The Science Behind Letting Go

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As the wind whips the leaves from the trees and a chill sits in the air with the onset of winter, we are left with an autumnal array of jewel colours that make this time of year quite beautiful. I recently learned that the colours we get every year are dependent on the weather. I used to wonder why some autumns seem more colourful than others.

Leaf colour comes from three pigments. The one everyone knows about is chlorophyll, which is green and is crucial for photosynthesis to take place so that the plant can convert sunshine to energy and grow. Less well known pigments are carotenes which are yellow, and anthocyanins which are reds, purples and pinks. As summer fades, shorter days and colder weather trigger the trees to stop producing chlorophyll which slows down and eventually breaks down so that the existing previously masked colours finally get a chance to have their day.

However, on particularly cold nights, low temperatures destroy the remaining chlorophyll so the leaves become yellow. When we have a bright, sunny autumn, sugar becomes concentrated in the leaves and more anthocyanins are produced, making the leaves redder. If the wind isn’t too strong and the leaves can drink in the last of the sunshine, the leaves will stay put and turn from yellow to orange to red before dropping.

For the leaves to drop without a fierce wind whipping them away, a layer of corky cells forms across the base of the leaf stalk which restricts the movement of sugars back to the main part of the tree. This also leads to a concentration of anthocyanin and helps the leaf turns red.

I’ve been thinking about this; the tree produces corky cells that cut off the energy the leaves have been giving it, so they eventually become separate enough to drop off. The autumn leaves literally teach us all how beautiful it is to let go. In my personal life, this has been an important lesson. Autumn is a time to let go of past hurts, and to cut off the energy of people and habits that we no longer need in our lives.

The fallen leaves then nourish the ground as they rot, so although the onset of winter can feel stark and bare, the ground is being prepared for next Spring as decomposing matter feeds the fungi and detritivores (which literally means feeders on dead or decaying matter) and fill the air with that damp woody smell that we have all come to know as mushroom time. This is the time for fungi to really have their season as they assist in the yin and yang of life and death. It’s nature’s ultimate recycling where matter is surrendered back into the ground and converted into simpler organic forms that are the food source for many of the species at the base of all ecosytems.

I have been struggling to let go of the hope that my family would come through for me, so in the spirit of autumn, I have finally had the bonfire I’ve been talking about where I burn my past. I’m not sure how ecologically sound it is to burn photographs, but psychologically it’s been very powerful for me. I kept a small handful of photos that remind me of happy times and might be of interest to future generations, but the rest – a whole bin bag full have now been ceremoniously burned. fireWedding albums from my first marriage are now gone. Pictures of my birth family gone. My sisters. Gone. My parents. Gone. Hardest to part with were pictures of me with my family where I look fabulous. I asked myself why I struggled so hard to part with them and realised it was vanity. I was gorgeous once. But I do not need vast swathes of photographs that prove I was beautiful. I’m far more beautiful on the inside now, and that is what matters.

An acquaintance visited me not long ago and saw a photograph of me when I was young. “I’d have done you back then” he said, as if that was a compliment. I found it deeply offensive, not just because of the crass nature of the comment or because I had to hold my tongue to stop myself saying that I would never have ‘done him’ (he’s deeply unattractive to me on both shallow and deeper levels) but because of the objectification of a human being, as if my worth was tied up entirely on how I look.  I burned the ‘hottie’ photos with a sense of relief that whilst Paul and I fancy each other like mad, it really has little to do with whether I am a stone lighter or whether I shave my legs. Inner beauty is what matters and too many of us are made to feel ugly because we do not fit the stereotype of what the media tries to tell us is attractive.

Letting go of what is expected of us is liberating. I’ve bought a velvet hooded full length zip up ‘house coat’. I no longer care if it’s eccentric to go out the house in it; I love it. I’m letting go of worrying what people think of me. I went out last week to a friend’s birthday party and didn’t pretend I’m normal. I confessed to friends of friends – (strangers to me) that I couldn’t hear or process what they were saying because of the noise and because I am autistic and no-one batted an eyelid. No-one squirmed and tried to move away from me. My weirdness was just accepted. Although on many levels I enjoyed it, I found it exhausting and ended up tearful and wiped out as a result. Whilst I’m mixing more with people who are not afraid of a bit of neuro-diversity, it’s still mixing with people and I’m just not cut out for it. So I’m letting go of the expectation that I have to.

We have been advertising rooms to let now Oliver has gone to university. It’s been hard to let go of that part of my life and not constantly hound my son to find out of he’s sleeping well and eating properly. He rang me yesterday with no prompting, and we chatted for twenty minutes or more. I’m not usually one to chat on the phone – I struggle with knowing when it’s my turn to speak, but I was so happy that my son was chatty and alert (not groggy and overtired from Fresher week partying) that I was overjoyed. He isn’t vegan like we are, but proudly told me of all the vegan pasta dishes he has been making and getting good at. He’s only bought meat once in the last two weeks apparently, and that was a pack of bacon. Of course I told him he’d bought the flesh of the most intelligent animal that is farmed, but I commended him on limiting his meat consumption. I need to be less judgemental – every step in the right direction is good and if I can let go of disappointment that people aren’t doing everything they can to save the planet, and become a more compassionate species, I might be able to warm people to my ideas instead of scaring them away that I am a militant vegan that is judging everyone.

I was hoping that being vegan would have helped me to lose some weight, but alas, either my cooking is just too delicious or I’m just a sneaky eater. I’ve been making the most delicious raw, sugar free, gluten free, cacao protein balls that are every bit as delicious as choccy treats (naturally sweetened by dates and a dollop of maple syrup). ballsThey are ridiculously easy to make – I just throw a handful of dates, raisins, cashews, and hazelnuts in the blender with a sploosh of maple syrup, four dessert spoons of raw cacao, a dollop of coconut oil and whizz it up. Then I rolled the mix into little balls and covered in desiccated coconut or crushed hazelnuts. In this batch, I added a couple of drops of orange oil, a few scoops of pea protein and some chia seeds so that Paul is getting more protein, as unlike me, he’s losing weight. Now, if only I could let go of eating them all myself.

#lettinggo #autism #proteinballs #autumn #vegan

 

 

 

Autumn Winds

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It feels as though Summer ended with an abrupt gust of wind that came straight after my court case and drew a line under the season once and for all.

I won my case at court, and the sociopath paralegal suing me just made himself look even more incompetent when the judge threw out his case. There was a beautiful moment when the judge asked him what his qualifications were to fight litigation cases, and he had to admit he failed to even complete his first year at law school and had no other qualifications whatsoever. I shan’t bore you with details of the case, but what I will tell you is that he looked like a mini grey haired version of Donald Trump and his body language, way of speaking and smarmy expressions just as ridiculous. The judge was suitably aghast that he charges £200ph and wanted to charge me £4-6k (over the £2k fixed fee we had agreed) for fighting the rogue builder that ran off with my money two years ago.

As we left the court, I wanted to feel jubilant, but I just felt flat. The man is clearly a sociopath and whilst I may have won against him in court legally, he has cost me my (albeit fragile) relationship with my step-father, because they are long standing mates and he chose to support his friend over his step-daughter. I just don’t get people and feel bereft that my family are so utterly rubbish, but then, I’ve always known this. Back when I should have got help as a teenager when my autism was presenting itself in fairly dramatic ways, I was instead bundled off to military boarding school.

Straight after the case was dismissed, Step-Heavy upstairs went away, and Harry has apparently gone back to London, so there’s now been a blissful two weeks of no clomping around upstairs at my flat and I’ve been sleeping like a baby. I don’t know yet whether the sleep is due to the lack of clompy-boots upstairs or the long overdue relief that two year’s worth of legal battles were finally over, but it’s been marvellous. And it’s meant I’ve been in a good place to sift through forty years worth of hoarding as we finish packing up the flat to move. We haven’t found anywhere to move to yet, and it may well be that we don’t move now until Spring, but that’s okay as decluttering at home and making the place lovely makes it more bearable to stay. I’ve been going through generations of photos, old school books, journals and have whittled it down to three piles and a small trunk. The trunk is what I will keep, and the piles consist of: one to throw out, one to look through properly as I have started writing my autobiography and another that I plan to burn. There’s something deeply symbolic about burning photographs and letters from people you wish to cut ties with, and I’m finally ready to let my birth family go. If my autobiography should get published, you will know why burning my bridges to them is so important, but for now, all you need to know is that I am letting go. Like the leaves falling from the trees, Autumn really is showing me how beautiful it is to let go.

I used to hate it when Summer was over; it represented an end to long nature walks where I could feel a warm breeze on my exposed skin, swimming in the sea, eating outside, sitting in the garden and of course an end to all the flowers I love seeing from early March through to now, but then I started learning about trees a couple of years ago. Trees are super interesting right now, with their weird alien looking growths that house seeds. The pods hanging off my neighbours wisteria are fabulous, and as beech nuts ripen, the cases open like something out of an alien film.

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Tim the Herbalist

It’s a great time to go foraging, so Paul and I attended a half day course with a gentle souled man called Tim who took ten of us on a walk near his house, then we went back to his cabin and made tea and potions with our foraged haul. There were two women on the course who clearly knew more about foraging than herbalist Tim did, and constantly interrupted him to add their penny’s worth. I tried not to find it irritating, especially as I was itching to also share my knowledge but decided that would be very autistic of me and I needed to be aware that he was the teacher and we should all be listening to him. Their lack of awareness of how disruptive they were being made it hard for me to relax, especially as the one who interrupted the most and talked the longest had very, very tiny hands. She waved them about  as she spoke like an Italian and sometimes moved them quite close to the two ladies sitting either side of her who both had the long fingers of piano playing hands, which made her hands look even smaller. I started silently willing her to shut up the longer she spoke and had to work very hard to stop myself blurting out in a tourettes style outburst ‘Your hands are very small!’ in a bid to interject some kind of halt to her babble. You’ll be pleased to know I didn’t, and I left the course more knowledgable about herbs and quite pleased with myself that I was able to mask my autism well enough that I probably appeared normal.

Much of what he taught us, I already knew, like hawthorne being good for your heart and nettles being a superfood, but new to me were the benefits of meadowsweet and bramble leaves. There’s something innate about collecting things from the forest and making tinctures. It resonates with something in me and I’ve determined to learn more.herb2

I already make my own face creams, insect repellent and bath oils using the barest of organic ingredients so it seems a natural step to start looking for those ingredients around me rather than buying them online.

In the van on the way home from the foraging course, Paul told me tiny hands lady was clearly on the spectrum herself and that I was like her. I don’t know if you’ve ever found someone intensely irritating and then had someone say that you are like them, but the journey home was anguished for me, as I think Paul is right. I am like the woman with the tiny hands. Except I’m not, because I’m growing ever more aware that I don’t want to be like tiny hands lady. She did know her stuff; an expert even, but that doesn’t mean everyone wanted to listen to her. I’m beginning to understand now why I was never liked at school. Before my teenage rebellion, I was just like her and often knew more than the teacher did. It explains why I never had many friends, and in fact still struggle now. But I am also pleased with myself that I don’t need to be at the mercy of my autistic brain; I can appear normal and whilst it’s exhausting to have to navigate my way through social interactions whilst also trying to keep in mind that I can’t truly be myself, I did marvellously well on this course. I even made a friend called Lisa who runs an art land project in Kingsbridge. We are going to see her set-up this week, and as I’ve warned her I am autistic (she’s a teacher so she understands special needs more than most) I may be able to be myself and not have to apologise for it (we shall see!).

Lisa is also a dream therapist, and I have been having the craziest dreams recently about my family, about my passports, burning the photos, escaping from my family and other very bizarre things. On Lisa’s instructions, I’ve started keeping a dream diary, but they are so profound and relate so well to what I am going through right now, it’s prompted much writing and the autobiography is now well underway. I’m in the zone! Despite just wanting to spend time writing now, I have still managed to get outside and harvest rosehips, and I’ve made a tincture. I’ve written an article for the Dolton diary about foraging, and as it’s interesting (hopefully genuinely interesting and not in a tiny hands way), I’m going to tag it on at the end here, along with a confession. I scrumped all our apples from the local cemetery! Happy reading, and if I have inspired you, happy foraging:

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September has been great for foraging wild blackberries, damsons, and elderberries this year. I made bramble and elderberry jam, and apple and blackberry crumbles with my haul. Well, I say jam but it didn’t set as well as I liked, so let’s say I made compote. It has an elderflower perfume to it that is lovely. I’ve been stewing apples, freezing blackberries and generally making the most of nature’s free food store, but it doesn’t end there.

It’s all to easy to think that this is the time of year when we should all be pruning and tidying and getting our gardens ready for cooler weather, but hold fire there a moment, as there’s plenty more to see, harvest and eat before we settle down for winter. The roses in my garden are still flowering, but many elsewhere have turned to seed and all of them will before the end of October. But before you prune your roses, might I suggest you wait until you have all the rosehips you can gather as they are a superfood, with loads more vitamin C than oranges; just what we need to boost our immune systems ready for the cold season. The multitude of health benefits include the relief of symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis and respiratory conditions. They also prevent cancer, lower cholesterol, manage diabetes, regulate digestion, boost the immune system, increase circulation and help build stronger bones. They contain vitamins C, A, E, B-complex as well as minerals like calcium, iron, selenium, manganese, magnesium, phosphorous, potassium, sulphur and zinc. They also contain organic compounds like beta-carotene and contain several anti-oxidant components that all help improve health. Rosehip syrup is just as easy to make as jam, so what are you waiting for? I’ve made a tincture which is even easier. It’s as simple as washing, top and tailing the rosehips and seeping them in vodka. I’ve put the jar near the tea caddy and everytime I make a cuppa, I will give the jar a little shake. In four to six weeks, I will have a beautiful rose coloured tincture that I can put in my tea, or just sip like a tonic. The origin of the word tincture come from ‘tint’ which is what will happen to the vodka as it steeps. Word of warning for handling rosehips: if you are cutting them open, the small hairy seeds inside are nature’s itching powder, so wash your hands afterwards!

Also out in abundance at this time of year are hawthorn berries, which are well known for helping heal heart conditions. Why not combine your rosehips and hawthorn berries to make a tincture that will not only be delicious, but will keep you super healthy? It’s also mushroom picking time, but there are so many mushrooms out there that could make you ill, I wouldn’t chance eating any that you don’t know for certain are safe. Beech nuts are very tasty if you can get your hands on them before the squirrels, and of course there’s sweet chestnuts this time of year. Last year I got enough to roast, peel and freeze so that we could have chestnut stuffing at Christmas, but again you’ll be competing with the squirrels and they are very efficient at getting there first, then digging up your garden to hide them. If you are lucky enough to have a monkey puzzle tree, the nuts are delicious; they’re like giant pine nuts but with a texture like brazil nuts. They’re edible raw or cooked, but I would suggest dry roasting them and seasoning them with paprika, salt and pepper.

Have fun foraging, but don’t forget, it’s scrumping if it’s in someone’s garden.so check with them first before you start picking the rosehips off your next door neighbour’s rose bushes!

 

Voyage de Noces

We took off in our van and boarded a ferry for Roscoff last week for our honeymoon, or as they say in France, Voyages de Noces. HM1The countryside looks almost identical to my beloved Devon, so it was great to be exploring a new land that looked so much like home.  It was especially good to be surrounded with nature that I could connect to because the ferry over was a special kind of hell for me. Bright lights, people everywhere, screaming kids, and regular tannoy announcements that were terrifyingly loud. I’m noticing now what happens in my body with this form of sensory overload and I can only say it feels like I’m in a war zone. I can tell myself logically that it’s all fine but it’s become clear that my brain isn’t linked in such a way that it is able to instruct my body not to panic, so every time a kid screamed or the tannoy burst into noise, I felt as though I was under attack. In the end, I spent a whopping £30 on headphones (I really should have brought my own, so that annoyed me) and on the journey home, we booked a lifesaving cabin (although there were still tannoy announcements clearly designed for the hard of hearing, or is it perhaps to be audible above the din that is hundreds of people all in the same space?).

The first few days were bliss. We camped and played the guitar and sang. I cooked lovely vegan food al fresco and the sun shone. We took long walks along the river and I took photographs everywhere. The landscape is truly stunning as you can see…

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I was struck by the vastness of the countryside, with unspoilt lakes scattered everywhere  and vistas so stunning it was breathtaking. HM8Everywhere we drove were lush green tree tunnels and panoramic views of far stretching countryside with barely another person on the road. Roads seemed largely devoid of potholes and Paul kept commenting on what a pleasure it was to drive; so very different to the country lanes we try to navigate back home. I suspect a vigilante resident has filled some of the potholes on West Lane near our land as it’s just the worst ones that have been filled in, but in France, the roads were smooth and we glided along them in a state of bliss.

We camped the first couple of nights, and I cooked, but when we arrived at the first of the two Chambre D’Hotes we had booked, it became more of a challenge because we are vegans, and it’s hard to be a vegan in France; especially when meat eaters are trying to feed you. I’m getting very good at making delicious home cooked, cruelty free food, so placing the responsibility of feeding us on people that don’t have that same experience meant disappointment, not just because we were fed potatoes and veg as a main course (it was delicious, but I couldn’t help feeling like I was just eating a side dish) but because they presented the other guests with a chicken that they had roasted in a bizarre sitting up position and brought it out to the table sizzling in it’s roasting dish. It was almost comical had it not been so upsetting for us. We tried to politely ask if we could take our vegetables outside, but they looked at us so so confused, I blurted out I can’t sit at a table while people eat my friends. Later (and again at breakfast) I ended up profusely apologising for being so militant in my veganism and making people feel awkward, but the truth is, I find being in the presence of dead animal flesh, whether cooked or raw totally abhorrent now. Have I fallen so far down the rabbit hole I can’t see anything the way I used to? I don’t like the idea of being rude, but now I’m home, I wonder if I should I be apologising to people that I find it so upsetting to see beautiful creatures that want to live, killed, stripped of their skin, hair and guts and dished up on a plate. We should all find it upsetting because our survival simply doesn’t depend on it anymore. It’s entirely a selfish, tastebud thing coupled with conditioning that this is normal. If I accept this level of apathy towards the real consequences of what people are eating, aren’t I somehow condoning it?

Let me ask you; would you find it abhorrent if you went to someone’s house and they had made a human stew and dished you up a bowl with the flesh of human limbs in it? Imagine it for a moment, it’s the stuff of horror movies, right? Now consider that I experience that same horror at the thought of eating animals. HM5They are sentient beings just like us; they feel pain and emotion and want to live.

On the campsite, there were a gaggle of geese that we made friends with. At first, approaching the fence to their enclosure resulted in some very loud telling off from the geese, but I sang to them and they soon calmed down. Before long, if I approached the fence, they came over to see me and had a wee picnic on the grasses there while I sang to them again. It made it all the more painful when I then found myself in a French grocery store and considered what the French do to geese to make Foie Gras, and how these beautiful, intelligent creatures are force fed until their liver explodes. Have we grown so accustomed to being barbaric, we can’t see what we’re doing?

Camping Milin Kerh just north of Guingamp had some exquisite walks, and it was interesting to see that Himalayan Balsam Wood has taken over in Brittany too.

I wanted to tell the campsite owners what I had seen and explain how it needs pulling out, but I’m trying be more aware about how my well intentioned desire to share my knowledge can come across as rude, so I held my tongue. It wasn’t easy, but their free range pet rabbits placated me (I sang to them as well). God, I hope they don’t eat them. The owner’s mother told me that there was one goose she didn’t like and wanted to eat it for Christmas. I didn’t tell her I was a vegan, but oh my, that was hard too.

I’ve come home inspired. Not just by the countryside, but by the art we saw when we drove through beautiful (and deserted) towns. We wandered through a silver birch forest and I want to paint the picture I took of it on the side of the horsebox lorry. I’m itching to paint, to write, to create. I might burst if I don’t do something soon!

We’ve decided we want to learn to weld and make garden sculptures (and weld the horsebox lorry too perhaps?), and after seeing how beautiful a simple arch with plants growing over it can make for stunning glimpses of what lies beyond. I’d love to place some archways around on our land, and create beautiful and distinct spaces.

During the last couple of days of our honeymoon, I took a tumble down some steep stone steps and banged my head. Bruised and battered all over, it led to me feeling quite wobbly. I managed to break my fall halfway down by grabbing onto the railing, but had I not slowed the speed at which I was heading towards that rock, I could be dead. It’s customary for me to imagine the worst outcomes to most situations (part of my Autism apparently) but I hadn’t imagined that one. I hurt everywhere and I now know pain in my body makes me far more sensitive to anxiety triggers, so by the time got home (after another hell ferry), I spent a whole day crying and wishing I hadn’t come home to so many unpleasant things to deal with like a court case and staff rota. I want to go back to France, back to long walks, back to imagining what I’d grow over archways, and how I am going to word the first paragraph of my new novel.

If we sell the business, there will be months of handing it over and hand holding for the new buyer. I’m not sure I can wait that long to leave Exeter. If we can find a house near the land (and there’s a chance – we have a viewing lined up), then it could all come to be in just over a month. My scary court case against a bully is on September 3rd. If I’m honest, all I can think about is getting that out of the way. It involves family, and I feel the heartache of it like a physical pain in my chest. It would be unwise to make such big decisions while my heart flutters with anxiety at every second or third thought which largely centres around the injustice of it all. I don’t have the ability like neurotypicals do to close the door on the unhelpful thoughts, and they keep coming thick and fast as the date of the hearing approaches.

We want to live in Dolton. We want to be near our land. That’s all each of us knows for sure right now. Maybe in the long term, if Dolton doesn’t want an outdoor eduction centre and place of sanctuary, then maybe we will just sell up everything and buy 30 acres in France. Once this court case is out of the way, I think everything will fall into place. And I’ll paint this Hydrangea.

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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!

sum1813

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.

sum186

 

Plans at last!

april land 1After the treacherous late snow in March comes our first Spring at Pi Acres! The snow made it impossible to get to the land, but I’m not moaning because it was harsher on the poor creatures that had to try to survive it. What I will whine about however was how hard it was on my pocket. There were days my shop couldn’t open and takings plummeted to less than a third of our usual achievable target turnover. This means I’m very poor because the VAT man still wants his money, the wages and bills all still need to be paid, and the cogs cannot stop turning in this capitalist wheel of slavery or the whole thing collapses. I lose my income completely if I don’t keep up this western economy juggling act. But….

My fiancé Paul (yes that’s right – we got engaged in February!) and I have been escaping to this, our haven and prepping the land for things to start happening. We brought family on one of the days we visited and I cooked vegan chilli over a camping stove (our bushcraft skills need honing somewhat yet so that we can make a roaring campfire quickly and efficiently!) We weeded and pruned, and carefully moved the saplings I wanted to save (that were soon to get mowed down when John did the brambles). My son Oliver replanted the trees in the border and I’m delighted to say that the next time we visited, they had all sprung into lush lime green leaves and seem most happy in their new spot! (I think they were Alder and Hazel but I didn’t have my tree ID book with me that day be to completely sure!)

There’s a lovely chap called John that Andrew (the gardener that lives opposite the land) introduced us to, who lives up the hill in Dowland. After deciding to wait until the snowdrops had finished – (but not too late because we didn’t want to destroy any ground nests), he came down with his tractor and mowed all the brambles and nettles.

Afterwards, we wandered around our land truly astonished at how big it looks now! It’s meant that we have finally been able to look at what we’ve actually got and start working out some plans. We will be putting together a planning application next year as a lot of what we would like to do like digging ponds and putting a cute bridge over the stream requires permission, but until we know where we want to dig and create, we will stick to only doing what won’t get us in any trouble! Eventually we will have to decide on where the ponds should go, and I’d quite like a greenhouse style geodome, but then also a tree house or deer/bird hide? I’ve yet to even think about the trees I want to plant and propagate – I’ve been saving Holm Oak acorns to try and grow them. It would be so lovely if I was around long enough to see a Holm oak acorn I planted grow into a full tree. Maybe my super healthy vegan lifestyle and fresh air will help me live until I’m really old so that I can see how this project matures. I’m seeing it as my legacy and have even started thinking about setting it up as a trust but my head starts to spin after a while with those chains of thoughts, so for now, I’m content to just mow the grass and weave some willow! My current dream (or perhaps obsession?!) is to buy a sit on mower but we have no money at the moment so it’s all just a dream. If we have a good bank holiday weekend at the shop, maybe a really old one could be considered!

april land 5

Ian Chadwick from the Devon Wildlife Trust came and looked at what trees on the nature reserve side of the boundary could be pruned or removed to allow daylight into the old pasture where horses used to be kept. We need to start trying the tame the land so that things like wild meadow flowers will grow there. The banks of primroses everywhere make the place magical, and now that bluebells have joined them in the woods, I realise how quickly the time has gone. I’ve always maintained that summer doesn’t really start until my birthday has been and gone and the bluebells have finished, but what happened to Spring? It feels like it’s only been here five minutes!

This is by far my favourite time of the year; when the bluebells carpet forests in deep purple hues and the sun is warm on your face, but a cardigan is still required, and a camp fire at the end of the day is welcome to warm yourself up.  I’ll be concocting my own midge repellent with citronella oil and coconut oil – so I’ll let you know if it works when we start having the odd campfire and staying until it falls dark. I’m usually quite delicious to biting insects but I really don’t want to use chemical repellents.

pi acres planA.jpg

So, here’s our first plan! I realised after doing half of it that it’s upside down if you want North to be at the top, but this isn’t how I see it in my head and the other way up was just far too confusing for me; I read from left to right so it makes sense that the plans go from left to right from the entrance! We are still getting to know the land so much of it at this stage is hypothetical; we are still working out where would be good locations for ponds (some of the land is so boggy it almost demands we dig it out and allow the giant boggy puddles to realise their full potential!) and where is dry enough (higher ground) to plant fruit and nut trees.

When I first saw the land, I envisaged a giant pond up the far end away from the entrance, and an area half way down where I would plant all the fruit and nut trees together in neat lines and make it a proper walk-through orchard, but now I’ve visited regularly through a wet Autumn and an elongated winter, I can’t see that working. There are too many boggy areas and the places that would be perfect for fruit and nut trees are dotted around on higher levels. Many of them will get planted in small clusters so it creates dividing copses to break up the long thinness of the land. I want to create small copses and idyllic openings with grassy meadows and the odd well placed bench and willow sculpture. Certain areas are already standing out as great places to erect a tent and have a go at camping on the land. I’m a bit of a princess I’ll be honest and the truth is, I’d rather sleep in our van, but at the moment that would mean sleeping in the car park as only a tractor can get in and out of our boggy marsh land!

april land 13

 

As you can see, it looks a lot more bare than the estate agent picture that was taken last Summer! It will be interesting to see how well things bush up when all the trees and shrubs have caught up to the idea that it’s nearly Summer. You can see from the latest picture that even a tractor struggled through the boggy part of the route in.

land1

Next time we visit, John is meeting us to help us work out a gully system to redirect the water that currently comes down the hill and straight through our gate. There’s already a ditch along our border and the road and I reckon it just needs some kind of stone gully put in it to send the water to the stream. Once we’ve done this and the land dries up a bit, we’ll have to think of a way to drive the van in. I’m all in favour of selling the van and getting a 4 x 4, but as we are going on a road trip round Brittany in our van for our honeymoon that plan will have to wait. A solution is to put some stone down just inside the gate and then we can park there. I have concerns that it will look ugly until it grasses over, but I have some super fast growing grass seed so it won’t take long until it looks nice again. In fact, I’m sure our battle will be stopping everything bursting into chaos as things grow rather than urging seeds to sprout!

april land 8

This is the view looking back at the mound – you can just see it through the opening. I love how the trees are already shaping separate areas, so that we just have to add to them rather than create them. The way time is dashing by, I can’t see us doing much more this summer than make a couple of log stores and keep mowing the meadow areas so that by next year they are good for spreading wild meadow flower hay everywhere. If anyone knows where I can get this, please send me a message because my only lead at the moment is Exeter City Council roadside gardens – I noticed they didn’t harvest the wild flower beds at all last year – what a waste!! I’ll happily go harvest them if they let me.

Soon we will go see Ian Chadwick at the Meeth Nature Reserve as they have ponds they created some years ago – I’m keen to see which plants just arrived without them actually planting them as I’m fascinated to see how things develop naturally and without too much landscaping on my part.

What we are planning to do this year that may set tongues wagging is get married on our land! Well, I say married – it’s obviously not a licenced wedding venue but we still plan to say our vows to each other in front of our family and friends in a small gathering followed by a campfire, guitars and singing. People might think we are weird cult members or pagan witches if they happen to be walking their dogs in the nature reserve on that day, but I can assure you we are not! I’m thinking of erecting a silk parachute covered geodome for the event, so some might think we’re a mini Eden project in the making which, you never know might just be the case in years to come! So, to dispel any myths or speculation about what we are up to, I’ve had a sign made to go on the gate:

sign

So if you’re reading this because you’ve walked past this sign, and spotted by blog address, welcome! I’ve been explaining to so many interested passing parties what we are up to that I thought I would post my blog address on the sign and you can follow what we are doing as we do it! If you would like to lend a hand, send me a message via this blog. The plan doesn’t show you all the nature art installations we are planning – most will be using natural materials we scavenge off the land – I can’t wait to see lichen and moss growing on some of the woven art I have planned. In fact, our first Nature Sculpture and Art Day is soon – we’ve planned it for May 19th, so if you love nature and art, follow this link to secure yourself a place: Nature Art & Sculpting Day – we’re limiting numbers because the last thing we want is to over trample the recovering pastures! Plus, parking is an issue, so if you want to come, please walk in from the village and keep our impact on the environment as low as possible. Let me know asap if you want to join in on this or any other things we have planned (2019 orchard planting for example!).

Whilst this is a space we will ultimately want to share with people on certain days, it’s not quite the same as making it a public space – we will be putting living hedges (and dead ones for those that don’t take!) right the way along the boundary as we will need to discourage dogs and dog walkers in favour of the ground nesting birds I want to attract. Please respect the boundaries and don’t trespass!

As an ex Scout leader, I’m quite keen to get the local scout group involved and eventually have an archery range that they come and share with us, but like so many things it’s a case of seeing how it evolves for now.

I’m concerned about the amount of cans and bottles that I found on the land – people just throwing it over the hedge from the bridle path. I also worry that some of the beautiful areas we create might get vandalised (locals have been regaling tales of vandals and thieves so much that I’m convinced our plot must be like the Brooklyn of Dolton!) but I can’t let that stop us! Soon, when I have more money, we will put live nature cam up everywhere and try to attract as much wildlife as possible so that we can capture on film the beauty of this magical place – and that in turn should prevent horrid things happening – from humans at least! There will be no hunting on my land. I’m a vegan, so I can’t bear exploiting or killing animals for sport or food. It’s astonishing how angry meat eaters and hunters get when I say I am not prepared to kill animals. What about crucial culling, they ask. If I find I have issues with, say too many deer for example, I will fence off or protect the trees they could ruin if given access to them, but generally I will be welcoming all the wild life I can.

If you’ve not read any of my posts before, there’s one about falling down the rabbit hole of veganism; if you wish to better understand the journey I am on (and trying to advocate) it’s worth reading! Or if you just want to be nosey about what we are doing with the land, there will be updates with each post even if I go off on my anti-capitalist, hippy rants about how we should all be communing with nature. We should! It’s good for your soul, your mental health; it grounds you (literally) and helps balance out the evil influences of the controllers of our sick nation.  I’m hoping I can tame parts of the land enough (pesky brambles will be the challenge) that walking around barefoot is relatively peril free, so if you see a bare foot, curly grey haired lady wandering round picking up sticks to make arty things with, that’ll be me 🙂

april land 6

And the handsome beardy weirdy is Paul. You’re more likely to see him up trees hanging the art we make. Feel free to say hello if you see us, but as we work long hours in the Exeter and Plymouth city rat races when we are not on the land, time is very precious so chatting about what we’re there to do might be a bit of a luxury. Please don’t think us rude if we crack on with it!

 

 

The Longest Winter

snow piJust when daffodils seemed to promise winter was over, along came the snow. I was in Italy on business when it came and for a while I was unsure if I would be able to get home. The snow was bad enough to see sleepy little Sidmouth cut off, and staff unable to get to work, so my fashion boutique did not open. Roads were unusable and in the end, we all just had to give in and have snow days. Adults became children once again with sledging and snowball fights, and I made it home just before it was too late to make an icy snowman in the communal garden at my Exeter flat. A group of people made an igloo in Belmont Park. The blue white of fresh snow and skies blanketed in thick snow clouds made for beautiful vistas, but it was also a critical time for flora and fauna. Disastrous even. Friends told me when the snow melted they found several dead frogs in their garden.

Before I left for Italy, my small courtyard garden at the rear of my flat in Exeter had a robin nesting in thick ivy that covers my garden wall. When I returned, several inches of snow had covered the nest site and I fear her eggs were lost. She’s been out collecting nesting materials again since; although the cold has played havoc with my fashion trade, with spring flowers and frogspawn, we all just have to start again, like that wee robin. It means I’ve been busy working to promote business, taking clients overseas to help them with importing and not spending time at Pi Acres at all. I’m desperate to be there, but Spring will eventually come, and so too the weather than means we can achieve some of our plans for Pi Acres.

Last time we visited, we started tidying the land – clearing old corrugated iron sheets, picking up rubbish and have started the process of removing vast amounts of barbed wire. The previous owners had kept horses a long time ago, so the boundaries around the first third of the land used to be fenced. Most of the fences are now down, so the barbed wire is mostly just a trip hazard, and needs to go. A lovely man called John who lives just up the road is going to bring his tractor down and remove all the brambles and mow the tangled weeds back to what will look like meadow soon, but we have to remove the rest of the barbed wire first. It will be great to see the space properly once it’s been mowed. Of course, as soon as lime green shoots appear on the trees, so too will the weeds and the brambles return, and our job this summer will be to just keep removing it until we have a real meadow again. We are adopting a philosophy of cutting back, and then seeing what reappears. Then, and only then deciding what should stay and what should go – I’m more than happy to let nature do half the landscaping! It means it’s near on impossible to draw up plans because the land will lend itself only to what works, and that might be different to what I have in mind! Some areas are so wet and boggy, I may dig two or three smaller ponds rather than have one big one down the far end like I had first envisaged.

But ponds and orchards will have to wait as there’s not much more we are going to do to the land this year other than try to establish the meadow and create living hedgerow boundaries by replanting the saplings that have sprung up where we don’t want them, and winding in coppiced branches. There are lots of overhanging trees and dead branches leaning over from the DWT bridle pathway which will have to quite brutally be cut back to allow light on the new meadow space and allow the grass and meadow flowers to grow. The lovely people at Devon Wildlife Trust may even come and help us with that. Everyone seems keen to see us restore the land to a thing of beauty, and shares our enthusiasm to re-establish the meadow, dig ponds and plant fruit trees. I’ve been blown away by how supportive and lovely our new neighbours at Pi Acres are; it’s in stark contrast to joyless city folk we share space with here in Exeter. The level of peace I feel just being at Pi Acres means we’ve started plotting a way to move nearer the land so that we can spend more time there. I’ve worked out that if I rent my flat out, the revenue would not only pay the mortgage and bills on the flat, but pay for the rent on a cottage near Pi Acres. But that can’t happen yet – it probably won’t happen until next year, when my son has gone to university and I have sold my business. This summer, we will camp occasionally on the land, but I’m a fair weather camper, and not hardy enough to go without a flushing toilet and hot running water for more than one or two nights.

It takes an hour to get to Pi Acres from Exeter, and try as I might, finding time to get there for a couple of hours here and there isn’t possible. But as soon as it’s warm enough to spend whole days outside, we will be there alternating between working our butts off to make it lovely and lazing about on picnic blankets and enjoying it; hopefully finding the rest balance between work and play.

I have always tried to do the right thing, whether that’s by people, by the planet or by animals. I have a large conscience that keeps me from telling lies, or stealing, or being mean. I believe you reap what you sew. I believe in karma, so to this end, I have been dutifully carrying my travel shopping bag in my handbag (to avoid buying plastic bags), and before becoming a vegan, I always bought free-range eggs (happy eggs I called them), and I tried to buy free-range organic veg and meat. I opposed fox hunting and I refused to wear fur. I did my bit…or so I thought.

Last summer my son read a book called ‘How not to Die’ by Michael Greger and then followed me around reading excerpts that bestowed all the many health benefits of a plant based diet. I was a vegetarian for many years in my youth, so when he said a vegan diet could help me sidestep the hereditary pre-disposition I may have for early onset Alzheimers, I decided to give it a go. So many of our modern diseases are because of our diet, so it made sense to start changing things and avoid some of those as I hurtle towards old age. I joined Exeter Vegans and Vegetarians on Facebook, and as I was no longer wracked by guilt that I was part of the meat industry, I finally felt able to open my eyes and see what was really involved in order for us to eat meat.

I know many of you just don’t want to know what really happens  – it’s so much easier to enjoy a medium rare steak if you don’t think about the process that led to that piece of meat being on your plate. Perhaps you’re at the stage of your journey where you think organic free-range meat is kinder? I’m not going to argue all the points right here and right now, other than to encourage you – when you’re ready, to open your eyes. To read about what happens in slaughter houses, and even in the organic milk industry – did you know there’s actual machinery called ‘rape machines’ to impregnate cows so they produce milk. Did you also know, that even in free-range organic chicken farms, the male chicks are macerated live at a day old. They are trundled down a conveyor belt and scooped into a macerator and the RSPCA consider this a humane way to kill them as it’s quick. The mulched up dead chicks are then turned into food for other livestock. There’s no such thing as a happy egg there. Once you start looking – watching the videos and knowing exactly what goes on, I can only say you would have to be a sociopath or starving to continue eating meat or dairy once you know the truth. There’s simply no need to eat meat when we can get a full balanced diet that our bodies will be much healthier on. And the planet will love you for it too – did you know you need 5 times as many acres to feed a meat eater than a vegan and eating meat uses 219,000 gallons per year per person MORE than a vegan. It’s environmentally disastrous for our planet how much meat we feel we need to eat. And that’s aside from the practices that would shock you if you only knew.

The idea that I was supporting such barbaric practices with the food I was eating meant the more educated I became, the easier it was to be vegan. There’s so many vegan options out there now and it’s delicious food. But then I discovered I wasn’t vegan at all, because it isn’t just about what you eat. It’s also about what you wear, what you put on your skin, and what you do that exploits animals. It’s like the rabbit hole of conscientious living just got a whole lot deeper, and weirder and harder.

I run a fashion company and import clothing from Italy and France, so now that I am several months into eating a vegan diet and buying only cruelty free products, I thought: ‘I know! I’ll make my boutique vegan’. Except it’s not that easy – animal cruelty is endemic in my industry. I have stopped buying leather handbags and mohair jumpers (I never bought fur), but scratch the surface and to my horror, I now know that the vast majority of garments have been dyed with products tested on animals.

I thought perhaps I will start stocking PETA approved vegan clothing and bags. They may well contain no animal products, but when I asked for provenance of the dyes and whether they are tested on animals, only one company out of several could provide this. Surely to get vegan approved status from PETA would mean they check everything, but this seems to have been overlooked. I could get my factories right now to produce a viscose garment (did you know viscose is a 100% natural plant based fabric – mostly bamboo as it grows so quickly) and get vegan approval from PETA knowing full well the dyes are tested on animals… they don’t seem to check the dyes at all other than looking at the ingredients. That vegan ready-meal that Tesco’s have produced? The dyes on the packaging may well not be vegan. Let’s see the provenance if you claim something is vegan! We need more transparency – and in this age of social media it’s there if you want to know the truth. Google KFC chicken farm abuse and you’ll never eat KFC again. Google what happens to male chicks, google the impact meat eating has on the planet and you’ll soon fall down the same rabbit hole I did.

It’s a journey made harder by industries fooling us into thinking the products we buy are cruelty free, but I’m not going to stop trying. I’m on a journey and whilst I plan to be fully vegan in all areas of my life, I currently still wear my beloved leather DMs because the damage was done when I bought them and I can’t change that now. I won’t stop trying to source vegan products for my fashion boutique, and I will campaign for more transparency with dyes (forgive the pun). I won’t stop trying to live a life of greater integrity because it matters. It matters more than ever now – have you seen what’s going on in the world?

Until recently, my vegan journey has felt like a separate issue to the eco-project at Pi Acres but they are linked. Everything is linked and the rabbit hole I seem to have fallen down now extends to how I work the land with the least amount of cruelty to animals and the lowest impact on the planet. I want to remove vast areas of brambles and restore the meadow, but I’ve been told no matter how many times you pull it up, brambles will return unless you use weed-killers. I’d like to run around on the grass barefoot this summer – but will I have to use week-killers to enable that? That just doesn’t sit right with me at all. There’s ‘spot on’ weed-killers so that I can literally just target the thorny brambles and nothing else, but it would be naïve to think those deadly chemicals will not damage the surroundings in some way.

Pi Acres is entirely off grid so I’ve bought petrol mowers and strimmers and chain saws, ready to clear and tame but even that comes at a cost. Petrol isn’t environmentally kind is it? How far does one go? You can’t harvest or mow anything without there being a cost to life, but that doesn’t mean I will not consider the implications of every solution we find to tame the land. If a tree gets felled, the wood will be used to make something – perhaps it will become benches around a campfire? There’s a flow of water whenever it rains that comes down the hill, across the DWT nature reserve car park and under my gate. It needs channelling in some kind of gully towards the river so that the land isn’t entirely bog, so we have to investigate what materials I can use that are eco-friendly and of course consider the environmental impact of what I use – how far will I have to ship it from? Is clay piping better than concrete? I’d like to get some hardcore delivered to the entrance inside the gate so that we can park on our land and not use any of the spaces dog walkers use next to Halsdon Nature Reserve, but it will take a while for grass to grow over this and might look ugly for a while. Will people think I’m not being green if they see piles of old bricks being delivered and dumped inside our gate? There’s so very much to consider, and the rabbit hole of conscientious living seems so much, I almost want to warn you of the dangers, but instead I’m going to encourage you to jump in here with me. Even if you only give up meat twice a week, or decide not to use slug pellets in your garden, it all helps and like I said about Karma – for every good thing you do, there will be a reward, even if it’s only a peaceful smugness that you’re moving in the right direction. Every small step is good even if you fall down in other areas. I’m telling myself that too, because I might end up using weed-killer on those pesky brambles.

frost pi 2

Why Pi?

The journey begins…

land1Because I just bought 3.14 acres of land. That’s Pi that is.

I’d been looking at buying woodland, and had even gotten into a bidding war last summer on woodland near Exeter, Devon. My bid didn’t win, but just a couple of months later, I found my Pi nestled between Halsdon Nature Reserve and Dolton Village in mid Devon. It’s a long skinny stretch of land that runs along the edge of a stream that joins the River Torridge and a Devon Wildlife Trust Nature Reserve.

Halsdon Nature Reserve is made up of over 57 hectares of stunning woodland and countryside and is home to a vast array of wildlife including otters and kingfishers. At the moment the forest is covered in snowdrops, and just like my wee slice of Pi will soon give way to wild daffodils and then before you know it, my favourite: bluebells. I am hoping that by the time the forest floor is carpeted with purple hues that I will have tamed my overgrown slither of land and made it a place to be. To just Be.

I realised about 18 months ago that I had become a slave to the system and had somehow been ensnared into the belief that I had to grow my business and pay VAT and corporation tax and set up pension funds for my employees and pay National Insurance and income tax and bills, so many bills and for what? To secure my future. But then shortly after moving into my property refurbishment nightmare, I injured my back. I couldn’t move, couldn’t leave my new flat, and couldn’t function properly at all, even after my back improved. Whether it was fatigue, stress burnout, (or as a member of my staff said: ‘I’d clearly had a nervous  breakdown’) I realised I couldn’t carry on the way I had been going.

The stress of divorcing a sociopath, (I’ve written a novel about that so no need to elaborate further), moving house twice within a few months, dealing with a rogue builder, acting as a witness in court against my alcoholic insomniac neighbour in a case against him breaching his ASBO, running a business growing so fast I had to run to keep up with it, at the same time as dealing with a teenage son, a breast cancer scare and attempting to date in a hook up culture I didn’t belong in all took it’s toll. I had reached a point of giving up. I have no real family (apart from my son of course) so there were times the loneliness was crippling; especially when it seemed like everything was going wrong. I took to hiding beneath my duvet and facing only the urgent tasks. I delegated everything I possibly could at work and gave in to it. Gave up. But there’s something very beautiful about giving up; about surrender. Erkhart Tolle says that suffering is only necessary to discover it isn’t necessary (or words to that effect) and there was an element of that in my burnout/breakdown/sleepfest. It was in my surrender I found acceptance not just of the hell I was living in, but in a deep knowing that the darkest hour is just before dawn. That all of this would pass, and I just had to get through it.

I also realised many of my problems were of my own doing; if you can’t handle the stress of collapsed drains and rogue builders, you shouldn’t be a property developer. Even though I now live in a beautiful flat that’s doubled in value with the work I’ve done, I will never take on a property development project like that again that’s for sure. And if you can’t handle the stress of being a Managing Director, you should do something else. So last year I put my fashion business up for sale and very quickly had a buyer ( I actually had two, but I chose the local couple who wanted to be more hands-on than the other buyer) and that was when I started looking for land to buy. The buyers I chose seemed to be decent people (he was a semi-retired Christian minister and she was an ex head-teacher with a grown up daughter who had studied fashion). There were delays to completing on the sale of the business because the solicitor acting for my landlord took months to release a draft lease, but the buyers feigned a continued commitment long enough to run up thousands of pounds worth of legal fees (made considerably higher by them challenging things like buying new carpets at the warehouse should they destroy them while in their care) only to drop out after eight months. Long enough for me to believe I’d sold my business. Long enough to find the land and plan the dream project.

Despite the immoral way they handled backing out of our deal (they had their solicitor drop a one line email to my solicitor), I couldn’t let the opportunity to buy the land slip away, so I took out a loan and bought it anyway. I’m now so utterly broke, I can’t afford to pay anyone to do anything on my land, but it hardly matters now because I feel victorious in making the leap. Of doing it anyway.

I found the land just before I found Paul. His arrival into my life felt like an alignment of the planets; perhaps even a celestial reward for being so good. You see I’ve been very good for so very long, even when things kept going wrong. I kept my integrity, and despite all the challenges (some I still face daily) was brave enough to be authentic. So now it feels like it’s time for things to start going right for me. Karmic balance if you will.

Finding land was not all joyful; I was surprised to discover it was laced with sadness when I thought I would have to make my dream project come to life on my own. I’d always imagined skipping through the meadow hand in hand with the one I love while the sepia tones of summer evenings made everything look hazy and warm and stress free.

Paul came along just a few days after I found Pi acres (I’m wondering whether to call it that?) and it feels as though my soul must have cried out to him ‘Oi, divvy where are you? I’ve found the land so you need to get here quick!’. There’s a saying ‘Build it and They Will Come’… I think I did a version of this in that I bought it and he along he came. So now, instead of the project seeming so daunting it keeps me awake, I’m excited about our working the land together. You see, it’s his dream too. Long before he met me, he was dreaming about a project like this one, in a place like this. I’m his answered prayer as much as he is mine.

I’m inviting you to join us on this adventure, and as I write, I will share all our plans and drawings and keep you updated on my quest to lead a life of integrity. It’s not easy in our brainwashed Western culture; we are addicted to our phones, to soap operas, to booze, to believing material gain is the route to happiness. We have been fooled by industries that keep us sick so we buy their pharmaceuticals, by governments who encourage debt, by barbaric murderers feeding us sentient beings and normalising hunting and war. We have been desensitised by the horror and gore on our screens everyday and forgotten how important it is to just stop. To be present. To connect with nature; with each other. To feed our souls and not just our bellies and our addictions and our anger with each other. We are kept so busy we don’t have time to consider the consequences of our choices. We choose convenience over integrity, tastebuds over honouring our fellow creatures and bury our heads in the sand when it’s clear that the entire planet is run by narcissists, sociopaths and psychopaths.

But I will try to not to rant too much about the state of the planet or rue the day I moved into a city, but instead focus on the dream; on positive mental attitudes. On being present. On being happy because I have really started to think you manifest good things with the power of positivity. Negative thought seems to attract negative things, so it’s time to stop worrying and start creating. I hope my documenting this journey will inspire you to chase your dreams. To believe. To make things happen. To do what’s right even when the world tells you otherwise.

Good company in a journey makes the way seem shorter. — Izaak Walton

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