The last thing Hilde ate was raspberry jam. Hilde hen, the cuddly funny one, sitting on my kitchen step, looking at me. Into me. That mysterious cord between us strengthening through the doors of the eyes. Because that’s how the light of us shines through, the intelligence, the truth. I saw glimmers of that truth in you Hilde. I felt your warmth my friend. Indeed I loved you.
Laugh if you want, but love is love. This isn’t vapid sentimentality. It’s the very flow of our souls. Love doesn’t slot neatly into socially acceptable categories. It’s neither quantifiable nor comparable. It just is. And it moves unstoppably like a river, always downward toward the open sea. Impossible to dam up, it often bursts its banks, because both love and water have their own rules, their own currents. We either set our boats upon them and sail, or we watch from the cold, dry shore.
My boat sailed with Hilde even though she was a hen. In some ways she wasn’t a bird at all, just as I’m not simply a mammal. There are animals that belong clearly in the animal, preferring their own kind and their own parameters. And then there are the edge-walkers like Hilde and myself. We skip up to the boundary and peer over. What’s over here? Who are you? Are we the same in some way? What we find is both amazing and shocking. In many many ways we are so very similar. And in many other ways we are completely incomprehensible.
Nevertheless, there is one thing that bonds every living being on this planet. There is one experience we all share.
I’ve watched a dog die. A tree. A human. And now a hen. Death, like love, doesn’t discriminate. There is no laughable pyramid of supremacy for the reaper, no life too small or big to be taken. On the day of death, everyone and everything is equal. An ant, the Dalai Lama, and a hen.
Nothing wants to die. This I’ve seen. And all animals know instinctively what death is, and just like with us a great fear of it runs through their veins, understandably, because let’s face it, the day we die is never our best day.
I had three hens. They were a troop of redheads that appeared at the mouth of a lockdown. Gertie the pecker died young but fast. One day she was fine, the next she was stretched out stiff-legged in the coop. Frida the adventurer wandered into the forest never to return. Then there was Hilde. Oh Hilde. The beloved one. The funniest, friendliest, sweetest hen who chit-chatted to anyone who’d listen. Her death was slow, and it broke me. Sitting with her in my arms amidst the bowing hazels, all I could do was weep at the wretched state of her.
Protracted deaths are a rack that stretches anyone in care’s reach. You have no idea how long the ordeal will last, and no way of pacing yourself. Always hoping for a miraculous recovery, you walk a tightrope of terrible choices, not knowing whether to keep administering medicine or to leave your dear friend in peace. Should you put them out of their apparent misery? Or should you hold their claw? Did you give up too early? Or did you torture them by trying too hard? How can you ever know? The carer is always guilty no matter what they do.
The last thing Hilde ate was raspberry jam. Because she loved raspberries, and in happier times was caught regularly pinching mine. It was her last morning, and she nibbled a bit of jam. Then came the terrible deterioration. The inability to move or eat. Counting the minutes, I prayed for the reaper to hurry up. What the fuck was he waiting for? I’d like to say Hilde died peacefully in my arms, but the moment of death is rarely peaceful. This isn’t a romcom after all. As the body gives up, the consciousness (inside it?) can do nothing but wait for some inner calamity to occur. That moment is never pretty.
Finally after far too long, there was a terrible struggle. Something inside Hilde snapped. She flapped terrified, eyes widening in horror. As I hovered over her, trying to say something soothing, it seemed she thought I was killing her.
So my heart is sore today. My eyes have turned to vinegar, stinging so harshly the world seems forever blurred. There’s nothing but fog and drizzle, the land itself lost in its tears. I don’t understand the injustice, nor the lack of poetry. But nature has her ways.
The walnut tree calls me now. As I trudge down the slope towards her, the mist begins to thin. The snapshots of horror in my mind don’t fade, but I begin to find their edges. I begin to see and feel around them and beyond them to wider open spaces. Hilde wasn’t a hen you see. And I’m not a human. We were just trying clothes on for size, and those clothes were always too small. All these stories and memories, none of them the truth. There are great swathes of us that can never be marred by what we think we’ve witnessed and the tales we tell about it; the light in a being’s eyes, the love in a heart, elements of us that are as pure and clean as spring water.
And yes those elements just keep flowing. On and on and on. They will never be content with an identity or a body, be it hen or human or tree. Great ribbons of pristine fluidity we are. Always stretching. Always searching. For the open sea.
Go dear Hilde, go. Don’t get stuck. Don't hang around. You always were and always will be free.
A head turns. Shameless. Proud.
The gaze holds mine. Yes holds it.
Wildcat is staring me out.
Claiming this place.
A black ridge of fur runs the length of his spine,
It's a dark trail over a sierra.
Wildcat, you are back.
Lounging on the rocks of your own terms,
Begging to no one.
Earth and grit
Belonging here and knowing it.
Skin and bones forged from these mountains,
Mottled buff coat born of mottled buff slopes
No rental contracts for you.
No seeking permission
To live in your own home.
You see me,
And stalk to the centre,
Shoulders two raised sails floating on a sea of fur.
Coursing through my land,
Ringed tail flicking
Left and right
A pendulum ticking in the sunlight
Requisitioning this place,
Your self belief shakes the very earth.
Ripples along the pelt of the slope
Shimmies through the air,
And into the creek,
Everything knows you are here.
Rooted to the spot
I watch you
I’m the tenant,
Not the landlady.
As we will all be reminded,
Though not through a screen,
Or because the government says so,
Or the BBC.
It won’t be the numbers that inform us.
They are the agents of the destroyers now.
The experts all sold
To Big Industry.
We will be reminded when the planet speaks,
When she lifts her haunches,
Stares into our eyes,
Because to say this is just temperatures rising,
Is to understand nothing about Gaia at all.
To say this is all about carbon dioxide
Is to reduce our earthen wonderland to a chemistry set.
This is not about something,
It’s about everything;
Forests and seas, earthworms and wildcats.
It’s about hearts beating and lungs breathing.
And many things we don’t understand.
Haystacks of hubris line the human world,
Good luck finding a needle of humility.
Green washers and fake do-gooders,
Always primed to profit on the back of any crisis.
Solutions manufactured in far off places
By the small hands of children.
Where no one sees,
And no one looks.
One day we will understand
This is not about solving problems,
The solutions are the problem.
This is about love and beauty and life herself.
Things that can never be solved.
This is about nature and her fundamental difference from the machine.
Which is dead. And dying.
Heartless. And unbreathing.
It's about light filling hearts
And earth filling minds
Until the human is a garden once more.
Swaggering over the grass,
You head towards the creek.
One last glare back,
At me. The squatter.
Your black ringed tail is the last thing I see,
A fur snake twisting,
Into the undergrowth.
To requisition this place.
With what is truly me.
See more from Michael Gabler here: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Michael_G%C3%A4bler
The blackberry bushes sprawl, stripped to the stem.
Nothing left for me. The winged ones spied them first.
A walnut, cracked and wrinkled, winks at me under the tree.
I crane my neck,
A few left for me.
The squirrels yielded a better bounty.
Their focus clear,
Eyes unclouded by virtual image,
Heads unfilled by blather.
Badger’s shrieks pierce the nights,
She’s claimed her set,
Is defending it.
For there’s a pinch to the darkness now,
Though bright and clement, the great Gaian clock of the seasons is turning.
Dormouse scurries into a wall nook, leaf in mouth.
Robin Redbreast flits back to my table.
The hazelnuts have gone,
The ash leaves are going,
Everything is nesting,
Nature doesn’t live in her head, but in her senses.
All six or more of them.
Her guts tell her storms are approaching
Her nose smells winter ahead
The hairs on her green arms prickle as a volcano rumbles in the distance.
Here on the ground of Gaia’s body, all is real.
No screens, no stories, no dubious insurance policies.
Clean and honest.
I’m nature’s child.
Sometimes in my head. Sometimes in my senses.
Sometimes beyond them all.
Other times at their beck and call.
Earth in spirit, or spirit in earth?
As my wood pile grows, and jam jars clutter,
In the garden leeks are thickening,
I have flour, oil and pulses,
A little fuel too.
Don’t worry, I hear you winter.
I hear you.
Yet how cosy we all are up here,
Badger, Robin and I,
Perched upon the rocky shoulders of Magna Mater,
Hunkering down on her Cambrian bones,
While the world below heaves and groans.
Yes how warm you feel Gaia,
And how bare the cupboards of civilisation,
Sea Rock, how long you’ve been here. Hunkered. Down. In sand and dirt. The years etched on your rutted skin. Time passing through you. And me.
You’ve borne the lashing of the sea,
the hammering of the rain,
the storming of the sand.
Stalwart beneath thunder, sun and star. Almost unmoving.
Yet of all Gaia’s elements, it is you marking the eons. Earth’s upheavals are drawn upon you and within you. Cataclysms. Ice ages. Tectonic power.
When I touch you I am transported from today to yesterday, and from there to tomorrow. So it is in you Sea Rock, that I see it coming. The yawing of ages. As we cast off from the shores of the old, and sail out into waters new, I see myself turn back one last time. My future eye watches the banks of home crumble and fall beneath the waves, taking everything that couldn’t move with it.
I see you too Rock. Accepting your fate. As the tide pushes over your head for the very last time.
The past sinks below the surface. Yet how small and closed it looks. As a new sun gilds the crests and troughs alike, they roll and swell and carry us forth. We ride them like sea dragons, the power of the planet surging beneath us.
Things will never be the same. What was above is now below. And it feels like a blessing.
It’s just a day, on just a bit of land, in just a random place on Earth. Just going about my business. Just cleaning my teeth, and brushing the dust from the kitchen floor. It’s just a day, mixing mortar and making a wall.
The cumulus at dawn is the first to spot the Sun, her soft cheeks ruddied by his arrival. One by one light fingers stretch over the mountains, reaching for all life. Warming it. Breathing something of the cosmos into it. As I sit in the woods in a bed of crispy leaves, the hazels begin to speak in the language of Earth. Their arms wave and rustle, bending sunlight this way and that.
Thoughts bounce into my awareness.
They disappear again.
And suddenly there in the dirt, I’m no longer shut inside the walls of my body. I’m no longer buffeted by the storm in my mind. I’m no longer fighting. No longer arguing with no one but myself.
The air rests on my cheeks and forehead. But is it outside me or within? And I remember how our minds process all these phenomena, weaving our realities from them. A mental hatch snaps open. I sense nature’s gaze upon me. The interchange between there and here. A tiny wren hops from one twig to another, twitching her head so fast my eye only registers before and after. I’m in a world of symbol and metaphor again.
Sun treads over the sky making the trees blink. Rocks pull away from the landscape, captivated by his light. The hens call. I stand slowly, alert. This is Justaday. It’s a hinge moment. A power point. An axis between multiple worlds. And it is we who decide which one rises into the foreground. And which sinks below the horizon.
The world Down There is invisible now. A thick drape of cloud has descended, leaving only a crown of rock-ribbed summits, and us Up Here dallying with the unicorns and dragons. I haven’t been Down for a week, reclused as I am on my hill. And as the days thaw one into another, the magic amplifies. Deepens. Thickens. Flowers pop all over the dirt like Gaian stars. Wild horses appear and disappear. Cow bells chime, bees buzz, and butterflies flutter awake.
The woods beckon me closer, brimming with spirits. They brush over my lips and through my hair. “This is the Other World”, they murmur. “Do you remember us? Do you remember here?”
And somewhere I do remember being small and rummaging between tree trunks, sensing spells and auras and other worlds. Later I also remember them saying it was nonsense. Make believe. Just my imagination. I remember them telling me to focus on real things, like money in the bank and a career.
As I wander through the hazels and hawthorns, the spirits wind about me like incense smoke, and for no good reason at all I feel safe. It's all going to be OK. Because although the system is the one looking more and more make-believe today, the gaping cracks in our world are doors. Openings to another place where things happen in the most mysterious ways.
As I peer through the copse, I see I've stepped across the threshold. “Welcome home,” the wood spirits sing. “Welcome home.” Suddenly I realise, this isn't the other world. That is. The haste and panic and insecurity are in my imagination. The magic is the one that’s real.
“Stay calm. Don’t panic. Focus.” he said. “It is vital now, as vital as life herself.”
It was my Power Ash that spoke. Each ash on my land intones differently. One grants healing. One emits peace. One brushes the roof of my cabaña like an old friend. I’ve always known the Power Ash was the energetic centre of the land. He is a manifester, and when I form a vision beneath his sylvan crown, anything can happen.
Sometimes I refer to this ash as a he. Sometimes as a she. But the Power Ash is pangender. He embodies that alchemical fusion of male and female, of spirit and earth that makes the unbelievable materialise.
It was under this tree that I sat before I bought this land. That biting winters’ day two years ago, sunlight carving new worlds out of the landscape, the ash nudged me to put in a final offer. I ran my hand over the magical lattice on his trunk, and inhaled the potential. Half an hour later in the town below, I bumped into the owner of this land, who then oddly accepted my proposal.
It is the Power Ash that I sit with every time I build. And he always says the same thing. “You are power. You can have whatever you want. Make it happen.” Then he whispers the next one or two steps to me. And I follow them. When I do it’s easy. Thus I create a new world.
So naturally it was the Power Ash I ran to when I watched the forests burning. The beautiful creatures burning. Because suddenly I was burning too. There is only so much horror a human can hold before she bursts. And late one night I ripped at the seams. Hence, in pyjamas and hat, I climbed out of my hut and onto my land. Gasping at the freezing air, I stumbled past the barn, through the nettles and grasses, down to the rocks and the ash. The moon was exactly yin yang, casting enough light for me to make out the mountain ridges, but enough darkness to sequester the crevasses.
His boughs were held aloft invoking the sky, while his roots dug deep to the source. “Stay calm, as though your life depends on it,” The Power Ash said. “Panic and anguish will destroy you. Focus on your reality, not someone else’s. Your power is here and now, not there or then.”
The moon held my world in her gaze, and I felt myself stretch into the dirt. “Keep your vision clear. Listen. Take the next step. Then envision and listen again.”
The air thickened gently about me, the darkness pulled so taut you could break it just by tapping on it. An owl warbled from the hazel wood next door, and I felt it. The land turning toward me. All eyes were on me now. “We are power,” the ash said. “And Earth is calling on you to express it.”
Leaves brown and mushy fill the grass. Summer’s work is done. And I know now I will never go back. To the deadlands of the ‘normal’ world, which is anything but. Humans in concrete cages, sucking up drudge hour after hour. The rising tide of boredom. The desperation to fill the void scratching so deeply at souls, they willingly plug themselves into an app to avoid it.
Sometimes it’s wild up here in the mountains. Storms ride in and out like highway men holding my stone huts to ransom. There’s no financial certainty in nature. No power or hot water. Wood must be found and cut. I am rarely sitting. But I will never go back to your urban morgues of convenience. Because I’m a woman of the dirt. I drink the stars at night and create worlds by day. I’m alive.
It’s hotter in October than in August. And through the balmy air, the cloud spirits waft. They float in and out of my land as ethereal beings, brushing against my lips, stroking my arms. Sometimes as they cosset me, they speak.
“Don’t listen to anyone,” they say as they massage my heart. “Because no one knows.”
And there under the ash tree, I am resuscitated. The ranting of the world recedes. The inflated opinions and judgements slip underground. I feel my chest again and it tingles with recognition.
It’s the hardest thing for a human to do. We are programmed to absorb the ideas of our peers, to soak up doctrine and culture like flesh and blood blotting paper. The fingers are pointing at all of us now, guilt-tripping us, coercing us into tight pens.
The cloud sylphs weave higher and closer. I see their soft dewy faces smiling. “Don’t listen to to anyone,” they say. “Sense us. Feel us on your skin. Feel the water in your heart and the fire in your womb. Feel the earth beneath you. Holding you. Holding you. Only then can you listen. Only then.”
A thought cluster drifts into me, warm and true. There is no conflict within it, no panic, nor threat. No list of pros and cons. It is simply right. For me. At this particular moment. These are my words. My thoughts. An intercourse between my soul and the planet, birthing a path which is unabashedly mine.
“What can I do for you dear Earth. What? I have no idea how to act.”
“See me as you would like me to be, in your mind and in your heart. How do I look? What are we both aspiring to? Because we are both creating each other here.”
I stop and consider it. The exhaust smoke of the human world dissipates. The war, the grief, the environmental and social disaster. It falls from the planet like rank old clothes, and everything glows in its wake.
How would I like my Earth to be? Closing my eyes, I feel the cloud spirits drawing closer. I see great forests the size of countries dripping with life and colour. Jaguars, butterflies, rainbow iguanas, birds of paradise, parakeets, snakes, secret insects we don’t know exist yet, small mammals and big, our brothers and sisters, all thriving.
As if sensing my gaze, the Great Forest awakens. And I watch in wonder as the canopy spreads. Vines stretch outwards and upwards, while tree roots enmesh themselves below ground. Leafy hands reach into the barren lands, repossessing fields of tree stumps. The dirt squelches, stalks push through and flowers thrust their heads up to bloom.
All becomes pure power and light; a green tide pulling across the plains and hills.
As though hearing my vision, the ears of the forest creatures prick up. The jaguar stands by the river, throws back her head and roars. Life’s unstoppable power surges into everything, from the smallest lizard to the largest sloth. One by one each forest being becomes alert, standing in the light of Gaia. The forest hums as it joins the intention to flourish, to collaborate here on planet Earth. I feel that immense vitality too, pulsing through me, galvanising me.
“Now, what do I do next?” I call to the cloud spirits. “How do I make this happen?” Because I wonder how to get from here to there? From idea to reality.
The wisps gather round me, animated. “Don’t listen to the fearmongers and naysayers, or the media terror,” They boom. There is a swish and a woosh from the ash tree above. “Come to this space each day. Recreate the Great Forest until your imagination is so saturated with it, you are convinced it’s here. Then, only then, will you know what to do next.”
The days pass. It looks easy, but it’s a hard task I’ve been set. Distractions yank at my mind, and digital screens blind my eyes. Images of fires and plastic oceans fill my head, despair and confusion crouching behind them, rubbing their hands in glee. I’m told I should do something. This or that. That imagining does nothing. That visions are for the privileged. That I mustn’t drive, or fly, or move, or breathe, because everything is killing the planet.
An ash leaf flutters down from above, curled and orange. The tree is a wizard now, seeing things I cannot. Thankfully, I remember the pinch of salt. Because who are these ranting know-alls, telling me to do this and that? And what exactly do they know?
“Don’t listen,” the clouds murmur once more as they circle overhead. “Don’t listen.”
Standing in the centre of my land, I see an eagle drift above. My world is a glorious chlorophyll laden wonder. Mountains rise and fall with such grace it’s hard to believe the destruction they wreaked eons before to be here. A wren peers at me from a branch, and a bumble bee forages in a flower. Squatting in such formidable beauty cracks me open. I can hear the water trickling in the brook below. I see the woodland too, and three stone huts to play with. It’s a blessing this tiny world I’m creating. It’s an honour, not a privilege. It is the gift of being human to create lives and worlds.
As I stand in my mud and rock acreage, I remember imagining this. I remember when it was nothing but an idea; a vision of a more beautiful life. I remember back in the beginning, being lost on the road, searching for a new home, doubting at times it existed. I remember my paltry budget which everyone said was not enough. And then listening to the rocks and the trees until they brought me right here.
I remember wondering how I would make a road, connect water, or repair the walls and the roofs. How can we go from nothing to a new world after all? Yet here I am, in what was once only a figment of my imagination. Here I am.
The cloud spirits lift, and draw closer. I close my eyes and the Great Forests rise before me, a little leafier than before. A jaguar roars. Parakeets squawk. And Gaia shifts into gear.
There are always gateways. And they are integral. Without a door there can be no rooms, no sanctuaries, no inner or outer worlds. Gateways are sacred corridors that prepare us for the transition from one reality to another. On my land high in the picos of northern Spain, Lion Rock is the gate.
For a long time I missed him completely, because the lion is not in the most convenient spot. Reclining as he is behind a morass of sharp-clawed blackberry brambles, he expects some token of effort at least. But there was something about the space, especially at dusk. Something a little viscid, a little dewy about the edges. And I was drawn.
It was a twilight heaving with nimbus when I found myself on the grassy passageway between the two rocks. The hazel tree glimmered in the half-light. I paused because something was going on. Something beyond our ordinary world.
Then I felt the breath on my back. Rock breath. And when I turned I saw him, eyes closed, sleeping like the dead. The Lion in the rock.
He was ancient, gentle, an Aslan of limestone. After watching for a moment or two, I softly placed my hand on his rutted snout, and he began to murmur. “This is the gate to your land,” he said. “When you enter here, you belong. You become us, and we become you. Our earthen threads are woven together again.”
The sun was long gone by now, with the earth exhaling mist. I blinked. Then I stepped between the two rocks, passing through the gate. And there it was; that Other World, the one that hides beneath and beyond. A wonderland of infinite connections and Gaian magic.
The mist thickened into fat droplets. I watched them hit the stones like glass vials smashing on the ground. A metallic insect whirred above my head, a tiny zeppelin from another plane, and as I surveyed my home, I watched the sea holly twist and turn silver.
Swinging round once more, I gazed down, ready to thank the rock. My heart lurched forwards. I blinked to be sure. Because the eye in the rock had opened. The Lion was awake.
The word Rune is derived from the root - run or runa meaning whisper or secret. In linguistic terms, runes are the symbolic letters of ancient Germanic alphabets, or even short Norse poems. Runes can be stones inscribed with magical symbols or 'spells too. Welcome to my runes. Are they symbols? Are they poems? Or are they spells? I'll leave it up to you.
Atulya K Bingham is an author, natural builder and lone off-gridder now lost in the hills of northern Spain.
"I consider myself a person who is connected to nature, somebody who respects the earth; this book has me walking through the world with all my senses opened." Emma Blas, editor Her Heart Poetry