Tag Archives: Wales.

visca-la-terra

Visca la Terra – Bless this Land

Whilst writing this post, I stumbled across the work of Geraint Rhys, a Welsh singer songwriter who has recorded a great anthem-like song, Visca la Terra.  He translates this phrase, often associated with radical independentistas, as “Bless this Land”. Whatever we feel about the politics, we of the smaller nations cannot help but see ourselves reflected in these struggles to be seen and heard.

So it is that I find myself a sunny beach, with the first chill of winter in the air, meditating in solidarity with those striking over the independence question in Catalunya. As foreigners in this land, we may not feel the pain of what is happening as deeply as those who call themselves Catalan, or those who consider themselves Spanish, or both. But what we can do is to listen without judgement. We can hear their stories and bear witness, as the sun and the sea bear witness to our meditation.

It was my friend Joe who recently used the word witness. Just two weeks ago, we were in Germany on a Mindfulness Teacher Training Course and I was interviewing him about his work as an activist. He was bearing witness, he said. And now here I am on a beach in Spain, holding a meditation group for peace in Catalunya. The word comes up in my mind and sticks, like a flag or a badge I can wave or wear. If I can do little else, I can bear witness.
We sit listening to the sea lap on a sunny shore, aware that the traffic is backed up all the way to the city, that public transport is severely disrupted, that many shops and offices are closed as part of the strike. “People were on the streets this morning as I took my son to school” said one woman. “The company I work for has banned us from talking about it.” said another. The idea of witnessing seems important to me, but it is only later that I reflect that it feels  good for me to have found a role in this drama.

Last week, Joe wrote to ask how it is on the ground here. I gave him a comprehensive picture of life in our small village, just one hour south of Barcelona. “To be honest,” I said, “on the ground here for us, nothing has changed. Summer is cooling into Autumn. The vineyards around are turning red and golden. Yesterday a huge electric storm shot forks of lightning into the hills around our home, the sky cracking as if the world was breaking part. Nature is far more threatening than the Guardia Civil!”
I was joking, but it was true all the same. And all the same, I wrote, “It’s hard to escape the awareness that our Catalan friends are suffering. It’s been a traumatic time and emotions are being pulled at. Those of us with less rooted connections feel empathy, but also see that folk are being manipulated on both sides.”
When the idea of being a witness pops up, the thread of thought is inextricably linked to Joe, to the Agents of Change course and to the practice of mindfulness. For what is mindfulness but kind awareness? And what use is kind awareness if we cannot find a way to bring it into the service of others? Into the service of wellbeing of humans, animals and the natural world? Into the service of peace?

 

 

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Abe helping with weeding at Cae Tan CSA

Community Supported Agriculture

I’m sitting in a sunny garden on a family farm in West Wales. Birds singing. Cows lowing. Wispy clouds skimming the horizon. It’s hard to believe that our world is in the midst of environmental crisis. I’ve been invited to Bronhaul by Abel Pearson. A permaculture graduate, Abe is turning part of his family’s farm over to Community Supported Agriculture, envisaging a time when his small acreage in Carmarthenshire is the “breadbasket of Bancyfelin”. Together with his energised and forward-thinking parents, he imagines hosting workshops for local children to learn how to grow food, and retreats so that people can experience the replenishing effect of immersion in nature. Inspired by projects he has encountered around the world, Abe is planning a sustainable, resilient future living close to the land. He will be carrying out regenerative activities to increase plant and wildlife biodiversity by creating a closed-loop cycle which can continue through generations to come.

Bronhaul Farm Garden
Bronhaul Farm. Bancyfelin, Carmarthenshire

I met Abe a year ago, high in the Catalonian pyrenees. I was on a meditation retreat and he was a member of the Ecodharma community, a centre for radical ecology and dharma, for sustainable activism, permaculture and nature-based practice. In discussion over a hearty vegan community lunch, he discovered that I made the series of eco-films he had watched on the Living in the Future website. He told me the films had helped inspire him to turn his dreams for Bronhaul farm into a reality. I tell you this because in the midst of political turmoil, it’s easy to get disheartened and fearful. To fall into despair. But then something comes along that gives you hope, and it may be as simple as watching a film.

As part of the Wales One World Film Festival, Abe and I watch the enlightening and hopeful documentary Demain (Tomorrow). Shocked by statistics about the world their unborn child will inherit, the directors embark on a global journey to discover stories of hope. They explore urban food gardens, local currencies and sustainably-run factories. They investigate new democracies and groundbreaking school systems. What the projects have in common is their determination to look toward the future and to imagine the kind of world we will be living in. Where fossil fuel is no longer an option and where people are empowered through autonomy and imagination.

Cae Tan CSA
Cae Tan Community Supported Agriculture. Gower, Wales

There’s a lot of talk at the moment about how we need to tell ourselves a new story but sometimes, there are old stories to be revived too, if perhaps with a new twist. What Abe is doing with his family farm is re-working an old model in a way that is more suitable for the times we are facing. Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) offers a re-connection for the local community with the land and with each other, whilst supporting a small enterprise to grow vegetables and fruit in a sustainable way. To get some more inspiration, Abe and I visit Cae Tan, a CSA in the heart of Gower, near Swansea. Founder Tom O’Kane tells us :
“People are craving something that makes sense in our natural environment. They really like the connection of knowing the person that’s growing their food and seeing the place where its coming from. There were loads of market gardens on Gower, people were running businesses on areas much smaller than this and it’s been a really short timescale since everything stopped. There’s no reason why it couldn’t be turned around again. There are lots of young people proving that this is a really good business here and they’re having a lot of fun! So they’re selling the idea really well.”

Employee Francesca started WWOOFing on organic farms in Portugal and Germany before landing a job here in Cae Tan. “I love the veg and I love being outside and getting my hands dirty. We now have a project idea for selling leafy greens an high value crops and selling them to restaurants.”
At the end of the day, Abel is buzzing with ideas to take back to Bronhaul farm. “I’m very inspired to see this happening in more places. I dream of a day when this is just the norm.”

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carrefoc8

Midsummer Madness

It’s midsummer and my world is the right way up. Well, sort of.  When I lived in Australia, I could never get used to the seasons being out of place. Christmas on the beach, my September birthday in Spring and yes, June being the middle of winter. It just felt wrong. Now I’ve moved back to Europe the seasons are back in the right place, but in the aftermath of the recent UK referendum, the world seems to have gone stark raving mad. In A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Shakespeare’s characters are victims of a mischievous energy that confuses lovers and makes an ass of an ordinary man.  According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the etymology of the name Puck is related to Old Norse puki (devil) and Welsh pwca (imp), but also has links to ‘unsettled’, like puke. Upon leaving the ‘civilised’ city and entering nature’s wilderness, our characters become disoriented and things appear not to be as they ought to be. The feeling is a little similar in this post-Brexit world. Somehow, the world has been changed, but nobody is yet sure exactly how. We only know that there is mischief afoot.
My midsummer celebrations began in Wales, where the weather was as un-Welsh as it is possible to be. I spent long, warm, sunny days in the beach with my friends and woke every day to blue skies. Bizarre.  I was grateful for the opportunity to get out and walk in the cliffs, to swim in the chilly Bristol Channel and to partake of the odd barbecue, but it couldn’t last, of course, and by the time I was on my way north to visit an old school friend, it was cold and rainy. This did not dampen the spirits in Flash, where the residents of the highest town in England celebrated mid summer with a traditional blessing of the well.

Flash-well-dressing
Well-dressing at Flash, the highest town in England

A custom from medieval times which is said to be associated with the spread of the Black Death, it marks an acknowledgement of the importance of pure water and honours the local source. In Flash, the well was painstakingly decorated with flowers and following the small well-side ceremony, the village takes to the streets in the ‘teapot parade‘. Waving banners and marching alongside a giant papier-mâché teapot, the parade remembers the custom of helping those in need by sequestering funds in the household teapot. As I stood back to take a photograph of the whole scene, a woman spectator reminisced about watching this same spectacle as a child. Her family, she said, could be traced back 700 years in her father’s side and 300 years on her mother’s. Her strong Peak District accent dragged vowels long and clipped consonants short, making disappointed claims that the parade was not as it used to be, when it was an excuse to dress up and for women to get a new hat. I looked down at my jeans, still muddy from the morning’s yomp across muddy moors, and countered that it was great that they still kept the custom at all.

Flash-teapot-parade
Residents of Flash celebrate the annual well-dressing and ‘teapot’ parade

In the church, we sang hymns and listened as the vicar gave a reading. He chose the parable of the Good Samaritan where, if you have not heard it, a man who has been robbed and left for dead is ignored by first a priest and then a Levite. The third passer-by, a Samaritan, stops and helps the man, sequestering him at an inn at his personal expense. I had not heard the story read since my childhood, but I remembered being told that the Levite would have been a local person of the same Jewish faith, but that the word Samaritan meant that the person was an enemy, as the Jews and the Samaritans were not on good terms. In the light of the current refugee crisis and the recent violent death of Jo Cox, the tale gained a new poignant meaning, as parables are wont to do, having a timeless moral code embedded in their codex. Even the giant teapot seemed significant, being a symbol of friendliness and neighbourliness in this land where people love nothing better than a nice cup of tea and who rush to provide one at the slightest suggestion of distress. The vicar did not spell it out, but he did take the time to bless those who would be voting in the upcoming referendum.

Back in Spain, I joined in more mid-summer celebrations, but occasionally, the air fell sour with the shock and disbelief of Brits, Europeans, Australians and US citizens. In this atmosphere of multiculturalism and warm abrazos, no-one could understand why the UK wanted a divorce. In my local village of Sant Pere de Ribes, they gathered for the Ball de Diables, where children young and old dress up in devil costumes and hold aloft screaming fireworks in a crazy display of anarchic energy known as a correfoc. Their carnival re-animates the eternal dance between light and dark, between good and evil. Embedded in these ancient traditions is the knowledge that at certain times, we need to be mindful of the uncertainty of our world and of the possibility, always, that mischief will win us over if we only open the door for long enough to let it in.

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winter_solstice_bonfire_web1

Solstice

It’s 21st June. That’s mid-summer, right? Well, not here in Australia.  After a long, warm Autumn, the trees are finally starting to look a bit bare and the days have started to begin and end with a chill. Sure, we still get hours of sunshine, but there’s a blanket in the bed and from time to time, I even put the heater on.

Last Sunday, I spent some time at Murundaka housing co-op.  We shared a meal and sat around a fire in the garden. When I came home, my clothes smelt of wood smoke and I knew that for me, this is what winter solstice conjures up. Fire and friendship. A paradigm-shift away from the commercialism of christmas, solstice is a pagan festival which links us firmly to the land, to the seasons and to each other.

At home in Wales, we needed a fire in winter to keep warm. To be honest, we often needed it in summer, too! My little forest hut in HoltsField relies on a wood burning stove for both radiators and hot water and it slaves away for more than six months a year. When my husband recently noticed chestnuts here in the shops, I hesitated to buy them. “We don’t have an open fire to cook them on!” “We could barbecue them?” he suggested.

Winter is short in Melbourne, but they like to “rug up” in scarves and woollens. They like to serve mulled wine in the bars and to complain about the cold. There are even ski resorts in the mountains and although it’s been slow coming this year, there are reports that the snow has finally arrived. In the weekend “Age” newspaper, there is an article on people who pack up their Melbourne homes and spend the season in the snow, where the local school opens just for the winter term to accommodate city children.

While we get ready for winter, my friends in the UK are basking in an early summer heat wave. “Scorchio!” says Jane at Lammas ecovillage in West Wales. When I Skype with the people who are living in my house, I see that the doors are flung wide open and, what’s that? Yes, the sky appears to be a beautiful shade of blue. I’m heading home for a holiday in a few weeks and I’ve asked them to save some Welsh sunshine for me. I’ll be swimming at beautiful Caswell Bay and I’m hoping to go and see my friend Xenia play fiddle in her band at the Green Man Festival in Glanusk. When I get back to Australia, Spring will already be starting to bloom and the scent of jasmine will waft through the streets as the sun creeps higher in the sky.

So I’m making the most of winter. I’m celebrating the solstice Melbourne-style. At Collingwood children’s farm, 4,000 people turn up to enjoy a lantern parade, hot chips and a huge bonfire. I sit happily in a muddy field and listen to the sound of drummers, a crackling fire and a thousand young children kept up past their bedtime. As the first stars appear in the darkened night sky,  I find a moment to marvel at the balance of life, the wisdom of nature and the miracle of the returning seasons. Happy Solstice everyone.

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Forest1

Forest Yatra

I’ve spent the last three months dithering. Dithering about whether to book a flight to visit my home in Wales this Summer (ok, Winter, if you’re in Oz). There are so many reasons not to, starting, and perhaps ending, with the reluctance to fly anywhere. In the environmental movement in the UK, it is frowned upon to fly. And with good reason. The overwhelming evidence is that my flight will eat up more than 10 tonnes of carbon emissions – one way! The average British person uses 9.5, and ideally, we would all be cutting our footprint to less than 2 tonnes. How can I justify flying home?

In Australia, this argument against flying has not made it onto the green agenda. Even the most committed amongst my friends thinks nothing of hopping on a plane to Sydney – the fifth most popular route on the planet.  Australia is so big, people get used to driving long distances, but with a flight to Darwin taking  nearly five hours, only the most adventurous (and time-rich) Southerner will choose a more climate-friendly option of driving or train travel. This might account for the average Australian climate footprint being more like 18 tonnes per person. Having lived in Australia a year, am I starting to acclimatise to this flying frenzy? Well, no…and yet…eventually, I have booked a ticket.

As soon as I do, the heavens open. Melbourne experiences the wettest start to April for a decade, catching the tail end of cyclone Ita. It’s like a “told you so” and a “welcome home” all at once.

On Thursday evening, I’m sitting on the train heading up to the Dandenong ranges, where I’m going to house sit for a friend. The rain drizzles down the train window as I stare out into the darkening gloom. It looks like that stretch of Wales between Bridgend and Cardiff on a damp winter evening. Yuck. Fortunately, the house has a cosy wood fire and a friendly cat to welcome me and the next day, despite the drizzle, I venture out for a walk in the forest.

The multitude of greens that is Sherbrooke Forest is the last remaining temperate rainforest in the Dandenong Ranges, to the East of Melbourne. The gum trees here are Mountain Ash (like the village in the Welsh valleys) and are the tallest flowering plant in the world. Today, I can’t see the treetops, as the mist is hovering, almost like smoke, at the level of the treeferns. As my eyes travel from the thick tree trunks skywards, my gaze gets lost and my face is dampened as if with dew. It’s a gentle, soft feeling. Soft on the skin after the harsh summer suns and soft on the eyes, which can’t get a focus on anything. I am walking as if in a dream.

The first time I came here, I was on a Yatra – a silent walk which takes its name from the sanskrit word for pilgrimage. We meet – a group of ten of us – at the Belgrave station of Puffing Billy. Puffing Billy is a steam train originally built to gain access to this hilly region but now run for tourists. It is far more exciting than I expected and the “toot toot” of the whistle follows us as we start into the dense undergrowth…

Through our opening circle, a bird swoops, feathers rustling, wings the sound of air. Nature welcoming us. Layers of bird song create a choir. High above us, cockatoos wheel and cry and the group mind chatters like the crimson rosellas flitting from tree to tree. The business of the world is hard to leave, but our boots on the soft earth make a calming mantra and soon, we soften into the silence.

The walk is punctuated with process taken from Deep Ecology – a way of reconnecting with Nature which was pioneered by Joanna Macy and John Seed. Our walkers are graduates from a Seed workshop and carry the experiences from that weekend into this – creating a comfortable closeness and familiarity. Lunch is in a meadow clearing guarded by forest. We hide in tall grasses, reflect and catch up. As we begin again, we are as gently focussed as the scarab beetle making his own slow pilgrimage across the path. The forest holds wallabies, which peek out from the trees before thumping off, crashing through the leaf litter. There are lyrebirds, too, waddling about trailing long feather-like tails and scratching like chickens at the dirt, in search of tasty grubs. This weekend, we even spot a blue-clawed yabbie – a kind a cray fish which we are surprised to see in the forest until we notice that his hidey-hole bottoms out into a pool of water. No doubt he has been enjoying the recent downpours!

As I’m walking in this beautiful, ancient place, I feel a pang of regret that I succumbed to the other life pressures which have finally made me book a ticket home.  I remember a friend who has started a community energy project in Wales, called Gower Power. One of their recent activities involved planting 1,625 trees in Gower, the place I call home. Maybe, while I’m there, I go and plant a few myself. I’m aware that it can’t make it right, but it can’t harm, either.

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Ceres_Harvest_festival1

CERES Community Environment Park

I was aware of CERES before I even moved to Melbourne. Not because it is an amazing environmental oasis of calm in a huge, sprawling city, but because it is home to the Melbourne Insight Meditation Group. I’ve been sitting with Insight meditation teachers for about 10 years now and was pleased to find that I could continue my practice when I moved to Australia. Uprooting your life is unsettling and I found my way to CERES even before my jet lag had subsided. I loved it. Somehow, it immediately felt like home.

As a country girl, it has been a shock to find myself amongst skyscrapers, traffic and so many people, so I need a place I can get away from it all. Melbourne has such a huge suburbia, it takes about 40 minutes to get completely out of the city, but along the river, you can find pockets of tranquility and CERES is one of them.

From my home in Fitzroy, I cycle through Edinburgh Gardens and take the Merri Creek Trail to Brunswick, where this parkland has been sculpted from a old quarry site. David Holmgren told me that it was modelled on CAT, in Wales, which, coincidentally, was also an old quarry. Just one more reason to love it there.

As well as the Learning Centre where we meet for meditation and yoga, CERES has many other meeting rooms, where workshops are taught on tai-chi, organic gardening, group facilitation, Deep Ecology, massage and all sorts of learning for sustainability. They also teach a Permaculture Design Course, which are so popular here in Australia at the moment.

In March, they host their annual Harvest Festival. Last year, we went along and enjoyed the bands, workshops and a talk on Earthships with Rachel Goldlust. I thought it would be a great opportunity to film the place humming with life, so this year, I’ve done it. It was fun, but I was a bit distracted, because this year, I bumped into so many people I know!

I chatted with Greg, whose book, Changing Gears, I talk about in the blog post on Sustainable Living; I met my neighbour Karen, who collates the Yarra Transition website; I saw Anna Crowley, my wonderful yoga teacher and several of my own yoga students, too. It really is a place for like-minded folk to gather.

Watch Episode 53 of the Living in the Future online film series to enjoy the CERES Harvest Festival and find out why this place is such a great model for community sustainable education the world over!

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