Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Wake up Call

It was an eye opening weekend. While I was busy foraging for nettles last thursday, (see last post) and connecting with nature spirits and the earth, Hugh was connecting with the earth in a different way.

Very soon, we have to leave the wood we live in, and have been very lucky to find an acre of woodland nearby to buy. The land there is sloping, and the tiny level clearing already there was really not big enough for even the most low impact shelter.
Together, Hugh and I decided that some trees would have to be felled, and a days work with a digger organised, to make room for our living space.

Last Thursday was digger day. At the weekend I went over with Hugh to see what had been done and  I realised how different our weeks had been.

A huge scar was slashed across the wood, and something resembling a raw, minature runway slewed away from us and I wept for the tiny green clearing that had been destroyed. Tree stumps like ragged graves stood around... reluctant sentries for their new domain. Innocent that I am, I had not realised how much earth and shillet one digger can move in an eight hour day..

 The irony of our very different Thursdays had not escaped me. How serene and probably very self satisfied I had felt as I gathered food and medicine for the family, how calm and centred Leo and I had been, as we made little homes for the fairies and sang to the plant spirits.

Meanwhile Hugh had worked so hard felling trees. Each night he came home white with fatigue, and on the day the digger driver came in Hugh managed to get himself 8 stitches in his knee as he was pulling the saw out of a Hornbeam tree. The digger driver had worked so hard, packing as much as he could into one day's labour. And I could only cry and shout how horrible it was. To be responsible for such visible destruction felt like such a terrible burden. To blast into a wood and change so much, to make such a big mark on nature, I think we both felt sick to the stomach.
Everything felt clunky and scratchy and uncomfortable.

It was time for coffee. I drink about one cup every month and it was definitely that time of the month...in more ways than one!
At our lovely local farm shop Hugh and I sat in the sunshine and drank coffee and talked about what had happened.

And what we realised is this:

 In our lives we are not used to seeing the direct result of our actions. So many of our regular day to day activities have far reaching implications and consequences all over the globe...but we do not see those consequences.
  • We drive cars, which run on oil but we don't see the physical devastation that the extraction process causes.
  • We buy clothes but we do not see the young migrant worker in a Chinese sweatshop who makes them,, from cotton harvested by children in Uzbekistan.
  • We drink coffee, but we do not see the  plantation in Guatemala where babies of the indigenous workers are often inadvertantly sprayed with pesticide, as they lie asleep in the shade of the coffee plants.
  • We use paper, and buy books but we do not see the swathes of clearcut forest that has been pulped to produce them.
  • We use electricity but we do not see the tonnes of fossil fuels which are burnt to generate it, or the mines it comes from, or the effects of the burning....
And so on. That is what our lives are like. Every day we indirectly cause destruction and devastation and discomfort all over the world. But because we don't see it, we can sleepwalk through our sanitised, convenient and plasticized lives and ignore it.

We don't have to ignore it. We can become aware that our actions do have consequences and we can take steps to reduce our destructive and enormous footprint on the earth.  We can be aware that elements of our lives have become so  disconnected from the earth that we have forgotten that we are part of it.
We are part of the earth, as much but not more than any cat, mouse, grasshopper, dandelion or hornbeam tree. All important, all equal.

So back to our poor clearing we went and thought about what we would build on the land, a low impact bender like shelter to begin with, whilst drawing up plans for a straw bale earth shelter in the medium term.
We talked about the fruit bushes we would grow, the herbs, vegetables and chickens and goats we could raise.
We talked about how we would use the felled timber, for floor boards, for bowl making, for firewood, to cook on and keep us warm.
We imagined the land in a year, loved, softened, flourishing. We felt connected to the land and could see the results of our actions as part of a holistic long term vision to nurture it and belong to it.

We felt content to be responsible caretakers for the land.


  1. Oh, dear . . . this is my life. I have felt this way so many times living in a wilderness area that is fast being "developed."

    I too live am fortunate to live in the middle of the woods. When our house was built 15 years ago the middle of our 5-1/2 acres would have looked like your photos above. Even though we and our neighbours live on large pieces of land (5-25 acres)with lots of space between us, in the summer you can hear the diggers and backhoes every day, nearby or in the distance as people make way for a new home, a new shop, or a horse paddock. We have neighbours on either side of us with burn piles as high as our house . . . . I know full well that living in a tiny apartment in the middle of a big city using public transport and getting about on foot is the most earth-friendly life, not carving an existence out of what little forest we have left on this planet (not much left to go around for the soon to be 7 billion of us who live here) no matter how carefully and low impact one goes about it, but I would go insane living in a little box surrounded by traffic noise and pavement.

  2. By the way, I'm sure you will make the timber you had to fall a beautiful and lasting part of your home and create a space that really feeds the soul and reminds all who visit of what really matters . . .


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