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 bated 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.
Atulya K Bingham
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