The last six weeks have been merciless. The dragon of summer has awoken. And it’s on the rampage, hurling its fiery breath down the valley, stamping its hot, horned feet on our earth, flattening us all.
Yes it has been one long bombardment; I have run from a forest fire, my dog died only to rise again like Lazarus, Istanbul airport was bombed, Britain voted to leave the EU, and we here in Turkey suffered an attempted coup. All this in temperatures that broil and bake and scorch us into twitching scraps of desiccated flesh.
If I am navigating the path through the flames with any ease at all, it’s because of one thing. My land. My marvel-packed patch of Gaia. I am in awe. Brimming with gratitude. Because the miracles and angels just keep on raining down, extinguishing the flames and soothing the burns.
But dear land. You have changed hands. There’s a new mud witch now...
It all began on Friday 14th July, the night I finally completed the advert for my house. I breathed deeply under a swelling moon when I hit the publish button, for the ad was equivalent to saying goodbye. To leaving. The heat pulsed tenaciously through the darkness. The air weighed me down. I hesitated, not quite daring yet to share the advert on social media.
The next morning I awoke early to post my announcement. But I failed again. Because there had been an attempted coup.
Here on Mud Mountain that bloody upheaval was invisible. There were no tanks or helicopters or lynch mobs nestled within the folds of the Lycian mountains. Yet even I sensed the tension. It was pulled taut over the fabric of the land like some sort of insidious shrink wrap. I’ve lived in this country for almost twenty years. I speak the language fluently. It is the place I have for two decades called home. We’ve had our excitements before, our peculiarly Turkish bloodless "coups" where the army has arrested an ultra-conservative, called an election, and business resumes as usual. But this was far more sinister. For the first time a chill stole through me. Chaos felt close. Too close.
Overnight, the beaches cleared as each of Turkey’s civil servants were called back to their posts. The expressions of the locals here dropped limp in the face of disappearing incomes. An eerie silence slid along the coast. And it hung there like the dank air from a long forgotten tomb.
But I know Turkey. For better or worse, these things are soon swept under the nearest hand-woven rug. I waited two days for the dust to settle. Then I breathed again. Opening my laptop, I turned it on and posted my ad.
It was a bleak type of perfect timing. Within days I had so many inquiries I couldn’t keep track of them. Because the open-eyed have begun exiting the city, and even the country itself. I can’t say I blame them.
Within days, the first viewers of my mud home appeared at the base of my track: A couple from Istanbul stepped out of a car and into the mud. Yes mud. Because very peculiarly it had poured with rain the entire morning, and the steam now rose from the hill creases to swallow the view.
The woman was young. Raven haired. Pretty. And her partner was a small, friendly looking fellow with erratic hair. Slowly we wandered around the plot, into the forest, down to the olive trees. The couple peered at the solar system. They didn’t flinch at the composting toilet. Nor the outside kitchen. I made tea. And we chatted. Easily. Because we had much in common. Deniz concocted herbal remedies and natural beauty products. Alp worked in the music industry. And Deniz’s dad was an architect fascinated by off-grid living and earthships. Soon, I was surprised to find myself having a good time.
At least two hours later the pair rose to leave. How slowly they edged toward the gate. Deniz in particular seemed stuck at the neck of the land, her dark hair dampened by the misty air. And I chuckled. Because my land is such a beguiler.
The next day Deniz phoned. “I guess I’ve warmed to the place. I’m interested in buying,” she said. And my heart lurched.
Oh how I sobbed that night, fretting that it was all too hasty. I wondered how I should know if these were the right people. Squatting on my gazebo with the light fading, I switched on my laptop. Then I opened Facebook to snoop. But when I clicked on Deniz’ profile, I blinked hard. For what should I see, but a “witch workshop” she was organising. Witch. She was a witch? Something sang inside my chest. And the pine trees rustled.
Three days later Deniz placed a deposit on the land. I was calm by then. I knew they were the right people. Incredible as it might be, I had sold my land in less than a week.
This Sunday, a roaster of a day if ever there was one, Deniz and Alp drove back to my mud home. They had come to learn the art of earth plastering. It was late afternoon. The sun dove behind the trees, but it made no difference. The wind was a type of fire that all but charred our skin. The air itself was aflame.
Quickly, I wheeled the barrow and the sieve into place. Alp ferried the earth and water over. Deniz softened the clay and mixed the plaster. And as I watched her hands stirring the mud, the feeling that bloomed within me was one of gratitude and wonder. Taking a step back, I stared over at Grandmother Olive and heard her whisper.
As Deniz lobbed the plaster gently at the house, and rubbed it in over one or two cracks, she smiled. Then looked up at me. “Oh,” she said. “I see completely why you want to build another one.”
Later, as evening wove through the trees and settled onto the slope, we hunkered down in the gazebo. The teapot was full. The conversation flowed anew.
“Once I travelled over land to India,” Deniz said sipping at her tea glass.
I turned toward her, gaping in the darkness. “You travelled through Iran and Pakistan?”
“Yes,” she said. “Me and a girl friend back in 2008.
“No one does that trip,” I said shaking my head a little. “No one. I did it back in 2009 the other way round. It was the hairiest and simultaneously most incredible journey of my life.”
“Same here, “Deniz laughed. She was a strong young woman, healthy and able. I punched her lightly on the arm and raised my tea glass to her. “Respect.” I said. She fell back and grinned.
That night, Deniz and Alp slept on the gazebo with a happy Rotty the dog flaked out beside them. The stars shone their magic onto them, shifting into new patterns and collaborative shapes. And I sensed it. The slight movement of the trees. The reaching toward.
As the sun peeped over the forest the next morning, the first bars of gold light struck the earth. I spied a figure; Deniz treading slowly over the land, dark hair now plaited into a single braid. She was dressed in patterned salwars and a vest top with sunglasses perched on her head. Suddenly I was watching a younger version of myself. A new mud witch. And I just knew. She was hearing it. Feeling it.
It was four pm on the 8th of August that Deniz and I signed the deeds. As we sat together in the deeds office waiting for the haphazard cog of Turkish bureaucracy to grind to a conclusion, such a wave of happiness crashed over me. I felt blessed. This was all perfect. For the land. For them and for me.
“I was a bit worried in the night. I wasn’t sure I could manage all the trees. And the digging. I suddenly wondered whether I could do it,” Deniz said as we huddled on the uncomfortable plastic chairs. We watched the human movement behind the glass of the deeds office carefully, willing them to action.
“Don’t worry, the land will help you,” I confided. “If you ever feel doubt, just remember. I couldn’t even bang a nail in when I moved there. I didn’t know a thing.”
An official barked at us from behind the glass. I met Deniz’s brown eyes with my green ones. It was a good moment. Auspicious. Right.
That evening, as I lay on my gazebo with Rotty the dog panting beside me, I felt the power of this planet. The prodigiousness of it all. The unbridled love. The extraordinary. I arrived here five years ago with no money and no clue. Since then I’ve been inspired and supported to build a home, a thriving website, and a writing career. Suddenly I am in abundance, possessing a brand new skill set, energetically, emotionally and financially equipped for a new adventure.
But that’s not all. You see I’m not leaving Mud Mountain just yet. I’m still here until mid-September, because Deniz can’t move in before then. Which is perfect timing, because that’s exactly when my earthbag workshop starts. :)
Atulya K Bingham
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