Wednesday, 19 November 2008


Last night was our first night in the yurt. Haven’t got the solar gear installed yet so no electricity for now. Hence no video blog yet.

The last week was taken up with building the yurt. I have been consistent in my underestimation of the time required to make things happen here. I thought the yurt would take half a day to put up. A day tops. In the end it took more like four days. This was because we had to do quite a bit of modification to the yurt itself. We made a new crown for it (the last one died during heavy snowfall a couple of years ago). The holes I drilled were a couple of mm smaller than the last ones (predictably) so I then had to shave down a bunch of the roof poles to fit. There were a number of other tiny but time-consuming little dramas to contend with on top of this, made all the more complicated by having few tools, all of which are hand tools, not electric and thus progress is slower and more tiring. Lots of scratching of the head and working out ways to get things done.

Yurt geeks like me might be interested in the full details of my conundrums, but they will be of zero interest to the general reader so I have decided to err on the side of brevity, in a bid to appeal to the general public. Unlike Thoreau, who uses three-line sentences wherever possible. The Plain English campaign was not even a glint in the eye of its maker when Thoreau was writing. You need a nineteenth century attention span to be able to digest what he’s actually saying. I believe there are Cliffe Notes available for us today. The Nintendo generation likes bullet points. And lots of pictures.

I’m currently sitting in a bar in the nearest town, which has intermittent wifi.

Last night I began my time in the yurt with a ritual asking for the blessing of the land and wishing wellbeing and happiness for all beings past, present and future who spend time there. I also played some guitar for the first time in a month. I start to go a bit crazy after a while if I don’t play some music. I have no idea why. But then I have no idea why music has been so important to all cultures everywhere forever. All I know is that Music Runs Deep.

It’s a strange one, building a relationship with a piece of land. One of the aspects of Walden that I have been reflecting on is that, while making general statements about life, Thoreau fills many pages with details about the specific characteristics of his surroundings. Spending time in the environment here, I understand why he is so passionate. It's just so beautiful. It moves you. You can't get across just how magnificent it is by using words, and yet I can see why Thoreau felt moved to try.

When we think about 'conserving nature' or 'protecting the environment' and what have you, we think in quite general terms about this big thing, separate from us, called 'nature'. But the reality is not a general thing. It is specific, and it affects you personally. Sitting surrounded by miles of concrete, you have nothing to go on but the abstract concept. And thus 'nature' becomes just another idea, like 'poverty' or 'war'. Not very real to me personally, and therefore not very urgent, compared with, say, the kids making noise on my street every night. But when the war, or the poverty, or the nature, is right here in front of us, we act.

This love of one’s immediate environment is something that many of us have no sense of. After all, one building is pretty much the same as another. The same with streets. The same, in fact, with whole cities.

The situation is getting worse as time passes. The city centres of England look increasingly like each other. Regeneration seems to mean homogenisation. Personally I prefer diversity. I know it makes it harder for multinational companies to sell the same product, using the same marketing strategy, around the world, but I guess I’m just weird like that. One of the things I have loved most about my wandering life is that it is possible to go somewhere else – not just a different version of here.

The downside of my wandering life is that I am always somewhere else. Building a relationship with one place is something I have not really managed to do since leaving my hometown many years ago. Philosophically speaking, I think staying put is key to being human – communities only really develop if people stick around, have kids together, and grow old together. But my feet just keep wandering off.

The good news is that I think I may have solved the problem. If I am to be a nomad, my plan is to live more as nomads actually live. Rather than simply being rootless, my idea is to have a nomadic circuit, so that I am returning to the same places again and again. I have been managing this with Catalunya. I have been coming to this area for a few years now, watching it change, seeing the lives of my friends move on. I like it. Putting down the wooden floor is the most permanent thing I have ever done. So maybe I just need a couple more hubs and I will be set.

The other thing I’ve been thinking about this week is the fact that I haven’t really been thinking very much. There is a line in Walden where he says that, for the first summer, he read nothing. He hoed beans. That’s been pretty much my experience. Just doing. There will be time to be later.

I have become used to waking up with my arms aching, and feeling that today it is unfeasible for me to carry anything. But then I get up and moving, and soon enough I have more things in my arms, carrying them down, up, or across the mountain. A stove. A door. A double mattress. Everything that is here has been carried by hand. And I feel strong, and good. It occurs to me that the body can take quite a hammering. We are very careful with it, and protect it with all manner of behaviours, nutrients and creams, and this is all well and good, but it is specific to a fairly sedentary mode of life. 20 minutes of exercise 3 times a week. There is a different way to be.

I don't really have the words for it yet, but it is something to do with not experiencing one's body as an object. Being with the land, moving through the land, not looking in a mirror, experiencing the breath and the muscles, and the hunger after a hard day of physical, varied work that involves the whole being, not just the muscles. I don't know, it's a good feeling. I feel more like a dog looks, when you look in a dog's eyes and you see an integrated being. Fully savage, openly loving, an extension of its biology, its instinct, not a denial of such things. Does that make sense? We percieve instinct and animalistic drives as dangerous - leading to violence, rape, theft and such things. But I think instincts only turn nasty when an animal is brutalised. The natural state is one of harmony, love, and peace...

It is an incredible feeling to sit in one’s dwelling, look around, and think ‘I made this’. There is an intimacy about it that you don’t get with a place that you just move into. It’s been hard work, but I feel extremely lucky.

I'll get the video blog sorted asap.


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