As my final days on Mud Mountain draw nearer, I find the end of the line is the beginning. Because it’s a circle I live within. An ever-widening ring of enchantment and happenstance. The dragon of summer has flown. Rain has fallen. And the dirt has drunk heartily of it.
I swing in my hammock, draining the dregs of the place. Allowing each last message to sink in. Grandmother Olive showers me in light, and her brightness is strangely intensified now. As though she too awaits the new with baited breath. Ah the new. The unforeseeable and unreadable. Our toes have now hit the edge of this transformation. Which takes me back. To the last time I was forced to change into something new.
It might be my Mud Home that draws the attention, yet it isn’t the part of the experience I treasure most. Before the dirt bags arrived, and a roundhouse pushed its head up from the earth, I had to undergo an initiation. I had to transform, from a teacher who understood little about the land, and the animals, and earth magic, to another type of person altogether.
So with nostalgia firmly present, here is a short excerpt from my still unfinished book Dirt Witch. How much trickier it has been to define that initial journey into nature. I have struggled to articulate in a readable manner how my land affected me. So I reach out to the Mud community now, not for a morale boost (which you are always so generous to offer me), but honest feedback. Because this far down the line, I have learned value what you all have to say.
All comments, ideas, suggestions and questions are welcome in the box below.
How it all began...
The sweat was pouring. I could feel it accumulating about my hairline and in the centre of my back. Slowly, I trod the length of the slope, tools digging into my shoulder. At the bottom of the hill, a small pathway veered to the right. My path. My path to My land. Mine. I clutched that possessiveness like a toddler. Mine. Mine. Mine. Because I had nothing else to clutch.
The path slipped through clusters of dog roses. Now in bloom, their delicate pink hats rocked as I passed. I entered my plot. Then I stopped sharply and sucked in a lung full of burning air. The plot was a hostile slope of dry thistles and thorns. Insects buzzed within the morass of stalks, as though the land were a machine whirring to life; a Frankenstein. The only evidence of human kind was a small cottage the other side of a pomegranate orchard, and a row of greenhouses below. This was rural Turkey.
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 enormous thorn bushes - great monsters baring tough green claws - I started to feel nauseous. My mind was a city at rush hour. It flashed anxious thoughts at me like traffic signals. What was I doing here? Had it really come to this? Bumming in a Turkish field?
Turning briefly, I stared behind me into the forest. It was a leviathan of twisting trunks. The word ‘survival’ drifted nonchalantly through my head. It hovered somewhere just behind my eyes. Nur and Toygar were right. I couldn’t manage this.
And then it happened; the meeting that would alter my destiny within this square of Turkish turf. Perhaps I intuited its significance. May be that was why my skin crawled and my spine shrank into a brittle line. Or may be it simply was eerie.
I was standing within the dry grass, tent bag swinging in one hand, rake, spade and pick handles in the other, when I spotted her. I swallowed very slowly. My epiglottis squeezed the saliva down, but only just. I stood still – like hunter or prey, I couldn’t be certain – eyes popping.
There, right at the edge of the forest, was a woman. At least I thought she was a woman. She might have been a beast. Yet she was familiar. Too familiar. Like a character that had somehow scratched her way out of a dream. The back of my neck prickled as I took her in. Her head was a nest of brown matted hair. She had black wolf eyes. And she was arrestingly bare-chested. She was only there for half a minute, but even those thirty seconds rattled me. I knew her from somewhere. Where? As I stared onto my slope (Mine. Mine.) the woman began beating her chest. Somewhere, far off in the distance, I heard the thud of a drum. It spoke a language I recognised, but didn’t want to.
The woman turned to me. Without the slightest provocation she bared her teeth (surprisingly white teeth). I gaped appalled. Then she stamped her naked feet on the earth. The outer layers of my persona raised disapproving eyebrows. Deeper inside, dread stole through me, but I couldn’t put my finger on why.
In a second she was gone. Vanished. Into the shadows of the forest. And I was left staring, tool heads protruding over my shoulder, feeling uncomfortable and weird.
A New Witch
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. :)
(The prequel to this post is Fire Fire!)
“If the house has burned down, I’ll go to India.” Zeynep, was curled next to me on a floating wooden platform. She lives in a wooden cabin at the lower side of the forest bordering my house. Mountain spring water gushed below us, a cool, splashing solace. “Oh no! I left my passport in the house!” she said, slapping a delicate hand to her forehead.
It was the Sunday of the fire, and along with a good few in the valley, we had fled to a series of trout restaurants on water. Frankly, in the panic it seemed the safest place to wait. Zeynep’s cat was scrunched in a plastic crate in front of us. Rotty the sick dog was lolling unhappily by the river, nose oozing. The platform was a raft, an open-air Noah’s ark.
“Ah, you can get a new passport. It’s not hard,” I said, and wondered what I would do if my house was now a charred heap of clay. Go to England? Find a van and drive? But what about Rotty? She really was too sick to move.
A waiter arrived and shunted plates around. We stared aghast at the heaving table of food in front of us. No one was in the mood to eat.
The trill of a phone sounded. It was incongruously cheery on this most heavy of days. Zeynep fumbled in her bag and picked out her mobile.
There was a silence. Then a nod. “Really? Are you sure?” She spoke slowly, curls bobbing.
Once the call was over, she pulled her sunglasses from her face, and looked at me. “The wind changed at the last minute apparently, and the fire jumped the road and over to Musa mountain.”
“Nope. We’ve been saved. For now. We’ll give it an hour and then we’ll go home.”
And just as quickly as my home was snatched away, it was handed straight back to me. But I had already let it go. Perhaps that was the design.
That night, I returned to my mud home and slept, albeit it fitfully beneath the stars. The smell of smoke scratched at the inside of my nose. Musa mountain burned on, the fires gouging orange holes out of the darkness like satanic torches. Rotty the dog wheezed and puked beside me, the parasite inside her wreaking some invisible havoc. She was no more than a basket of fur-covered bones. And I felt oddly bitter. Because if there had been a choice between my dog and the house, I’d have burned that house myself.
The next morning the temperature dropped. But the humidity was a clammy veil that clung to everything. I stepped into my kitchen dragging Rotty behind me. For the second week running I cracked an egg in a glass. Stooping, I pried apart her canine mouth and poured the egg in. I wondered if Rotty could talk, whether she would tell me to back off, to let her die. She swallowed the egg with a blink and a gurgle.
Rotty’s parasite required a harsh chemical treatment, one not available in Turkey and which necessitated an extensive amount of wheeler-dealing to obtain. A week earlier, thanks to connections in the animal protection world, my local animal welfare group located a bottle, and worked round the clock to get it to me. It had arrived in a mysterious package at my vet a few days prior. I had driven to collect it on my motorbike feeling I was in possession of some secret cure for cancer.
I hated administering that poison. Rotty hated taking it. But after a week of being deep fried in a 40–degrees-in-the-shade heat wave, the upheaval of the forest fire, plus the unexpected sorrow I experienced for my dog, I was incapable of any reasonable decision. Thus, I followed the mainstream advice. Rotty was to drink this poisonous elixir for 28 days non-stop. Any failure to complete the cycle would mean the parasite would gain resistance, and she would probably die.
Around midnight the next night, Rotty and I climbed under the mosquito net and onto my gazebo. I had just administered the poison. My little dog slumped onto the carpet and promptly vomited all over it. I was so tired, so in dire need of sleep, I turfed her out of the net. I heard her next to the platform, coughing and spluttering.
A few hours later, at the crack of dawn I awoke. Sitting bolt upright, I peered through the mesh hunting the shape of my dog. But I couldn’t see her. Scrambling out of my duvet, I clawed at the netting, throwing it over my head. I scanned the land. No sign of my dog. A well of panic opened inside me, fathomless and murky with the faint but lingering whiff of death. I began running this way and that, hunting for a tuft of fur, the brush of her tail, an ear. There was nothing.
The sun pushed up pouring its heat over the treetops in a burning torrent. Breathing hard, I ran to Dudu. This was Rotty’s favourite haunt, though I simply couldn’t envisage how she could have made it all the way across the orchard. She could hardly walk.
“No, she hasn’t been here. If she had, she’d be sitting right there in front of the gate wagging her tail.” Dudu pulled a plastic stool out and poured me a glass of water. “Perhaps she wandered off and fell.” She patted me on the shoulder sympathetically.
Fell. The thought took but seconds to spawn a family of terrible imaginings. I sat down and burst into tears. “If she doesn’t turn up by tonight, she’ll have missed her medicine. She’s so sick. She’ll die,” I sobbed.
Within ten minutes I had left Dudu’s. When I pulled the gate it scraped on the concrete, and I caught Dudu’s expression, one of utter dismay.
As the sun thundered over the eastern half of the sky, I began the greatest dog hunt my valley has seen. I have no idea how many kilometres I walked that day, but it must have been a good ten at least. Charging over the rocky landscape, I crawled through brambles, stumbled into ditches, and shinned down every water gulch I could find. No Rotty. My smock stuck to me. My trousers turned from purple to dark brown.
The sun burned westward and the shadows stretched ominously. I carried on searching. As evening spread its gloom over the vale, my heart began to crack. I phoned my local sound healer friend Yvonne. “She’s gone. She’s gone!” I spluttered into the mobile. My friend agreed to treat her from afar.
Finally at nine pm on Wednesday night, I fell under the mosquito net and onto my bed. The exhaustion pulled at every muscle. But I slept little. As the sky turned from black to grey, dread plumbed my guts. Rotty had missed her medicine. The parasite now possessed an advantage. But perhaps that was no longer the urgency. Perhaps she had broken a limb somewhere and was slowly dehydrating.
Three days passed and they opened and closed like heavy, rusty gates. I spent most of them, machete in hand, going not-so-quietly barmy. Sometimes I enlisted friends to the cause and we hacked through the area searching each tiny goat trail. But each day ended exactly like the first. Once night had strangled the last drop of light out of the sky, I would collapse under my mosquito net, whimpering on and off.
At last I gave up. Three full days without food or medicine in temperatures over 40 degrees was hopeless. I made a little funeral for Rotty and said my goodbyes. I honestly didn’t know anyone could feel so much grief for a dog. It stretched on and on as far as I could see, a bleak and colourless moor without so much as a rock of meaning or a peak of hope. I no longer wanted to travel Europe in a van without my furry companion. I no longer wanted to make mud homes. All had been subsumed into the Nowhere again.
Yet even there, I could sense something else. It was far far away. Like the faintest glimmer of dawn at the farthest most point on the horizon. A strange sort of liberation. Because when it’s all gone, you are free. Free to be anything or anyone you please.
Four days and nights after Rotty had left, I cleared out her things; pillows, leashes, bones, and stuffed them all in a bag ready for the dustbin. Her kennel squatted there mocking me. I placed some flowers in a bowl of water, and laid them inside, so at least I had something new to look at instead of thinking about her face poking out.
It was one in the afternoon. Scorching. I walked into my house and turned my computer on ready to broadcast this miserable news on Facebook. The computer whirred and flicked to life. Then my phone began ringing. I almost ignored it. Absently, I pulled it toward me and spied Zeynep’s name.
“Hello?” I spoke tentatively into the speaker.
A heightened voice poured into my ear. Zeynep was nearly screeching with excitement. “Kerry, Rotty’s here! I’ve looked three times because I couldn’t believe my eyes. But she’s here. Sitting under one of my bushes!”
It took a moment for me to find words. When I did I hurled them into the phone in random clumps. “You’re kidding! Oh God..! I’m coming... Now!”
Five minutes later I was staring at my pup in utter disbelief. She was flaked out in the shade wagging her tail. On inspection I saw she was skinny and had scraped her leg somewhere. But apart from that? I had to say she looked healthier than when she left. Her nose was completely clean. No puss or blood. And it was gleaming wet.
Once again, within a week, life gave back what it seemed to snatch away. As if to remind me how tenuous it all is. And that within this all-obliterating chaos, miracles continue to swirl.
My vet was so happy to hear of Rotty’s return, he drove up to the mud home to give her some intravenous assistance.
“She hasn’t eaten a thing, but she must have found water somewhere,” he said feeling each inch of her abdomen and squeezing her flesh between his fingers. And I smiled at the serum bag hanging from one of the wooden limbs of my gazebo.
“What’s her chance of survival?” I asked. But I was calm now. Because she was home. And I’d already given her a funeral, so everything from here on out a gift.
The vet inhaled and exhaled. “Honestly, I don’t know. It’s all about her liver. If that recovers, she’ll be OK. And you’ll know if the liver is healing, because she’ll start eating. She’s fighting. You’re fighting. But it’s anyone’s guess.”
Four more days passed. I should have ordered another bottle of the poison. But my heart wasn’t in it. If she was going to die, let her die in peace, I said to myself. And I swear she winked at me when I uttered those words. But she refused to eat. I tried everything, fresh meat, eggs, fish, milk. She was beyond disinterested.
Then suddenly, she deteriorated. She was listless. Her eyes distant. This time, however, I had reached a smoother plateau of acceptance. No more chemicals. No more forcing. Perhaps she’d just come back to say goodbye. Besides, now I believed in miracles again, so I decided to call on the Great Unknown, the mysterious and unprovable.
“Can you give her one final healing?” I asked my friend Yvonne over the phone as the sun slipped behind Grandmother Olive.
“Sure, I’ll let you know as soon as I’m done,” she said.
At 7 pm a message pinged into my phone to say the session was over. At 8 pm I placed a small bowl of liver in front of Rotty. And to my complete amazement she stood up, albeit shakily, and chomped down the lot.
She has eaten every day since.
What a garden of surprises our muddy planet is. Things live and die, and rise from the ashes. Fires can randomly change their course. A dog returns from the dead. A teacher might lose her way and camp on a hill, only to wind up building herself a mud home. Five years later she hears the wisdom carob whisper "Let go of everything," it says. She doesn't want to. Because her space is intoxicating. Precious. Then the bulldozers come. She wavers. The fire comes. She acts. The morning she goes online to put her house up for sale, she learns there has been an attempted coup. So she waits two days. Posts the ad. 45 000 people visit the page in three days...
And as darkness rolls through this beautiful land, it's not hard to see why The Mud Home attracted so many. The diamonds of this country are right. It's time to run to the hills.
Life on planet Earth is a wilderness unto itself. A Great, sometimes terrifying, Unknown. Yet within that chaos there is a road. It winds this way and that, through forests and vales, leading us to safety. But that road isn't tarmac. It's made of dirt. Or earth. Sometimes even mud.
Sometimes life throws it at you. The last week of June was as unpredictable as it was calamitous.
“Erm. I feel I ought to let you know. A second fire has started in the valley and it’s moving in your direction. Very fast.”
I held the phone to my ear. As with every morning, I was sitting typing into my computer. A thick drape was fixed over the front window; a fabric aegis against a molten barrage of sun. Did I hold my breath as I walked to pluck back the curtain? I don’t remember.
Now, I knew there was a forest fire. Who didn’t? Since the 24th June, an insatiable orange-tongued hydra has been hissing and spitting in the mountains behind my mud home. It is goaded by the wind, which whips those tongues into a tree-devouring frenzy. Thousands of hectares of forestland had already been decimated by the time I took the phone call. I could hear the helicopters slicing across the valley ferrying water over the brow. But until that moment, the fire had limited its rampage to the other side of the mountain range. Our valley had been protected.
I yanked the curtain from its hook. The breath inside me seemed to stick to the walls of my epiglottis. Because there, just over a small ridge, what looked like about five kilometres from my home, smoke was churning into the air.
Let it be known, it is unwise to consume a cafetière of strong filter coffee minutes before you discover you’re bang on the path of a forest fire. There were a number of sharp spasms in my chest, and I started whirring round and round my mud circle like a trapped wasp. I drank water. I breathed slowly and cursed the caffeine. Because I needed to focus. Get calm. Get straight.
This isn’t my first forest fire. I’ve seen a few. But not driving full throttle in the direction of my home. Five kilometres is nothing in forest fire terms. If the wind continued on its incendiary path, I guessed I had half an hour to save myself, my sick dog who couldn’t walk, and... and...? To add spice to the challenge, I don’t own a car. Only a motorbike. My belly lurched when I remembered that. Shaking, I picked up my phone and called Dudu, who is as automobileless as I am. She was unflappable.
“Oh yes, I can see it. The kids are here so don’t you worry,” she said.
Ramazan who owned the greenhouses below me was less stoic. “We have five minutes. Five minutes! And it will be here.” His voice broke down. Because the fire signified the end of livelihoods, the end of homes, and the end of lives as well.
Places like Turkey (you know, Muslim, Middle Eastern places) get a nasty rap in the Western media. And that media is ignorant. One beautiful thing about this land that Westerners from afar might not grasp, is that you are never truly alone here, no matter how odd or misshapen you might be. I could have pretty much dialled any number randomly, and as long as I omitted the Istanbul code, someone would have come to save me, or sent someone else to do the same. Within minutes I had two offers of escape. While I waited for one of them to arrive, I began packing. For the most part it was easy. Though later that evening when I unpacked my rucksack again, I did ponder on what exactly I planned to do with my sander. Especially as I only remembered the head.
The reason I could squash my life in a bag in less than fifteen minutes, was due to priorities. Nothing mattered much except my dog. Everything could go up in smoke. My home could become the world’s largest cob oven. My kitchen could disappear. It would all be OK. I’ve lost and left homes before. They can be rebuilt. But my dog had to survive. I love her desperately. Everyone around me knows it.
Now, I’m not partial to these “there are two kinds of people” statements. But sorry, there really are two separate clans regarding dogs; Those that love them and those that can't see what the other group are so obsessed about. Until three years ago, I was part of the second group. I was a nature lover, but never understood how anyone could become so attached to a four-legged fur ball that couldn’t even speak, never mind discuss the meaning of life or appreciate an art gallery. I was one of those who found this pet-nurturing lark rather a lot of over-sentimental tripe. I was also one of those who would exclaim outraged, “People care more about their dogs than they do their fellow humans!” And stalk off righteously.
Hmm. Life. I love how it prevents us from clutching any belief for too long, before mashing it into porridge and forcing-feeding it back to us piecemeal.
People care more about their dogs than they do their fellow humans! The implication in this outburst is that we should save all humans first, and then move onto the animals, and then the trees, in that order. The statement is founded on extremely dubious logic, namely that there is a hierarchy of importance in which humans reign at the top. The thing is, the entire premise of hierarchy is a man-made fantasy, not a truth. And it’s the reason we’re in the environmental and social mess that we are. Because it’s nonsense. From a universal perspective, a human is no more or less valuable or worthy of existence than an ant or a tree. When we’ve killed every ant and tree, we will understand this truth wholly and profoundly.
Still, whatever our philosophical and moral standpoints, in reality the personal always trumps the ideological. When we interact with something, anything, a physical, energetic and emotional connection is formed. If personal connection is experienced on a daily basis, the connection becomes a bond which is painful to sever. And once that happens ideologies and logic fly out of the window faster than British politicians are currently vacating leadership posts. This is where dogs are rather more switched on than humans, because as a species they’ve worked that out.
Truly I have no idea how it happened, but by some devilish crook of evolutionary genius my dog managed to sneak her way so deep into my heart, I am as attached to her as most people are to their children. Certainly, I’ve spent many a star-studded night pondering why. The truth is, despite all the fear-mongering, terrorising, morale-wrecking and cynicism-spawning agents about us, we humans just love to love. Even when we shut out the world and run up a hill, we are craving it. Searching it out. Like a mirage in a desert, we see it here, there and everywhere. Because we know it’s within us, we can’t help but project it. Anything can be the mirror, or engage in that feedback loop.
First I found love in the dirt of this land. Then I inhaled it from the trees and the bugs. Later I felt it toward my neighbours Celal and Dudu. Finally three years ago, Rotty the dog appeared. With a grin and a tail wag, she scooped out a cubby hole in my heart, and curled happily up within it. Yes it felt good. So good.
And then she fell sick...
Three weeks ago, a parasite took over my little Rotty and attacked her internal organs. She grew thinner and thinner. Blood and puss poured out of her nose. Her rib cage swelled. She gave up walking.
“Have you had a dog before?” The vet said with measured deliberation, as I stood stroking her paw in the clinic.
“No,” I said. “She’s my one and only.” It didn’t escape me that the vet looked away.
I left the clinic in tears and with a prognosis of fifty fifty. Suddenly from one day to the next the Nowhere was yawning before me again. It was a well of nothing. A vast all-obliterating lightlessness. Slowly I began swimming through it, stroke by heavy stroke. The days passed. Rotty deteriorated. And the next thing I knew it was Sunday the 26th June. Smoke was bubbling over the pine ridge beyond my land. The valley was on fire.
“Hello Kerry! I’m here.” I snapped my head back to see my saviour-friend peering in my window. I waved before spinning round and gaping yet again at the smoke. It was no longer dark grey but an awful moiling brown. I took a deep breath. Then the two of us quickly and furiously shipped my life out of The Mud and into her Toyota Corolla.
Soon enough we were driving out of The Mud. The Toyota chomped at the dusty incline of my track, struggling to digest the slope. With Rotty curled on the back seat and two rucksacks in the boot, I watched the roof of my home disappear from view. Beyond it flames appeared on the horizon.
I gritted my teeth and prepared to lose it all. Because let’s face it, it wouldn’t be the first time.
To be continued...
What is a home?
How precious a home is. How personal. Idiosyncratic. Like a fingerprint, no home is ever the same as the next. Despite the mass-produced efforts of DIY homebases, our homes remain unique, even if our houses are not. Because a home is so much more than a brick and mortar case. So much deeper. So much wider. It’s a world. A series of concentric circles, expanding ever outward. But from what?
Running my finger over the grainy walls, I attempt to draw it all back into me. This creation. The inset beads, the painted stones, each individual window frame. For I’ve been living inside a sculpture. Many times I wasn’t sure as it morphed and grew, whether it was in fact my product, or possessed a life and will of its own.
Yet despite illusions a home, no matter how delicately and intimately arranged, is not us. I learn this now, and it is a rude awakening. As I slowly unpick the loops and peel them back from my soul, my eyes water. For it smarts, this letting go.
With each passing day another ring drops to the ground. And another. Until one day soon I’ll stand bare, shorn of possessions, stripped of my façades. Just a self. A well of being. Naked. Free. Ready to create once more.
And because I’m still clinging, twisting each loop of my home in my hands before letting it fall away, there are keepsakes. Last week, my friend and photographer Melissa Maples came to stay. She rode pillion on my motorbike, used the mosquito net as her bedroom, and partook of the stars, the dawn and the twilight. Her eye for personal detail always arrests me. Without a word from me, she caught my attachments. One by one. My life. Each chapter of the Mud story that has grown out of me, or been subsumed within me. The secret rings of the garden.
And she is a generous soul Melissa Maples. Which is why she has decided to share her glimpse into my Mud Life with not only me, but you.
So follow me. Through the gate.
It’s over here.
Atulya K Bingham
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