Faceless bureaucrats? Cumbersome regulation? Welcome to rural England.

fern shotImagine finding an opportunity to make a long held dream come true. It would require determination, sacrifice and a hell of a lot of work, but, given the chance, most of us would dive in and devote every waking hour to manifesting our vision.

In 2007 Doug King Smith dreamt of finding a small woodland to take care of and grow into a resource for his community. Not only to develop a sustainable wood business, but also to create a place where people could learn rural skills, celebrate community and connect with nature. He began working as a volunteer on a piece of land in Dartmoor National Park, located between the villages of South Brent and Buckfastleigh. It was a plantation on an ancient woodland site, which had been largely neglected over the years: it was run-down, over-run with invasive species and over-crowded with untended trees. Nevertheless Doug fell in love with what he calls ‘the magic of the place’ – a river running through a hidden valley, deep dark woods and steep valleys with springs popping up here and there. Two years later, through working as a wood sculptor, drawing on his savings, and with help from a friend, he managed to buy it. He named this 45 acre upland farm The Hillyfield (after the original ‘Hillyfield Plantation’) and the hard work began. Continue reading

Behold my friends, the Spring has come!

“Behold, my friends, the spring has come; the earth has received the embraces of the sun and we shall soon see the results of that love! Every seed has awakened and so has all animal life. It is through this mysterious power that we too have our being and we therefore yield to our neighbours, even our animal neighbours, the same right as ourselves, to inhabit this land.”

Chief Sitting Bull

fabrizio angius

Saturday was the first day of spring. It was also the day a number of us had been working towards for the last six months or so. Inspired by our friend Tal Leshem we got it into our heads that we wanted to organise a land conference, bring people together to discuss issues around land ownership and rights and find ways to answer the question ‘How can we grow a proper relationship between people and place?’ We knew it was important not only because it mattered to us as a team, but because there was no getting away from the different crises around housing, food, climate change, inequality that were upon us in our own country and worldwide.If we are to solve any of these issues we have to start thinking about our relationship with the land. So we posed a question and on that very first spring day 130 people piled into Totnes Civic Hall to try to answer it. Continue reading

Regarding the Land

“What I stand for is what I stand on.”
― Wendell Berry

Several years ago I was invited to work on a ‘Soil and Story’ project for the Soil Association.  It was a wonderful opportunity to do some research into different cultural approaches to soil and earth. Now that I am in the process of co-organising A Land Conference in Devon  I decided it might be worth looking up some of what I discovered working on that project. What follows is an extract from some of my research.

“The world’s indigenous peoples revered and still revere the soil as a power in itself, rather than as merely a provider of food, minerals or structural support. Native Americans say ‘the earth is our mother’ and refer to the soil as ‘our mother’s flesh’. The Maori of New Zealand call themselves ‘tangata whenua’, people of the land, and call her ‘the mother that never dies’. For the Australian Aborigines the land is the place of ‘dreaming’, and dreamtime stories explain how the land was created by the journeys of the spirit ancestors. Continue reading

The long remembering

 “We need to haunt the house of history and listen anew to the ancestors’ wisdom.”

Maya Angelou

Last week I was walking on Dartmoor when I stumbled upon The Mariners Way.

The Mariners Way is said to be the track which sailors walked from Bideford in the north to Dartmouth in the south. As I made my way down it I couldn’t help thinking of the many travellers of all kind who would have trodden this stony path over the centuries. Each with their own thoughts, in reminiscence or anticipation, walking in company or alone, in good health or ailing, by day or by night. Each leaving their imprint on the soil, their sounds on the air, exhaling their warm breath into the ether. Each in turn feeling the cool night air on their skin or the sun gently breaking through a dense cover of leaves.

As the path descended further into the valley I, like my fellow past travellers, was greeted by the sounds of the river Dart. Continue reading

From Dismal Science to Language of Beauty

Towards a New Story of Economics

Humans are storytelling beings. In fact one could argue that it is impossible to make sense of the world without story. Storytelling is how we piece together facts, beliefs, feelings and history to form something of a coherent whole connecting us to our individual and collective past, present and future. The stories that help make meaning of our lives inform how we shape and re-shape our environment. This re-created world, through its felt presence in structures and systems as well as its cultural expressions, in turn tells us its story.

We live in a time of powerful globalised narratives. We no longer (or rarely) sit and listen to tales that were born of places we know intimately and told by people deeply connected to these places. Ours is a world saturated with information from every corner of the planet, voiced by ‘storytellers’ on television, radio, the internet, mobile phones, newspapers, billboards, books and magazines.  It would appear that we now have access to a multitude of perspectives and, with that, more understanding of the different options open to human beings to live fulfilling lives. In reality however, the majority of us have to conform to a narrow set of rules not of our own making: the rules of economics. Continue reading

The undivided self

I have a memory of how it started.

I was visiting my Dad in New York and my big sister had taken me and a friend to the fairground. I was thirteen years old. It was summer. I was dressed in shorts and t-shirt. When our turn came for the Ferris wheel my friend and I went to take our seats. As the fairground worker placed the safety bar across our laps he raised his eyebrows and nodded towards my lower half. ‘Nice legs’ he said, directed not at me but at the man operating the controls. I remember feeling both strangely flattered with the attention (were these nice legs like the ones I had seen in magazines?) and confused (why was a strange man who barely looked me in the eye commenting on my body?) and in that moment I did for the first time what I would learn to do habitually for the next three decades: I looked down at my legs and experienced them not as belonging to me, but as separate entities open to evaluation by others, who seemed to know something about their worth that I didn’t. Continue reading

Sleep like a river

“How we need another soul to cling to.” – Sylvia Plath

Since my nine year old son watched a particularly scary episode of Dr Who we have started practising ‘kawa no ji mitai’.

Kawa no ji mitai is not some ancient martial art designed to chase away the bogeymen from under the bed, but it may be just as effective. Kawa is the Japanese sign for a river flowing between two banks. When a child sleeps between his parents they provide the protective and comforting banks that keep the child safe. The child sleeps like a river. Continue reading