This might be dawn, but it’s far from clear. My eyes have no intention of opening yet. They want further confirmation. Even so, I realise I’m waking.
In the north of Spain the sun is like me – not a morning person. Here in deepest midwinter, the sun god hauls himself grudgingly out of the eastern ridge at around 9:00 if you’re lucky. You can’t call it daybreak. Nothing of night has been shattered. It’s more of a reluctant, day-preamble.
It’s 8:55 am. Somewhere in the caves of my awareness I know daytime is coming. My skylight turns slowly from coal black to ash as the darkness is burned away. I know I have to move. I have little time. The light won’t hang around for long at this time of year, and I have plenty to do.
A coffee and a breakfast later, as I switch on my laptop and prepare to write, it dawns on me as slowly and wearily as the day itself: I’m living in an alternate universe. There’s another world down there, full of masks and worry and people watching numbers rise on screens. There’s another place where folks’ minds are moulded and folded by virtual information. Where newsreaders and internet commentators create realities, often opposing ones. Things that were unthinkable a year ago are now oddly swallowed whole. There’s no mastication, no chewing over of anything at all. Just waves (second and third and fourth) of fear or confusion, and lots of people falling into line.
I’m afraid I’ve never been a faller-inner, so don’t expect me to change my spots now. I was brought up to question and contest authority. Having spent a good portion of my life ruling over classrooms of students and I'm sorry to admit, using many of the ‘management’ (read: control) devices I see being wielded over populations at large today, I’d advise anyone else to question authority too. Take it from me, handing in your homework on time and doing what the teacher asks doesn’t in any way safeguard you from trouble, or improve your quality of life. Best take the prefect’s loose promises with a large pinch of salt.
For a long time humans have cleaved everything they meet into good versus bad, right versus wrong. We are still mired at that evolutionary junction. So for some I’ll now be good. For others I’ll now be bad. For yet others I’ll be mad too, but that’s always been the case. Anyway, let it be known, I can't adopt either of the narratives (one a lot more socially acceptable than the other) being offered about the human situation today. I have my own brain, my own intuition too, and I intend to keep using them both.
I remember living in Turkey and seeing what the foreign media outlets used to say about the place. Bird flu, terrorism, one day the Western media was against the Islamic conservatives, the next day it was supporting them. Most of the Western news I ever read or watched about Turkey was over-dramatised at best, and utterly misleading at worst. A good tranche of it was written by people who didn’t even speak the language, so had little hope of understanding the nuances of the culture anyway. I remember an American blog reader writing to me one day telling me I was in terrible danger from Al Qaeda, that they were everywhere and were going to kill me, because he’d seen it on the news. Personally I was more worried about earthquakes, and some arsehole poisoning my dog.
I remember travelling through Iran too, and seeing a very different country to the one the BBC, CNN, Fox News, or any other media outlet on the supposed left or right was showing. You see, there's a certain narrative that sells, a certain story about Iran that is expected. Excellent bus and train networks aren't a part of that story. A solid middle class that's pretty educated isn't either, nor are kind people sharing their dinner with you, or families out promenading at night along the banks of the Zayanderud in Isfahan. The image of the Muslim world that sells, is the one of a group of male protesters waving their arms in the air shouting chants. That and veiled women, of course.
It’s 2020, isn’t this all old news? Didn’t we already know the media was distorting the truth, shining its light on some parts of the story while conveniently obscuring others? That it’s owned and manipulated by a few billionaires with their own agendas? Apparently not. So when Facebook, MSN, Yahoo, and Twitter, having blatantly shared the worst kind of racist, sexist, violence-generating fake news stories under the pretext of ‘freedom of speech’, suddenly all have COVID-19 buttons blazoned upon their home pages, and miraculously decide to become the arbiters of truth for a pandemic, don’t ask me not to raise an eyebrow, especially when they've earned millions in extra profit out of it.
Raising an eyebrow these days is tantamount to treason, though. You’re not allowed to show the slightest hesitation in the machine world where science is apparently God. This is a little strange, because the science I remember used to be all about asking questions and contesting theories and results, which I’m glad to say the British Medical Journal still do.
Down there in the Maskervilles, there seem to be two sides. One is locked at home waiting for the saviour vaccine to let them get back to ‘normal’. The other loiters in a side street. It's an underground subculture which hangs on the words of a different masked puppeteer who draws his followers on another kind of fear, that of a secret cabal that is out for your soul. Personally I never trust anyone that speaks from behind a mask, be they on this side or that. But then again, I don’t need to. I make my own life and my own world. And therein lies the crunch.
Up here in the free world, free from screens and numbers and hysteria, we look through the eyes of the wolves and the eagles, eyes unclogged by exhaust fumes and artificial lighting. It makes little difference to the snow-clad mountains, to the cloud spirits or the rumbling rivers, which narrative you cling to. The point is you’re clinging, desperate to prove that your story is the 'right' one, and the others 'wrong'. Clingers are always afraid, always hoping a big strong other is going to save them.
I’ve long noticed, big strong others generally don’t save anyone but themselves. And even if they do, they disempower you in the process. Thanks, but I don’t need saving.
The pueblos down there are invisible now, all sunken below a thick veil of fog, but up here the vista is as clear as it is sobering. A jab in the arm isn’t going to make things go back to normal, just as neither Guantanamo Bay nor Osama Bin Laden's bullet-riddled body, made air travel go back to normal. We are still throwing our water bottles out at the security gates, and buying fresh ones for five times the price over the other side, remember? Still. Twenty years later.
Or rather we were. We don’t fly much anymore. And from up here that looks like not such a bad thing, what with air travel’s billions of plastic knives and forks, its cattle-herding security lanes, and its subsidised fuel-guzzling ecocide, I’d long gone off it. We don’t go anywhere much now though, do we? Even our own families are off limits. I didn't see a child's face here in Spain for a month. They were all locked up in flats. Not allowed out. At all. But shh... best not whisper anything about civil liberties down there. That means you don't care about the frail, or the dead, or the people risking their lives in hospitals.
Many people have died this year*.
1,700,000 people died from COVID-19
1,680,000 people died of HIV.
1,000,000 committed suicide.
Between 9,000,000 and 11,000,000 died of hunger.
If that last stat doesn't make you shudder, I don't know what to say. Why are we not all put under restrictions to feed those 11 million hungry? Are they some how less important than Covid sufferers? Yes I have questions. Does that mean I am an uncaring mask-phobic who thinks we're being taken over by the lizard people?
What is truth?
Oh how gratefully I close the lid of my laptop! I immediately sense it. I’m unplugged. The physical world pours in, beautiful, vital, fresh, and alive. The air on my skin invigorates. My eyes prick in the cold midday air. Some might call it harsh. Others might say it’s refreshing.
Truth. Reality. What is it?
As I step outside, the sheer beauty of my surroundings forces my mind to pause. It seems as though all the world is before me up here. I’m an observer from another dimension, peering out. The mist in the valley has faded and the creases of human civilisation are back in view. Villages hang onto the banks of the mountains in small white flocks, while somewhere in the distance I hear the rumble of a tractor.
The sun is piercing now, sharpening the contours in the mountains like knives. Dark. Light. Dark. Light. Green and blue and brown. It’s all there on planet Earth. The whole gamut. And as I hold that wholeness in my vision, something more fundamental arises, something I might dare call truth, or at the very least a deeper kind of reality. I sit within it for a moment, waiting for it to speak. When it does, it utters but a single word: oneness.
Yes, I feel that oneness, and that I’m a temporary ruck in its all-encompassing fabric. That I can slide into this side and that, into this narrative and that, down into valleys and up into the hills. But will I lose myself in that mighty warp and weft? How will I choose which yarns to hold, and which to cast aside? Which story should I embody?
Well, seeing as I have a choice and an imagination, I’ll write my own stories, thank you very much – I prefer tales of beauty, joy, and freedom. My worlds are places of adventure, risk, laughs, and passion. There are wild horses and bears, dragon ridges and fox dens, not to mention three chickens with charisma who seem to defy the odds. There are gurgling brooks full of spirits, and ancient trees that speak, starlit skies, and magical snowy peaks. Ah I could go on and on...
I’m not in the convincing-people game. I don't want people to believe in my story and mindlessly follow it. We all have a unique story inside us, waiting to be lived. Each holds their own faculties of reason, and their own connection to the planet. But...if anyone out there can’t quite gulp down the myths of the day without a touch of indigestion, just know there are other worlds that are yours for the taking and the making, where ever you are sequestered right now.
The point is this: It’s not about believing this story or that, based on these numbers or those. It’s about having the confidence to create our own stories, and live them.
Already I feel day leaving, and night pushing against the horizon. There’s a lot of darkness at this time of the year, along with the frightened, the tired, and the usual predators who try and use it to their own ends. But up here, I have a warm hut and a fire and endless wood to throw in it. I have food everywhere I look. Fresh water, too. I have books full of tales piled on my shelf. Darkness can come, and it can go. It dances with the light to form this incredible planet. Yes night-time, you are welcome. I’ll make something beautiful out of you, just see.
Storytellers don’t fear the dark, because it’s part of the yarn, not the entire fabric of reality. It’s a cloud shadow on a meadow. A ruck in the bedspread. For one of the many spiders in my hut, that ruck could be a valley or a hill, a shelter or a threat. Hmm, I wonder what story webs they spin, these spiders. Yes, I wonder.
*All stats from WHO: https://www.who.int/
Enjoyed this one? Others you might like include:
The Chicken Run
The Meaningful Lightness of Being
Also many thanks to the NAAS community for offering a non-violent space for some of these thoughts to perculate within.
Like most authors, I don’t earn enough from my books to sustain me. These writings come to you thanks to the generous support of everyone on Patreon, without whom I would have no time or funds to keep the free material on The Mud Home coming.
Have a closer look inside my world:
If you enjoy my writing and would like to express that you want it to continue, please consider contributing. For the price of a newspaper, all mud patrons can watch my private land report videos, ask more questions, and get the inside story on my off-grid mud and stone project in Spain.
Are you dreaming of the free life? If so, climb aboard my popular free sustainable off-grid preparation course. http://www.themudhome.com/off-grid-prep-course.html
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.