Where the Spirit of Place Has a Strong Intention (Days 153-154) August 28-29th
By Steph Bradley 1st September 2010
I awaken early from my mattress on the floor of the yurt which I share with two singer songwriters and a storyteller in the performers’ yurt village at Embercombe and head off showerwards in the blazing sunshine.
Here I encounter another reason why I question the purpose of large gatherings; the water has stopped flowing. I had already been warned the previous evening to arrive early as it is a very small water tank for three showers (for use by staff (70) and performers (24) only) and soon runs out. The water comes from a bore and the problem is shortly fixed by a man with a spanner, but the water still has to heat up. In the flurry of people hoping for a shower, the travel worn and weary, me with tired dusty feet, others sticky from long car journeys, I meet Anita van Rossen, my lovely host and walking companion from Transition Chichester. She thanks me for the advice I gave her daughter to do the International House teacher training (http://www.ihlondon.com/) and not one of the many cheaper courses for TEFL (teaching of English as a foreign language) available on the market, all hoping to make money, few offering quality. She took my advice and is doing the course, and loves it; it is exactly what she hoped for.
After half an hour we are quite disgruntled and those that are not performers quite cross; the website offers hot showers and yet here we have a situation where nearly 100 people here to work or perform have access to 3 showers, and the however many people who have paid to enjoy the festival have none. Why do we need to gather in such large numbers? What do we gain? Could we not, as Green and Away (http://www.greenandaway.org/page.cfm) do limit our gathering sizes to manageable numbers, surely we would still have a big enough mix of people to really learn from one another without the inconvenience of the conflicting interests and need for resources that come when we gather in too large a number. Didn’t Schumacher tell us
“Small is beautiful”
And why do we still not listen? Is it because we still treat Money as God, and Money dictates that certain numbers add up in certain ways and that is what matters, and not the consequences of having all those nice neat rows of figures add up. There must be another way; there is another way, but it requires the first brave few to stand up and say
“I can live without Money, he is a false god; I will follow the dictates of my own free spirit”
For until we let go of our attachment to Money, we will be blinded to any other ways, and we will continue to perpetuate the very system that many are working to change, to allow human rights, the earth’s right, all beings’ rights, to be recognised and honoured.
After bathing my feet in a tiny basin of hot water, I eat breakfast, chat to Mac, standing in the row of staff serving the food, and then retire to sit in the darkened Cerediwen’s kitchen cafe yurt to write my blog and the sounds of reggae drift out into the space; bringing with them a wave of nostalgia for the times when I was a young woman and when my spirit was first moved, by the songs of Bob Marley.
Friendly Sue, from the staff, who I met over breakfast says;
“Still at it?”
And we laugh about how it is when you are blogging that people keep talking so there is always something to report!
I go off to hear Hugh Lupton tell a story; I have perused the events quite selectively, I do not want to leave overwhelmed by too many other’s perceptions, my walk is, after all, not over yet, and I intend to keep my focus. Hugh is telling the tale of the Enclosures, and this I want to hear.
I have become very aware that storytelling is an extremely memorable medium, and hearing about the Enclosures this way is far more likely to remain memorable than some dry regurgitating of facts from some historian. I am not mistaken; Hugh has chosen the life of the poet John Clare to present his tale. I have heard tell of both Hugh and of John Clare, and of the Enclosures, as I have walked and here the three are, all together, in this storytelling space. The hall is full, of folk on cushions, on rugs, on sofas, laid down, sitting up, or half sitting, half reclining, comfortable, to hear the tale of our forbearers, 7 generations of grandparents away; a very important cycle according to the native American Indians, Hugh tells us.
So, in the time between 1790 and 1840 or so it happened that in a small Cambridgeshire village there lived a peasant named John Clare, who loved the land he lived on, described it as far as the eye could see from the top of Helston church spire. The land that we can see is to many indigenous peoples representative of our minds, and when the new Americans took the land from the native peoples they found there and put them on to reservations, they took their minds from them, and in the lifetime of John Clare, Fitz William was the local landowner who took the common land from the people.
The common land was taken from the people all across our island; the scribes were ordered to draw straight lines across the maps defining the new territories; these are very visible when you look at a map of modern day America and its geometrically shaped states. These straight lines recognised no tribal boundaries or geographical features, and thus have been the cause of most of the violent troubles of many lands. In England they took the previously free common men from their land and with tit their ability to feed themselves, and paid them pennies to work for them planting the throny plants that would form the hedges, the enclosures, that would keep the people off the land, and do to this day.
I am tearful as Hugh finishes his tale, with poor John Clare, driven to write divine poetry as an outlet for the pain he felt at the loss of his beloved land, as part of him as his own flesh, was driven finally to madness at which point he was locked into an asylum for the rest of his days.
I am tears not only for the fate of poor John Clare though, but for us; his descendants, 7 generations later, still landless, still yearning with all of our hearts to be back on the land. As the clapping starts I still feel the silence that resonates after Hugh finishes his tale, and sit hands clasped, tears in the corner of my eyes, feeling the story until it ends, the clapping in sharp dissonance to the sacred silence the story has produced, and I wonder where our habit of clapping originated and what it replaced at some point. In transition we often wave our hands in approval of something spoken, so as not to disturb the silent wake of an utterance, and at Bowden when we sing together, we often remain in silence after a song, to feel it fade, gradually, back in to the silence from whence it came.
Once people start to leave, I turn to Mark Bedford, my friend, host when I walked to Forest Row, and storyteller, who has sat beside me, and he tells me about the storytelling he and some friends have developed around the first time the land was stolen from the people; when the Normans came, and William commissioned the Domesday book, and all the English landowners lost their land to the new Norman overlords.
I talk about the pain I have felt as I have walked at seeing the industry and its devastating impact on the environment. The industry that came in the wake of the enclosures, for after their land was gone the people had to work for the industrial barons, and often having to move into the towns that slowly became the cities, that are now too large to feed themselves.
It seems to me that until we can go back and face that pain, acknowledge what was done, and honour the lives we had back then, we cannot move forwards in a healthy way, and every time we try to create something new and fresh and good, based upon the system rooted in the theft of the land, not once, but twice, and the industry that followed, and the migration into the cities, we will fail, until we realise that healthy growth comes from healthy roots.
I am then, heartily inspired by the leaflet I pick up at the festival shop; it is called Land Roots (www.landroots.oc.uk ), and it invites people to pay £250 each to create a piece of local community land together with others in order to create a network of common land across the land, which they will be able to grow on, and get leases for sustainable smallholdings. It is a good plan, it deserves to succeed, yet it involves ownership of land still; maybe it is the next step, to empower more people, but inevitably we need to arrive at a place when we realise that the land cannot be owned, and that if anything, as Hugh Lupton wisely told in an anecdote about a land dispute; it is the land that owns us.
Later I meet up with Rob, it is lovely to see him, to hear of life “back at the ranch” to hear of one another’s adventures. Rob has handed in his PhD paper and has had August off with his family and has replastered the suburban concrete porch of his house with lime and hemp, smoothing it on with his hands, rounding off the sharp corners of the building below, giving it soul. Mac comes over to join us, and we hear the tale of Embercombe and the wheat crop. For while the society we have made churns on, wastefully frittering away our earth’s resources, folk at Embercombe are painstakingly relearning the skills that should have been handed down to us by our parents and grandparents, the know how of how to bring in a crop of wheat, and what is needed to separate the wheat from the chaff. And as we learn of the threshing and of how long it took, thatfirst year, just to obtain half a bucket of wheat, and the progressive stages of learning they went through, i realise what a debt of gratitude we owe these people, bravely prepared to learn the hard way, so that we all might benefit.
I hear later from Peter, as we begin to make the incense he has offered to teach me to make to take on to the next place, of the Welsh, amongst whom he lived, for a while, and how they had retained the skills we abandoned, for a good bit longer and how he met the old farmer who still rode his cob horse down the roads, the last man to do this in that area, and how the Welsh ate barley bread, perhaps because it is easier to separate from the chaff than the labour intensive wheat, and I ponder the lineage of our eating of grains, and wonder what we will settle on in our times of transition, as being the best alternative for us. Myself, I cannot believe the apparently tasteless barley bread cannot be improved upon and flavours added, and resolve to try, when I get home.
I finish off my day sitting at the campfire, quietly, with several strangers, quietly talking with Sue Charmain, the festival organiser, about our lives, and this festival, her work at Embercombe, my walk, and the things two women who have found what they are looking for talk about;sense of community, sense of place, sense of rightness, and the joy it brings. My tribe of transitioners, her tribe of Embercombe; we are content, come home to ourselves, with our kin, and it is good to share.
With contentment comes a sense of self care too; not for us to stay up all night, but early to bed, to rest, for tomorrow there is work to be done, and people to meet.
Morning comes and breakfast with Marion McCartney, my host from Belper, far away in the hills of Derbyshire, and tales to exchange of our summers of wandering. Later I talk to Peter, Geraldine and Matthew and get to hear the tale of Parsival which they all stayed up all night to hear Martin Shaw relate and for which Peter had made a new incense in celebration, the incense of the grail. It is of course, as tales are wont to be, a tale of wholeness, integration, of one man’s quest and eventual success to marry the feminine and the masculine within himself, and I recall the dream I had a few nights ago of my own meeting with my inner partner, and the sense of completeness it has brought to my life.
I tell my tales after Rob has spoken about the Transition movement, and Christoffer accompanies me beautifully as if we had always performed this way together, and I feel content with the perfect rightness of it, and we hear the tales of the people gathered.
Gill Westcott tells me the tale of the man in his hand made hemp clothing who would start a Transition Exeter project bringing together the different faith groups, and later, quietly, Carolina from Transition Hertford tells me the wonderful news that the beans I carried there for them from Transition Forest Row were ceremoniously planted, and have grown! I wish she had shared it with the whole group for it is a lovely tale to hear and indeed a symbol of our interconnectedness.
There are more than Transition Town tales to be had here though. Embercombe is a place to develop inner transition and is has been working its magic… three people speak up to share their experiences of having been touched by this place.
We hear from the young man in a quirky hat who was grieving and who found the earth again at Embercombe this weekend, touched the ground with his forehead, and the mint and the grasshoppers seemed to speak and say
“We are kin”
And the young man was smiling, the joy shining out of him, as he talked of his revelation; that the earth is everywhere to be touched.
And then the lady who came back from London, from wandering around the land, back to Devon, her home and discovered Embercombe, practically on her doorstep.
And Sue and Doro, her small child, who moved here to work at Embercombe thinking; half of her that it was too small a step from an environmental activist working in the big city to working on a small project in the midst of Devon to it’s too big a step, to leave all behind to get involved in something so big, but she did move, and it is here that Doro was born, and she is happy.
And I know who the sock monster is for and present it to Doro who grabs it contentedly and I give the Street Pastors book to Sue to share with the others who live at Embercombe.
And a little while later Sue comes to find me and gives ne the CD of the songs of many wonderful artists that Embercombe have brought together as a fundraiser, to take on with me to the next place and the messages of the artists are beautiful and moving and of the moment: they sing…
“This won’t be a journey like we’ve ever made before”
“Starting locally we can make a bigger difference than we think”
“Do you know we all feel the same? Do you know you are not to blame?”
“How would the world appear if you could let your vision see?”
“Community is our immunity from certain slavery”
and I realise that here too are stories, stories of people who care, people like us, this is our story, we are making it right now, with every action we take.
After dinner I make incense with Peter, with Matthew and Geraldine occasionally adding their words of wisdom
“Wouldn’t you like a drop of guinness in it?” they ask, adding levity in words to an otherwise deep and rich mixture that smells like mint toffee, and is almost as hard to grind in the large stone pestle and mortar.
I’m making “Roots of the Past” a new incense I have created with Peter’s help. It is to celebrate our past, to reconnect to it, so that we can move forwards into the light of the bright new glistening future, which is gently birthing itself from the cracks that appear in its chrysalis, our society…
We follow the procession down to the fire pit to celebrate the ending of our festival of stories here at Embercombe, listen to Mac speak out his intention for seeds to go out to the world outside, carried with each of us, to spread the word, that we, each and every person alive right now, are the hope the world is waiting for. We watch the torch bearers from 5 corners of the site come to the centre of our circle and light the huge nest built high on tall sticks, and watch it burn as we holler and call our hopes for the future and our commitment to make it be so, together.
Then slowly we wend our way back to the main area, some to dance, to listen to the musicians, and me to finish the incense, now turned quite rock like and ready to go, and then to my bed, in the yurt, bed number 4, to rest, for the morrow’s walking. Then, suddenly, to be awoken, along with my yurt sisters, in the middle of the silent night, by a big ego, a large personality, not content with the applause and the accolades of the weekend, playing his guitar and singing out into the night, applause ripples from a tiny gathering of those still feeding a swollen ego somewhere out in the night, and thus encouraged it plays on into the night, whilst we toss and turn and try to return to sleep, and I think, if this is what it is to be a performer, than I have no wish to be that.