Something weird happens when you follow your intuition, take the leap, and move onto the land. Things go wrong.
Two friends have recently bought land and moved onto their new spaces. One is in a tent. One is in a stone house. Both are essentially camping at the moment. Both have just been tested. A fire burned down the first friend’s fence within a week or two of him buying it. The other amiga is stuck in a mire of water and power issues. The solar power system isn’t working as it should, and the creek has dried up. Classic! I remember when I first arrived on my land here in northern Spain and was tested just the same way. I couldn’t get my van into the land at first, and then I couldn’t get it out. It’s still stuck there to this very day!
But why the hell does this happen? Did we all make a mistake? I mean we listened to the trees and rocks and rivers, we’ve come in with all the best intentions, we’ve acted on our hunches and taken a chance. Why are we now being slapped in the face?
It all came back to me this month as northern Spain entered a heatwave like no other I’ve seen since I arrived here. We are usually privy to a thick helping of mist in June and July, but not this year. The clouds have fled the skies as though they’re infected with something, giving the sun a free pass to scorch the earth.
I sheltered at the door of my barn and watched the sierra. It stretched brown and sharp like a rusty saw blade. And there in the middle of that view was Jose Manuel dressed in a bright pink t-shirt, scythe over his shoulder, surrounded by floored nettles. He was a portly, conspicuously un-grim reaper.
“Primero hacemos el cimiento.” Jose Manuel placed the scythe against the barn wall and grabbed the pick instead. He stood back and took a nice deep swing at the ground. Cimiento is not cement as I first thought when I heard the word, ears pricking up in alarm. Cimiento is the foundations.
Pulling my hat down, I ran up onto the rocks. The limestone was already throwing the heat back at us aggressively. “Aqui aqui” I pointed to where I wanted my wall. “Con una curva!” Swinging my arm in an arc, I indicated where my curving wall would be.
“Una curva, ah si.” A soupçon of a smile slid into the far corners of Jose Manuel’s mouth as he bent down and hauled a boulder out of the way.
It was about midday, but the sun was only just limbering up in preparation for the serious mid-afternoon heat rally. Already I could feel my t-shirt gluing to my skin. How Jose Manuel could dig in this weather was beyond me. I knew this first day was going to be arduous. The foundation always is. The undergrowth is cleared. A trench is dug. And then the most enormous rocks are shunted into place. It’s difficult and slow. It’s a test. Because as Jose Manuel will tell you, if the foundation is right, the wall will stand for years and years. If not? It will fall.
The large frame of my stone mason vecino dripped in the heat. We both turned redder and redder. It was a flaying, and I wondered if I might simply burst into flames like a pine tree in a forest fire. As the land baked, I remembered back to the beginning of this adventure. I remembered The Test.
It was 2018, and I’d just purchased my land. My noodle was rammed full of hilarious schedules and plans of course. I’d concocted all sorts of visions of me living on my land in the summer in my camper, which was going to double up as a materials carrier, and a beach dwelling, and, and, and...
Then within about two weeks of completing the small driveway, my van blew up. It never recovered. And so I was transportless. Unable to move. Unable to carry materials. In order to buy anything I had to walk a mile to the now conspicuously shopless village, and then either hitch a lift or call a taxi to the town. If I wanted to go further, I had to catch a very infrequent bus from said town. A trip that would have taken me forty minutes in a car was taking about four hours. Before long, I was gnashing my teeth in frustration.
But why had this happened to me? I’d followed every hunch and listened to every frickin’ leaf and pebble. How ashamed I was to have to ask my dad if he could help me buy a car. How fortunate I was that he could and would. Even so, for a good two years I would glare at my nettle-throttled campervan and yell, “But why? Why did you do that?” I couldn’t see a single good reason for the betrayal even if I did enjoy driving my new car.
Roll on 2020 and the world suddenly stopped turning. Borders closed. Ferries drifted to a halt. No one was going anywhere. How glad I was I had a reliable car then! My old van always needed mechanics, and for about a year they were mostly closed. Deep snows came. We were cut off for a month. What a stroke of good fortune I’d stored my food supplies in that wretched campervan!
I learned. The Test is tough love. It arises because we’re being shown where the weak points in our structural setup are. And at some point in the future we’re going to be reminded of this test. If we deal with it well and solve the issue at hand, our future self is going to thank us.
Nothing material exists without structure. Plants, bodies, roads, cells, websites, rivers, and dry stone walls all have structures. It’s the framework that supports life in the physical world. Structure often gets a bad rap in the floaty, energy-focussed realm of what was once the New Age. But without structure, there is nowhere for energy to flow, no platform for ideas to be expressed, no trellis for a vision to grow upon. Nothing manifests. It’s all just a blob of wishy washy blah blah blah that oozes about and clogs the drains.
Understanding structure is one of the things that makes the difference when you begin any kind of project. It’s the art of seeing what supports what, and how things develop and strengthen. There is an order things move in, and it’s there for a reason, because one part of a creation supports the next. You can’t tile your roof before you’ve installed the joists, so it makes no sense to spend hours measuring exactly how many tiles you will need before you’ve even bought your timbers.
Misunderstanding how structure develops is what causes so many problems for people when they first move to the country or try and build themselves a home. Folks spend far too long worrying about details in their project which are a long way from fundamental. Yes in theory you could plan everything down to the last detail. But do come back to me and let me know how you got on with that, because in my experience there are 101 factors we don’t see until we’re deeply within the process. Life isn’t static. All sorts of things are going to happen that we couldn’t ever imagine. Things we thought were vital prove not to be, and vice-versa. If the past two years didn’t teach the West that, nothing will.
Where’s the glory?
The foundation is of course the first thing to be built in any structure. It’s the prep work, and it’s a long way from the sparkle and glory we expect when we’re building. It’s a bit tedious, it’s difficult, it’s time-consuming, and worst of all it will never even be seen. No one will ever come to your house and say, “ooh nice foundations!” They will never congratulate you on your plumbing or your waste water system either. These are the fundamentals I’m afraid the ignorant take for granted.
So get used to it if you’re creating anything. Before you start there’ll probably be a test, more likely a whole flock of them. It might be that nothing appears for a while. Things won’t go to plan. And you’ll have nothing to share on Instagram. If you’re doing it right, you’ll be digging the ground, straightening out a lot of issues, stabilising and solidifying. Hopefully you’ll be learning plenty too, especially that you are not in control, that your plans are a bit of a joke, that your head has never got it covered, and that building anything is a lot harder than it looks.
Nevertheless despite it all, I expect like me you’ll still wind up thinking the whole thing is a laugh, definitely a lot better than that other synthetic existence where you are never really tested in a positive developmental way. That dull grey expanse of doom where the learning curve has long flatlined, and your “excitement” is some riskless virtual pursuit cordoned off from the oxygen-replete heart of real life.
The sun finally began to pull behind my barn, giving the shadows space to stretch. They grew quickly now from stunted slithers into umbrageous towers. A stone wall was on the verge of existence now, the foundation stones lining the jaw of the earth like molars.
Jose Manuel dropped his stone chisel onto the dirt. “Marcho!” he said, which was how he always ended the day. Sometimes he said it after three hours, sometimes after five. But when marcho was uttered, the work day was done. That particular heat-lashed day, I was done too quite frankly. I felt as though I’d been in the ring with a fire monster. Even so, I was satisfied. The foundation was in and in well, which was a very good thing. Because hey, this was going to be quite a wall.
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The wolf of the wind howls around my cabaña, and the ash trees shake like rattles. Constellations come and go as the sky races over them. It’s wild up here. It’s another world, a planet where human rules no longer apply. This is the real world that still waits for us beyond the lacklustre veil we threw over it so long ago. Why did we do that, I wonder. Did we think it would be easier? If so, we were wrong, because this planet entertains neither cowards nor the lazy, and in every gutless lane we choose to walk down, predators of the worst kind lurk. All these life roads are energy conduits, you see. Which trail are we following?
I’m supping a cup of tea, snug on my bed with the stove roaring like a flaming lion. Gusts hammer at my door. And of course, it is in the midst of this storm that I decide I’d rather fancy a snack.
So I pull on my hat and my head torch and open the hut door. Lo and behold, night and his snarling hounds of cold, rain, and gales pour in. Lord! It’s rough out there. I blink through the pitch. That this tiny rock dwelling feels so secure in this weather surprises me. And then of course I ponder, as I often do, just how much I really want a handful of peanuts.
Nonetheless, I head out into the open mouth of winter. All for a few nuts. Because in truth there’s a lot more to it than that. In truth I’m going because I love to rip up that dreary man-made security blanket and feel the planet on my skin and in my hair. I know when I step up to meet Gaia, she will infuse me with something every advertiser tries to con me into buying but that no corporation can provide. It’s why I’m happier on a tempestuous mountain hiking to my kitchen, than I am pushing buttons in a town flat. Or God forbid a suburb.
Stumbling along the ridge, gusts whip my hair. It’s so darn windy I have to dip my head and round my shoulders, pushing my way into it. Pausing before the kitchen hut, I stare out at the twinkling lights of the villages below. The woodland swings and whirls in the arms of the weather as though resuscitated, and I can sense the land’s energy reviving me, too. The ancient Dirt Woman within me opens an eye and growls.
There and then, I’m alive. So I take the opportunity to pee right there on the slope like some cruddy queen of the Picos, because hey, I still don’t have a bathroom. But really, is there anything quite so glorious as peeing outside, anyway? Stars and clouds blustering overhead, rocks and dirt all around, trees rattling and roaring, and little old me crouching in the middle of it all, fertilising the grass and nettles.
I know at that moment I have chosen the right energy road, because that energy is inside me and out, reverberating.
Energetic Roads and Turkish Soul
The English language is rich when discussing exterior concepts like botany or mechanics, but surprisingly inadequate when we turn inside. Inadequate compared to Turkish, for example, which has an emotional and energetic lexicon that makes even the most academic of modern Turks sound like sages. Take the English word ‘soul’, for instance. Turkish comprises an entire rainbow of words that could be used in its place*, some of which have Sufi origins, some shamanic, so when I’m writing in English about such concepts I find myself extraordinarily thwarted by my mother tongue.
One of my favourite Turkish soul words is ‘can’ (pronounced ‘Jan’). Can is life pulse, the part of the soul that carries the life force of any living entity. It’s literally the bit of you that is alive, that is life herself, that is energetic and dynamic. When you die, you don’t take can with you.
Okay, so what’s this got to do with the wild life, energy roads, and a stormy night on a windswept Spanish mountain?
As I stand on the hill feeling the can of the land rush into me, I sense this part of me that can best be described (in English) as ‘energetic’. And it doesn’t end at our fingertips. As the trees thrash and the air rolls down the mountainsides like cannonballs, it seems obvious because I can feel it everywhere. The surge of life. It’s amazing, and it’s Gaian.
The next morning when I step out in my pyjamas, another world is waiting for me. The sun is stroking the arms of the ashes, and the rocks are warming themselves like tourists on a grassy beach. Tiny birds twitter and flutter and rustle in branches. It’s the same land, and yet so completely different I’m a little awestruck.
As I walk along my ridge to heat a kettle of water for a wash, sunlight washes over my face. And I remember: solar power. As soon as I enter the kitchen cabin, I pull out my little solar panel. It’s a small unit I bought back in 2017 when I first hit the road in a campervan. And do you know what? It’s done me proud. It powers a light and my phone, which has sort of kept me going. I hoist it onto the kitchen roof and attach the battery/inverter to it. The sun hits the panel and power is sent into the battery. Some technological voodoo occurs in that device that turns the battery power pulse (12V) into a voltage my phone can cope with (5V).
It’s all power. The sun, the power stored in the battery, the power that runs along the USB cable and charges my phone battery. But without an inverter, solar power doesn’t charge phones, or cars, or fridges. The voltage is different. They are different bandwidths of the same electrical energy.
In the same way, the energetic life pulse within us is not only available at one voltage either. Just as light can be split into a spectrum of colour, life energy comes in different qualities and potentials. But the truly exciting thing is that we seem to be inverters, and batteries, and panels too. We are energetic systems. We can increase the power stored in our systems, change the pulse rate and refine the flow so as to power more incredible realities, or we can limit what we embody and dumb the pulse right down to a couple of sluggish volts, and then wonder why we can’t run a washing machine or a brand new vision. It’s all about energy, and the line we choose to follow. It’s all about our can.
No matter how we like to portray ourselves, it is actually via our can that we are usually perceived and via the same can that we make shit happen in the physical world. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that the Turkish word can is written the same way as the English word ‘can’.
Can is the reason dogs and horses know we’re bullshitting when we pretend to like them and we don’t. It’s why some people are instantly likeable, and others just irritate the heck out of us, or drain us, or bore us. Often we simply can't put our finger on why. It's the root of charisma, for better or worse, and those who've worked out how to amplify it can potentially manipulate.
It ain’t what you do, it’s how you do it:
As you may have sensed, having taken a big leap of faith and jumping into a new reality, I have found happiness. And yes, I listened to the Earth and my gut to get here. But something happened long before I let go of my mud home in Turkey, something I didn’t really mention in the Mud Mountain Blog, because in those days I was more worried about what people thought. I remember meditating for days until my soul energy (for want of a better word in English) was pulsing in a very different way, and began pushing, just like a tree branch, in a very different direction. I smelt an invitation for a new life on a new energy road and I wanted to explore it. Because if we’re not exploring or creating or loving, then quite frankly what in hell are we doing here anyway? What’s the point?
Yes. It’s not just about jumping. It’s not just about risk taking or leaving the system or throwing yourself into a forest in tent. If the energy with which we do these things is based on fear or anger or loneliness or desperation, watch out. That energy line will follow you just as you follow it, and bite you in the butt wherever you are.
It’s not about plastic, or the economy, or old white men, either. Get rid of any of them and I guarantee not much will change. There are a million other corrupted entities to fill their places, because the energy source from whence they came is the same, and we’re all still riding it.
Does this mean I support the status quo and deny reality, or think sitting about in the lotus position all day is the answer? No. I believe in respect and honour for all beings (not just humans), and I see clearly that we don’t have enough of them. Yes, we must take steps in a better direction. But for me at least, most of the ways I see people trying to manifest these things fail desperately to inspire me. Righteousness, demonisation and sanctimoniousness have never created anything beautiful. If we really want to solve the problem, connect people and raise us all up (rather than strip us all down), then we need to embody a higher potential, and start following a more transformative energy line. Because the energy with which we act is far more important than the action itself. It’s something my Power Ash has been banging on about all month. It’s something Grandmother Olive used to whisper about too, in another way.
The solar panel is up and the battery inverter charging. It’s now I turn to stare at the great ash behind me. Her branches twist and coil, illustrating quite clearly the lines of energy they follow and the direction their life force is pushing in. Each branch is a road to a different reality. Some hold leaves, some are withered and dying, some bear fruit and seeds and keys, which in turn fly off on the back of a wind to settle and create a brand new ash tree reality somewhere else.
As it goes with trees, so it goes with us. It’s the line of can we’re following, and the frequency of power we are embodying that matters. I think this is perhaps one of the most important life tools trees have taught me. They, for all intents and purposes, seem to do very little at all. But sit under them and feel their power. Feel how they transform you and the world around!
Upgrading my Power System
With any luck, by the time you are reading this I will have upgraded my solar system so that I can charge my laptop and my power tools too. With any luck the inverter will be throwing out a hefty 240V instead of 5V. I’ll be using the larger panels my neighbour gave me so that I can absorb more of the sun’s power, and have larger batteries so that I can now hold more of it for longer. The entire current(amps) in the system will increase and the resistance in the system will decrease. I’ll have massively upped my power potential and my ability to get shit done.
In the same way though, I wish to upgrade my other, more fundamental energy system; that of my can or my soul. Because it’s the key to making anything good happen. And while I chose a beautiful energy road for my land and community, I notice other areas where I’ve had less integrity. I haven’t always spoken kindly, for example, and impatience has sometimes got the better of me. I can be very resistant about letting people in, and hold onto past transgressions in a most ungracious manner.
But the times are special and the past is falling away at great speed. We can up our game now, choose new energy roads and start changing the how rather than the what, the means rather than the end. Because as one of my protagonists Harpagos wisely noted back in 500 BC: The end never comes. Never. We never reach the Promised Land. All we are ever left with is the means. The energy road. The can.
* other Turkish words for soul (or soul elements) include: ruh, tin, can, öz, nefes, gönül.
Over the past three years in Europe, I have privately thanked Turkey many times for so many things. One day I’ll write them all down. Here I just want to say that I am indebted to the Turkish language and culture for sharing its extensive and nuanced understanding of emotions and energy concepts with me. The concept of can is a Turkish concept. The energy roads were whispered to me by my ash trees.
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The Lone Woman Builder
“You can’t get those roof joists in alone. I mean how will you line them up properly?” Farmer Quilo was studying the vacant space in front of my ‘bedroom’ hut, where I was planning to put my bathroom. His cows were chewing nonchalantly below us in my field, oblivious to the plans of builders and mud witches. They had verdure to process after all, and it’s a full-time bovine occupation.
“I think I can,” I replied with none of my old cantankerous I’ll-show-you, because Quilo isn’t a macho moron, and is capable enough that he doesn’t need to put me down to make himself feel better. He wasn’t doubting me because of my gender or my size. He honestly couldn’t see how the job could be done single-handed.
“But how will you hold the joists and bang them straight? I mean they all have to be lined up. And the ones poking out of your hut are all crooked.”
“Aha...Estoy preparada,” I answered with glee. Bending down, I picked up one of the small joists and showed him where I’d bored three holes. “Now it’s easy to bang the nail in one-handed,” I said. “I’ll bang the middle nail in first, then I can move the joist up and down and adjust it. I’ll do that with all three joists, lay a beam on top of all three, line them up, then whack the other nails in.”
Farmer Quilo’s features expanded like the face of the moon, one of those big rosy pumpkins that rise just before sunset, (because he likes a splash of vino tinto, does our Quilo). I think he’s an Asturian fusion of Celal and Dudu, with his dogs and cats and cows and beans. Yes I am lucky he’s my neighbour. But hey, I conversed plenty with the Earth before I found this spot, remember?
“Whoa!” Quilo eyed the planks and then me. “I suppose necessity is the mother of all creation,” he said – or something along those lines. Then he stepped along the path, flicking his garden gnome face briefly back. “Well, as I said, if you need help, just ring me.”
“I will, I promise,” I said. This time I meant it. I’m tired. It’s cold. I need a frigging bathroom.
The next day, for what it was worth, I looked at the weather forecast. It wasn’t inspiring. Rain was coming in shedloads, it said, not to mention the cold. I stared at the empty space where my bathroom should have been. I thought about extending that roof and those awful curvy tiles. Then I trotted down to talk to the ash tree.
“See it finished. Feel it finished. It is done,” Ash Tree said. Which is basically what he always says. And I sighed. Thus, with the sunlight dancing over his remaining leaves, I meditated and envisioned the roof extension finished. I felt the relief of it. I saw the beauty of it. After that, I climbed back up to my stone huts and banged in those three joists. They went in fast. They lined up properly. Then the pitter patter of precipitation filled my world.
Two days later my land was a cold boggy mess. It was so dreary that world politics almost glimmered in comparison. Even the cows looked disgusted, and stared at me in grumpy expectation, as if I had some control over the elements. Only the bull remained stalwart, but he is a remarkably easy-going chap. I decided to call Farmer Quilo the next day, and take a chance on the weather.
It was unbelievable really. In a week of solid rain, rising rivers, and floods, we had a single dry afternoon, and it happened to be the one that Quilo turned up on. He arrived at midday with a bag-full of tools and a stepladder, puffing a little as he pushed up the hill. But my ruddy-cheeked neighbour set to work like no tradesman I’ve ever hired. That roof was banged together, complete with tejas curvas by five pm. Totalmente. All right, I helped a bit here and there flitting about as materials delivery, but honestly? I can’t take credit for that porch. Lord knows how long I’d have messed about with it. As I threw the last few tiles up to Farmer Quilo, a stubborn-looking drizzle set up camp on my land. It turned to rain, and then to downpour.
Over the coming days, the ground transformed from solid to liquid, the air from warm feather to cold slate. Rain gathered in sodden flocks and stampeded down the slopes until it was no longer clear where the sky ended and the earth began.
It’s at such times that a builder must stop and assess. Traditionally December would be the time for such a stock-take, but Gaia has decided to suspend action early. So it is now, with a roof over my head (albeit small) and a stove chugging in the corner (albeit still with wood to cut), that I have momentarily paused for breath. And it is for a moment only, because I’m still a bathroom short, not to mention hot water. Oh hot water, what I wouldn’t do!
Did I bite off more than I can chew?
Quilo’s porch has highlighted something. It’s the first thing this year that I haven’t built by myself (notwithstanding a little help with the tejas curvas from my friends in July). As I sit in my nobbled kitchen, coffee steam wafting out of the cup, the landscape of the recent past spreads before me. With its peaks and ridges, its declivities and chasms, 2019 has been an odyssey into exertion the likes of which I’ve never known. Bitten off more than I can chew? Hey, I’ve had more on my plate than a shoestring backpacker who suddenly finds himself at an all-inclusive buffet.
Roofs have been taken off and put back on, there were battles with tiles, water pipes to connect, skylights to make and install, walls to plaster, floors to lay, holes to bash, plaster to throw, cretes to mix and apply, insulation to insert, beds to build, tables, kitchen cabinets, everything including the kitchen sink. The only two power tools I possess are a jigsaw and a drill. I have almost no electricity. Everything you see was hand-sawed, hand-mixed, hand-hammered. By me. One woman lone builder. Not to mention The Mud Home website to run, articles to write, and emails to answer, all without a proper power system installed, which means I’m starting my car to charge my laptop at times, or I have to run to the nearest cafe. Somehow (I actually have no idea how) I put together a digital lime course over the summer, too. I don’t think I’ve ever worked so hard.
Sooo with this dramatic vista of endeavour at my back, should some slack-jawed fool dare to mumble that I’m so lucky, or they wish they could have what I have because blah de flipping moan whine blah, I fear they may find themselves swiftly buried under six feet of my hand-mixed limecrete.
Yet here’s the strangest part of all this. You see, I’ve loved every minute of my stone hut endurance caper, even washing in the freezing cow trough when it was ten degrees outside. You couldn’t drag me back to civilisation if you tried (well alright, perhaps for a hot shower now and again). Am I mad? A masochist? Or is this the sheer delight of stretching into wild new realities I had no idea I could reach. I’m astounded at how my body, psyche, and energy have adapted to birth these creations. I wonder where my limits are. Where our limits are. I understand now what I am. I’m a creator of worlds. It’s in my blood and my soul. I thrive on it.
Which brings me back. Lone builder I am, and I love it. But that is because, as I’m always saying, I’m not alone. This doesn’t mean I don’t occasionally feel alone. But whenever I do, I sit with the sensation and check exactly what that feeling is. What I discover when I look inside, is that loneliness has nothing to do with people, or being solitary. It’s about being disconnected. Disconnected from myself, my environment, the voices whispering all about me, the trees and birds, this incredible planet, the force of life in and beyond us all, and the beauty and wonder it opens for us.
It’s why I love to live by myself. It’s why I don’t envy couples or nuclear families. Because they are so often lonely, conflict-ridden old shacks. For me at least, enmeshed human relationships drag me away from the very place where I feel supported and connected. They pull me away from the unconditional tenderness and wonder and magic that I find in silence and nature.
Each morning in my spinster builder life, I walk along my ridge, and the sky tells me a different story. Through the sunrise and the dew, I sense Gaia’s power reaching into my muscle tissue. I hear the trees whisper in my mind, and feel the hands of the planet on my shoulders. I’m certainly not invincible, but I am part of something that is. When I become aware, minute to minute, that I’m not enclosed in a sack of skin, but emanating far beyond it, I finally understand I’m part of a living, breathing masterpiece that actually paints itself.
So thank you dear Earth for leading me here to this enchanting place with its bounteous wildlife and benevolent neighbours. Where will you lead me next, I wonder? And what will I create with you when I get there? Who knows? Who knows?
A massive hug and thank you to the crowd of people who’ve joined us on Patreon recently, as well as those loyal supporters who’ve been with us for so much longer. Thank you so much for chipping in to get me some decent batteries and a tougher inverter so that I can keep these posts coming. It would be impossible for me to maintain The Mud Home without your contributions.
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Panic in the Stone Hut
May is nearly here and I’m not ready. Nowhere near. The roof hasn’t been touched, I’m only just getting the hang of the mortar, and my ‘bedroom’ is still a dusty heap of rotten wood. I can feel the pressure inching up my abdomen. It would be easy to panic now.
In fact last night I did panic. It was a fairly average case of the 3:00 am prod-of-terror. One minute I was happily asleep, the next minute my ‘to-do’ list decided to unfurl in its entirety beneath my eyelids. And it demanded solutions to everything, there and then. No matter how fast my neurons fired, I couldn’t find enough answers. There beneath my duvet, roofs collapsed, money ran out, and a hundred and one hitherto unforeseen disasters lurked in the darkness. These calamities never showed their faces, but growled menacingly from my subconscious.
I’ve spoken to a lot of builders. Most seem to have a 3:00 am panic from time to time. Because there’s something about building which engenders a huge leap of faith. You are constructing something larger than you, and many times it’s not at all clear how it’s going to materialise. At all. I’m standing at the threshold of such a time. How easy it would be to throw up my hands and yell into the brisk north-westerly coursing across my land, “Agh! I’ll never make it in time. I can’t do it! I give up!” Or indeed just run away and never come back.
But I’m in this with Gaia. Even in the pre-dawn pitch, I know deep down as long as I keep stepping forwards, I’ll get there – usually just in the nick of time. It’s a question of trust now. And trust is something we moderns sorely lack. That’s why we love calculations and future prediction models and algorithms. That’s why we obsess about plans, and tie ourselves in knots trying to stick to them. Because we don’t trust that Gaia has our back. We don’t trust life. We don’t trust ourselves.
I’m passionate about creating tiny off-grid Edens for so many reasons: They are liberating, sustainable, and invite a deep awareness of the environment and our impact upon it. But perhaps my favourite aspect is the process of the build itself. The trust it demands of me. It’s me and the land joining forces to create a new world. As soon as I physically begin working with a vision in mind, creation just sort of happens. I honestly don’t know how. It's a kind of magic.
The power to create isn't to be found in plans or solutions. Nor is it some sort of macho brute strength phenomenon. Power is in life itself, and either you are aware of it and access it, or you aren’t.
Today as I stand, wellie-clad, feet firmly planted upon the cool dirt, I sense it. The very life inside me. That wave of power. And I know if I trust it, I can ride it. That creative force makes a mockery of my 3:00 am mind and its limited ideas of who I am and what I can achieve. It has no understanding or interest in my schedule either. It makes no guarantees to finish by any time other than the right one.
Scanning my Eden, my eyes fall onto the burgeoning pasture. The meadow has exploded now. The grass is on a mission upwards with thousands of tiny flowers twirling in its midst; buttercups, daisies, wild violets, and birdsfoot trefoil all bob in the wind like rainbow stars while fat honey bees cavort with dead-nettle flowers*.
When you stare into the face of Gaia, you have to wonder. How do the flowers ‘know’ how to bloom? It is after all an immense engineering project for a tiny little plant; the pushing of the stalk upwards, the development of the stigma and stamen, and the sudden cranking open of their petal umbrellas. Whatever the answer, we can safely assume flowers don’t wake up at 3 in the morning in a panic about it. The intelligence is within them. It’s in life itself.
We humans are part of the same matrix of power and life and intelligence. Our growth and ingenuity move out of it. Yet I wonder, do we realise it? Because here we are at the edge of creating a new world for ourselves, and we've woken up in lather. We’ve known for a while that our house wasn’t stable, (heck, the thing was built on dodgy ground anyway), but the renovation work looked so daunting. Where to start? And how deep to go? So we’ve overthought everything and done a perfect nothing, because it all just appeared impossible. Now of course the roof tiles are falling off, and the walls are beginning to buckle, so we have to act. Yes, it’s 3:00 in the morning of the modern world, and we're suddenly awake. It would be easy to panic now. Easy to throw up our hands and give up. But building new worlds doesn’t happen like that.
It’s always when I’m teetering terrified on a scaffold without a clue what I’m doing, vision in mind, hammer in hand, that I realise I have to stop trying to think my way out of it, and allow life itself to work through me. I’ve set my best intentions of how I want my building to look and feel. I'm following through. Now there’s nothing else for it. It’s time to have a little faith and climb on that roof. Oh course, there are the usual crowd of hopeless naysayers (when are there not? And when have they ever been right?) but nowadays I'm adept at zoning them out. Because the limitations are in their minds, not in my reality. And not, most importantly, in life.
In the world of the modern human there's a brave new house to be built. But while blind panic may galvanise us to act, it's hardly a vision. We need to claim our future, rather than feebly just trying to avoid calamity. The outer work is all well and good, but without some serious inner renovation frankly we are toast. It was our old school mindset based on fear and mechanised contingency that got us exactly where we are now.
It's time to step towards a more beautiful world with a little trust that something larger than us, something that doesn’t adhere to schedules and man-made predictions, will take our hand. Without that trust we are lost. Without that trust we create nothing magnificent at all. We simply stare ahead and see doom.
Remember back on Mud Mountain when the bulldozers came? It seemed like the end of the world. Yet what do you know eh? My new world is full of honey bees and vultures, clean spring water and wolves, cobbled huts, and organic free range cows... Apparently, when you trust in the planet, sometimes the end of the world can be an upgrade.
At the moment I'm paddling like mad just to keep everything running, and need to offload a lot more 'drudge' to my paid virtual help over the next few months. It really is pretty hard to keep The Mud Home going while I build a roof over my head. So if you find meaning or inspiration in this blog please consider contributing on Patreon. For just $2 a month you have access to my private news feed where I post updates and thoughts I don't wish to share with the world at large, plus a monthly video from my land.
Many many thanks to the dear Mud Sustainers and all those already supporting on Patreon for helping to fund this website and allowing it to continue.
A Natural Process
“Yeah, you can eat this laurel,” said the owner of the nursery. He was a sturdy man with a generous smile. Stretching out a hirsute hand, he pulled one of the sapling’s leaves off and stuffed it in his mouth to prove the point. “Should survive up where you are, though you won’t see anything for three years, because...” and here he started babbling about raices while spitting out bits of leaf.
For the umpteenth time I pulled out my phone and typed the new word into the online dictionary. Raices. Roots.
“Once this tree has a decent root system, then it grows pretty fast. But three years. You need to be patient.” The tree seller dropped the potted laurel back on the ground, and the leaves shook on impact.
Standing there in the nursery, I felt the sun warm my spine. In the background, behind the polytunnels of baby trees and the car park, mountains pushed up crisp and clear. Within those colossal peaks my land was waiting.
I snapped my eyes back to the laurels. “OK, I’ll take three of them,” I said. “Plus that holly you showed me. You know, the independent female that didn’t need a male,” I winked at the tree seller. He guffawed. I grinned in return, feeling rather pleased that I could now express a soupçon of wit across the rickety scaffold of my Spanish.
A week later all the baby trees were planted, with fences to protect them from goats and eggshells to protect them from slugs. I sat between them, watching the rocks come alive in the gloaming, their ancient bodies pulsing. Slowly. Patiently.
On the rim of my land, my eye fell upon a full-grown holly bush. My gaze flitted from the baby I had planted, to the adult in the woods, and then to the enormous ash tree behind my stone hut.
If you want to see how to make incredible things happen, just watch nature, because nothing and no one is as powerful at creating worlds as She.
Thus I return to last month’s post. To one way of making things happen. Though in truth we are all unique, each with our own growth rhythm and style. When we sit with the Earth and let her speak to us, if we look for her secret messages within the ridges of rocks or the bifurcating stems of leaves, we are always reminded of our way.
The Process of Making Things Happen
Watch a tree, how it happens, and you will learn everything you need to know about manifesting new realities. All trees – imagine an enormous powerful oak, or the evergreen tower of a red pine – start as lifeless kernels until they are planted, and watered. For quite a while nothing appears to happen. Yet in truth, as soon as the kernel hits the wet dirt, something shifts. And if it continues to shift in a certain direction, the seed germinates. This is a kind of alchemy. I’m fascinated by it, because no one really understands it. It’s the spell of the dirt.
There is the potential. The seed. Lifeless. Doing nothing other than holding the idea of a tree within it. The seed hits the dirt, and something changes.
After germination, everything moves in increments. Step by tiny step. No step on the sapling’s path is superfluous. Each is necessary. It just keeps moving bit by tiny bit in the direction it wants to go. Namely toward the sun.
Whether we still feel it or not, we are born out of the dirt of this planet, just like the trees and the slugs and the grass. Despite what education systems and social conditioning ‘teach’ us, we create new versions of ourselves exactly like our planet does, using the very same dirt alchemy.
The seed is your vision. Your dream. It holds great potential, but...until it is planted in the real world, in the dirt of the planet, in the messy physical plane, it is lifeless. It will never germinate. That magical alchemy will never happen. Nothing will appear.
Planting vision seeds in the real world seems to be what most people struggle with. And I think it’s because we see a seed, and then a full grown tree, and have no idea how to bridge the gap. So we panic. Because we think we have to have the entire process covered from start to finish, because that’s what we’ve learned at college, or in business management courses, or from architect’s plans.
But you cannot have the process covered. And if you do, you’ll be throwing your plan away pretty soon (if you ever stop tinkering with it and start putting it into action). Because as soon as you take the first step and plant the seed, neither you nor the world is the same.
The secret to making things happen is to move in increments. Consistently. Patiently. With one eye on your dream, and the other on where you are now. Without worrying too much about the rest of the journey. This is as true for house building as it is for book writing or land buying. Because life is a cauldron of enchantment which when stirred causes miracles to emerge.
Six Tree Steps to Making it Happen
1. Find your seed.
Your dream is your seed. Make sure it’s the right one. Are you planting a maple tree seed? Or an orchid bulb? Or a hawthorn? Be sure. Know what you want and why, because you will get what you ask for. The most potent seeds are forged within kernels of trust, joy, and inspiration, while seeds born of anger, fear, and low self esteem tend to develop into weak, unsatisfying realities.
Hindrances: Even at this early stage, people can start losing faith. They think they can’t have what they want, so begin reducing the dream seed to fit into some box that they have been made to believe is reality. I notice I’ve done this a lot in my life. Perhaps in truth we only expand the cage bit by bit.
2. Dig the ground.
The way I till the ground is to start brainstorming all the things I’d feasibly have to do to obtain my dream. I write them down on paper: List, mind map, or picture format, it doesn’t matter. The crux is to move that non-physical dream some way into the physical world.
Once I’ve brainstormed every task or action I can think of, I put the steps in some kind of order. Yes, I might be an earth-whispering hippy, but even I have a to-do list. Unfortunately this isn’t the '70s, and to be free in this age of corporate insanity, you need to be organised. Now, I'm not saying I take my plans too seriously, because life enjoys a good chuckle at any planners' expense. Nevertheless, this process transforms my otherwise nebulous unattainable vision, into concrete doable steps.
Hindrances: Here, because we suddenly see a bit of effort is required, the insurmountable obstacles start popping up in people’s minds. So if I find myself thinking I can’t dig the ground and plant a seed because (insert your excuse), I make another list with all my excuses on it. Then I resolutely set it aside (or burn it) and start acting and thinking as though the solutions have magically appeared.
People are often bemused when they ask me, "but what are you going to do about (insert random worry about some detail at the nether end of my to-do list)" and I reply, "No idea. Something will turn up." To their abject annoyance, it always does. Doubt and worry are the mental equivalent of Monsanto Roundup. They are carcinogenic. Don’t apply them to your seed.
Believe it or not, trees also form action plans. They calculate where they think the maximum sunlight will be X years from now, and push out branches accordingly. I'm pretty sure they don't worry too much about number 10 on their to-do list either. For more on tree intelligence and problem-solving capacity, read this article: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/radical-conservation/2015/aug/04/plants-intelligent-sentient-book-brilliant-green-internet
Don’t become obsessed by money.
Notice “raise money” is not number one on the list. That’s because it definitely isn’t the first thing you should be worrying about. Huh? Really?
Money is a tool, not a vision. And take it from me, as soon as you start believing in your vision enough to do something about it, weird and wonderful things happen. Life starts believing in you. Other people start believing in you. Support appears. As long as you’re open to different ways of raising money, and not clinging to some sort of ‘poor me’ scarcity mindset that refuses to let it in, funds will arrive.
3. Plant the seed!
And this is where the majority of folk falter. They just won’t budge out of the stalls. If this is you, ask yourself: Are you really only going to buy seeds for the rest of your life? Really? Is your life just going to be a shelf full of jars that you look at? On your deathbed are you going to be proud that you just dreamed?
You plant your seed by taking the first thing on your new to-do list, and doing it.
You may find yourself looking at that initial step and realising it needs its own to-do list. Very normal. I do that all the time. Just break down step one into mini steps. Increment by increment. That’s how trees to do it. Follow the trees.
This is the first place overwhelm hits. “Oh so many steps! How can will I ever take them all?” Remember: You don’t have to take all the steps. You just have to take one, and once you’ve taken that initial leap, the world is no longer the same. This is such an overlooked and profound truth. The world is no longer the same when you take one action in it because you have now changed it.
When I moved onto Mud Mountain in Turkey, I didn’t know how to bang a nail in. I could never in my wildest dreams have imagined I’d be building my own house within six months or writing a blog about it. How could such a thing be possible? And yet, what do you know? You see, our knowledge of our world and ourselves is horribly limited. Once you’ve stepped onto a different life track, incredible things happen.
4. Water the seed. Consistently.
Some seeds grow into trees. Some give up. If you ask me, it is completely okay to give up if you realise you don’t want to be that tree anymore. Far more worthy to have stretched out of seed mode and then conclude you need to change course, than to remain a dry kernel forever doing a big fat nada.
I’ve given up on plenty of planted seeds. Van life, for example. Pah! It’s definitely not for me. I’m very glad I tried it though, and it brought me to my land, so it was a valuable seed to plant.
Watering the seed means to keep moving through your continually evolving to-do list. Patiently. Consistently. Throw on too much water (or effort), and you drown the poor seedling. Neglect it, and it withers up. It's a balance. The trick is to make sure you’re enjoying each step of the process for what it is, while simultaneously keeping the end vision in mind and pushing gently towards it. One foot in the now, one in the future.
5. Let the plant grow.
Healthy, blooming, mature trees grow organically. Life and the Earth weave their magic into them and they alter their growth pattern in accordance. They adapt to wind, sunlight, food, predators, and the needs of the forest community too. Life is not static. That static ‘thing’ is an idiocy of the human mind.
A Seed Well Planted
Over two years ago I planted a seed. I threw myself from the Mediterranean coast of Turkey on to the Atlantic coast of Europe. There was the usual throng of naysayers braying at my back. “It’s very expensive you know, how will you survive?” “You can’t find land there for that price!” “You don’t have a network! It will be hard without friends.”
Today, I sit in my new Eden. Looking up, I see the horizon has become the canvas of an impressionist, mountain backs dappled violet, green and grey by the brush of the clouds. I am amazed. The seed I planted has now become a sapling. Next year it will grow higher still until one day it’s as grand as this ash tree I’m sitting under.
Curling into my favourite nook in the trunk, I raise my eyes into the arms of the ash. The last leaf has recently fallen. Her branches are bare now, all energy pulling back underground. To the roots. Raices. Where she dreams of new pathways, considers fresh outgrowths, and consolidates her power for the year ahead.
Want to create a new reality?
I’m not sure if this is due to my land’s influence on me or not – it’s a powerful space; abundant, endowed, enabling – but I’ve felt a calling to push out an extra side shoot on creating new realities.
I don’t know exactly what this will entail in terms of content, but over the winter, for anyone who signs up in the box below, I’ll be sending free material and ideas on making change happen, increasing your power to create, and following through on your dreams. So if you’re interested, put your name and email address in the box.
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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.