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Equinox

Spring fever is upon us fully now, and we are enjoying the weather as if it were summer: the door is flung open, letting light pour into the truck while the burner still keeps us warm, and we are beginning to move our activities outside.

We marked the Equinox on Sunday, the day of looking forward and back, to the winter passed and the summer coming. Day and night have equal length; its a balance point as we emerge from ourselves and our inner lives to bring things out into the world.

Friends came from London to celebrate the spring, have a taste of country air and to fill the truck with love and good company. We ate, talked and made spring spinners and flags which the children flung, waved, and ran about carrying with great glee.  A grey start flourished into a glorious bright afternoon and we enjoyed company into the early evening, including a spontaneous visit which re-united old friends from 15 years ago, to everyone’s surprise and delight.

Its a quiet, graceful delight to sense the change in the air as the seasons move on.  The sudden change in the light in February was startling, and came so soon: when I was ready still for another 6 weeks of winter, I knew that the world was waking up, and that the inward time would soon be done.

Even at its darkest time, when we were covered in snow and I stood in the rain making phonecalls with my back to the north wind, the winter didn’t seem as bleak this year. Out of doors every day, rather than looking out through a pane of glass from a stuffy room, you sense the life and the gloriousness of it all. It makes sense in a way that it can’t when you only use your eyes to understand. Up in London passing words with strangers on a grey day – “not long yet” and “it’ll soon be over!” – came from another world and reminded me of what I’ve left behind.

Everything is incandescent now, with the light and with the special kind of newly growing green. We arrived home from India at this time last year and there was not a twinge of sadness as we were suddenly drenched in Spring after tropical dryness.  England is beautiful, and I love this time of year!

Just a quick one to keep things updated: our week with Forager went well and we’ve decided to stay put for a few months. The chance to really get to know the plants is unmissable, and the money will be nice.  I’m looking forward to a nice routine, and to being part of something again.  We have a very understanding landowner who, we think, will be happy to have us for a while, and the village is uber convenient, with Canterbury just 5 minutes away by train!

Its a shame Middle Ruckham will have to wait, but the summer is long and we hope to get down there later in the year, and also to schedule in some visits to the woodland projects I mentioned in my last post, possibly leaving the truck here while we do.

It is interesting how things emerge: we didn’t really know what we’d do when it was time to leave our base in East Sussex, and were very thrown when it didn’t work out at Easter Wood, and yet, out of nowhere, something sweet is emerging.  I like the flow of this river.

Thanks to a nice piece of fixing from my lovely brother, we’ve spent the last couple of weeks at the bottom of a field in a little village near Canterbury, right next to the farm buildings where Miles runs his wild food business. Perfect.

Since leaving Easter Wood we have begun searching for other woodland management projects on HelpX and WWoof. Tinker’s Bubble, Landmatters and Steward Community Wood, all in the South West, are making a go of it living communally and legally on the land. I feel a strong pull in this direction, and want to experience for myself what this kind of lifestyle involves.

Mostly, I am desperate to be in a more natural environment for a while. Something in me let go a little bit when we arrived up at Easter Wood, and there was a thrill at having somehow put a piece back in its place. Beautiful and idyllic as Chartham is, civilisation of any kind is beginning to grate.  Too many years in London and the overpopulated South East has left my senses clamouring for a different kind of rhythm.

Unfortunately it seems pretty clear that low-impact woodland settlement and large live-in horseboxes are not terribly compatible: access routes and planning agreements are not conducive and I can understand why. To visit, we will need to abandon our home and dwell on the earth, living in benders, yurts and cabins, sharing meals and living side by side with other volunteers and permanent inhabitants.  This will be a beautiful thing to do; it also means being transient again and leaving the comfort and familiarity of our new home for a while, something we have done plenty of in the last 18 months.

One solution would be to swap the truck for a yurt and van, or at least a bow top wagon. They are cosy and neat and beautiful and reasonably portable, and are ideal for woodland living. We considered a yurt last year. We also considered full blown Wwoofing, ie staying in the accomodation provided. However, we had done enough travelling in India, and again on our arrival in the UK and were desperate for a bit of Home.

Feeling the need to arrive and depart with a minimum of fuss with Rowan in tow, we eventually settled for the horsebox. It allows us to experience different environments whilst reducing the degree of change associated with each move. Of course, something considerably smaller would also do the trick, and would present less of a challenge to park, only now we are in the unfortunate position of becoming attached to our lovely home!

We have put woodland projects on hold for now, until we can find somewhere to leave the truck while we go and visit. We will be heading to Middle Ruckham Farm in Devon, to help them build fences, look after their gardens and to spend more time mulling and incubating, and learning new skills. As we develop our own rhythm of moving and staying still,  and become clear about our long term plans a yurt may become a more viable option. For now, while so many things are uncertain, it is good to keep our lovely cabin on wheels.

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Crisp air and fresh smells

xx

Easter Wood

Our first taste of wwoofing has been brief and very sweet! We arranged to spend some time at some woodlands near Ashford in Kent, and were very excited to be involved in a project at the very start. Unfortunately our truck had other ideas. After spending a wonderful evening getting to know our hosts, the access route proved impassable and we had to turn around. We were delighted to get out into nature finally, having been on the edges of civilisation for 6 months, very sad to say goodbye to what promised to be a great learning opportunity, and extremely pleased to have met these inspiring and very down to earth people.

Trish and Brian bought their woods 2 years ago having moved here from South Africa with nothing but the bags on their backs in the wake of the land reclamations after the fall of apartheid.  Starting from scratch again in their early fifties, the ex-farmers found suburban life maddening and two years ago they embarked on a steep learning curve by purchasing 8 acres of ancient woodland.  Untended for over 30 years – though once the site of long standing low-impact settlement – thanks to Brian and Trish the woods are slowly coming back under human management.

We arrived at Easter Wood late Saturday afternoon. The morning had been spent packing; phoning the breakdown for a jumpstart; accidentally removing (breaking) the left wing mirror (landing on my arse and getting shouted at in the process); and discretely withdrawing with the baby so the men could fix it. Driving through from Sussex to Kent snow, instead of falling, had emerged from the earth until we were surrounded by at least 3 or 4 inches of pure brightness. There were piles of grey pushed aside along the roads and I had to get out and check for road markings as we turned up the tiny lane where our hosts met us with their 4×4.

Together we cleared a pile of tree stumps to give the truck room to turn up the track but half way up the track gave way to mud: thick, heavy and moist with the beginnings of the thaw.  Planning permission is required to lay hardcore, making heavy goods access to the site difficult – a significant point for small scale foresters who have to process all their wood on site.  Tony and Brian battled on, but ran into difficulties at the turn. After about 45 minutes of maneuvreing we finally decided to put the truck in on the side of the track, and finish the job in the morning, or in a few days once the ground had dried out.  We parked on the neighbouring plot of woodland, owned by an older couple, at the spot where they park their car – but they had not been seen for months.

We finally made our way up to camp, having already begun to make our aquaintance during the journey up to park the truck.  Trish had warned me that things were simple – an open bender for storing tools and daytime living, a small caravan, and a cooking tarp with a raised barbecue burning their own charcoal.   Flanking the camp were a few piles of seasoning wood and a makeshift charcoal kiln (a new cast iron kiln was on its way later in the week) while a firepit lay at the centre surrounded by log benches. Trish made a start on the veggies for supper, and Rowan and Tony made tea in the bender with Simon – Easter Wood’s first and longest standing Wwoofer (at two and a half months) and, it turned out, an old acquaintance of Tony from the Circus Space!  They enjoyed catching up and gossiping;  I marvelled at the peace and thanked the way of things for bringing us to these human people in this wild place.

The evening passed well with plentiful charred sausages, the sweetest sweet potatoes, the freshest air and lots of storytelling.  Rowan turned Simon into his slave and vanished on his shoulders to play snowballs, eat peanut butter and do important things with tools within 5 minutes of meeting.  Tony and I sat by the fire and listened to Trish and Brian talking about the woods, their plans, and getting us up to speed on the work going on. It was something else to sit and enjoy a meal outside in good company, in February, with snow on the ground! I wonder that this is not done more. We all went to bed feeling alive, slept the best sleep and dreamed many dreams.

We awoke early the next morning and were thankful for our woodburner – there had been more snow in the night and poor Simon, up in the caravan, had no heating.  Again and again I find our “primitive” living quarters to be not only adequate, but thoroughly fit for purpose, providing us with just what we need in just the right way. Rowan and I settled down with a huge lump of playdough to while away the time til mid morning, when we would go and rouse Simon and get him to show us how to work the charcoal kiln. Trish and Brian weren’t expected til noon, but around 930 the 4×4 pulled up.

“You’re up early!”,  sticking my head out the window into the crisp air.

“Bad news.”

We had to move. The neighbours were unhappy having a live-in on their land, and had asked that it be removed asap, no debate. The track up ahead had not got significantly harder with the frost so, with the aid of a winch, a pine tree, a tow from Brian and a lot of leg work from Tony (the clutch is a bugger), by 11 o’clock we were standing out on the lane again, kissing and hugging goodbye less than a day after first shaking hands.

Besides enjoying their company, I was impressed by Brian and Trish.  Used to the slow burn, they know it takes time and patience to see results. Woodland management is not for the faint hearted. The weather can be grim, the law is challenging, and there is a knowledge – of plants, of ecosystems, of woodland crafts – which used to be known and now must be learned.  Consider taking this in a foreign land, a new ecosystem and a much colder climate – when most people are thinking about retirement!  What flexibility, what resourcefulness, what vision, and what love.

It strikes me that you can do anything, if you think you can…

pondering identities

I am just about to finish my NLP practitioner course – integration weekend coming up at the end of this week – and have been spending a lot of time thinking about how to build up some business. I want to develop an online presence, with the intention of offering my services over the phone, skype, or email, so that I can keep travelling and still have work. I’ve been thinking alot about this blog, how I want to use it, and what to call it. Skinawit is great – but a bit obscure?

I love thehandmadelife, as its a big nod to Clarissa Pinkola Estes’ story of the Red Shoes (Women Who Run With The Wolves) which talks about the importance of creating a life by hand and making it just right for you, even if it looks a bit ramshackle to outside eyes! There are two blogs and one website (uk based) with the same name, but they all have a strong crafts focus. Not sure what to do – thehandmadelife sums up what I’m about so well, so much “life coaching” etc is just so clinical and bland, I want something richer and with a strongly creative (in the widest sense) flavour. How much does it matter if there are similar domain names out there? Watch this space, and feel free to offer your thoughts!

Drinking coffee after a two week break. Wow, rocket fuel…

busy busy busy

Life is moving on. We have spoken to our current hosts and, although we had been hoping to stay on for a while, we need to pick up our skirts again in order to protect their upcoming planning applications.

It’s a bit sad, as the family is lovely and there are some interesting people staying here, two young families, one staying in the house and one in a converted minibus with whom we’ve struck up quite a friendship. Its good to feel there are so many friends out there waiting to be made. And that there are other people looking for a different life, with the courage to step out of the norm, with their kids, in order to build the future that feels right. Its good to feel we are in good company!

Still, moving on promises new horizons, and keeps us going on our journey. The family here hosts volunteers from http://www.helpx.net and we have just registered with them and with Wwoofing, so what with that and visiting communities we should have plenty to keep us busy, I’ve already seen a few interesting looking projects.

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