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."
Atulya K Bingham
"Reality meets fantasy, myth, dirt and poetry. I'm hooked!" Jodie Harburt, Multitude of Ones.