A personal essay
It is a clear November morning. An early mist has settled over the field into a thick blanket of dew which coats each blade of grass with tiny droplets of water, gathering in orbs at the tips which light up like stars when they catch the rays of the sun.
Leaves of mottled ochre, rust and flame-red drift towards the ground. Birch trees sway like underwater kelp forests. The last, yellowing leaves of the ash trees wave and flutter like fairy flags in a cornflower blue sky and the oaks are clad in fine leafy crowns of burnished bronze, russet and gold: autumn’s elegiac song, soon to be blown away with the coming winter winds.
A bright green woodpecker flashes through the trees. Morning calls of blackbird, robin and wren infuse the air with song. Meandering trackways left by fox and badger snake through the long grass, betraying the secrets of the night before, and a soft, earthy smell of mulch coats my tongue with a cool, metallic tang.
When the field at the bottom of our garden came up for rent a couple of years ago, the rent was cheap, so we took it on. The previous tenant used to mow it every few weeks, keeping it flattened to a featureless stubble. Now, last year’s acorns have grown into a miniature forest of saplings. Drifts of golden ragwort, birds foot trefoil and rosebay willowherb bring colour and insects in the warmer months, and many varieties of delicate, mysterious fungi grow here in the autumn. We mow around the edges once a year to keep the brambles from taking over, but otherwise, we let the field be.
I’m getting to know the other residents. Hobbies and buzzards, field mice and glow worms. A feast of wild forage — nettles and cleavers in early spring, elderflowers and wild roses on the full moon closest to the summer solstice, berries and rosehips in the autumn. I gather the plants with my children to show them how they are connected to and supported by the medicine and nourishment of the earth. There are emperor dragonflies, barn owls and hummingbird hawk-moths. Sweet violet, mugwort and meadowsweet. Skeins of wild geese passing overhead on their migratory paths. Spirit made visible.
If I owned the field, I would rewild it and fall in love with it forever. Given time, I would have a young forest to wander through. The landlady will probably mow it all down as soon as we move from here — but seeing as the field doesn’t care who owns it, for as long as I am a guest of this place, I’ll let the trees and the wildflowers grow.
“To protect what is wild is to protect what is gentle. Perhaps the wilderness we fear is the pause between our own heartbeats, the silent space that says we live only by grace. Wilderness lives by this same grace. Wild mercy is in our hands.” — Terry Tempest Williams
The field may not be mine, but it is part of me. When I walk barefoot in the grass, the soles of my feet absorb negative ions and trace minerals from the earth. When I breathe the air, the mushroom spores, tree pollen and sea air blown in from across the hills enter my lungs and subtly rearrange the molecular makeup of my blood. The liberty caps I find and nibble on damp autumn mornings activate seratonin receptors in my prefrontal cortex, healing and igniting my neural pathways in ways that even modern neuroscience doesn’t fully understand. My relationship with this plot of earth is rhyzomatic. The boundaries are not clearly defined.
But the exchange is more than physical. Robin Wall Kimmerer writes: “Paying attention is a form of reciprocity with the living world, receiving the gifts with open eyes and open heart.” In a land where my ancestral wisdom has been burned, scorned and drowned out over centuries, paying attention and living in reciprocity allows me to reclaim some part of my indigenous relationship to this land. It’s an act of love and healing, a restoration of an ancient kinship, a way of relearning the language of this place, her stories and her songs. The land speaks to us in myriad ways. She guides our hearts to weave the broken threads back together.
As the field rewilds herself, she invites those parts of me which have been mown, flattened and poisoned, to come back to the fullness of life. When I offer the field my presence and attention, she gifts me with beauty, magic, wonder and poetry. I feel safe and held by this place. I feel loved. I am home.
This winter, in fields just like this one a short way along the river from here, while the hedgehogs and badgers are sleeping in their winter dens, men will arrive with diggers and lorries and unshakeable feelings of entitlement to scrape away the precious topsoil and destroy countless habitats to make space for more ugly, unsustainable houses. I fear for the creatures. A mother’s first wish is to keep her children safe, to give them a safe home. When I see the current climate trajectory charts and alarming statistics, I fear for my children too.
Perhaps, even if the field were mine, I would still feel this hiraeth, this homesickness for a home I can’t return to, a home which never was. What I feel is an echoic fraction of the rootlessness and lack of agency which the creatures and spirits of the earth feel when they are pushed further and further out from their ancestral homelands.
Lately I’ve been creating spontaneous rituals here and there, asking the trees for help, making offerings to the land and sky. Feeling the weight and precarious balance of hope and despair which defines this moment. The grief, the rage, the enormity of it all. The overwhelm, the sheer exhaustion. And the feeling that nothing else matters, nothing at all.
The ground beneath our feet moves differently now. In all this chaos and confusion, I find strength and comfort in nature’s truth that all things move in cycles. While I’m grappling as best I can with the horrifying truth of the facts, I am also a mother. My heart refuses to accept the grim and apocalyptic story that humankind is simply doomed. As Martin Shaw has said, “Facts don’t have the story.”
I think of the Incan concept of ayni, or the sacred art of reciprocity: a wise, beautiful concept which holds the warmth of the Andean sun. It comes from the idea that our world is one of living energy — the Incan name for our planet, Kausay Pacha, literally means “the world of living abundance” — and that we are part of a universe where everything is living and connected. Ayni is the thread that holds the fabric of existence together. It continues to be an important part of the Andean culture to this day.
Ayni is rooted in the ancient truth that we live in an abundant, miraculous world, governed by the natural laws of balance and flow, where spirit is alive and well. It sits in stark contrast to the modern Western idea of the world as a scarce, flawed, inadequate place. When we stay close to ayni, we understand that the plan here on earth, even in this age of death, is life.
When I feel overwhelmed, it is often a good idea to get my hands in the soil. To go to ground. These are dark, uncertain times — but the dark is home to wild, regenerative magic. And when darkness gathers, it’s time to plant bulbs.
Later that same November day, I take a sack of crocus bulbs and plant them beside the bridge which connects the garden to the field. Each bulb is an act of faith, an invitation to beauty, an embodiment of ayni, an offering to life and the future, an avowal of belief in magic, and a promise to the coming spring. A prayerful acknowledgement of the sacred in the everyday.
When the flowers appear in bright bursts of purple, white and gold in early spring, I will welcome the return of the light, and give thanks that we made it through.
“Bless the poets, the workers for justice, the dancers of ceremony, the singers of heartache, the visionaries, all makers and carriers of fresh meaning. We will all make it through, despite politics and wars, despite failures and misunderstandings. There is only love.” — Joy Harjo
Autumn leaves dance around and above me and float joyfully towards the ground, each one dreaming of winter’s rest and the bright days of spring.
We will make it through.
Thank you for reading! 🧡
An earlier version of this article was published here in Scribe