If Nature is your teacher your soul will awaken…
… I open an e mail from Klaudia van Gool in Transition Liskeard and read the quotation from Goethe at the bottom of her signature and think that it could well sum up the thing I would choose to share about what I have learnt for myself along this walk, and would go further, for not only does a walk with nature as teacher awaken the soul, it releases spirit too, to meet with soul, and dance with her against the canvas of your being.
The more I think about what has happened within me along this walk I have been privileged to be called to make the more I feel that JourneyKin is the project I want to realise, for I would offer the gift of this knowledge to any that would seek it, to be the master or mistress of their own awakening, and to remember and rekindle their kinship with nature, and with each one of us.
I help Clare set up the fire circle for later; I lay the fire ready to light whilst she scythes the undergrowth away from the log stools. I want to learn but she won’t let me in flip flops and I can see the sense in this; but next time…
Clare tells me about the millpond, a beautiful very large pond in the garden near the house. It was used for fulling blankets, felting the wool, perhaps by stamping on it. I learn that Chagford became rich because of the wool trade and the whole town is full of homes that once were part of the wool process. Rack Park where the textiles were stretched, and workers’ cottages are evident as the lane meets the main road. The house, which has been restored to its original slate roof and slatted panels that could be opened to let air in, is now retrofitted and the gardens are unbelievably productive and beautiful.
We go and pick veg for dinner from the newest vegetable patch, inspired by Rob Hopkins when he came to talk to folk in Chagford two years ago, replacing more of the lawn with productive land in the garden; we collect spinach, green beans, carrots and beetroot. I go and pick blueberries for dessert from their cage, built to keep the birds out. I didn’t know they could grow so well here; I am surrounded by the bushes, laden with berries, brushing off a dozy hornet, drunk from the juice. I take back my bowlful and prepare supper for myself and Georgiana, storyteller from Norway, arriving tonight to walk with me a while.
I walk into the town to buy rice and go into the Courtyard, as recommended by Clare for organic fair-trade local shopping. I remember it from the last time I visited the town; a lovely place to sit and eat cake too in their community cafe, with its community noticeboard where I spot a 2 bedroomed flat for rent with a garden and feel tempted to call up. I always had a special feeling about Chagford, even before I ever came, then when I did I was disappointed when it was coloured by memories of difficult times in a relationship that didn’t work out. I came a couple of times more and gradually took in one or two more things, including Clare’s wonderful yoga studio the Barefoot Barn.
This time, arriving in sunshine, as part of my wonderful walk, Chagford is all I dreamt it was; it was just waiting for me to arrive in the right state of mind so that I could see it clearly, to make me fall in love with it; queen of the moors. It is a big village, or a small town, it is beautifully centred around a circular central building that is selling fruit and veg, and it feels familiar, yet unfamiliar, comfortable, yet uncomfortable, safe and cosy, yet views of the omnipotent moor are visible, edgy this place, you’d stay alive living here, and your connection to nature be ever present. Thoughts of living here both frighten and entice me. It’s the first time I’ve wondered, about the possibilities of a new place.
Georgiana arrives and we eat the lentil and veg curry I have cooked and get to know one another a bit. It feels different, this energy of sharing my walk with another, I feel my way into the new situation cautiously.
We go down to the fire pit to light the fire for later, and light it well together and soon the flames are roaring. We go back to the studio, me to change and be with myself before the storytelling, Georgiana to wash the dishes, and then it is time to see who comes to hear the tales.
Ten sit around the fire when storytelling begins, late, I am delighted to learn that Chagford time works like Totnes time, or is it that in these places people simply refuse to live by the clock and honour their natural rhythms instead? We are Clare and Georgiana, Linda, Paul and Pauline, Yulia, Rachel and Damian and Richard, and myself.
I tell my tale as dusk falls and the fire smokes and a dreamlike quality descends and I know deep in my bones that this is what I am meant to do, it feels so right, the circle, the fire, the old fashioned yet not yet lost art of tale telling, not for entertainment, though it does that too, but to inform and share ideas.
I hear of the wonders of Chagford…
Of Yulia’s Norwegian father’s walk to freedom escaping the Nazis in the war across the border in to Sweden and to England, and her yearning still for her homeland, strong in her, her father’s longing, and the pilgrimage she and her sister made to walk in his footsteps and to see the old pair of shoes that he was arrested in and to be given wool to wrap around their feet to keep them warm and how it felted and kept the shape of their feet and how now Yulia’s art is of wool, and felting feet and her exhibition soon to happen in Plymouth, and the invitation to me and Georgiana to come on the morrow and get our feet felted for the journey. Together we all celebrate the importance of wool and our dependence on sheep in our land and I recall Georgiana telling me that it was once law to be buried in a woollen shroud to ensure the value of the wool remained high.
Of The courtyard and Richard who was one of the founders back way back when, 20 years ago before transition was born where the people of Chagford were doing already what they could to save the planet, riding bikes, composting, growing local food and starting food cooperatives. It is a joy to hear him speak, and tell the tale transition tale style, lyrically, ahh, another story weaver think I. It makes me smile in delight and yearn to hear more from him. He came by electric bike from the village of Thorn, and is greatly loved by those present.
He talks of Clare the Generous, and Linda the Kind who helped to make it all happen, and Linda takes over the tale and describes the things the courtyard do, the shop, the community meeting space, and asks what the others think is its greatest benefit to the community and they all agree it is the community meeting space, and Pauline pipes up and tells how she has even had a evening school class there in Literature. The love the group have for this tiny space in the centre of the town is palpable and I feel touched.
There are other projects too in this active big village, small town, in the middle of the moors; there is CASE, the composting group who have done many big things, including the work of Nicky Scott, the official council compost man, known throughout the county, and Proper Job, the amazing recycling place where many skills and resources are exchanged and I plan to visit in the morning before setting out.
Linda tells us of Epona, the project I have long heard about, from Jeremy Thres, one of its founders, Epona, the horse goddess, and I wonder if she is that symbol I was searching for when I read of the green man in Cullompton, the symbol of the woman within and the woman without, symbol of integrity for women to aspire towards. Epona work with people and the wilderness, and initiation rituals for adolescence, but now I hear another tale, the tale of what work they do with the children. I hear of the willow they have planted over the years, and the school trips up to the site not far from Chagford, on the moors, where the big children teach the younger children what they have been taught, so that all of the children of Chagford are skilled now in willow making, and by age 11 they all know how to weave a willow basket.
And we learn of Kitchen Table Wisdom, a group I have heard tell of before, a group, Linda tells me, that works where nothing official ever did because it came from the people, and is for the people and they learn of it by word of mouth, and friends to friends, and they meet to talk and sort things out and listen to the collective wisdom.
And I like these folk very much indeed and they ask me to come back to visit them again and to visit Epona, the project on the moor, and I know I will for these people feel like kin, these new friends, in a way that maybe means something more to me than friends I have known before, friends that have values I share that are earthy, really present, and fun and practical, and welcoming and open. Yes, I feel welcomed in, and am tempted to come closer.