~ Being Reflections on a Trip to the Oxfordshire countryside~ (June 27-30th)
A storyteller, once recognized as such, does not dissolve back into everyday 9-5 work; by dint of her own insatiable appetite for a good tale, and those of her fellow travelers in life, which pretty soon becomes every person she meets, life becomes one long story gathering episode after another.
And so it was that a simple day out to attend a Transition Arts Convivium with a small group of like minded women, became a great mine of adventure that led from one thing to another to yet another, and so it was that these tales emerged…
It started some few months ago, with a chance (which is not a word to be taken lightly, as every storyteller knows) encounter with a certain Miche of Great Sparkle amongst the coat stands at the entrance to The Routes to Diversity in far away northern Edinburgh. Passionate words were exchanged about the role of the Arts in Transition and WynnAlice spoke of a certain Ruth of Great Determination.
Wending her way southwards again WynnAlice could not have known of the impact nor the consequences of this exchange.
For Miche of the Great Sparkle and Ruth of the Great Determination were women to be reckoned with; put them together and the question of Arts in Transition was not going to go away, but indeed gather momentum, and so it was that on a fair Monday morn a posse of four women traveled east, and four more they traveled west, and four were there first, and finally twelve women of a certain age gathered in a bright light airy studio with the hot midsummer sun beating down upon the roof garden outside, and balmy summer air sitting about them and atop the wild flower meadow where once, in a less enlightened age, had stood lawns, and work of great insight and sharing began.
I say began, for one does not bring 12 women of a certain age together and expect lightening decisions, swift measures, nor outcomes of sharp clarity, no, one does not…at least not on first sight, or even second, but what one finds, on closer examination, is clarity of vision, swiftness of intuitive knowing, lightening streaks of insight, and a change of behaviour, that gradually moves, works upon the whole, and lasting effects of a positive nature. Trust in that process is not a simple thing to feel, not even if one is a woman of that very number, but yet it is the only thing that really brings about lasting change, the work of women, matured in their thought, their understanding of life cycles, loving and respectful of all that they find around them, ruthless compassion for that which has outworn its use, and deep knowing of the wisdom of the ages.
It is, it seems, women who must lead this process, and not for nothing it was that the men invited did not take up the offer to explore, for a band of strong women does its work in the timeless fashion of the deep feminine, slowly, playfully, invincibly, inexorably, as nature herself, they effect change first by observing their own self, then sharing that with others, then collaborating on a shared vision, and then dreaming it into being. And Man too can use this process, and must, if we are to find the fine balance on which the future of life on our planet depends, just as Woman must use the focus, drive and utter determination of the masculine to ensure those dreams are then made manifest.
So the 12 women introduced their work, and those places out of which they worked, in far off South Wales, in Sussex, in the great city of London, in the famed town that was not too big and not too small and its surrounding villages, in the beautiful county of Dorset, and here, in the midst of the Oxfordshire countryside, on Cold Harbour Farm, which is not so cold at all, by any meaning of the word. There were theatrical directors, producers, there were educators who sat on the edge between the two worlds, there were workers with bees, foragers, storytellers, photographers, artists in residence, there were participatory artists, and a maker of corn dollies.
A day of play, and reflection, of sharing, and of deep soul searching questions to their own self, of good home grown, home cooked, freshly picked or caught, seasonal food shared over good conversation and new connections made. A day that started a process, different for each of them, yet profound in its effect, for if Art is to be integral to the movement, then it must be integral to us, its practitioners, and we must be its vehicles, to take it out with us and give it voice, our voice, in our way.
The work of evaluation, the recording of the notes that had been made in their various form; of image, comment, and whimsical reflection, slowly but playfully turned itself into a poem, a ballad, the ballad of Do Nurture, and was performed, filmed and put onto the internet [..link to come..]within the hour , and those women still remaining went off to dinner, cooked the slow French healthy way by Miche, for three women and two men; Jeremy of Cold Harbour and Warm Welcome, and Phil the Beekeeper, visiting from the town that was not too big and not too small.
Do Nurture. What then does that say to those who would bring Arts to Transition? Nurture your talent, nurture the Arts, take care of this well, protect it from harm, shield it from critics who dismiss it without comprehension, and prepare it for when the time is ripe for it. Transition grows and grows, not only through our efforts, but because it is, quite simply, an idea whose time has come, and within it, there are elements whose qualities are not completely seen in equality, not yet, but they will be, when the right time comes, and the work is to nurture; do nurture your Art, it will be needed, it is needed. Take it where it is welcome, be courageous and take it to new places, be surprised and delighted by it, surprise and delight with it, and give it the value and place in your own life that you believe it warrants within Transition.
And that dinner… cooked the slow French healthy way by Miche of Great Sparkle, mouth watering memory, and that conversation, good conversation, where each of us spoke on what we are, of our life, and how it brought us to this point to sit at dinner together around the kitchen table, drinking and feasting and celebrating the company of the moment; a Transition moment, a moment to be savoured, an embodiment of the good life, that can be had anywhere, anytime, if care is taken, over the slowness of the cooking, the time taken to give everyone the opportunity to shine, the time taken for relationships to build, and friendships to form, and ideas to be shared.
Of goat crushers we talked, though the memory has escaped of how the name came about, was it a slip of the tongue around gate crashers; what is memorable is the merriment it caused, and that in itself is reason enough to immortalize it in this tale. Talked too of natural bee keeping, and how to do it, (http://www.biobees.com if you want to know too), of the traditional French ways of preserving food without need for refrigeration, of the challenges of living your ideal and the tension between seeing what still must be done and what has already been achieved. All of these things and of the people too, and of the Cold Harbour farm, where Jeremy of Warm Welcome has devoted most of his adult life to Transition principles since becoming familiar with the territory through the Schumacher College and Findhorn many years ago, and has been quietly doing his bit to make a sustainable resilient community out of a very ordinary English village ever since.
The next morning this highly inspirational character accompanies Phil the Bee Keeper, Miche of Great Sparkle, Flora of Gentle Persuasion, and WynnAlice to the village’s organic dairy farm. Just 24 cows are kept, on meadows of mixed grasses and flowers, each named as a cow traditionally has been, as a Marigold, a Daisy, and other such titles, and these cattle, with their solar panel heated milking barn, provide all the milk and related dairy products for the village and to make a very sustainable business for the tenant farmers.
As our posse turns up Jeremy of Warm Welcome ushers us first not towards the dairy barns, and our waiting hosts, the tenant farmers, but in the other direction, to where a disused trailer or two stand rusting on a bit of unused land…and we follow, and we look, and our mouths fall open, our eyes become transfixed, and then dart from place to place, and our hearts beat, and we run wild as children, through the wild poppy field that has grown up through the cracked paving of the disused land, and covered it in the splendour that only nature has the secret of, making the work of man look alien, awkward, and grotesquely ugly by contrast. Cameras in hand we dart here and there like the bees and butterflies who are our companions in this place, taking not pollen, but picture after picture, revelling in the sheer delight of witnessing nature left alone by the works of man.
The host of colours, sizes, shapes, textures, variety of flower head cannot be described by words, nor yet the feeling of being in their glorious presence, nor the pictures posted here will do that colony of wild things justice, but maybe, just maybe, it might inspire you to stop doing things with your land, and simply watch as the earth takes care of herself and those that live up on her.
Off then, WynnAlice goes for her bus, but first a detour, for Jeremy of Warm Welcome to share a little more of the community he is nurturing; to a house in a row in the village where he has tenants. The houses, he says are too small for them, so he is paying to have this one reformed, turning the outhouse into an annex of the kitchen, a laundry, a utility room. It is a delight to hear a landlord, the archetypal English villain, acting as a real landlord, with love for his tenants, passion for his responsibilities, and real nurturing care of those living on his land. Moved close to tears WynnAlice listens as he asks the electrician why he is placing the sockets in such a place; will they be convenient for the tenant there? Checking carefully, he listens to the reply, and reassures himself that this is in the best possible place for the user of the new utility room.
As they walk down the gardens Jeremy explains how it is his current dilemma to know how best to provide well insulated and heated homes for all of his tenants, and how to balance that with the expense. He talks of figures in the thousands to renovate the old terraced cottages to a good standard, and his concern if this is the best solution, then he walks further down beyond the private gardens and to the open area where another tenant is making a sustainable business starting up market gardening with some old polytunnels, using organic methods, to a cob house that looks as if it has stepped straight out of a fairy tale.
Here, he says, lives his newest tenant, she was offered a cottage but instead asked if she could live in the experimental mud house. Mud House! This is a most unlikely name for the exquisite home that has been created. Softly curving clay walls, dug from the ground beneath it, and neatly trimmed thatch, aesthetically pleasing windows and doors, and craftily hidden compost loo just visible through the trees, this home is not only beautiful, it is well insulated, cheap to construct, makes us of local materials and local skill, and is truly of our past, our present, and our future too. Its appearance lifts the heart very much as the field of poppies did. Here is Man working with Nature, and the effect on the senses is tangible and palpable.
As the pair wend their way back to the road they pass by the little market garden shop, a tiny shed with the days freshly picked fruit and veg laid out in boxes for sale, and a little box for money on the side. I meet the lady who does the accounts, and we exchange heartfelt grumbles about how it is to earn a living on a keyboard, it really must be the curse of our times, and yet too, through the jokes of how she is kept imprisoned in her tiny office by the ogre of a landowner, great love shines in the eyes of both and a recognition of their distinct roles in helping to make this village community resilient.
There too is another tenant, one who cares for the birds, and who has allowed her garden to be taken wholly by nature, forest gardening? Perhaps beyond even that. Inside this little wonderland the species of birds who inhabit the place are pointed out, and the effect of the various plants and trees on the habitat. Gleaming with pride and love for his tenants Jeremy leads the way to the bus stop where the young woman from the council responsible for the trees allowed to be planted along the roadside is busily measuring. He stops to talk, telling WynnAlice the importance of these friendly relations. The council worker and he exchange their respective wisdoms and perspectives about the trees, the road, the value and service of each, and the dance between the two is how to best benefit the community.
Skillful. WynnAlice climbs aboard her bus feeling as though she has been in the company of an enlightened one, wonders at his humility, and hopes that he is re-inspired by his work by having shown a visitor what has been achieved in the village of North Alston.