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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31/7/2022 07:26:30 pm
Yes, the biggest "el cimiento" is the mindset, attitude. If you don't have obstacles in your life or at work, you are either not living or not working at all. How you face obstacles is important as well as the motivation behind it. Living in close relationship with nature is not easy, whether you are a gardener, a farmer, natural builder or someone else whose hands are in the dirt or poop constantly. Some people just dislike it, it is too difficult for them to constantly have SOMETHING on agenda, some new problem to resolve, new issue to face, always something going on, never knowing where the next thing is coming from. Is it mites on chickens, snails in the garden, tick bite, leak from the roof, somebody cut you off from your water supply by accident while you are in the middle of cob mixing or taking your shower after cob mixing, fox takes you ducklings, you never know. People in general like predictability and off grid living can be very much like a game of poker. With snails, mosquitos, flies, ants, mites and bites, unpredictable power and water supplies, crazy weather and you are in contact with it very much and if you are building your home by yourself it takes soooo much time, physical and mental energy, you don't have any time left for anything else! I dislike when people romanticize it, but luckily Atulya you are not the one :) You have mentioned this many times in your articles, newsletters, videos...it can be a drudge and you were honest about it! That's it. Some people don't see the point in it, some can handle it and some just simply enjoy it! Enjoy the fight. Having said that, I am going now to give my offerings in blood to thirsty mosquitos as I have to water my garden from a well dug by hand, only to pick handfull of tomatoes and onions, some cabbage, not much is growing this scorching summer. There is a shop in my neighborhood, but I refuse. I obviously like hanging out with mosquitos :) Sorry for a long reply, I got carried away ;)
3/8/2022 01:26:07 pm
Wow, you've encapsulated the whole sherbang in a paragraph. This is it. It's not easy. But it is beautiful and real and alive. It is challenging, but in so many good ways. It makes us grow and adapt. So many times I think, "should I just go and live in a normal home for a bit?" But then I consider life without waking to all this beauty, to the birds singing, the fox dragging my trousers off, the incredible skyscapes, the sheer magic, and I know I'd hate it.
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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.