So You Want Community?
It was a few days ago. I was sitting in the crook of my ash tree, the moss now a dry velour seat. The ash tree is a waltz of green in summer, her slender branches swirling with foliage. I surveyed my new special space, and the access road that has finally materialised within it. Slowly, I let my aching muscles soften, and my thoughts slide. As I did, I felt the atmosphere beneath the tree alter. The tree trunk was warm. The leaves stirred. I know I am in this land because of this tree. Or rather, because I heard her.
I was never looking for community on my land quest. I wasn’t searching for ‘good’ neighbours. Or the ‘right’ crowd. I just wanted a space that could hold me while I heard the Earth. A space where I could be quiet and alone. But most of all, I waited until a piece of land spoke to me. Invited me. It took quite a long time.
So why didn’t I look for the ‘right’ people?
Community can do nothing for us, because in truth that is not what we need. It’s not the root of the issue, it’s a symptom. The fact we are searching for it at all shows we don’t really feel we are already part of a community. It shows we have been severed from something fundamental. Because on a much deeper level, what we yearn for is connection to our all-powerful soul and the Earth family from which we were born. With it support arrives as if by magic. Without it, you can be surrounded by a hundred people, not one of whom will lend a hand.
This is Earth whispering. It’s how you find your place. It’s how you become whole and belong. And when you are connected and whole, community (if that’s what you want) is always there, often in the most incredible and fortunate ways.
It all began back in May when I first signed the deeds. I had driven my van up to the area of my land feeling buoyant. All I needed was a small access road into the plot. It should have been easy, but it wasn’t.
While I prepared to create my driveway, I parked inside the dirt track of one of the local farmers, and walked down to my Eden.
“I’ll only be here a week,” I said to Farmer Luis, as he peered from his truck at my van one day. Luis had already saved me once by procuring jump leads when my battery had died. I was starting to feel like a bit of a pain in the backside.
“No pasa nada,” he nodded calmly. “No problem.” His thick silver hair had been tousled by a day in the pasture, but his features had survived unruffled.
Days came and went. Stones and boulders were moved. Rubble arrived. All the while I remained in Luis’ road. It was here I heard the spurious rumours that there were some ‘other’ English lurking somewhere in the vicinity. And I won’t lie, I wasn’t especially happy about it. I’m not someone who enjoys clustering with expats. I’m very private and fairly weird. Not a fitter-inner. Nor a socialiser.
One day, I was admiring the view from my park spot in Luis’ road. The mountains had formed a crenellated rampart pushing back the Atlantic. But the sky was an unfettered expanse of blue. Suddenly I heard the clip clop of horse hooves, followed by two British accents. I held my breath. The horses clippety-clopped to a standstill, black tails swishing. Two women gazed down at me and smiled.
I pulled on my cap and stepped out of my van, squinting under the glare of the midday sun. “Are you the other English?” I asked.
“I am.” It was the woman with the long brown hair who spoke. She had a good earthy smile, and healthy brown arms that knew hay bales and rocks and shovels. “This is a friend,” she gestured to the other woman. After a short chat it transpired that Julia and her husband owned a small-holding a couple of kilometres away with goats, chickens, horses, dogs, cats, and an awful lot of courgettes.
That evening as stars began to brew in the indigo pan of the sky, I anticipated parking in my land. The joy of the silence, and of having a place once more. Night stewed the stars until they dissolved. The potion simmered until morning leaving a trail of misty star remnants in the valley creases.
The rest is history: When I drove down my newly forged rubble driveway, of course I couldn’t drive out. It was The Other English who towed me to freedom.
So that was that. I promptly left for Santiago de Compostela, taught kids, blew up my van engine, and spent another two weeks in limbo half way down the coast going steadily bonkers. I just wanted to be home. On my land. Talking with the trees.
Eventually, by mid August, I was back, tired and demoralised. But the worst of it was, I still couldn’t park in my land! So yet again I camped in Farmer Luis’ road.
Sure enough, as the days rolled by, I began to gather attention. Luis stared in disbelief, and I hid out of embarrassment whenever he drove by, because all in all, I was starting to feel like Alan Bennett’s van lady (albeit without the plastic poop bags). Other locals would wave as they drove past, or stop at my van window for a chat. Cows strolled past and mooed. I soon became an eccentric part of the landscape. La inglesa con la furgoneta. The Other English brought me courgettes and eggs. A couple invited me for pancakes. Everyone offered to help me if I needed it. I began to wonder if this road access issue was in fact a gift from the land to plant me, like a seedling, into the community.
And then the road happened. Just like that. Nine tons of 20 mil-and-under arrived. Soon after The Other English turned up with a small tractor. And by evening, I was blessed with a driveway. I skipped back to my camper ready to enter it. But my tyre – I am by now convinced this campervan is the mechanical embodiment of The Trickster – was flat.
Despite my throbbing arms, I changed the wheel (which is so much less effort to write than actualise). Then I jacked the van back down, only to see the spare tyre was also flat! The air was now darkening, the mountains turned from emerald to spinach to slate. I stared at my campervan and fumed.
Soon a jeep roared up the hill, dust puffing out of its deliciously healthy looking tyres. Out stepped another vecino; Luis Manuel. After an awful lot of misunderstanding I realised he was offering to take me and my spare tyre down to town to fill it up.
Half an hour later we were back at my van and Luis Manuel was changing my wheel for me, because quite frankly I could barely lift the spanner at this point. “I only come up here two weeks a year in August,” he said as stood up and adjusted his glasses. “It was the right two weeks,” I answered. He grinned and shook my hand. “Any time you need help...”
What kind people eh? What supportive neighbours, and all turning up just when I needed them. Aren’t I lucky?
The thing is, none of these people are part of some ‘like-minded’ community I have just joined. I’d never met any of them before in my life. I didn’t follow my friends and huddle up next to them, either. I definitely didn’t pay any attention to the Times top 10 lists. I just sat quietly, listened to the Earth and my soul, and tried to piece a path together from their nudges. Because if the land resonates with you, and you can sense the compass of your heart, the rest falls magically into place.
We all have Edens on this planet, because we are created from it. It is our real community. Somehow, somewhere we have to trust that it’s not other people who can show us the way. We’ve been doing that for too long as a species, and it’s led us into a quagmire. There is no outside authority. There is no one who knows better. It’s down to ourselves to heed our cores and observe as they are reflected back at us through our environment.
“Do you know what?” The Other English said to me in passing a few days ago.
“What?” I replied.
“When we heard another Brit was coming, we weren’t that happy about it.”
Oh how I chortled when I heard that.
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I wanted to be a witch, because witches are dangerous, rebellious, and don’t care what people think. They can access powers that the regular world doesn’t understand, powers that override brute strength and money, powers that create and destroy. But perhaps my ideas of witchery had also been doctored. Perhaps becoming a real witch meant going back further than I had realised, delving into wilder, dirtier terrain. Perhaps it meant connecting with something more elemental. Something unashamedly raw and true. (Excerpt from Dirt Witch)
When the past bounces back.
There’s the Earth, a spinning gemstone of mud, rivers and forests. The Earth whispers. And then there’s the mirror of the moon. Argent. Lucid. The moon doesn’t talk. She yanks on the tides. She reflects. And don’t I just know it.
Let’s just say, I’ve had better weeks.
But before I speed ahead, I'll stick my foot on the clutch and reverse a little. Because this story begins at the front of July, not the back. The story begins with a teaching proposition.
“One of our summer camp teachers has dropped out at the last minute. Can you help us? Just for a couple of weeks?” It was my old friend Sue from Santiago on the phone. Long-standing blog readers will recognise her as the angel who took in Rotty the dog and I, during Rotty’s last two weeks on Earth.
I stood in my new land, phone to my ear, staring at the horizon. The mountains rose and fell in layers. They were the ECG trace lines of a cardiac cycle. The landscape seemed to be folding back on itself.
“Just think what you can do with the money!” Sue’s voice clattered into my phone like Rioja into a wine glass. And I did think. I thought of water pipes and fences. And finishing off my driveway. Because although some kind soul had eventually pulled my camper out of my land last month, I still couldn’t drive in and out.
“Alright then, give me a couple of days to get there.” I spoke quickly into the phone before letting my sickle fall on the grass. The stalks vibrated with insect life. Butterflies, bees and dragon flies rose from the meadow like summer sylphs.
Yet I took a deep breath. Because I hadn’t taught in a classroom since 2012, back when I sold my soul to the diablo of Taiwanese education in exchange for funds to finish building my earthbag house on Mud Mountain. That time, within a month of returning to Turkey, pockets fatter, soul thinner, I promptly drove my car stuffed with roofing felt up a hill in 40 degrees heat. It was a full moon. I burned out the engine. The damage decimated a good quarter of my savings. I took it as a sign that if I made pacts with the devil, life would see to it that I made little financial gain out of it. And also that motor transport and full moons are a fated combination. I even noted that you shouldn't overload your car before driving up a mountain.
Fast forward to 2018. To Spain. To my new green mountain, with its stone huts and gentle, orange cows. After a chat with my ash tree, I picked up my secateurs and hat ready to leave. As I did, I noticed the mud sitting in the creases of my hands. The shadow of the ash tree fell upon me. And somewhere moving through her leaves I saw a reflection of Grandmother Olive. Quickly, before I could change my mind, I fastened a lock on my stone cabana door, threw some of my goods inside it, then off I drove to Santiago de Compostela. To school. To teach.
In truth, it wasn’t as bad as all that. The school proved to be a homely little structure in a beautiful tree-filled garden. The children were happy and cute. And Santiago, with its medieval alleyways and burbling plazas, was as enchanting as ever. I burned the candle at both ends, partied like a Spaniard, and revelled in the St James’ festivities. Soon enough my two-week teaching stint ended. It was time to return. But the face of the moon was fattening again. La luna was becoming full.
Did I look up at the sky as the darkness spread across it? Did I listen to the whisper of the Earth, and decode the messages in the stars? Was I prepared to gaze into that white lunar mirror long enough to see the past bouncing back at me?
Thus, on the blood moon lunar eclipse I decided (as I do, sigh) to drive my van regardless. Pah! I said to myself. This no driving on a full moon is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Stuff all this astrological nonsense and superstitious voodoo. I shall drive the 350 km back to my land. And this time all will be well. Thus I topped up my radiator fluid and checked my oil before setting off, as all good, logical people do.
I must have been an hour and a half out of Santiago de Compostela, when the needle on the temperature gauge suddenly swung into the red. Naturally I was belting down a motorway at the time, with plenty of traffic pounding down the tarmac all around me, in the middle of absolutely nowhere.
Pulling onto what existed of the hard shoulder, I sat for 40 minutes, trucks buffeting the van relentlessly, waiting for the engine to cool. But there was nothing for it, sooner or later I had to drive, albeit very slowly, off the highway.
The next day, the mechanic was shaking his head gravely, and asking if I had somewhere to stay, because hey, this might take a while. As the tow truck drove me and my camper through the vales of Galicia, I watched the muddy verges flick by in the wing mirror.
So here I am, half way between Santiago de Compostela and my land, with my van engine in a thousand pieces. The new mechanic has just told me one of the cylinders is ruined (exactly the same thing that happened in 2012), and that it’s going to cost a lot more to fix than the money I’ve just earned. As I lick my wounds, I wonder why we humans are so slow to learn. So slow to change our habits and move on. So slow to accept we can’t always call the shots and force the hand of the planet. That we can’t actually ignore our souls and our callings and get away with it. Because fires and floods and break-downs keep happening. The Earth keeps whispering. And the moon keeps reflecting it all right back at us.
Many thanks to Emma Batchelor this month for providing me with a roof over my head, and a decent mechanic.
Dirt Witch is Now Out!
“Engaging and thought-provoking. The act of reading this seemed to affect me on a level beyond the words,” Claire Raciborska, Growing Wild and Free.
"Gingerly, I picked my way through the tall stalks flinching at the possibility of vipers. I was terrified of snakes, just terrified. Staring at the huge thorn bushes – great monsters baring tough green claws – I started to feel nauseous. My mind became a city at rush hour. It flashed anxious thoughts at me like traffic signals. Had it really come to this? Bumming in a Turkish field?
And then it happened – the meeting that would alter my destiny within this patch of Mediterranean scrubland. The encounter that would change me. Forever."
Read the Beginning of Dirt Witch
Atulya K Bingham
Author, Lone Off-Gridder, and Natural Builder.
"Reality meets fantasy, myth, dirt and poetry. I'm hooked!" Jodie Harburt, Multitude of Ones.