“Gawd! I don’t know how to do this.”
I was staring at my stone wall feeling out of my depth. Not that I’m unfamiliar with this sensation. This past year I’ve been scaling learning curves sharp enough to qualify for a place in the Karakoram. The task in hand wasn’t by any means my steepest ascent either. All I had to do was bash a hole in my cute old cabaña wall for a stove pipe. It was altogether more base camp than K2.
A crick began to pinch my neck from peering upwards. Which rock? Which one should I try to pull out? I just didn’t know where to start.
Now, I wasn’t completely without knowledge. My off-grid neighbour, who had bashed a hole or two out of his own cabaña , had already set me up with some beginners’ tips: “Look, if there’s a longish rock at the top, then you know you can pull out the stones below it and the wall will still be supported.” This was good advice, except there wasn’t longish rock where I needed my stove pipe hole.
Placing my hand on the wall, I touched one rock after another, paralysed by indecision. Images of the entire thing collapsing sashayed about my mind. I saw a heap of rubble where my wall had been, and shuddered. Autumn is here. I have no time for mess-ups right now.
Closing my eyes, I pleaded for a little help. The limestone nobbles and ruts were cool. They were ancient, too. I knew from Farmer Quilo that these huts were well over a hundred years old. Even to move a few of the stones seemed a little sacrilegious.
Perhaps the sun dipped behind a cloud at that point because the room darkened, and the shadows started eating into the corners. Then I sensed it. The past. It was still sitting in the stones and the dust, buried but not dead. I felt a connection forged between now and then, like a line of presence stretching directly back to when these cabañas were first built. The area between my shoulder blades prickled. Suddenly I just knew I wasn’t alone.
You want the rock above the shelf.
I started. The hut was talking. My scalp crawled a little as I considered the idea that perhaps this old cabana, the place I’d chosen to be my bedroom, was haunted. Yet when I felt into it, I realised the voice wasn’t creepy. It was much like when I talk to my ash tree. The words were in my head, but with a tone of their own. The cabaña was friendly, perhaps glad that there was someone finally around.
Studying the rock above the shelf, I decided to reply. “But won’t the rock shelf fall down if I take that stone?” Because I’d looked at that stone before, and considered it risky.
No no no. The rock shelf is being held by plenty of others. That’s the one. Just dig out the mortar around it. Keep digging. Dig dig dig dig dig.
Ever since I arrived on this land, I’ve been chatting with it and its inhabitants. With the trees, birds, lizards and the Lion Rock. Whenever I’m daunted (which is fairly often), I stop and ask one of the great trees of the land to tell me the next step. I hear that guidance in my head as clear as a bell. Its rightness rings in my body, not my mind. It will be unbelievable to many, but the advice is always bang on. Thus I’m pulled out of the swamp of confusion with its bog pools of pros and cons, and its soggy sedge of what-ifs, onto a dry path of stepping stones. Sometimes I can’t see how stepping stone one is going to get me to stepping stone ten. But inevitably it does.
Yes, I’ve been hearing the tree voices. And the rock voices. But this was the first time the cabaña had spoken (or perhaps the first time I’d heard).
Brandishing my trusty if unfortunate screwdriver – a tool destined never once to do the job it was designed for – I began gouging out the old lime and mud mortar. It was arduous work, like tunnelling your way out of prison with a teaspoon. I became impatient, tried yanking the rock, tried working on another. At one point it seemed the stone was wedged in by a much bigger one on top of it. I began to think (as I so often do) that the voice I’d heard was mistaken.
Dig dig dig dig dig! You just need to keep digging. It will take a while. I put them in good and tight. But once that mortar is out, they’ll start wobbling.
There was no doubt about it, whoever the voice belonged to was very sure they were right.
“Okay, I’ll do as you say. And we’ll see,” I muttered.
Ten minutes later the stone shifted. Before I knew it, it was out. And Mr. Voice-in-the-wall had been correct, because the rock shelf it sat on was still firm, and the wall itself still very much intact.
Still, there remained a good half-metre of stone rampart left behind the new hole, and each rock was locked into each other like some giant, inhabitable game of Jenga. I wondered yet again if I’d manage this without the whole lot caving in. Gingerly sticking my hand in the new gap, I began pulling out more rocks. And more...
Eventually after scratching and scraping at the mortar for what seemed like an age, a spot of daylight appeared. Wahey! I’d made it! So I pushed a piece of string through the chink and ran round into the woods to the outside of the wall. I wanted to see where to start next. But when I reached the rear of the cabaña , I groaned. The string was visible alright, only it was stuck between two massive slabs, neither of which looked too keen on budging.
You can take the big one if you want. But why not take the smaller one, which is diagonal. Mr. Voice-in-the-wall was back, and once again devoid of self-doubt.
“Isn’t that going to be too high up?” I said. Then I remembered I wanted the flue tilting up slightly to help the smoke out. Hmm. It was worth a go.
Once I’d removed it, and picked out the surrounding stones, I ran back inside to see if there was any way my stove pipe would pass through the gap. It was unlikely. There were rocks in all sorts of annoying and obstructing places, and removing any one of them would bring down plenty of others. Pff.
Inside I squinted, waiting for my pupils to dilate. Then I peered into the aperture, and pulled out any remaining bits of rubble. After I’d cleared as much as I could, I stared dubiously at the remaining cavity. If the pipe actually fit in there it would be a miracle, but hey, you can’t know unless you try, can you? So I picked up the metal flue and pushed it gently in. What do you know? Perfect fit.
I could almost feel the cabaña grinning. Or was it the cabaña builder? What was it? Who was it? What are these voices, and how do they know all these things?
There was a time when I thought the trees talked and that I was communicating with their spirits. Then there was a time I thought it was me projecting some wiser, more intuitive part of myself onto the tree. Then I learned that trees emit special biochemical compounds, and I wondered if they affected our brains like magic mushrooms. Then I thought perhaps it was the tree’s beauty that was inspiring some sort of innate intelligence inside me. To this day I do not know what speaks. But now apparently the rocks and cabanas talk, too. They have old, old stories to tell and wisdom to impart.
Just like mine, humanity’s learning curve is currently pretty sharp, too. The world is changing so fast; if you blink you’ve missed whole social trends. In the face of such an incline, it’s hard not to fall into self-doubt or to sink paralysed into a mire of confusion. Our minds are continually polluted by melodrama and horror stories, after all. Yet for me, unless we really pause and hear the true voices emanating from the very dirt we walk on and in, it’s going to be tricky to take the appropriate steps towards anything at all. Action without deep, Earth-based wisdom is simply noise and haste rather than creation.
To create the life, home, or world we want, there are two fundamental things we need to cultivate: an inspired vision, and a physical road toward it. Because when our will and imagination touch the stones and the dirt, a unique path is drawn. This is the creative magic of Gaia that no one understands. Our vision paths are like arteries or tree roots stretching and branching and feeding our souls. They pulse with the fire of life, and that pulse has a voice that is forever by our side. Can you hear it? Can you feel it?
You are not lost; you are walking on the stepping stones of your life. All you have to do is be sure where you want to end up, and then listen...Listen to life and the loam, and hear what your next step is.
If you’re interested in the voices of the land, take a look at my Earth Whispering website which I’m in the process of building up to become a resource for all things Earth-intuitive.
Many thanks to the crowd of people chipping in to keep these posts coming. It would be impossible for me to maintain The Mud Home without your support. It currently funds 10GB of off-grid internet, the now vital online help from Melissa, the web hosting and platform, the mighty email list provider and small portion of my time.
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Atulya K Bingham
"Reality meets fantasy, myth, dirt and poetry. I'm hooked!" Jodie Harburt, Multitude of Ones.