I am lying in a hammock listening to words that I will never be ready to hear but are inevitable. All around me the evening birds fling their final songs on the darkening valley, and away in the town the fairy tale steeples of the Church light up. It is Hansel and Gretel time, but I haven’t laid a bread trail and I will never get home again. Home is now in me, wherever I am. Currently it is unearthed, suspended in a hammock, the closest thing to the ground is my bottom and it feels like it’s getting a kicking. Bats flit between me and three purple clouds that are dissolving like gun smoke and it is becoming very chilly.
There is a time when life calls us away from the comforting certainties that grounded our existence. We don’t have to go…actually that’s not true, because if we don’t go, we come round again and again to the same bleak, night time station where we wait, and wait, and wait. Station life is not living, it is only waiting and by God, the place is crowded, some are even having dinner parties.
Make the train stop for you! Throw the luggage on the track. Wheel over the kiosks and shove them off the platform one by one until you bring the train to a stop and get on. You will leave a mess behind, and the dinner party will pause, and after a slow shake of their heads, will resume at their table, forgetting you.
And, of course, the sacrament of life will continue to roll you along and roll you over, in the unremitting ordinariness of attending to the project of keeping the unbearable wonder of things alive in your own heart and the hearts of those you love. Feelings come and go in a kind of wild dance where you don’t always get to be the DJ. But dance or die, these are the only options.
What can I possibly have against sheep? Being here in the Alpujarras, where there are no sheep, I am in breathless wonder at the visions of wild flowers, herbs and shrubs that carpet the mountains and meadows that I walk upon. But just to keep you reading, did you know that every household in the uk pays £245 per year towards the continuous destruction of the UK uplands, causing soil erosion and flooding in our lowland towns and villages? No? Neither did I. Keep reading
In the rest of the world, including all the deserts and the really cold bits at the top and the bottom, over 30 % of uplands are forested. Along with this rewilding comes an ecosystem that supports insects, birds and a wonderful diversity of plants and species. In the uk only 13% of our uplands are forested. Mostly this is because of sheep who shave everything down to the ground, preferring nutritious tree saplings, but ensuring that there is no chance whatsoever of the reforestation and restoration of wildness in our uplands. “Oh but what about our poor sheep farmers?” I hear you cry. Well, my dears, they don’t make their money from sheep farming….they make it from subsidies, paid for by you.
The situation in Scotland is even more galling where a huge proportion of the land is privately owned by a few wealthy people who keep ‘their’ land artificially denuded by deer, or burn it for grouse shooting. This is so they can charge other rich people huge amounts of money to go deer stalking and grouse shooting. The activities of this tiny proportion of our population are not only destroying our countryside and ecosystem, causing flooding and eco degeneration, but we are actually financing these activities! Where are the BBC when there is some real news to shout about???!!!
They have softened now into blue,
And with clouds falling like a wedding veil,
They repose with mountainous thoughts of ther own.
A man, straining to impress, told me their names,
But they don’t know them.
They have endured, nameless for billions of years,
And I have crawled up them, skittering down like a stone,
And have waded in their waters,
And knelt among their flowers,
And felt the rain upon my face.
Hear, O Israelites, the Name you cannot speak,
All nature resounds with it.
Nearer my God to Thee,
Nearer my God to me.
You become one with me in a timeless mirada,
A look of love, and you meet me completely.
‘What is this?’ I ask holding a tiny metal tube.
‘A kaleidoscope. It gives you a different view of reality.’
And you knows I need one.
I want to fall at your feet, feel your hands on my head.
‘Bless me Mother.’
And looking up through the tube,
The sky shatters into a thousand possibilities.
The market wakes slowly like a dawn chorus building to a performance of sound and colour. I buy dos ajos y cinco tomates and the juiciest apricots I have ever tasted, not like the dusty ones we get in England. From a small table a woman is selling precious oils. I buy the Patchouli, a heavy and earthy scent. In broken English the woman tells me to open it this way, tick-tack, she says. I am accosted by a skinny asparagus seller who, for 3 euros provides my needs for a week. I can’t say no to anyone today. I meet Gide the darkly beautiful and heartbroken hostel owner who I stayed with in January. “Te quiero.” (I love you), she says and pays for my coffee. On the church steps I am beckoned by a man sitting with a pile of pamphlets and a pipe. “Buy my poems!” He calls in a Yorkshire accent. (I can never resist a poet.) Glancing through his home made book I marvel at how we who love to write, cast our souls upon the world with all the careless abandon of an autumn tree.
Returning home I hitch up a handful of skirt and wade across the river, and I suddenly realise why I love coming here. There is a wild energy that is less constrained by social programming. I guess it is possible to come here and not notice it. You can tell those ones by their pristine lycra shorts, smart rucksacks and clean boots. But for others it is an emergency that calls them to free their caged spirits. We wash up here like flotsam from every part of the world in order to reach back to a wilder, untamed self.
I get home clutching a book of poems, juice dripping down my chest and no apricots left for the fridge.
My shadow describes my presence here,
Here between the sunlight and the mountain,
Between not yet old but no longer young,
Between healing, and the boat in which I negotiate my grief.
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
their bad advice –
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
“Mend my life!”
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do –
determined to save