mUD MOUNTAIN BLOG
Back in 2011, I found myself camping alone on a remote
Turkish hill. There was no power or water on the land.
It was the start of an adventure that profoundly changed
my beliefs about what is enjoyable, or possible...
I was wakened by a screech so violent, I thought the earth had split in two. As I dragged my fingers across my bleary eyes, I realised it wasn’t an explosion, but the crashing of a massive rock. The ground was shuddering. The house was vibrating. Fear filed out of its network of submerged tunnels and formed a solid army of dread.
There was another crash, and a terrible crack. Beyond that I could hear the gruff roar of an engine. And I knew in that instant it was over.
In fact, I’d known this was coming. Dudu had informed me of the plan a couple of weeks earlier. But I hadn’t expected it to be like this.
“Oof the pomegranates are such a pain. Need too much water, they do, and we don’t have enough rain,” Dudu had said when I popped round for some lemons one day. “So they’ve decided to split the land up into three.” She was talking about her children.
“And...?” I had moved my stool a little closer to her, wondering what was in store.
“My daughter’s gonna take the part by your land. They’re sticking a cabin on it, and making an olive grove. Digger’s coming in a couple of weeks to clear it.”
I’d heaved a sigh of relief that day. Because since I’ve been here, there has been talk of a road being carved between me and Dudu. This new plan would put pay to the road forever. And an olive grove is about as good as it gets. Olives can be grown organically, need little water and create beautiful evergreen orchards. Even the building concept possessed angles of optimism. A small log cabin perched on the far corner of the land.
Yet two weeks later, I was standing at the fence between mine and Dudu’s land, tears rolling down my cheeks, knowing it was over.
Whenever I hear the grinding tread of an excavator, or the teeth-jarring scrape of its bucket on rock, my skin turns to glass. Because mass destruction is occurring. Habitats are being wrecked. Ecosystems are being wiped out. In seconds, ancient trees are ripped asunder (and unless you are dead yourself, you hear the life torn viscerally out of them). It doesn’t sound much different to a bomb going off in a shopping mall. And if you’re a hedgehog, or a snail, or a sleeping dormouse, no doubt it isn’t any different at all.
Not that I’m in any position to preach a sermon. I also had my land bulldozed ten years ago, before I changed. Before the land changed me. I’m not even completely against dozers. Like everything, if they are used sparingly and thoughtfully, they can be excellent tools, for digging a pool say, or creating a flat space for a house. It’s the loveless, uninspired, destroy-everything-within-the-fence-without-even-getting-to-know-what’s-there approach that sends my hair darting out on end.
It took three days for the excavator to complete its dirty deed next door. In truth, as land mauls go, this was gentle. They left the majority of the mature trees standing; the olives, almond trees and a carob. But as that mechanical claw beat the branches from pines and turned the land inside out, it sank in. This was no longer my private world. No longer my secret garden. Someone was moving in next door. I realised the wisdom carob had spoken a premonitory truth back in November. It was time to let go. I could feel the hand of life on my shoulder, gently pushing me on.
This year was the turning point for my valley. Since February a grand total of four plots have been bulldozed in my area alone. None of them are visible, but all of them are within a kilometre of my land. People are coming. It’s getting busier. Though this may not necessarily be the bleak cliché it appears. We’re not talking multi-storey concrete monstrosities. Dudu’s children, for example, are building with a dream in their hearts. To escape the city. To grow their own food. To live more peacefully. This may be the feathery tip of a new wing beating out a more minimalist path across Turkey’s socio-cultural sky. And I’m all for it.
But on a personal level the dozers woke me up. I love, nay need, my privacy. There are times when I don’t want to see a human face for a week or more. I yearn to lose myself in the forest and hear her quiet message. Hear her twitterings, her scamperings, the whisper of her trees. And through them hear myself.
I grieved for three days after the bulldozing. I wondered if I’d get used to the change, whether I should accept it and adapt to it. Perhaps in time I’d warm to it? One day may be I’d be grateful for the company? Eventually however, my mind, forced as it was out of its comfort zone, dared to face the alternative.
Not once in the five years I’ve been here have I ever considered letting this space go. I have imagined growing old here. Dying here. This land and I have grown together after all. It’s both my child and my mother. But when I finally allowed myself to wander the alien territory beyond my home, my eyes opened wide. Wading across the boundary of my rigid future plans and possessive clingings, I stepped into a field of possibility. And as I roamed a little more extensively within it, I realised it wasn’t just a field, but a vast and rambling continent, a wilderness of new adventures waiting to be explored.
The longer I spent in my imagined terra incognita, the more alive I felt. Ideas sprang forth. Visions burst into being. And soon, I realised, new life was flowing. In my veins. In my land’s veins. And in the veins of the world.
To be continued...
(Many thanks for following me on this journey, which isn’t coming to an end, but is drastically changing course. That road is still being charted in my heart and mind, so hang in there with me. I’ve no idea what the next instalment is, but I can say wholeheartedly while sadness is there, it is outshone by the anticipation of new adventure, new creations and new beginnings).
There’s an atmosphere of despair pervading the environmental movement at the moment. And if it's stats you go by, then it’s no wonder. According to National Geographic, more than 80% of Earth’s natural forests have already been destroyed, EIGHTY PERCENT, most of it very recently. 38% of the world’s surface is under threat of desertification and in a recent in-depth NASA study measuring drastic changes to population, climate, water, agriculture, and energy in the 21st century, some sort of collapse in about 15 years is likely. Well, yes, it really doesn't take an environmental scientist to see that if the population continues to explode at its current rate and we have no trees left, we won’t be breathing. No doubt a corporation will produce oxygen and sell it on to the masses at an exorbitant rate. Those that can afford it will have it pumped into their homes, those that can’t will slowly die off. What’s new? That’s the way it already is with drinking water in large parts of the world.
Feeling desperate? Join the club. I’ve been feeling more than a little despair myself, despair mixed with contempt, to be honest. How is it that so much of the world still refuses to even face the issue at hand, I’ve been wondering, never mind act on it? How can people possibly still be bleating about cellulite or the price of petrol or who George Clooney will marry, when their entire existence is in the balance? Is this a type of mass lunacy?
Yet, if I can set my anger aside, the truth is not a question of intelligence. It’s obvious. Humanity is in denial. And that is, in fact, quite normal. In fact, despite living in a mudhut, I'm probably just as much involved in it. Anyone who has lost someone close knows, the first reaction to a terminal prognosis is to pretend it just isn’t happening, because the truth is simply too devastating to contemplate. Everyone simply focuses on the hope that there will be a miracle, or some sudden technological innovation, or perhaps the doctors were wrong. Unfortunately, as I myself have witnessed, denial doesn’t prevent truth from dawning. Terminal patients still die, as we all do, be it today, tomorrow, or in 15 years.
And it is here that I’d like to pause. Because, although this is all true, it is also, as I see it, one of the gravest strategic errors the environmental movement has made since the beginning. With an unwavering fascination in the end of the world, environmentalism has attempted to scare humanity into acting, and we are now seeing just how spectacularly scare tactics have failed. Not that the scare isn’t based on solid foundations, it's more that apparently, scared people are not particularly effective at mobilising. Humanity has been plunged into despair, and so it has buried its head even deeper in the sand of any one of our expanding deserts.
I’ve often thought that environmentalism, for all its railing against consumerism and the materialism that fuels it, is in fact over-obsessed with the material and under-obsessed with the soul, and that the fate of our planet simply cannot be altered without a deeper understanding of why we are sabotaging it. Environmentalism should have taken a leaf out of the book of its far more successful sibling in the ‘ism’ family, capitalism. How did capitalism beat environmentalism? It perused a bit of Freud and worked out what made us tick. It offered a carrot, where the environmentalists, who’ve been all hellfire and brimstone, have offered none. Either we fight off the forces of massive earth-devouring corporations with nothing more than a yaks wool jumper and a couple of placards, or we face certain death. Well thanks for that inspiring choice. Don’t mind me if I ship in a case of Chateauneuf-du-Pape and drink myself into oblivion.
I have blabbered before on the two drives that the human mind finds itself caught between; desire and fear (prodded by the carrot or stick mentioned above). The mind, despite its façade of sophistication, is a primitive, largely reptilian beast. When desire seems easier to attain than fear is to dispel, then the mind weighs up the odds. “What I fear is coming regardless, I may as well grab some of what I want,” it bargains. Environmentalism and its use of the media has unwittingly created a bottomless pit of angst within the human spirit, and I’m sorry, but you can’t save the world on that. To really be able to achieve a miracle (and seeing as I’ve witnessed a few, I view them as entirely possible, though not inevitable) the mind needs to be in a very different place. It needs to feel confident. It needs to be saturated in realistic rather than foundationless hope. And it helps one hell of a lot, if somewhere along the line a nice fat desire is fulfilled. If people will slave away for weeks in miserable jobs merely to possess an iphone, the satisfaction of which lasts less than a month, what might they do for a greater prize? But if there is no prize? Then what are they striving for?
Environmentalism has offered a prize of sorts, but it’s been fairly puritanical about it. The prize is an abstract salvation, which to the average human feels as remote as the Delta Quadrant and as likely as Eldorado. Environmentalism is just like any religion in its complete inability to curb the desires of humanity with a heaven and hell scenario, merely producing a state of guilt among its followers instead.
Now, this isn’t supposed to be a diatribe on the ills of environmentalism, because without the environmental movement our awareness of the issue at hand would be zilch. It is the brave and devoted ecologists in the green movement who have collected the data. It is their protests that have protected the remaining 20% of old natural forests we’re still breathing thanks to. It’s just that if anything at all is to be done, we have to recognise the old way of blame and protest isn’t working.
If this blog has a purpose or a hope or a vision at all, it’s this. I’d like to paint an alternative, and to show the real carrot that capitalism has usurped, the carrot that environmentalism ought to be grabbing back and waving in front of us for all its worth. For me, abandoning consumerism and loving the Earth has nothing to do with virtue.There is no moral highground to be attained, and no point in burdening oneself with guilt for buying a plastic bag or leaving a light on. Every human being, just like every living thing on the planet uses resources, and if humanity can sense the connection it has with the Earth, then the using of resources can be a beautiful exchange.
Truthfully, I didn’t build a mudhut and grow my own beans to save the world, I did it to save myself. Certainly, living simply and in harmony with nature benefits everyone, but no one more than me. And my prize hasn’t been some vague whiff of planetary survival eons from today, it is immediate gratification, something I wasn't actually expecting. If you allow it, the wilderness will grant you the deepest sense of happiness you are ever likely to experience. It's even better than sex, actually. Ah, now I’ve got your attention, haven’t I? Well, it certainly makes your toes tingle, your heart flutter, and lasts significantly longer. And there’s no awkward conversation at breakfast the next day, either. Yes. I will say it again. And again. And again. I have lived here with no partner, no car, no road, at times no power and no water, and they were the most exquisite days of my life. Nothing has bettered it. Not drink, not drugs, not the hallowed ‘relationship’. Job titles, possessions and bank balances are just trash by comparison. The magic that pours out of the dirt can heal anything. The smell of the grass, the winking of any variety of flowers, the chatter of the leaves, the secrets the animals tell, the protection your special space bestows upon you and the peace of mind it brings you, are incomparable. You will witness miracles and sorcery and beauty. You will feel valuable and safe. Anxiety recedes. Confidence grows. Without the petty distractions of the media and retail, your soul blooms into something magnificent and indestructible. You begin to manifest exactly what you want and need, because your mind becomes a vessel of clarity rather than a cloudy swamp of befuddlement. You are alive and you are life. Every single thing that a corporation is trying to sell you is nothing but a fake version of what is out here in the forest, and it’s free. Absolutely free. You need never do a job you hate again.
So if I were you, I’d waste no time. Because if you haven’t felt this, you haven’t lived. Forget the Top Ten places you have to visit and the Top Ten films you have to watch, there’s one thing you should do before you die, and that’s sense the wonder of our planet. Sense who you really are. Sense where you came from and what you are truly capable of. Find the wildman or woman within. Go and camp for a night under the stars. Grow endangered plants on your balcony. Ride your bike through the forest and inhale a little unpolluted air. Because you might die tomorrow. Or maybe in 15 years. And until enough people experience this, there can be no environmentalism, and no one can save anything, because the truth is, most of us have no idea what we’re saving.
All photos were taken in and around the Olympos valley, and courtesy of Hagop at Lost Olympos.
The Perils of the Comfort Zone.
"Life begins at the end of the comfort zone." This was what was scribbled on a note taped to our fridge door back in Taiwan 2010. And yes, I liked the adage, because I saw it as a call to climb out of the rut, drop the known in the nearest dustbin, and trot, baggage-free after a risk. I remembered the sentence a couple of months ago, because for the past three years I think I’ve been living it in reverse. I’m starting to wonder if comfort and deep fulfilment are mutually exclusive.
If the comfort zone is a circle, or even an ellipse shape like the orbit of the Earth round the sun, then life up here in The Mud started far outside it. The moment I brought my tent up here and cleared my 2 x 3 metres of space into the brambles, I had hacked a hole into another world. That world was just about inside the solar system of my experience. I was still in Turkey after all, but it was definitely on the outer edge, somewhere just past Pluto.
When I first slept outside and grappled with washing up racks and wheelbarrows of water, comfort, both spiritual and physical, was a distant speck on a horizon I was walking in the other direction of. Everything was for the first time. It was pristine yet wild. My world was a dew drop at five am, and I was a newborn mite perched on it; shocked, enchanted, bewildered, touched. The land touched me because I had no walls erected against it. No expectations. No great vision of what it "should" be. Those first months were magical. Trees muttered in crackles and rustles. Mysterious plants snuck out of the dust to feed me, or heal me. Butterflies, lizards and bugs crawled from the rocks with secret messages. The night sky was alive with other worlds. I was Alice in Wonderland.
But what is it with us humans and our preoccupation for "the rut"? I know very well, routines are the orderly assassins of magic, yet now, with the house of my dreams, running water and solar power, I find myself unconsciously retreating from ‘the new’ and sliding back into the dull predictability of the organised. Now that I’m all comfy in my earth-womb, like a marine in a dugout, or a one of those reptiles in their holes, Eden gradually withdraws. It's now down to my outside kitchen and bathroom keep me on my toes. While it’s uncomfortable to cook in a raging storm, it’s also incredibly visceral. I love that I have to face storms for a cup of tea, or grab my brolly to take a leak. Apparently we need to face the elements just to remember we're connected to them and enlivened by them. But even so. I feel those old days of wonder sliding from under my fingertips, and I miss them. Yes, the comfort zone is coming for me, loping and slobbering with couch-potato dissatisfaction.
Which was why I sent a wish out into the valley not so long back. "Don’t let me become complacent Gaia, whatever you do," I said. Be careful what you wish for, they say. Because life, the ol' trickster, is always waiting . . . right over the edge of your comfort zone.
Two weeks ago, something happened that blew complacency all the way to kingdom come. My novel Ayşe’s Trail took off, and I have to leave here temporarily for London. Despite this being a childhood dream come true, for the first few days after receiving the news, I was beset by deep melancholy. As I wandered about my queendom of olives and home-grown veg and lizards, I began to fret about where all this book lark was leading me. I don’t want to leave the forest, and I feel an irrational and fearful urge to cling on. This place has brought me such happiness. It has healed me. And the thought of hitting the big city, having to dress up and possibly participate, even temporarily, in a lifestyle I’ve long left behind, leaves me panic-stricken and morose.
But when fear decides a course of action, nothing good follows. Just as my garden and the forest about me changes with every year, so do I. Am I really going to hide in a cave forever and refuse to grow or put my hand out into the light. Because nothing around me accepts such self-imposed stifling. So last week I took a deep breath. I kissed the earth and hugged my home. And then I let my expectations of it go. Because that’s the only proper thing to do when you’re in love with something. Free it. And as I did, I heard the comfort zone growl, before it withdrew reluctantly back into its lair. At that moment, the wind of life was in my hair again, and adventure howled down from the hills. The moon was eclipsed, the stars swung into new patterns, and the pines curled and twisted on their roots. I have no idea where I’m going, or what will happen next. But I expect it’ll be worth writing about.
One summer morning back in 2011 something significant happened. The sun had turned into a blazing white ogre. It had a pelt of fire and a stare that could fry the skin clean off a capsicum. It was the end of July. And July on the southern coast is when folk run for shade, or water, or air conditioned malls. Nothing can survive in that heat. Grass withers. Mammals flop dejectedly under trees. Even the great pines, some at least a hundred years old, no longer stretch for the heavens. Their stance becomes one of stoic endurance as a lifeless dust slowly coats their branches.
This wasn't in itself significant, however. Summer happens every year. Granted, we always forget. From the lamenting every July you’d be forgiven for thinking it was the first summer to ever see the wrong side of 40 degrees. Streets empty, people flake out in gazebos. Sometimes they refuse to get out of bed at all.
‘Çoook sıcak yaaa!’ (It‘s sooo hot!) They wail before they drop back and reach for an ice-cream.
But that July, the July of 2011, I wasn’t one of those late risers. I had to be out of my tent by seven. It was no longer because I was bounding with enthusiasm vis-à-vis any number of construction projects, nor was it eagerness to watch the pink wave of dawn roll over the mountain peaks. I had to be out, because being ‘in’ was tantamount to wrapping yourself in cellophane and bedding down in a Turkish bath.
I reached forward and pulled myself out of the canvas. Immediately I winced and grabbed back my hand. I’d branded myself on one of the tent pegs that had the misfortune of being in the sun’s path. Finally I stood up and surveyed my Queendom. It was a sorry sight, a rolling slope of yellowing expiration. The top terrace of the land, where my tent was pitched, was even worse. It was south Turkey’s answer to the Gobi. Cracks zigzagged through the waterless earth. And where there were no cracks there was dust.
I turned to head for ‘the kitchen’. It was then that I noticed it. The significant thing. There, a little in front of the tent, was a small patch of green.
I blinked. No. Nothing could ever grow independently on this broiling plateau of death. It was impossible. I moved towards the mysterious green entity in disbelief. There before my eyes a plant was sprouting. ‘Seeing is believing,’ they say. Well sometimes it’s the other way round. Now I believed, and thus I saw. As I picked my way through my desert, I found tens of these plants. Where had they come from? It was as though they’d been waiting all summer for everything to collapse, before they raised their hairy little arms and shouted, ‘Ha ha! Our turn now.’
I think I mentioned that I had read a certain book. And it stated when you love your domain, everything in it tilts towards you. After my experiences with carpet-sweeping ants and kitchen-cleaning lizards, I was gradually becoming something of a natural magic apostle. The land itself was my balm, the animals my affection. What about the vegetation though? Was there a reason this strange little plant had popped up? Should I make a tea out of it? Was it medicinal? Hallucinogenic even?
The days went by and the peculiar heat-spurning plants grew. They weren’t particularly attractive, a little like rosemary but floppier and messier. And that was unfortunate. I can become obsessed with aesthetics at times. The plant was ugly, so I began to ignore it. I think I might have even called it a weed.
Then one day I noticed this ‘weed’ cluttering about a tiny grape-vine remnant I was trying to salvage. At some point in the past either a person or a bird must have dropped a grape seed. The seed had struggled. It had sprouted. Now, in midsummer a few feeble cricket-eaten leaves were hanging desperately onto existence. Every now and again I’d throw my washing up water over them and try and talk the baby vine into surviving. Now here was this opportunistic weed cashing in and usurping the moisture! Grrr. I stormed towards the prolific newcomer with intent.
Ha! In one quick snatch I’d uprooted it. I threw it to one side. Or rather I tried to throw it, because it was sticky, as if secreting oil. Pausing a little, I noticed a smell. It was a cross between lavender and eucalyptus. I took a deep breath. The aroma was out of this world! And it was coming straight from the ugly heat-loving weed. I found the fragrance so refreshing I began to use it for washing in, a sort of natural aroma-therapy. When I did I was swept away by the cooling sense of well-being it bathed me in.
As the summer deepened, our village became steeped in such high temperatures we all developed heat rashes. Our legs itched. Our arms itched. And the hotter it got, the more red spots appeared. I washed in my weed-water. My rash vanished.
Soon enough the sun began to shed its monstrous summer bulk. As it slimmed it dropped lower in the sky. The days drew in. My herb receded back into the earth. I never learned its name. No one around here seemed to know. ‘Smelly weed’ was the best anyone could do.
Since then all sorts of other natural growth has come to my attention. I have only two acres of land but it’s a living, breathing apothecary. Some of it is edible, some drinkable. Some plants heal ailments, others nourish, some are so beautiful to look at you can’t help but feel inspired. There are gels and fragrances and poultices, berries and potpourri, colour therapy, pollen and herbs. And each month the selection changes, as do my needs. We are all–from the earth, to the plants to the animals–moving in sync.
This rediscovery of what at one time must have been common knowledge is enthralling. I’ve merely stroked the grassy surface of my wonderland. But I’m sensing very deeply that well-being isn’t something we have to struggle for years to earn. It’s our birthright. It’s where we come from. All we have to do is go home, live there and notice it.
The Power Revolution
“So you can’t watch any television up there?”
I shook my head. My cousin Jeanette tugged at her bangs and sat back in her armchair. We were far from the hills of Turkey now, snuggled in my aunt’s home in deepest, darkest Norfolk.
“But, I do have the internet. There’s a great little USB device I can use in Turkey. As long as my computer’s charged I can connect pretty much anywhere.”
Jeanette grinned. “Internet in a tent? That’s hilarious.” Then she picked up her coffee cup. “But I could never live like that, I mean no electricity. It’s great, I love hearing about it, but I’d never do it.”
From the distant place her eyes went, I gauged she was imagining the implications of my life in all its powerless waterless glory. And from the look on her face the implications weren’t good.
My 94 year-old gran was huddled in the leather sofa next to us, ears straining to follow the conversation. She screwed up her brow on her beautiful (and yes my gran is still beautiful) face.
“Did you say you have internet in your tent?” She said. Gran’s eyes – eyes that have seen the birth of television, world wars, the Berlin wall go up and then down, and the techno-revolution – wrinkled in disbelief. She crossed one leg daintily over the other and folded her hands in her lap. “Well, I never did!” she said. “I couldn’t fathom it even in a house. But a tent!” From the way her face had crumpled we gathered she was caught somewhere between amazement and dismay. “Ooh,” she shuddered, “It’s all beyond me.”
We all laughed. The light was already dying in the room, so my aunt reached over and flicked on the lamp. The hedgerow outside faded out of sight. Suddenly Jeanette pulled herself upright. Her eyes widened like a pair of liquorice allsorts. She opened her mouth.
“Oh my God!” We all turned in her direction. She was staring at me, appalled. “You mean you can’t use HAIR STRAIGHTENERS?”
Back in the Carrefour tent on the dry summer hills of a Turkish village, I woke up. The sun had just crawled over the first mountain peak. From my bed I could see the slopes bathed in the rosy glow of fresh morning. The birds were chirping in such a state of excitement, it was infectious. I had no alarm clock wrecking my slumber, no job to get up for. It was still not even six am. Yet I sprang out of that bed like a hare with a pin in its backside. I didn’t want to miss those early morning hours. They are sublime.
As life goes by I realise just how gifted humans are. We are adaptable beyond belief. Yesterday’s inconceivable nightmare becomes tomorrow’s reality. And all realities have their pros and cons. I was without power which had its limitations. But a new life was unfolding. And the fact was I loved it.
I’d been on the land about three months now, and something of a routine had emerged. As soon as I had stepped out of my tent, I stretched, and walked about my domain. It was the beginning of July, and those early hours were pleasantly cool. The plants gleamed as the first rays of sunlight hit them and everything on the land began rushing about its business before the heat of the day set in. There were no rough man-made noises. No cars, no machines. Instead I was wandering within a symphony composed by nature. It made me feel happy and alive.
After my walk I would do some yoga, followed by a bit of meditation. Next I’d prepare myself a nice, big Turkish breakfast; eggs, salad, olives, cheese, bread, honey, fried peppers and potatoes, all washed down with a pot of coffee. The day would by now have rolled on. The land would be buckling up for some serious sun. As I swung in the hammock, I would look about my campsite and wonder what today’s project would be. Should I start the tool shed? Or paint some stones to sell? When it got too hot I would drive to the sea for a swim. Thus my days unwound.
I have to be honest, I wasn’t missing hair straighteners. Nor television. The view from my land was so inspiring and the wildlife so varied I felt constantly entertained. I was also locked into a pyramid of need in which electricity was the least of my worries. Water was always my number one headache. However, there was one issue related to power that changed my life. Night time. Without power you’re well and truly in the dark. True, there are torches, and candles, but it’s still difficult to cook, read or have any sort of nightlife without decent lighting.
Thus very quickly my days morphed into new shapes. I switched from late nights and leisurely awakenings, to early rises and early sleeps. Unwittingly I fell into what Chinese medicine would call the ideal sleep cycle. Our bodies are designed to wake up with the sun. Our internal organs rest and clean themselves in the dark hours. When we don’t respect this natural rhythm, we get sick or depressed or both. By July I could feel the difference. The lack of electricity had inadvertently done me an enormous favour.
Now 18 months later it pays for me to remember this. Because there has been a revolution on my land. Last week I installed solar power. It’s incredible. For the first time in nearly two years I have light, I have sound, I have a jig-saw. And most importantly I have a computer that I don’t need to run up the hill to my neighbour every day to charge. This is all fantastic. But before I rush to buy speakers, or begin a 12 hour electric sanding campaign, I’m pausing a little. I can hear the noise of the wind rushing through the great pines, a robin is twittering in one of the olive trees, the plants are rocking in the air, waving to me to get off my computer and touch them. When I pull back from my laptop screen I see from my window the mountains cascading into Alakir bay. The creases in their slopes dance as the sun moves over the sky. It’s never the same dance. Blink and you’ve missed it.
Yes I need to remember this. It pays to go slow. From one day to the next I’ve gone from zero power to being inundated with electricity. But I have learned something very important these past two years. And it’s nothing to do with survival. What I’ve learned is that convenience doesn’t necessarily make you happy. And that life is much more than just being comfortable.
Learn all you need to know about solar power HERE.
Can the Earth Talk?
Can the Earth talk? Isn’t it just a great ball of rock rocketing about an even bigger ball of combustibles? Surely it’s only humans that have feelings and sensitivity and the like. All this claptrap about Gaia, isn’t it just a long deep wallow in unabashed anthropomorphism?
At the time of my first night in the Wendy house on my land back in 2011, I wasn’t exactly a materialist. But I was hardly an Earth Mother either. I’d already lived in the countryside for a few years. And I’d seen the blood-curdling displays nature could put on. There were ghastly critters, scorpions, poisonous snakes, even ants morphed into sinister armies when they banded together to devour a moth alive. All in all life on planet Earth appeared to me to be a wheel of ferocious struggle, a relentless and exhausting scrabble to stay alive and avoid seemingly inevitable pain. I loved the beauty nature offered, but I was unconvinced of her underlying ethics. That night, as I stabbed at my campfire with a broken pine branch and felt the sweet apricots squelch between my teeth, I sensed the primitive in all her rawness.
In fact, unbeknown to me at the time, there has been a batch of research regarding the sensitivity of our planet and the various life forms that dwell on her. None is more fascinating than the investigations into the secret life of plants. Long before the new age donned its rose-tinted spectacles, a while before the more cynical post-moderns too, people were researching into the feelings of plants. Back in 1848 a certain Gustav Theodor Fechner showed that plants responded to talk and affection. This theory was backed up by Jagadesh Chandra Bose in 1900 who discovered that plants seemed to suffer from spasms when administered poison or subject to other aggressive behavior. More alarmingly, he found the same responses in metals too, which generated something of a kerfuffle. Then, later on in the sixties, the independent scientist James Lovelock, published his Gaia hypothesis. He argued that the Earth is a self-regulating, interacting organism, with all entities on the planet being compared to the separate cells and organs that make up a body. The environmentalists almost completely adopted the theory. But back in the realm of positivist science doors began swiftly swinging shut. Bose, Fechner and Lovelock are still greeted by the academic community with steely stares of skepticism. According to the mainstream, it’s all pseudoscience. Emotional, childish poppycock.
I’m not a scientist. I’m a human being. And being human is a fascinating state of play. All of us are perched upon this spinning green orb trying to deduce what the hell is going on around us. But whether we rely on our five senses, our logic, our emotions or intuition, we can never KNOW beyond all reasonable doubt. Because there is always reasonable doubt. Can we be sure that simply because an organism doesn’t have a brain, that it doesn’t possess sensitivity? Can we be certain that a massive body such as our planet doesn’t have some sort of sentience? We can’t. We can’t because our modes of understanding the world in which we live (senses, logical analysis, intuition) are limited. We can’t even prove we didn’t make the entire world up or that we’re not living permanently in a dream.
So back to the rocks and the campfire and the Wendy house that was too small for me to fit my legs in. Back to that magical night, my first night alone on my land in the Turkish hills. There I was, staring into a fire feeling distinctly cavewoman. The burning wood hissed, while the thick pines overhead murmured. Above me stars and constellations I had no idea of the name of winked and pulsated like distant lighthouses. The huge dark gulf of the infinite was out there. Space, and more space, and more. And yet here I was, this pondering human ape, my rump of flesh and blood wedged firmly onto the Earth’s crust, looking up and sensing the awe of a fathomless night sky.
Gaia doesn’t speak to us in a deep booming voice. She doesn’t send messages crashing into us with lightning bolts or flashing lights. But whenever you hear the whisper of the breeze, the rippling of bird song, the approaching bellow of a storm or the rhythmic whirring of crickets, Gaia is communicating. It isn’t logical. It isn’t empirical either. I agree with the academics. The experience is very unfashionably emotional.
I smelt the dampness of the dew on the grass. The hard ridges on my rock pushed into me. I heard an owl call out into the forest, other foreign rustlings in the grass. This is what I understood as Gaia speaking, and what I realised is that she was talking to me in a code of feelings. The message I received was clear. It was the feeling of belonging, of being finally well and truly home. As the darkness pulled in about me, it dawned on me that I hadn’t ever felt so intensely a part of a place before.
There may be a multitude of explanations for the way I felt that night. But in all honesty, does it really make any difference? Because however much society attempts to repress or belittle emotions, it is feelings, not logic that actually direct people’s lives. And if they don’t, well what miserable grey existences they are. Love is replaced by marital contracts, family bonds become obsolete, we cart grandma off to an institution and live in faceless boxes instead of inspiring hand-crafted cottages. Life without feeling really isn’t life at all. Indeed, it is perhaps pertinent to wonder - if the planet really is no more sentient than a concrete block of flats – why we all do get so emotional about it, and if the Earth has no more soul than a strip of asphalt, then why walking on the former invigorates and rejuvenates us, while the latter drains and demoralizes us. There are few things that are universally true from culture to culture, but a feeling of well-being in nature is one of them.
So, yes I admit it defied all logic. It was irrational and unscientific. It might have been a figment of my mind. If my senses were to be believed I was sitting with my arse in the dirt, high up on a lonesome mountain slope without a roof over my head. Logic and memory both informed me that there were wild boar, scorpions and snakes all about. And yet my emotions were telling another story altogether. They told me I was more at home here than I had ever been in my life. I felt strangely taken care of, nurtured even.
I decided there and then. Somehow I had to live up there.
Atulya K Bingham
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