Lessons from the land: A Pathway through the woods

The first task I had when taking on this space was to clear the dead wood and brambles left to over grow for years .

Not an easy task but after a few weeks of steady perseverance, the majority of the thorns had been tamed . I’d pitched a little tea making spot beneath the elder and began to observe as spring brought a surge of growth to the land. What had been bare and barren and quite frankly looked a huge mess , began to transform before me into a beautiful woodland paradise.

A thicket of brambles between the willows.
Brambles and bracken cleared from the meadow

It became clear early on we would need pathways to make getting round the site easier for people but also so wildlife habitat wasn’t being trampled on. It took a while to sit with the space and work out where best to place them. Some , like the path from the entrance to the compost to the meadow were straight forward and self evident. It was the how of it that started the first conversation with the land .

Laying the path to the compost using the dead sticks and moss cleared from the land.

I wondered back and forth for days trying to work out what to use . Weed membrane? Wood bark ? Stone gravel ? Do i buy stuff in ? Card board ?

The answer came from the land itself as piles of dead sticks from last years flowers mounted up and as the dead grass and moss was raked to make space for shoots and new growth . “use whats here already”

And so the winding path beneath the willows was made of soft green moss and stalks . I continued it past the compost heap and towards the meadow. And then after a sudden spell of snow the sun warmed the land and the site exploded into its spring growth . The paths were overwhelmed and it has become evident that my initial reluctance to put down the weed membrane was not such a bad idea.

Plants growing over the initial pathways.

By not putting it down immediately I learnt 2 lessons- one that it was in fact a good idea and two that the site needs much wider pathways than I anticipated especially during summer ! I also got to learn why they need more room and the kinds of plants that the land is home too.

Nettle , thistle and common hog weed grow incredibly tall during summer if left unchecked. As do the grasses . They are all vital food and habitat for wildlife and sources of nutritious forage for people. And the site is abundant with them ! Its wonderful but also means it needs to be managed if people are going to access the site on a regular basis . And without weed membrane down the paths need clearing every two or three days . Leave it more than a week and they disappear beneath the green .

Snowed under
Widening the paths
Path through the glade being taken over by nettles

There’s something deeply satisfying in taking time to work with and negotiate with the land about what is done and when and why.

By allowing myself to go step by step guided by the space and the wisdom of the garden , by not rushing to impose a solution but giving the place time to show me how it grows I have been able to figure out not just what i need but what the place needs. What the wildlife needs. What the plants need. Where they grow , how they grow and how that effects how the space is used and becomes shaped.

It has allowed me to consider what kinds of workshops and activities might be best suited to here and what can be foraged and utilised for them . And what needs to be left alone . To grow . To keep the balance.

It also reminded me of how we build new neural pathways in our brain by learning new things and doing things new ways . The physical act of laying new paths in the outside mirrors the creating of new pathways within. And so it goes with permaculture. Undoing my human learning to do to , rather than with all beings not just the human .

As I continue to deepen the relationship to place and land it begins to open up and speak more. Nudging me here to do this and there to do that. Advising when to leave alone , stay away or come closer and help out. There are times I notice i am stuck internally and in danger of forcing things to happen and the wisdom of the land supports and offers its advice . To stop. Go home . Rest. Come back in a few days . Do something else for a while . And I do and it works. Things shift and move.

Nature can be harsh and unforgiving in its wildness at times but it is also very giving and patient and welcoming. It shares its abundance and its wisdom willingly . When we are able to listen and hear what it has to say and let go of our human need to control everything. Thinking we know best .

View from the meadow

Sit . Listen. Ponder.Potter.

Since taking the site on in April my self and the land have been getting to know each other . It felt important not to rush in with my own ideas of what to do with the space . It felt important to settle in with the place and let it speak to me .

I check and ask its permission before doing anything. I have noticed that often after any cutting or clearing or when i have made a new area I leave the site alone for a while . It seems to “ enough” let me get used to it .

Compost heap

What is unfolding is a beautiful relationship between myself and space . Where boundaries are not just for people. Where vision and potential are part of a reciprocal relationship between self and other . Human and other than human.

There is a lot of negotiation and compromise and the land often has a much better idea of what will work where than I do . So I listen to it . I only work on what feels right to be worked on .. some days I just turn up , drink tea and listen to the bird song . And some times thats all I need to do . Sit. Listen. Ponder. Potter.

Earth Medicine

I’ve just returned from a beautifully nurturing, nourishing and wonderfully held Wild Therapy taster weekend .

It was lovely to connect in the flesh with real people during what has been an often difficult and isolating period.

My main role was fire tending and water keeping – keeping people warm and with brews and holding the observer position, part of the group,yet just outside of it. Noticing.

I often take sometime to commune with the land and the space and often receive poems to share during these times. This one was the one that came during this weekend. These experiences often rekindle a deep connection to the wilderness and the other than human that many people find deeply connecting and sustaining. They remember something. They make time for stillness, pause and reflection. And the wild works its medicine through all of them.

Medicine.

Listen to the voices of the wind..
Its medicine,
You need that

Listen to the voices of the water
Its medicine
You need that

Listen to the voices of the fire
Its medicine
You need that

Listen to the voices of the land
Its medicine
You need that !

Go to the forrest and speak to them
They are longing for your company

That tree you love so much ?
Its medicine

That plant you are being drawn to
That rock , that stone, that feather , its medicine,
You need that !

The beetle longs to tell you the secret of its shell ,
The butterfly, the squirrel, the hazel tree, the crow
All are waiting for you …

Your medicine,
They need that .