. It made me feel happy and alive.
After my walk I would do some yoga, followed by a bit of meditation. Next I’d prepare myself a nice, big Turkish breakfast; eggs, salad, olives, cheese, bread, honey, fried peppers and potatoes, all washed down with a pot of coffee. The day would by now have rolled on. The land would be buckling up for some serious sun. As I swung in the hammock, I would look about my campsite and wonder what today’s project would be. Should I start the tool shed? Or paint some stones to sell? When it got too hot I would drive to the sea for a swim. Thus my days unwound.
I have to be honest, I wasn’t missing hair straighteners. Nor television. The view from my land was so inspiring and the wildlife so varied I felt constantly entertained. I was also locked into a pyramid of need in which electricity was the least of my worries. Water was always my number one headache. However, there was one issue related to power that changed my life. Night time. Without power you’re well and truly in the dark. True, there are torches, and candles, but it’s still difficult to cook, read or have any sort of nightlife without decent lighting.
Thus very quickly my days morphed into new shapes. I switched from late nights and leisurely awakenings, to early rises and early sleeps. Unwittingly I fell into what Chinese medicine would call the ideal sleep cycle. Our bodies are designed to wake up with the sun. Our internal organs rest and clean themselves in the dark hours. When we don’t respect this natural rhythm, we get sick or depressed or both. By July I could feel the difference. The lack of electricity had inadvertently done me an enormous favour.
Now 18 months later it pays for me to remember this. Because there has been a revolution on my land. Last week I installed solar power. It’s incredible. For the first time in nearly two years I have light, I have sound, I have a jig-saw. And most importantly I have a computer that I don’t need to run up the hill to my neighbour every day to charge. This is all fantastic. But before I rush to buy speakers, or begin a 12 hour electric sanding campaign, I’m pausing a little. I can hear the noise of the wind rushing through the great pines, a robin is twittering in one of the olive trees, the plants are rocking in the air, waving to me to get off my computer and touch them. When I pull back from my laptop screen I see from my window the mountains cascading into Alakir bay. The creases in their slopes dance as the sun moves over the sky. It’s never the same dance. Blink and you’ve missed it.
Yes I need to remember this. It pays to go slow. From one day to the next I’ve gone from zero power to being inundated with electricity. But I have learned something very important these past two years. And it’s nothing to do with survival. What I’ve learned is that convenience doesn’t necessarily make you happy. And that life is much more than just being comfortable.
Learn all you need to know about solar power HERE.
It was May, and the evenings were still cool. My silky blue dome was almost invisible, concealed within a circle of tall grass and thistles. It was my third night in the tent. Alone. In the dark. It was a darkness unlit by neon or streetlights, a pitch deep enough to devour entire mountains.
I woke up with a start, frozen in my sleeping bag. Something was slithering along the side of the canvas. Or was it scampering? It was hard to tell. I lie there unmoving, hardly daring to blink as I listened to the sinister rustling. I thought about the bag of sulphur I had forgotten to sprinkle along the circumference of my tent to ward off such unwanted guests. Balloons of fear began to swell inside me. The indigenous animals of Turkey's south coast include the Ottoman viper and scorpions.
I tentatively slid my hand out to search for my torch. The noise continued. My imagination hurtled down a hundred critter-filled alleys, tunnels brimming with poisonous reptiles, spiders the size of rats and other beasts of unknown ferocity just itching to chew holes in the groundsheet and eat me alive, or…or simply look ugly.
After what seemed like minutes of agonizing fumbling I finally located my flashlight. I flicked it on. The squirming stopped. Hell! The beast was stalking me.
After fear, the next pit-stop on survival’s race track is aggression. By now I was wide awake, sitting bolt upright with more than a sensible amount of adrenalin careering through my system. I decided I’d rather be the hunter than the hunted.
As slowly and quietly as I could I unzipped the mosquito net door, dementedly flashing the torch this way and that like a cop in a bad movie. Still no noise. Whatever it was, was hiding. So out I crept. I stood up and turned around, running the beam frantically over the canvas. And then I saw it. The perpetrator of my insomnia. The heinous creature of my nightmares: A lizard, tiny, web-footed, verging on charming. The small reptile peered up at me petrified, beady eyes popping. I exhaled, feeling idiotic. Lizard and I stared at each other for a moment or two before I lowered the torch and crouched back into the tent. As I lie back down on my sleeping bag, I mused how despite not having owned a television for the last fifteen years I had nonetheless become yet another victim of Hollywood’s relentless fear-mongering.
Now I think about it, there is an entire industry founded on generating fear of wildlife. Horror films have been quick to cash in on the myriad of unusual fauna in the world. Anaconda, The Birds, and Jaws are but a few of the animal-based movies that spring to mind. Pretty much any creature that has the misfortune to crawl, slide or not possess fur is subject to a bizarre and completely fictitious kind of demonisation. The result is, when we’re left to our own devices out in the wild, especially at night, those monster movie images take on a life of their own.
The morning after ‘lizard night’, I stepped out of my tent and stumbled into my make-shift ‘kitchen’. In truth it was more of a food area, with a ramshackle washing up stand cobbled together from broken sticks. (Oh the many rewards of Girl Guides). But I was struck by something else. I realised as I looked about that there were no crumbs anywhere, no left-overs to clean up. In short no mess at all. Hmm, had this been what my nocturnal guest had been after?
From then on, I took time to venture out of my tent in the dark hours and observe what exactly was going on in the big bad pitch beyond my canvas. It was fantastic. What I saw was a carefully timed banquet. First to arrive were the cats. They rooted through my bin and carted off the bigger scraps. Next the field mice crept by. Finally, there were parties of lizards, skinks and agamas that polished off the crumbs. There was an owl too. It came most nights, calling into the darkness to its mate down in the valley, before making mincemeat of one or two unsuspecting reptiles, no doubt.
However, a month later something really dragged me to my senses. That summer, the first summer on my land, I would open up a large kilim onto the bare earth every morning for my morning yoga practice. Once I was done, I had to fold the carpet up quickly, otherwise the late spring wind blew burrs that would enmesh themselves in the weave. One day, I forgot to fold up the rug. I came back in the evening to see it covered in thistles and spiky caterpillar-like burrs. I groaned. They could only be removed one by one. It was a laborious, finger scratching process. I couldn’t be bothered with the task, so I left it. The next morning, when I chanced to walk by the rug, what should I see? Ants. Hundreds of them. And they had turned my yoga carpet into an insect spaghetti junction. Agh! Burrs, ants, it was hopeless. The rug was a goner.Then something caught my eye. I noticed two of the ants tugging at a burr, and another carrying one off.
As it happened I’d just finished reading a book about humanity's special relationship to its own land, or domain. I think if I hadn’t actually been living in the wild it would have written the work off as nonsense. One of the things the book stated was that when a person owns a domain and loves it, all the wildlife within the area will support them. I looked at the traffic of ants streaming across my kilim. I rubbed my chin, scratched my head, and turned around. Next I left for the beach.
When I came back in the evening I couldn’t believe my eyes. My rug was spotless. Completely and utterly. It looked as though it had been picked clean by a school of tweezer-brandishing elves. I began to look at animals in a vastly different light. I have become very humbled by them to be honest. Because all of them, even the scaliest, slimiest or most arthropod, are surprisingly benign. In fact they are not only harmless, they are invaluable, helpful little mates, and without them we'd be floundering in our own muck. I never sweep or wash the floor of my open kitchen. I leave my used saucepans out at night as well. And every morning I wake to find my band of nocturnal helpers has cleaned up the lot.
So it was that the bag of sulphur I had bought for protection remained forever unopened. Suddenly, I didn’t want to harm anything, and I believed, rightly or wrongly that nothing would harm me in return. Perhaps it was coincidence. Perhaps I was just lucky. I lived outside in the wild for the duration of eight months, and the only snake I ever saw was a tiny grass snake on the border six months on. No wild boar entered the land either. My pomegranate-growing neighbours (boar love pomegranates) believed they were warded off by the smell of a human sleeping outside. There were no spider bites, no scorpion stings, no Ottoman vipers found lurking in the toilet. It was almost as though the land was blessed.
My gardener owns an enormous Anatolian shepherd called Apo. He’s the size a small lion. For reasons that no one really understood Apo would turn up on my land most nights to begin a voluntary protective watch. Did he feel the way I did? I wondered.That there was magic concealed in the dirt? Sitting by his side, I would run my hands through his thick fur and marvel how such a huge carnivorous animal could be so gentle.Together we would stare out over a starlit valley listening to the owl calling overhead and the agamas scampering below. His ears would prick up and he would bark. It was a deep, wolf-like roar that echoed out into the darkness for miles and miles.
I began to feel that this might just be what paradise is like.
The perspiration dripped from my face as I pushed the wheelbarrow. The earth track that lead down to my land was scarred with ruts and craters, and the barrow wheels wedged themselves into each one. Each time they did I had to pull the weighty metal cart out of the hole and take a run at the offending hillocks. At the entrance to the property a stony path plunged downwards through a mess of brambles. On reaching the incline, the barrow promptly gained a mind of its own, rattling out of control down the slope. I galloped after it, hanging onto the handlebars for dear life, suffering scratches and stubbed-toes for the duration. I clung, because that wheelbarrow held within it the most important thing in my life. In fact it held the most important thing in the whole world. I now realised only too well exactly how fundamental that thing was because my land seemed to possess none of it. That treasure was water.
One way and another I’ve endured a trying relationship to water throughout my life. Either there’s too much of the stuff or too little. I’ve been on the wrong end of floods, terminally dripping ceilings, furred up water pipes, wild boar bashing through pipelines and now, very conspicuously I was in a drought. There was no running water on my land. There were no streams or well springs either. It was May, and I had one more rainfall to go before summer took the Mediterranean in its fiery, waterless grip. Everyone said living on my mountain would be impossible.
“Olmaz!” came the cries from all quarters. “Olmaz” is Turkish and translates roughly as, “You can’t or shouldn’t do it.”
Did I mention that I was a headstrong sort? That it had its pros and cons? It’s the bane of my life, but when someone barks the word “can’t” at me, I find myself driven by this insatiable bent to ignore them completely.
It was now nearly a month after my first auspicious night on the land. I’d hired a car to transport as much of a camp up to the mountain as I could. However, the track was in such a state of dusty furrowed imperfection that the little Fiat Punto proved ill-equipped to descend all the way to the land itself. I had parked it a hundred metres uphill. Bit by bit I wheeled or carried down a tent, mattress, sleeping bag, rucksack of clothes, a pick, rake, spade, scythe, washing-up bowl, teapot, and now a 30 litre plastic tank of water. How long would 30 litres last? I wondered. Well, that all depends on how you use it.
And you use it a lot. An awful lot. With the obvious exception of oxygen, water’s the thing we rely on most in the world. H2O. Liquid diamonds. If you’re breathing, you need it.
As I scanned the huge grasses and thickets of spines my first task loomed in front of me. I had to clear a space for my tent. Eyeing my three new garden tools, I wondered which to choose. It may or may not surprise you to learn I had absolutely zero experience with DIY or gardening when I moved onto the land that summer. I couldn’t even bang nails in. I’d never planted a seed. The only thing I could lay claim to was having taken part in some terracing. The Mediterranean is riddled with rocks, which, when you know how to use them, prove incredibly useful. First the stones are dug out with a pick and used to form a wall. After that the earth is raked forwards to create a level surface. It’s a timeless system that’s been employed since the ancient Greeks 2000 years ago. The only trouble is, it’s very thirsty work. I looked at my small plastic water container. It looked back at me impassively.
I grabbed the scythe and hacked away at the rampant undergrowth, dry grasses and thorns that came up to my shoulders. Then began my first foray into the art terracing. After a few rock-crushed fingers, and the onset of blisters it dawned on me that I should have bought some gloves. Still, what a feeling of accomplishment it was to see my paltry two metres of ‘wall’ manifest out of the earth, even if in retrospect it did look more like a rickety row of enamel-chipped teeth. It was baking, and I was drinking non-stop. I eyed the water tank again. Two litres down, twenty-eight to go.
I should point out here that in actual fact there wasn’t really much of a risk of me dying of thirst. My closest neighbour was 400 metres away, and the handy public tap (of which there are so many in Turkey) was wedged 800 metres up a sharp slope in the graveyard. Nonetheless, unless I revolutionised the way I used water, things were going to get exceptionally inconvenient.
The sun had now shimmied behind the mountain signaling that afternoon was over and evening approaching. I tipped a little water from the tank into my hands to clean them, and watched it trickle through my fingers and into the mud.
It was time to establish camp proper. I grabbed my new £30 Carrefour tent, and set about making what was to become my home for the next 8 months. True, that tent changed positions more often than a mainstream politician. Even so, the bargain canvas far surpassed all expectations, and would survive well into the next year, until finally meeting its maker in a wrathful storm.
As the sky thickened with darkness, and the distant lights from Alakir bay flicked on one by one. I realised I still hadn’t eaten. By now I was almost staggering about in exhaustion, having done at least six or seven runs with the wheel barrow, land terracing, camp founding and the like. The easiest thing I could think of preparing was a sandwich. There was more hand washing, then tomato washing. I ate, and drank. Made myself some tea. I was now down to 25 litres with the washing up now towering menacingly in the shadows. I was also filthy.
Night had well and truly fallen, and I was almost sleeping in my hiking boots. Dragging the plastic tankard of water next to the tent, I crouched and stuck my torch into it. I calculated I could spare about ten litres for a shower. Ten litres. It’s a piffling amount, but that was all I had. I needed water for breakfast in the morning, and I didn’t like the idea of completely running out. Turning around, I briefly caught the last outlines of the great pines that bordered the land disappearing into the pitch. I decided to forego my wash and sleep in my own grime.
As I pulled off my work clothes and lay on my new bed, how cosy it felt. The kilim* on the floor was both warm and homely, the foam mattress as comfortable as any bed. I reached out for a last slug of water and wondered briefly how long I would manage to live up there like that. I wondered how long it would take me to get connected to the municipality supply too.
One and a half years on I still have no running water. And I’ve no longer any intention of getting any either. An earthbag house has been built, tons of earthplaster made, plants planted, bathrooms erected and dismantled, animals fed, meals cooked, washing up done. After that first night I think I managed to shower just about every day. You see, we humans are made of water, and water always finds a way. As I sit here in my earth covered roundhouse tapping away my story, the winter rain is driving down. I can hear that deluge hammering on my roof and gurgling into the newly installed water storage tanks below. I receive no bills. There’s no direct debit. Water just comes. For free. As it always has and it always will.
But how have I managed until now? I’ve managed by being thrifty. Water really shouldn’t be used just once, and there is a three-step system in operation in my kitchen.
Step 1: Clean water is used for washing vegetables. Step 2: Semi clean goes in the washing up bowl. Step 3. Dirty water goes on the garden.
You need to be using bio-degradable detergent for such a program, but my basil plants thrived on the washing up bowl throw outs for more than eight months. In addition, I have a composting dry toilet, which abhors water, and I plant trees that are as thrifty as I am; Olives, almonds, carobs, walnuts, and figs are highly sustainable in hot dry climates. Laundry was never the great problem I imagined it would be, as rocks and mountains care little about your wardrobe so you can wear the same thing until it stands up and walks away from you.
Water is the most important thing in the world. When it’s no longer there that fact becomes very very clear. It’s crazy how much we waste it, and pollute it and take this luscious resource for granted. So next time you leave the tap on, take a moment and spare a thought for me ;))
*Kilim – Traditional handwoven Turkish rug.
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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