The Long, Slow, Creative Hard Slog

“The long, slow, creative hard slog always wins out in the end.”

Contrary to how ‘floaty’ such a statement may seem there’s a great deal of evidence to support it. It’s evident in everything from entire societies being built on earth stewardship, see Amazonian societies creation of Terra Preta on otherwise relatively infertile tropical soil, to Van Gogh’s hard isolated life work which now occupies vast galleries created in his name, and the countless artists whom acknowledge his influence. I suppose we could analyse and attempt to interpret the rabbit hole that the last part of the above statement, ‘the end’, entails. Though this is far too open to interpretation and has overt metaphysical connotations. Therefore allow us to briefly examine the long, slow, creative, hard slog bit.

To begin with we must acknowledge the ninth Holmgren Permaculture principle; Small and Slow Solutions. As obvious as this principle may seem, within our current dominant paradigm applying such a thing within your daily routine is to run, or rather meander, directly against the conformity grain. Though the rewards are endless, in this life or the next, for ourselves and/or future generations. Be it in taking the time to study your local ecology which can reap untold benefits of higher yields, better return on your investments, be they in passive solar buildings or soil management, to embracing patience with yourself and others. The benefits of which seem unnecessary to state here.

Need we discuss the creative part? Yes. Perhaps we do. Djaning and all it entails has recently taken to realising itself as a Life as Art project. Which, for us, has untold benefits. To begin with, artists make mistakes, though instead of them being ‘mistakes’ as such, they can further become art. We recall a dear friend of ours smirking in wonderment whilst watching Jimmy Page playing another perfectly oulandish solo on Led Zepplin’s the Song Remains the Same film, and stating, “He hits bum notes, but then keeps hitting them! He’s making his initial errors intentional! And this makes them awesome!” We’d like to think we can do something similar, but on the land. (Duly noted, of course, that Jimmy is a master craftsman with decades of experience, and music is not geology. But I think you get what we’re trying to say).  We make mistakes, though so long as we don’t throw down our instruments and sob, we can learn from it, and if it’s in time and in tune with gaia’s guidance, it can become a hallmark.

More on the Life as Art concept in later posts. Now for the hard slog part… Hmmm. Yes that. Well, no matter the creative process we must work. Andy Warhol knew this and was known to have instilled Lou Reed with the ethic, even resulting in the song Work. For us we’ve often been caught singing the Temptations Just My Imagination chorus in relation to the thought of being able to create our dream, without the hard slog; it’s just our imagination. It’s therefore beneficial to look to others who have achieved, or are well on their way to achieving their ideal situation through diligent, applied labour and effort. Some that come to mind are our teachers, Geoff & Nadia Lawton at the Permaculture Research Institute, Robyn Francis at Djanbung Gardens or Ben Law, woodsman extraordinaire. Others are our friends and colleagues, like Merav and Janta at Karuna Insight Design. While others again are those that just wholly blow our mind, like Ernst Gotsch and his Syntropic Agriculture.

Clockwise from top left, Ernst Gotsch, Geoff & Nadia Lawton, Robyn Francis, Janta & Merav Wheelhouse, Ben Law.

Whatever or whoever it is, we feel we’re on the right track. That bendy, gravelly, wooded way with all it’s quirks, foibles and ‘perceived’ hiccups.

Oh You United Kingdom You

It’s rather hard to put succinctly the feeling of returning to this wet little island known as the United Kingdom. It’s a little like putting on one of your old pair of shoes; a little musty, possibly mouldy, but comfortable, welcoming and if a little spit and polish is applied as good as the day you first wore them. Upon stepping into these old shoes we’ve encountered old and new projects, rekindled friendships and developed some anew.

IMG_1941
Making the time for some toddler led yoga with old friends

The unifying theme it would seem of the trip was in fact contrast. The individuality of this unifying movement known collectively as permaculture, has presented itself to us beautifully. We’ve tasted the social and interpersonal aspects of it as shared through the nurturing mentorship of friends and acquaintances, like Klaudia Van Gool. We’ve had our comprehension of potential alternative systems of governance explained in detail by the likes of Andy Goldring , Maddy Harland and others. We’ve been taken in, wined, dined and toured wonderous living classrooms such as Karuna Insight Design and Lammas Ecovillage. And we’ve consistently tasted some of the finest forage we’ve ever had the pleasure to have dance on our taste buds. With each experience being presented to us with the personal flavour and splendour of the individuals themselves.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

One particularly special insight afforded us came from Karuna in the Shropshire hills. Fionn had been a WWOOFer here a few years ago and had been so taken by the place that he was adamant we had to return in whatever capacity. So when we managed to organise and co-teach an Introduction to Permaculture course there (a first for us, anywhere in the world!) it was serendipitous to say the least. Having the Wheelhouse’s allow us to share their space and guide us through their lovingly and painstakingly created ‘Sanctuary’ was truly a treat. The evidence of their care, their observation and their willingness to integrate seemingly disparate elements was and is everywhere to be seen.

All the variations we’ve been able to sample in this brief time has been a testament to the movement itself. Be it demonstrated in a social manner, through animal husbandry, large scale forest gardening, back yard tampering, or completely altering one’s life to continue the spread of vital, inspirational information pertaining to the continuation of sustainable means and livelihoods.

IMG_2700.JPG
The windmill water pump at The Green Gathering

As we pack our bags for our return we’re thankful for so much. All these beautiful beings have again roused and shaken our understanding of what it is and what it means to be alive. With these memories in our hearts we happily venture forward into the next chapter of our little part in the quiet revolution.

 

To be a Dreamer and a Doer

The winter months here on our little soon-to-be farm have brought some interesting changes and realisations, here’s hoping we can recount a few for you.

We feel as though we’re finally getting to see some changes. We’re almost 6 months in and as we started in late summer and are now well into winter, we’re beginning to fully comprehend the necessity of the first principle of Permaculture, Observe and Interact. Noting little pockets of frost and which plants can and cannot hack it, how micro-climates can be provided by an array of things hitherto unknown to us, watching the migratory flocks of birds, and seeing the real slowing down of growth. All interesting. All integral for us to better understand where we are and how we can better live in harmony with changes for now and in future.

Red sky in the morning, our delight?
Red sky in the morning, our delight?

Another happening that has  become evident to us is something Geoff Lawton often recalls when teaching his Permaculture Design Courses; a time he confided in Bill Mollison and asked, “How do I know I’m getting it right?” To which, Geoff says, Bill replied, “Resources will gather around you, and more often than not they will be in the form of people.” It’s likely too early to tell but we’re just beginning to feel as though we may be on the right track. Resources of the non-biped variety have been pooling in dribs and drabs; friendly neighbours leaving us seeds, and tree guards  on our doorstep, a few tarpaulins, a fuel canister, and several large bags of a variety of fresh, local veges. We’ve also been blessed with many visitors, hard working or otherwise who’ve all contributed to our little piece of land in their own unique way.

The formation we found the gifted tree guards in!
The formation we found the gifted tree guards in!

There’s another that’s really sinking in, and it’s something we’d talked about long before we arrived on our land, and that’s the often misunderstood or overused concept and term, ‘necessity’. You may not need to live ‘off-grid’ for 6 months to comprehend it, though it certainly seems to have helped us. Questions have pervaded our once common place assumptions about living and daily existence. A simple example is that we’ve begun adding a ‘Do we?’ to many statements. “We need to install a shower with hot running water… Do we?” If we go back to our permaculture principles and apply small and slow solutions we come to the realisation that we can have a hot shower but in a manner that addresses our ethics via closing loops and creating little to no waste. To some it has the potential to sound like a lengthy process, but to us we enjoy our bucket wash under a tree. It allows us the time to assess and evaluate, reconnect as well as water the tree and harvest any run-off.

Early morning breakfast preparation
Early morning breakfast preparation

On a final note, we’re learning to not take ourselves so seriously, acknowledging the fact that we have to be dreamers and doers, and that there’s no defined dead line for this life.

 

“Let’s take each day as it comes.”

You get struck with the blues at times. We all do. However, it’s not the run of the mill, ‘Oh, my boss is a douche bag’ blues, or the ‘I had to work the late shift’ blues, it’s something more like the ‘is any of this really worth it?’ blues. Though even this brand of blues anyone with a half decent thinking mind gets from time to time. So perhaps it’s more like, ‘We’ve changed everything in an attempt to lead a better life, a life which we and our children’s children can be proud of, a life stepping toward a more realistic pattern of consumption, voluntary frugality, which we can and are doing and are generally very happy with, but in the scheme of things does it really matter?’ blues.

ecological-blues

This thought, these blues, can be debilitating. Playing apocalyptic scenarios over in your head, and hearing an angry voice mumbling and at times shouting, “We’re all living as if there’s three planet Earths and most of us know this! Is there anyone willing to try and change?! Or is it all just going to be put in the Too Hard Basket?!” (or something to that effect). As though our lives are just another spectacle being played out on a big screen. A spectacle for others to watch but not participate in, one which they can change the channel on at anytime when they get bored.

black-friday2
“…a critique that grasps the spectacle’s essential character reveals it to be a visible negation of life…” – Debord

Then you reluctantly accept the fact that everyone has their own idea of what’s going wrong and how they can change it. You also realise a lot of people just want to bury their head in the sand, look after themselves and are unwilling to come together and say “we can fix this!” You’ve probably met small pockets of people who are coming together, though we all know many who aren’t. And sadly, most likely, never will. And in this place we can get stuck.

Serenity

Then you take a breath and you see your daughter running around outside in your newly planted garden shreiking with delight at the sight of new plants, and asking you, “Mummy, Daddy, can I water the plants? They’re little babies, and they’re so cute!” You load up the watering can and off she runs. Then a magpie lands on the newly and painstakingly built trellis with a grub from the garden in it’s mouth, the dappled light shines through the nearby trees, and your life partner grabs a hold of your hand.

Photo care of Diane Cordell

“Let’s take each day as it comes.”

This is Permaculture, right?

It’s 6am and it’s 2 degrees inside our caravan. The frost has killed off what was looking like some promising Cucumbers and Zucchinis, along with about 30 Pigeon Pea saplings and a bunch of other stuff. We’re wearing multiple layers, under the covers, drinking some not-too-bad Chai, and laughing. Guttural laughing. It started as laughter due to our 2 year old friend and companion doing something hilarious, it then gradually built as we began making fun of ourselves and the situation we’ve not only find ourselves in, but knowingly, willingly put ourselves in. Then comes the question (or is it a statement?) “This is permaculture right?!”

HotChoc

For all our pondering, we guess it is. Well, sort of. As we’ve heard on more than one occasion “It depends”. This is our brand of permaculture. The one where you drop more or less everything and begin to reinvent yourself literally from the ground up. Now we suppose that if we were horticulturalists, engineers, or any brilliant combination of anything that may serve our new found direction well, this whole process would, or could possibly be a whole lot easier, or just different. But we’re not. We’re artists, and educators, and learners and lovers, with a few healthy streaks of farm and woodland through us.

Dirt Path

One of the key tactics we’re learning is to drop our egos and ask questions. We always hear, “There’s no such thing as a dumb question”, but when you’re in ‘The Bolt Barn’ asking “Where do I put the bolt?” or in the local plumbing shop asking “Where does the water go?” you tend to feel you’re stretching the limit of that saying. But we’re learning. Every time we do ask an ‘interesting’ question we’re one more question away from complete ignorance and a little closer to implementing our permaculture dream.

Djaning real estate
The end of the ridge is where you’ll find Djaning Farm.

Be Here Now

So we boarded a ferry as excited as could be and rushed off into the blue aboard a giant ship, with hopes and expectations colliding with a calm trust. A trust of the sea, the road, and of each other. We’re not so sure we’d ever felt as alive as we had over the last few months. How were we going to top it? A zig-zagging trip through France, and Spain might do it? How about a trip to the desert? The desert, The Sahara? That certainly sounded like a great deal of fun.

As a picture says a thousand words, we’ve decided to let them do the talking:

 

As we’ve written and posted this almost 6 months after the fact, now working our little piece of land (little is certainly subjective), and taking each day as it comes and riding the roller coaster of learning, there’s a glimmer there that wasn’t there at the time. Something that can only be understood with retrospect. It certainly was fun, though it’s still close enough to remember the bumpy times. Those infinitesimally small moments that seemed so big. Something to keep with us as we venture into our new lives. Be here now.

Trouble in Paradise

It’s very easy to get caught up in the world, to forget to be human. It would seem right at the point everything was ready to happen it very nearly all fell apart.

We had our land, we understood largely what needed to be done in order to provide for ourselves and were working towards it on a daily basis. Yet somewhere between finding this future paradise and making the life changing shift to occupy the land and the lifestyle, we both fell victim to seemingly separate ailments that had a very similar core.

life-is-what-happens-to-you-while-you-are-busy-making-other-plans

With the ever humbling application of 20-20 hindsight we now know where and how it happened. We had become so preoccupied with the end goal and our future that there was no room left for living in the present. Fionn always pushing, backed by an aggressive holier-than-thou moral code and Laura ever cautious, and overtly sentimental. We had become too attached to an idea well before it’d even begun. These two things nearly broke us as we both continued to fight to be heard.

As many couples do in such situations we took a break from each other, reassessed what needed to change, made drastic attempts to change them, all while drip feeding each other new information about our individual progress. The ideas that kept resurfacing were stillness of mind and presence of being. Why work towards something that’s making us forget why it is we’re doing it in the first place? We wanted to make the world a better place and were destroying each other and those around us in the process.

Never miss

So we pulled the plug. We wanted to get out and see and do while we still could, before we got down to some serious work on our farm, we thought, ‘Let’s live now, now!’ Seems ridiculously simple, but at the time it was one of the most challenging processes we’ve ever attempted, and are still attempting to this day.

Another issue that became clear was that the convenience of living in a modern city was about as far away from our idealised future as possible. First we decided we needed to declutter. It’s amazing how much stuff you accumulate over a few years, particularly when you’ve got a child. We also needed to get out of the city, find some open air, and some stillness. Laura wanted to re-embrace an aspect of her youth, and it seemed an old Combi van would help her do that, which worked in nicely with the ‘out of the city’ thing. Fionn wanted to finish something he’d signed on to do in India years ago; a ten day silent retreat, and signed on for a trip to Herefordshire, which nicely tied up the ‘stillness’ aspect.

With these things in mind we decided not to renew the lease on our flat, effectively making us homeless. Then we sold and gave away all our stuff, well the vast majority of it, and put in boxes the bare necessities, tucked them away in Laura’s parents attic (thanks Nanna & Papa x), then hit the road. All three of us in our little green Combi van.

Nietzsche

 

 

Some Backstory

IMG_1339

We met in Sihnaoukville, Cambodia. Laura was volunteering for a children’s charity, where as Fionn was on indefinite hiatus from a fledgling teaching career. The one thing, among many others, we obviously had in common was a desire to “make the world a better place”. Of course at that time neither of us had any idea where that would lead us or how it was we were supposed to achieve such a vague life goal.

Laura teaching an Art class in Tamil Nadu
Laura teaching an Art class in Tamil Nadu

So, we fell madly in love, of course, and jumped on a great many bandwagons of “making the world a better place” as we went along. We lived and worked in India and Ghana. (Fionn for almost a year in India and both of us for 6 months there while Laura was pregnant with Iyla). We joined Occupy,  marched with Anonymous, cooked free food and attempted to discuss the major issues with anyone who was within earshot.

Million Mask March
London Million Mask March

Fionn really wanted to make “changing the world” his life and completed a Masters in International Development with his main interest being Political Science and Social Psychology. Although it was Fionn’s degree, we both ended up learning an enormous amount. As most good couples know, one can’t go through a life changing experience without the other also learning from it.

Unfortunately the main thing that was learned through the lengthy and at times brutal learning process was that basically everything that the conventional governmental and non governmental organisations had to offer, from our perspective, only served to further exacerbate our current global dilemma. Though what was potentially the worst of all was that very few within our immediate group of friends and associates wanted to know about it, or they did, but they were unwilling or stated they were unable to do anything about it.

After about 3 years of thinking and questioning that reached some very deep and dark places, the only genuine, yet rather vague conclusion we could come to was to contribute as little as possible to our current trajectory. The best way to do this, we felt, was to get off grid and supply as much of our own needs as was physically possible.

Then we found this…

DSC_0206

 

Create a website or blog at WordPress.com

Up ↑