The slightly irritated blonde haired lover part of me is about to leave for a long trip. She is American. Maybe she isn’t coming back.
My ego is trying to persuade her to do a foraging course with Robin Harford before she goes, she is reluctant but agrees. We are to meet Robin and the group at a bike repair shop on the station platform.
I arrange to meet her there and my lover leaves. I get on my black mountain bike, which has thin but knobbly tyres, and ride as fast as I can through edge of town urban roads, to get there. Halfway there I take a short cut that goes by some flats, but it ends in a dead end. It’s frustrating and I’m losing time.
I turn right back onto the road, but a bit further the bicycle part of me gets a puncture. The front tyre is almost totally flat.
I find a bike repair shop nearby, where the imposingly giant repair man part of me takes a look and shows me that both tyres are run down – the front almost flat, the back one also very low.
“That’ll cost £160,” he says. “Are you replacing the inner tubes?” my ego asks. “No, I’ll repair them with araldite,” he says. “What, £160 to repair two tyres with glue? You’re having a larf,” my ego replies.
“That’s the price,” he says, and shows me how big the hole is by sticking his thumb in it.
“How about £140?” my ego says, weakly. “No deal,” he says.
“Ok, please go ahead. And as quick as you can.”
He repairs the tyres but I know that I am too late.
The group, and the lover part of me have gone when I get there.
It’s our last class. The end of 10 weeks of exploration. And it’s time to do my ending ceremony.
The weather is kind this morning. It’s November. Cloudy, but dry and fresh. And not cold. We sit again outside by the fire, talking about the end of the course, and saying our thank yous.
Martin has invited us to do individual ending ceremonies. As a help, he describes the Death Lodge: two circles, one the death circle, is for the things you want to let go of, and the other, the purpose circle for the things you want to move into.
I have had an idea about combining this with a fire ritual, and gathering found objects from my walks in nature to represent what I want to let go of, and what I want to move into, but today, I don’t feel to do that.
Instead I walk off to find a place to do the Death Lodge itself.
I’ve recently discovered the Earthship and I’m going to do the ritual on the grassy area in front of it.
It’s a little ways away, up the track.
When I arrive, I see that Sandra has had the same idea and is using the fire circle there to plan out her ceremony. I head to the other corner of the plot, on the lawn in front of the ‘ship’. I have a view of woods on the hill opposite.
I spot some white flinty stones and use them to mark out the circles, and add red berries, leaves and the white sheep’s wool that I’ve picked up on the walk in.
I call the directions as I position the stones. South, West, North, East.
I face the woods, and step into the Death Circle. The ground is a damp from yesterday’s rain and I use the fire striker from my fire making tinder kit to shower sparks, representing fire and transformation, as I name the traits and things I want to let go of. Envy, jealousy, anger, fear, self pity, doubt…
I do the same in the Purpose Circle for the traits I want to move into: lightness, happiness, abundance, clarity of direction and purpose, community and connection…
As I finish, the sun comes out from behind the clouds as if to say the prayer has been received. But in truth I don’t feel I fully connected with the ceremony and I wished I had spent more time preparing.
I return the flints to the tarp they were holding down, and notice that my hands are muddy. Too muddy to wipe on my jeans, so I bend down to wipe them on the grass, and as I do so I remember my chat with Peter Owen-Jones, the charismatic TV presenter and vicar of Firle, Glynde and Beddingham.
I’ve been to listen to his talk on the subject of our broken relationship with the earth from a spiritual perspective, in Brighton, earlier in the week.
“Sitting for hours alone in silence in a snow blizzard does a lot for the soul,” he says. I agree.
On a hunch I tell him about one of the books I love, The Spell of the Sensuous, by David Abram. “Wow,” he says, writing the name down, “I like the sound of that…” And he describes how, “every morning I go outside, take all my clothes off and have a dew bath.”
I can’t help laughing then, but as I wipe my hands on the wet grass now, I linger over the sensations, feeling the wet and the cold and the land on my skin, and I know what he means.
Today I wake to a debate on the radio, they are arguing about whether the NHS should be funding homeopathy or not.
It’s BBC Radio 4, the Today Programme. The NHS is spending £4m a year on homeopathy, and there are calls for it to be dropped. “It doesn’t work,” says the naysayer. “It does,” says its supporter. It’s a long-standing debate.
I remember one of the many times that I’ve used homeopathy.
One of my teeth is hurting, a lot, and it turns out it’s dead and needs to be replaced.
It takes several hours and a few visits to the dentist to get the dead tooth out, and to put the new ‘tooth’ in, and it is pretty unpleasant.
After the work is finished, the dentist says, “you need to take antibiotics to stop an infection in the jaw.”
I tell him that I don’t want to take antibiotics. He gets very angry, and he forcefully hands me a prescription. I reluctantly take it.
But I really don’t want to take antibiotics so I go to see a homeopath instead.
She gives me a remedy – I can’t remember which one – which I take for a few days.
At the end of the week, I go back to the dentist so he can check my progress. He takes an X-ray of my jaw, and… there is no infection.
“See,” he says, “I told you you needed to take antibiotics.”
“I didn’t,” I say. “I took homeopathy.”
That shut him up.
This is nothing to do with making fires, tinder kits, or being in the wild, but it needs to be said: homeopathy works.
It’s November and we’re sitting outside around the fire pit in the sunshine. It’s been two weeks since our last class, and I’ve been using the break to think about School of the Wild and how I could make it work as a business.
The jump from what it is and has been, to what I’d like it to be seems too large, and I’m sitting with that as an issue.
I’m also feeling a bit down from some not-so-good news about money.
I say “I’ve been struggling.”
And then I feel I have to tell the story of what happened to me in the week off…
I’d been to see my solicitor in Shoreham, and on a whim, I decide to walk back to Brighton along the Downs. It’s about 12 miles.
I have no food or water with me, but what the heck. I have my fire making kit, and I know that somehow it’ll be alright.
I start. I walk through the churchyard and onto the path that runs north along the River Adur. I love this walk. There’s a wide footpath next to the river, the light is good, and it’s fairly easy going. The river is wide here, and the tide is out – the mud banks are exposed, and there are a few wading birds digging about looking for food.
After about 15 minutes, the path goes underneath Shoreham flyover, and I’m sure I’d be able to walk up to the Downs from here. There’s a stile and a small footpath on the right that crosses under the road, I take it, it goes through a field where one or two horses are grazing. I stick close to the fence, and the horses pay me no heed (phew). On the other side, I reach the main road, there’s a footpath sign pointing south, it looks like it’s going back to Shoreham, so stubbornly I choose the other way, north, along the road.
I walk for a few minutes up to the large roundabout that feeds roads to Shoreham, Brighton, and north… It’s busy, and there’s no obvious walkway, but I press on and cross to the centre island. It’s a small wild habitat, and I appreciate the nature in the midst of this busy place.
In the distance I can see what I think is a chalk path going up the side of the hill to the Downs. Heading for it, I cross off the island and onto another bit of wild land in the midst of the roads. A rabbit runs ahead of me. There are dry teasels galore. The ground is spongy. The traffic is oblivious.
I’m looking for somewhere to get into the farmland that’s between me and the Downs behind. But try as I might, I can’t find a way out of the roundabout system to get to any path, and I waste half an hour going round at least twice looking for a way out. I get almost to the top of the flyover without seeing a way in, and realise this is fruitless and walk back the way I came, back to where I’d started, feeling frustrated and and a little fed up.
I find my crossing point again, and this time go south, looking for a footpath. Round the corner I see an entrance to a builder’s yard. It’s fenced in, and the gate is locked, but round the edge of it, to the right is a gap just big enough for a person to squeeze through. I take it.
The fence turns left and I follow it, brushing away a wolf spider and stepping over brambles and thorny plants. Luckily the gap goes all the way round and I emerge into an open space. I relax and take a breath.
I’m on some private scrub land. There’s an old boat next to a deserted shed, and a house beyond. I follow a faint trail in the grass. The house looks off limits. The trail bears left, back towards one of the main roads that’s come from the roundabout, the A283. I can still see the path up the Downs but can’t get to it because there’s a field full of nettles and marsh land in the way.
So I follow the trail, up and over a high mound of dug earth, into another yard. There’s no one around. There’s a gate onto the A283. It’s high and locked, but I spy a gap in the hedge and crawl through it onto the road.
I tell myself I’m going to walk along the road until I find a foot path. I start walking. There’s not much space to walk and I dip out into the road to get round some trees when there’s a gap in the traffic.
After about 500m, there’s a side road leading east in the general direction I want, and I take it. It goes up the hill. It feels like a private road but I can see some houses at the top, so I keep walking.
At the top I emerge into a farm nestling below the top of the Downs. The track is gated and fenced off, and the field behind is full of sheep, and a Land Rover. I can’t see anyone, but it’s a working farm, and I don’t have the courage to trespass.
I backtrack 50m and take a cement road on the right. It climbs a little higher but only ends up at a drive for a large house. I see no other route, so again turn back, following another road on the right, which goes back down the hill to the A283.
The light is fading fast.
At the bottom, the choice is to head back to Shoreham, or keep going. It’s night now, but despite how I’m feeling, I’m not giving up yet and decide to keep going north. The traffic is getting heavier and is rushing towards me in the dark, headlights full on. This is a little scary.
The verge runs out ahead so I cross to the other side of the road, narrowly avoiding some cars. About 200m away is a car waiting to pull out of a side road. I head for it, thinking it could give me a lift, or tell me a route to a footpath, but it drives off before I can reach it.
The place where it’s been is the site entrance for some electricity works, and danger signs abound. I stand there for a few minutes trying to work out what to do.
It’s very dark. The cars are rushing towards me with beams on, there’s no clear route out of here, and where I’m standing doesn’t feel safe.
I have a mini panic.
Finally I look at the map on my phone – it shows that the road runs close to the river and I know there is a path there. I remember seeing a gate about 100m back that leads in to it. I walk back, duck through a hole in the gate, across some open land, and up to the path by the river.
It’s dark, but I know this path and instantly I feel safe, and relieved. Joyous in fact. The river is calm and in the half light it’s glowing silvery-grey. The land is open, and stretches off on both sides. There’s a faint breeze and although I can still hear the traffic, I feel calm. There’s no one, and no thing around. I feel the breath in my body, the breeze on my skin.
I head back towards Shoreham, feeling relieved and energised, and happy to have escaped the madness of the road, for the peace of nature and the countryside.
I can only just about see the path under foot, but I’m not worried.
I reflect on how the man-made situation has been really scary, and how nature has felt truly safe, despite the dark.
I know the way. It takes about 45 mins, past the airport, back to the lights of the town and the train station…
I finish my story.
Martin says he thinks it’s about rejecting a capitalist business model and finding another way.
I’m pondering this as we start the next exercise. I walk around the corner into one of the private spaces here, and a robin appears in the Hawthorn bush in front of me. Then it follows me around.
Does it want food, or is it being territorial? It’s less than a foot away from me. Brave thing. I hold my hand out trying to coax it onto my palm. It cocks its head, and stands its ground.
Back round the fire I look in Charlotte’s animal sign book. The robin symbolises growth, it says, and can help you find your way when you’re lost.
After class today I go for another walk in Stanmer with an intention to see what happens.
I’m thinking about how eco psychology shares much with native spirituality, but how it is also different at the same time.
On the way I pick some mint that’s bursting out from one of the allotments opposite our site. It smells amazing.
I keep hold of the mint and wander around the woods behind the track, and then down to the lane where the tea rooms are. I turn north through the gate, past what I always thought were farm buildings, on the left.
There’s a black Land Rover parked in front of the second building, a steel barn, and through the open doors, I spy someone working on a very large willow frame statue of what I think is a woman.
Turns out this is the Same Sky storage barn, and a Same Sky artist is making an 8 foot tall Hanuman, the Hindu monkey god, for a Divali carnival in London.
I chat with her, and she invites me to look inside the barn – which is full of huge, weird and wonderful statues including a seagull, and a Ganesh and things like that.
On the way out, for some reason I feel I have to offer her the mint, thinking it’d be a thank you for her time, and she could make some tea with it.
She’s taken aback, and gushes about how she’d spent a lot of happy time as a child in a place where there was a lot of mint growing, and that she loved it and always picked it. And then without a second thought, she takes the mint and puts the whole lot in her mouth.
I’m surprised that the mint has so much resonance for her, and also a bit miffed that she’s eaten it all.
“Good for the digestion,” she says.
I look up Hanuman afterwards. Apparently he stands for devotion, surrender and absence of ego, for helping the weak, for transforming our animal nature to serve the divine cause, for taming the monkey mind and putting it into service for soul and spirit.
His mother Anjana angered a sage who cursed her and turned her into a monkey. One story tells how she fasted and meditated for 3 years before the gods let her eat.
Today we sit inside the willow dome, instead of our usual spot outside by the fire. I notice I’m feeling uncomfortable.
I like having full view of the plants and the sky, and today, even though it’s not totally blocking everything out, I’m feeling hemmed in by the structure.
I say this.
It’s not universal. “I prefer the womb-like feeling of being in an enclosed space,” someone else says.
It’s funny because I’ve been thinking a lot about structure this past week. I’m working on a presentation for work, and have been wrestling with getting all my thoughts and ideas organised into the right framework.
Martin says it’s a question I should keep in mind for today’s session. And he begins, explaining the Four Directions, from the School of Lost Borders.
West, where he’s sitting, is about adolescence and struggle. North is about adulthood and responsibility, East about spirituality, death and rebirth, and the South about childhood and playfulness.
We spend a quiet moment tuning into ourselves and then each go off in the direction that we feel drawn, paying attention to what happens.
Despite a thought to go west, a place of struggle, I feel drawn to the south. Playfulness. It’s a direction I haven’t walked in from here before, perhaps because there’s a hedge in the way, and it has felt closed off to me.
I cross the threshold of the space, and start off east to leave the site, turning south when I hit the track.
I’m calm, and content to just follow whatever happens.
Behind the hedge, south from where I started, is the field I want to get into. But I can’t. It’s surrounded by fences, with no gate. Behind it, further south, is another field where horses are grazing. It looks nice, and I decide I’m going to find a way in.
I continue south, down the track, and turn off west into a small thicket, thinking I might find a way into the field behind.
I look down. There’s a beautiful grey, black and white feather at my feet. Wood pigeon. I smile, “I must be on the right path,” I think, and pick it up. The thicket is overgrown and dark, and I claw my way through the undergrowth, following a faint trail made by an animal or child… my coat rips on a thorn. It all feels playful, and also strangely symbolic, like a descent described in mythic stories.
As I reach the fence, and look into the field, to my surprise I see two swings hanging from a tree, one made from a tyre, the other made from a metal hoop, and a trampoline behind. It’s a child’s makeshift playground – right in the place of childhood and playfulness. I had no idea this was here.
There’s no way in through here though.
Blocked, I carry on through the undergrowth to a small clearing, and then back out to the track. I’m determined to get into the playground, so I carry on south, remembering that I’ve seen a path that goes off in the right general direction further down.
After a few metres I bump into a woodsman walking up the track. (This really is turning into a mythic fairy tale!) I ask him if he knows how to get to the tyre swing, but he doesn’t. “Something that some kids have set up I reckon,” he says.
I thank him anyway, and carry on walking.
At the bottom I turn the corner, and there in front of me is a six-bar metal gate that opens onto the horses’ field. It’s shut, and padlocked. I walk to it, and take in the scene.
There are three horses grazing on a hale bay immediately to the left, two are chestnuts with their heads down in the bale, the third, all white, patiently waiting its turn. One of the chestnuts, the dominant one(?) snorts at me as if to say keep away – then goes back to feeding.
Directly in front of me is a large tree, beech I think, with blue, red, white, green and yellow buddhist prayer flags hanging from some of the lower branches, they’re fluttering gently in the breeze. The bark from the ground up to my chest height has been worn away – I guess where the horses have been rubbing to scratch themselves.
To the right, and a little bit up a slope through a nettle patch, are the swings, hanging from a different tree, and the trampoline. There’s no one around.
Result. I have to go there, and I climb up onto the gate. Only thing is, I’m a bit scared of horses, and I hang there for ages, wondering if they’ll come over to me if I drop over the gate into their side of the field.
After a long while, I chicken out.
The main track carries on south, and from where I am I’ve seen a gap next to high locked gates, leading to woods behind. I decide to do that instead.
I take that path, walk round the gates, and into the woods… there’s another path cutting across mine at the end, and I see a large hairy grey dog running free (and playfully) up and down it. Another smaller black dog approaches from the east. He’s wearing a bell and it tinkles as he runs. I smile. They’re having fun.
There’s nowhere to get to from here without it taking a while, and I decide to go back to the horse gate. Nothing’s changed. The three horses are still there, exactly as before.
I mount the gate, and decide, what the heck. Gingerly I drop over to the other side, and slowly walk (north), to the swings – keeping a wary eye on the horses all the time. They don’t even lift their heads.
I sit in one of the swings, the metal one, and have a quick swing. I get off. The tyre one is full of water, and the trampoline looks like it may not support my weight. I run my hand over it but don’t climb on.
There are tons of bracket mushrooms on a fallen tree trunk in front of me, I wander over to it and run my fingers over them.
“I’d stay longer if there was someone to play with,” I think, and head back to the gate. The horses still haven’t moved.
I clamber over the gate, and there on the ground in front of me is a large backbone – probably from a fox. I pick it up, it’s a bit greasy, and I debate whether to bring it with me. I decide not, and put it back.
I walk north back to base, and cross the threshold back into ‘normal’ time.
I reflect on what happened. It was all a bit unexpected. The horses, the prayer flags, the tree, the play area. There’s something deep and symbolic in this short journey.
I try to decipher it. The horses are the wild? The tree with its flags are spirituality? And somehow they’re all connected to having fun – better with other people around. I hesitated from fear at the gate, but found some backbone on the way out.
It’s a bit dreamlike.
Even more strangely, this is all weirdly relevant to the venture I’m involved in setting up. The themes of the wild, spirituality and having fun are exactly what I’ve been thinking about. You can see where we’re at with it here School of the Wild.
Today we meet round the fire, feeling the wind, and the few drops of rain on our faces. It’s our time to reflect, and to open the senses to what’s around us.
It’s the equinox, and we talk about autumn, the time of gathering, and how we feel about the new season. The light is changing, the air feels different. Winter is coming.
Some are looking forward to getting cosy indoors. Some need to stay busy to not be overwhelmed by the dark days.
The exercise we’re given is to go off into the wood and to awaken the senses: sight, touch, smell, taste…
I find my not-so-secret spot, sit under the hawthorn, looking out at the layers of plants, so much greenery.
I rub my fingers over the plant that surrounds my feet, leaves angled to catch as much of the light as it can. I am surprised to discover the leaves are soft and feathery. Light. They smell amazing. Something like a cross between lavender and geraniums. Cranesbill I learn later.
I love this spot because the wild food is so abundant nearby. Plants I read about in foraging books, all in one place. Like well stocked shelves, waiting to be discovered.
I pick and smell, nibble and gather…. rosehips, sloes, haws, mint, thyme, elderberries, sorrel, ground ivy, yarrow, dandelion, plantain, burdock, blackberries.
Haws taste like apples.
Sorrel like lemons.
Dandelion is bitter.
Thyme and mint smell… just heavenly.
With so much to be found for free, it is really making me think about food differently.