This is a place of dualities, and my first weeks here have been spent swinging between them.
Polar opposites of calm and chaos, of tranquility and stress, nature and junk, are dominating the experience of settling in, and at times it can be hard to know what to think, to feel, to do, or to be.
The land here – ‘the Rhu’, as we all call it – is a wild place. A wooded peninsula with a border of the most incredible rock, the sea, cliffs, islands. A small forest in the process of its spring awakening, birdsong growing louder and more diverse every day, muddy, winding paths leading explorers through to hidden nooks and spectacular views. A garden, seemingly untended, overgrown, natural – last year’s seedheads and decay still present to feed spring birds and keep the soil warm for new growth. And ramshackle wooden cabins, tucked away here and there.
It’s one woman’s life work. A dedication to permaculture and to education, a place where she demonstrates working with the land, letting nature rule, recycling, and more make-do-and-mend than you’ve ever seen. It’s magical and unique in this, with her spirit and ethos permeating everywhere.
But there’s also an energy of exhaustion, and with it, of stress. There is a legacy of folks who have come here on their journeys over the decades – much as I have now – added what they can, taken what they need, not always in the most positive of ways. This place, this land, and this person, have given and given, and there’s an overwhelming feeling that it’s time for healing. A fallow year, a year to rest and recuperate, a year to hand (some) responsibilities over. I, too, am looking for healing, though I want to put in as much as I receive from this land.
Years ago, I was a community development worker. We often used to talk about the four stages that every new community has to pass through in order to work: forming, storming, norming and performing. When we start new projects, we expect to skip from stage one (forming) straight to stage four (performing). We rarely bargain for the storming and the norming, in which personalities bump up against each other, there are conflicts, discussions, mistakes are made, followed by a process of communication, forgiveness, understanding and gradually settling in. But this rollercoaster middle period is where the magic happens, where the sustainability comes in, where it becomes clear if this project, if this community, can truly work.
Of course, we’re still forming, too. We were forming back in January and February when I lived here for two months. And we’re forming still now, now that Em has joined me and we’re figuring out our purpose here, what we want to give, and what we need in return.
I hope that in being here, Em and I can take on some of the work, bringing new energy and ideas, new skills (Em is a carpenter and builder), new approaches which will sit comfortably with the owners’ and will take things forwards here, steadily, organically, with love and kindness and respect for the land and its residents.
As I experience and inevitably react to the intense dualities of this place and the people who live here, the quiet and the chaos, I want to hold that idea of storming and norming in my mind. So that I can laugh at it, when I need to. So that I can understand that stormy periods are not only natural, but completely necessary. So I can keep coming back to the challenge to which I willingly signed up, and wholeheartedly accept each stage of that challenge – not just the beautiful moments, not just the views and the rocks and the seasons changing, but the difficult and amazing work of transition.
I have a few magical tools, tucked away in my back pocket, to guide me, or to keep me safe, or to remind me what this is all about.
Brigid and Cerridwen, from the Dark Goddess Tarot – Brigid, who stands for Temperance in the deck and brings spring and new life, and Cerridwen, the Witch of Fire, who creates magic from crude, earthly materials.
A talisman created for me by the wonderful Wanjira at Asali Earthwork. This is to remind me of my intentions to ground and move forward into a new way of living that is connected with the earth, to hold fast to what I know that I need. She also sent me some Open and Clear Tea. made with rosemary (among other herbs and spices), to clear the mind and promote open thought.
Truthfulness, the card I drew this morning from my Mirrors of the Heart deck. This was a welcome sight. Truth will be everything here – in weathering this storming, riding out early conflicts and finding a place of safety among chaos, truth will necessarily prevail. When I drew this card I vowed to speak nothing but truth here. I stuck it on the fridge for all to see.
And for when I really need them, my ‘boundary’ mists. Dori Midnight’s Boundaries in a Bottle, and my own version, Storm Shield – both created to create an invisible shield to protect the wearer from other peoples’ *stuff*. I hope I won’t use these often – I want to deal with the stress that sometimes arises here using truth, breathing and grounding – but I’m comforted that I have them to hand.
Emma and I took a couple of days to travel to Knoydart – ‘Britain’s last wilderness’ – a highland place on the mainland only accessible via mountain paths or by boat (we came via the latter). This wild peninsula had been my view every morning when I lived in the caravan and can be seen from any southerly high point on the Rhu, and I had wanted to go there and look back, and see my new home on Skye all small, a tiny dot in the context of so much beauty and space.
Walking in Knoydart brought exactly that perspective. The space for Emma and I to process the past few weeks, to celebrate what we loved, to discuss coping strategies for the difficult parts, and to reaffirm our commitment to this challenge. From a hilltop (and later, from a hot tub!) we looked back across the Sound of Sleat and felt again that our choices were good and that early storms, wild dualities and a rollercoaster of emotions were all part of beginning this new life.