The sky is a little standoffish this cool March morning. A field of ploughed cumulus. Neither up nor down. Sort of in between. As if it can’t quite make its mind up whether its cloudy furrows will bring forth sunshine or rain.
The apricot tree, however, has had enough of fence-sitting. The pink buds she’s been holding onto so tightly slipped through her fingers today. The first blossom of the year is now out. And this is nature. This is life. Cycle upon cycle. One phase begets another, and another, and another. And each year, although spring inevitably follows winter and winter follows autumn, the garden climbs higher. The trees stretch taller.
But what’s this got to do with The Mud Series, and my writing? Well, because everything evolves in seasonal phases, including The Mud and myself. Mud Ball hasn’t yet been out a year, and happily many have been asking about the sequel. Naturally, I’m writing. I’m always writing. I love the feel of words carving pictures on the screen, and the memories they attempt to preserve.
There are three specific phases (or seasons) to my Mud adventure: Transformation (winter), Empowerment (spring) and Independence (summer). Mud Ball is the second part of that trilogy. It describes the spring of this adventure, the visible burgeoning of a new home. The very speed at which my house appeared had a spring-like magic about it. One minute there was nothing, the next an earthbag house. Building my own home granted me many gifts, but one of the most striking was an unshakeable sense of personal power.
However, there was a winter before that spring. When I first moved onto this land, I was depressed and lost. The garden of my life seemed to have shed every leaf. As I’ve stated many times, this off-grid lark was never a dream of mine. I was thrown into it. Yet that psychological winter was perhaps the most magical time here. I still hanker after those wild woman moments, and fantasize about reliving my ‘lost in the woods’ soul journey. You see, it was because of the powers I learned over those houseless months – commonly disbelieved magical powers and forgotten ancient skills – that I’ve lived happily alone up here for five years. This piece of land changed me into someone completely new. Moving off-grid and into nature will change you. It will blow apart everything you thought you knew about yourself. And just like a seed on the verge of germination, you either let go of the husk of your old form, and transform into a plant, or you die.
So the story I’m two thirds of the way through now is a prequel. Dirt Witch delves into those six months under canvas, before the earthbag adventure began. I was terrified of boar, more terrified of snakes, and the first few weeks were spent cowering inside my tent after dark. I didn’t know how to use a spade, nor did I have the faintest idea how to grow a plant. Connecting with ants, scorpions and geckos wasn’t even in my galaxy of experience.
After Dirt Witch and Mud Ball, there is of course the conclusion to the tale. Those who read Mud Ball will know, at the end of the earthbag adventure, I had to return to Taiwan and teach. Those six months focussed me. After that, I aimed to become independent of the system, survive without money. Did I manage that? And to what extent? What does it really mean to be independent, after all? Can we ever be? These are the questions I wrangle and wrestle with in the final part of The Mud Series, just as I did in my life.
So there you have it: the winter, spring and summer on The Mud. But there are four seasons, aren’t there? What about autumn?
Autumn has snuck up on me. I can feel it, despite the lust-driven strides of the tortoises and the pollen dusting my solar panels. I knew something was coming the moment The Wisdom Carob spoke to me this November. There’s no stasis in nature. The seasons roll on. And life always wants us to grow taller, stretch higher, so that our canopies might touch virgin parts of the sky. Sometimes it breaks off entire branches...
So knowing what is inevitably before me, I’m beginning to hoard my mud treasures. I scamper through each day collecting kernels of beauty, wisdom and magic, stuffing them into the pockets of my memory. As the clouds moil and rain drops fall, I inhale each moment. My harvest has been bounteous. My store cupboards are full. I’m ready.
Atulya K Bingham
Sick of the screen?
You can now get a beautiful, illustrated paperback edition of Mud Mountain.
"Beautifully written and inspiring." The Owner Builder Magazine.
Want to follow my journey?