Summer of Love

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There’s nothing quite like a wedding to bring out the best and the worst in people. Or so has been our experience of holding our own hand-fasting ceremony and party at Pi Acres.

We worked tirelessly to tame the land, tackle brambles and make the land accessible to vehicles and for camping. We collected jam jars and recycled materials and made bunting. We wove, and tidied and strimmed. We even built a temporary composting loo! The hot weather made it easier of course to mow and cut (apart from when the heat was unbearable of course, but I shan’t whinge about sunshine), and besides, it wasn’t all work, work, work; we still found the time for some outdoor cooking, guitar playing and of course singing! It made up for all the times the strimmer cable broke, or the horseflies tried biting, or the brambles flicked us in the face (and on one occasion in my eye resulting in a trip to A&E!). I am grateful for the deadline the handfasting gave us as the land is now set up ready for us to enjoy it, and we have a whole summer stretching ahead of us.

However, the whole experience has left us so exhausted that the days off we have managed to put aside since then have found us too tired to make the journey to the land, let alone think about packing grub, organising our van for a spot of overnight camping or tackling any of the projects we have in mind. We’ve bought a second hand paratrooper parachute and I’m dying to drape it over the broomstick geodome we have made. sum1811I want to camp in it, but the effort to set it up would be too much for just one night, so instead, we will have to wait until we have a handful of days off, some more good weather and that I can make sure the shop is fully staffed.

The shop is doing very well at the moment – what with the good weather, it’s seaside location and the fabulous staff I currently have – I really can’t complain. Or shouldn’t complain….however I feel like owning this business is trapping me. It stops me coming to spend time on the land. My VAT return is due in shortly, and although all I do is gather up all my paperwork, scribble notes on my bank statements and print up sales reports to hand over to my bookkeeper, I find it soul destroying. I also have a civil legal battle going on at the moment with an absolute bully and it looks set to go to court and that’s even more stressful than business paperwork. sum18I feel like these things sit on me like a heavy weight, but after just five minutes in Pi Acres; our beautiful little patch of heaven, I am lighter. I am happy again and all the stresses of Western living just slip away with each bird that sings out from the treetops. Anxieties ebb away as I listen to the babbling brook, and my heart skips with joy when I see a wren or a brave robin come and grab a worm near my feet. The dappled summer light beneath the trees and the cool breeze that whisks through the valley kiss my soul back into wellness.

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It’s a space I was excited to share with family and friends on our hand-fasting, but sadly not everyone shared our hippy outlook about love, land and life and instead two worlds collided.  The beautiful souls turned up when they said they would, they made vegan cheesecakes, and foccaccia, bean dip and other things. They turned up early and helped build the firepit, position the haybales, tie string on jam jar lanterns and decorated the geodome so beautifully I cried.

The ceremony itself was utterly beautiful and nothing could detract from that, but if we do it again in a year and a day, we will only be inviting a very select few. I’m not one to name and shame, but I what I will say is that it’s the last big party we will ever have on our land again. And never, ever again will we invite people who disrespect our compost loo! It’s been an interesting experience because it’s focussed us on how we want to use our land. We want to share it with people who get our passion for conservation and who want to help us build something that will benefit people who want to come and connect with nature and each other.

I have finally come to terms with the fact that I have Aspergers and I am no longer ashamed to admit that things affect me differently to neuro-typicals. I think differently. I react differently, and the social constraints of being ‘civilised’ are a struggle for me. I’m an empath and literally soak up the vibe of people yet am disabled in my skills to deal with it should the energy be dark or confrontational or just not kind. I’ve started the process of getting an official diagnosis, although I don’t need a label to know what my challenges are. Aspergers affects men and women in startlingly different ways, and recent research highlights how many undiagnosed women there are that have slipped through the net, been misdiagnosed with mental health disorders, or just simply don’t understand why they don’t fit in. The more I learn about why I have been shunned and judged for being different all my life, the more certain I am that Pi Acres should be for people who need it. Connecting with nature and each other is good for your mental health, and I can think of nothing better than sharing our sanctuary with other gentle souls who understand that love and kindness is all that matters really.

I currently have two potential buyers for my business, but I’m trying not to get too excited because I’ve been here before. I’m finally learning that people don’t always mean what they say, or that they change their minds so until it gets to exchanging contracts, I will not be racing ahead with what will happen next. Should I find myself with a lump sum from the proceeds of the sale, it would be very tempting to press ahead quickly with setting Pi Acres up to be a sanctuary for people to come and find space. I’ve been running a million ideas around in my head from getting special needs kids there for outdoor days, to offering some art therapy days, to offering a hammock or two to forest bathers, and even how soon we can get diggers in to make some ponds before winter sets in, but whoa!! I forget sometimes how tiring everything has been recently and how I shouldn’t make decisions when I feel like I do. I’m nursing a broken heart from the realisation of how much family have let me down – not just for the hand-fasting, but all my life. Things have been brought to the surface, old wounds opened and at last I am dealing with things and finding forgiveness for the past.

At the risk of sounding like a total peace loving hippy, I’m finding out what forgiveness really means. It’s about letting go; not just of the thing you need to forgive, but of the expectation that the person you are forgiving will change. It’s a letting go of hope; but not in a negative way. It’s realising that people may not want to walk the same path as you and that letting them go is sometimes an act of kindness for their sake as well as your own. Some people aren’t ready to see the world the way we do. Some people just don’t get it and that’s okay. If the mirror we hold up to them shows them how ugly they have become deep in their souls, then who are we to force that mirror on them when they are not ready?

So, if you are reading this, and you have a kind soul and you would like to get involved in things like planting orchards, eating vegan supper round a campfire and singing, then make contact with us as we will be doing things here and there when we can and would love some beautiful souls to join us.

The imminent projects at hand are firstly trying to eradicate an interloper that has taken over big chunks of woodland where it was once full of ancient woodland plants and flowers. They’re all still there, but to help them continue to thrive, and of course to stop the spread of the Himalayan Balsalm Wood going further upstream, we need some help plucking it out!

It pops up satisfyingly easily and I’m going to try an experiment of drying them as the stalks are hollow and would make fabulous bee hotels for next spring. We need to do this before they go to seed!

Pi Acres is a very long skinny parcel of land and we’ve had to give up trying to tame large parts of it. We’ve noticed that the far end is still being used by dog walkers, but the paths people are treading down for us are crucial for biodiversity and until we do get planning permission and start digging ponds and the like, I’m very happy with this – but I would like to ask a favour of anyone who is currently walking their dogs on our land… well actually, three favours:

  1. If you fancy paying back the favour of enjoying our land and doing a good deed, can you please pull up some of the Himalayan Balsam Wood – either contact us to join us when we are there, or just find a patch up the far end and start plucking them out?! If you leave them in a pile where we can collect them, we will put them on drying racks if we find them. (Please don’t wander down beyond the wire fence where the geodome or our fire pit is just in case we are using our new haystack target wall and crossbow!)
  2. Keep your dog on the path as there are nesting birds.
  3. Pick up poop (your own or your dogs!)

The other project we are now planning is what to do with the horsebox we have just bought!

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One of the business ideas we had to make sure we didn’t just fritter away the proceeds of the sale of my shop was to do up Luton vans as campers/tiny houses and sell them. I’m very good at interior design and love this kind of project, so we had been keeping an eye out for decent vans, and how much we could spend on one when we had the money. There’s a workshop at the Off-Grid Festival this year (incidentally we are running a Nature in Art workshop there ourselves) specifically tailored to converting Lutons, so we were planning to attend that before buying anything. But then this little beauty popped up on Facebook Market Place and it belonged to my son’s old Maths teacher at Sidmouth college. It’s an MOT failure and needs a couple of thousand pounds spent on welding it, but that made it such a bargain we could afford to buy it now.

So, instead of coming to the land and gaining my fix of peace and stillness, I’ve been trapped here in the city, doing stock runs, ordering stock, doing staff rotas, preparing court paperwork, but also doing all sorts of drawings for the lorry! I’d like to make it an open space inside with lots of built in storage, a small kitchen and a wee log burner. I’m imagining a rest room/kitchen/classroom and then I’d love to keep it somewhere on the land but such things depend on selling my business and deciding we are ready to go the whole hog of running classes from the land (and getting change of use/planning permisson and all that serious stuff that requires thinking about properly). Chances are, we will do up the inside (by hand because we have no electricity at Pi Acres) and then take it away to weld it, get the new MOT and sell it. I’ll post pictures of plans and progress as it goes on, but as I think I need to hide in my cool basement flat here in Exeter just until the heatwave is over (and keep my veg patch watered!) nothing will be happening quickly. We’re off on our honeymoon soon, starting with a festival here in Devon called ‘All About Love’ where the organiser vetted everyone with an application process to get a ticket! I think Paul might try to dissuade me, but I’d love to do the same to anyone who wants to come onto our land. Would that be allowed? Shouldn’t we all do such a thing for anyone that comes into our lives, onto our property and into our psyches?

Food for thought? I shall try not to leave it so long until the next blog, but it is peak season at my seaside shop so I find I am still living between two worlds – the rat race city existence and the tranquility of my city garden and of course Pi Acres. I am thankful for my secret garden here in the city, but it does not compete with the sounds of being in the middle of nowhere. We will get there when we can, and hope that while we cannot be there as custodians of it that our lovely neighbours and fellow nature lovers will keep an eye on it. We’ve been meeting lovely local folk and want to thank everyone who is delighted with our plans and has shown real support. We may well call on you all when we are ready to plant the orchard!  In the meantime, we will be connecting with other beautiful souls and also hoping we will meet more like-minded people at the All About Love Festival. I only hope that they won’t think I’m too weird when I blurt out inappropriately that I have Aspergers as an explanation as to why I’ve just bossily told someone that you can’t claim to be an environmentalist if you’re not vegan. Please God, help me not to be too weird around normal people, or failing that, please surround me with beautiful weirdoes.

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Author: Shelley

I once asked my ex father in law why he didn't like me. His answer? 'You're one of those arty farty types'.

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