There and Back Again; A Bubblers Tale.
I have spent August mostly being absent from Bubble life, officially becoming a Tinkers Bubble resident at the start of August, I took off on my month away. Originally this was with the purpose of saving up a bit of money elsewhere and spending time with my mum. I could see that being away would provide the stage for a new beginning once I returned, in which I hoped would be an energetic focus on fully landing at Tinkers Bubble as my home. What I didn’t expect was how challenging August has been for me. Perhaps I had a little foresight in my resistance to leave, so to try and understand this I began my ‘adventure’ by walking, what ended up being about 18 miles, back to Plotgate, the community farm which my mother Amy runs with two others, Dan and Jane.
I set off with a 20 year old map, a full belly and zero careful planning. I got lost almost instantly, distracted by the swifts that danced between the rows of trees which frame the face of Montacute house. I took the wrong path, but luckily after a mile or two realised that the river was on the wrong side of the road according to my map. I think perhaps subconsciously I had been willing this to happen as upon leaving, when Greg began to worry a little about my lack of a plan, I had retorted that if I got lost I would just make friends with someone. Which is pretty much what happened. What I didn’t expect when I asked a dog walker if I was near the monarch way, was that he would be a scout leader who was doing axe throwing lessons near to Tinkers Bubble. We walked together chatting for half an hour or so as he led me back to the path I had veered away from like a repelled magnet. I was pretty pleased with myself, this was exactly the sort of adventure I had imagined. But the walk wasn’t what I had had in mind, there was no poetry writing and blissful peace, no skipping along with creatures and whistling. Not that I can whistle anyway. What I did receive from my steps was a montage of in-cohesive samples. Each square field provided an insight into our fractured relationships with the land that left me feeling exhausted and ungrounded. The only solidity I experienced was sitting in the church yard of each village I passed through, the churches themselves felt like braces, holding the patch-worked seams of the landscape in place. I arrived at Plotgate that evening with very sore hips feeling disappointed and confused. The walk had felt like a battle.
During July my brain had been engrossed in understanding what care is and days before walking I wrote this;
“Abigail and I took the goats for a walk in the woods yesterday. I was feeling quite manic at the time and sitting together watching the nanny goats (Freja and Venus) explore the woods again with their new kids softened me like butter. There was a springtime energy to their interactions; a sudden rush down a track followed by a jumpy retreat to the field gate where they would settle and chew for a while - a safe and familiar base camp. Freja is the matriarch of the herd and, as Abigail pointed out to me, through her comings and goings she was doing her job, assessing and exploring; caring for the others in many ways. It is still making me smile to reflect on the ‘sapling-off’ Freja and I had… It became quite clear to me half way through telling her, in a weird ‘I’m talking to an animal voice’, to “please not eat the baby trees”, that she had no idea what I was saying. And furthermore that this didn’t in anyway reflect upon her intelligence but my own. So I spent some time after that pretending to teach her anatomy; horns, shoulders, knees and hoofs…while she gazed through me quizzically, eyeing up the hazel leaves over my shoulder. It struck me again later that evening when Greg and I took the horses for a stroll through the valley. Ceaselessly attempting to prevent them from tirelessly eating every bit of foliage we passed, I again felt a little silly in my communicative efforts.
So if it is obvious that a goat doesn’t understand linguistically what a finger is, what is it that we are communicating? Our movement, our sounds, our energy. We have taken the position in these relationships as the carer and so in these interactions there is an opportunity to see how we show love and care; how we work and cooperate with others. It is not as simple as caring or not caring. There is a huge responsibility in care; a need for self awareness and analysis. What is this care I am giving? Is it stuck? Is it clear? Am I using care to dominate or control? Is my care dynamic, openly responsive and respectful to that which I am caring for? I wonder why care is related to such strong hierarchy? To be cared for is not ‘weak’. It takes such strength to trust and be vulnerable. And to care equally requires trust and vulnerability because we are never going to get it totally ‘right’. It is fundamentally about cooperation.
The peace and healing we feel from animals perhaps encompasses a letting go of being the carer in control. The recognition and clarity in the gaze of a sheep can hold us in a lightness of being; a gaze we so often forget to see through our own eyes. The Goats don’t care that I call each fleshy length I use to pick stuff up a ‘finger’. They do however, feel the same world that we do. When I feel the stress of the brittle branches in a harsh gust of wind, surely they do too? And when I’m relieved by a gentle stroke of breeze across a summers day, surely they must be too?”
In hindsight the disappointment I felt during my walk was in the recognition of what I feel to be a mass loss of consciousness in our care. Our idea of a field has become a mono-cultured square of yield which at times looks apocalyptic. At one point I was walking through a horizon of churned up earth inhabited by giant farm machinery that was swarmed by a murder of crows. This was a dramatic scene I admit but I’m even beginning to struggle with our ideas of pasture management, our ‘pastoral England’ looks more and more to me like a corruption of care which is stuck, dominated by hierarchy. In lightness I feel fond of the stretch of the monarchs way that I strolled along, the sense of it as a human-scale passage through the land made me think of sheep tracks and all the sheep-people who have walked along it before me. Unfortunately this too met a nasty end where someone had thrown a gate over a ditch to escape the descent into the path’s overgrown brambled labyrinth. I can feel a rage rising in me now as I write that demands us to know our place. Unfortunately most of us no longer know what that is. It is very much unknown to us, but I am learning the more that I see nature, the more that I trust that it knows our place. Through caring, watching, listening and responding honestly, we who consider ourselves the carers can be taught once again how to care - knowing when to step back, which seems to be at root of care itself. This is where the light comes in through the cracks. When I think of my second visit to the Bubble last winter for a coppicing weekend I remember so clearly the sense of an innately human imprint on the land. The woven hazel nests that littered the hillside protecting the freshly cut coppice were mirrors to our animal being. This is the feeling I am following by living in Tinkers Bubble.
So then we rejoin the world outside of my Tinkers and Plotgate bubbles. I lived out of a van this month, went to a couple of small festivals I used to frequent and visited people and places I haven’t seen much in the last two years. At the start this rejoining felt quite painful; I saw quite clearly my old addictive and numbing habits, an overdrive of hedonism and money. I have felt myself adapt slowly to coping with being around engines, concrete and noise again. I have felt uncentered and greedy. However, what I have also felt, that began to shine through more and more, is human connection. Our capacity to share, hold, enliven and fill each other with hope is truly magical and although there is a lot about society I find hard, I can’t become a loner in the woods because of this. One of my highlights of the month has been dancing around the village playing field at Barton Carnival with Amy, Dan and all the other locals celebrating village life. It felt like it marked a tipping point in my journey of returning, the tone of which began to change when Alex and I visited Sagara and Kerry-Ann at their East Devon Forest Garden. Our time there held a gentle clicking into place, like the white noise you are surrounded by under the sea. We spoke in the evenings in ways that filled the world with pockets of green hope, reflecting on the journeys we all take in our lives as the protagonist, ‘the hero’, but then asking; what about the container? What is it that we all leave for and bring back to the spaces which we care for? When the tale is bigger than us, how is this archetypal story feeding our environment, and furthermore what is that bigger tale? How do we live in that story more? They spoke about a new base-line, when living in nature connection becomes normal, what does that open the way for? Again this is unknown to many of us in this time, but learning through our caring and trust seems to be the way to live in connection to the larger story, to be in the container.
Another aspect that struck me about Kerry-Ann and Sagara is the way that they live in the sacredness of the garden. They have created such precious uncomplicated beauty and it is seemingly done with ease as it is a priority, birthed out of their connection to the land and all that it holds. They have had their time of pushing and are now learning to be alive to the mutual flow of care between them and their container. This is sacred. A week later I attended a talk in Frome on wild food where Tash, an ex resident of Tinkers Bubble who now works at 42 Acres, spoke about ‘wild tending’. She shared her developments in cultivating wild food growth in a way that upheld the rooted sweetness I consume from the word ‘tending’. Her dedicated knowledge and understanding was dappled with stories that explained how foraging with woven baskets spreads mushroom spores and leaning mushroom logs on deadwood can encourage growth. This is what got into my bones, a sacred sense of knowing our place, of tending to what is around us in our human scale with a clarity of care. Throughout the talk I heard with clear strength her commitment to nature; a deep awareness that our lives are short and nature is wonderful beyond our understanding. I have felt this from many people I have met this month; an awareness that we are tenders in service. Perhaps it is this commitment that allows us to really see our container, to truly learn its story and how to care from it. I believe that the answers we are looking for are all there, right in front of us. So now it feels pretty relevant to have returned to Tinkers Bubble as a resident, as what this month has revealed is my desire to commit to nature in this way, to truly see it dynamically and cleanly, without domination. I want to know my place and be honest in my humanity. So now I will continue to learn how to show up, in my nature, for nature.