A remarkable life off the grid

candlenight

I had little time in this past ‘Templebody’ tour (a recent 5 month globe trot at the end of 2015, teaching and giving sessions) to write what was happening throughout that magical journey. One morning I woke up in the middle of the night in England and wrote this piece, lost perhaps in a bit of poetic waxing for the intense feeling of silence I was surrounded by, but hopefully it conveys a bit of what I feel is one of the most beautiful places I stayed on this voyage. I offer it as a gift to the friends who inspired it….

I have woken up at two a.m with a full October moon shining in through the circular skylight above me in the handmade home I am sleeping in. The skylight frames the full moon like a perfect painting and its intensity shines onto the white duvet I’m so happily curled within.The power of the moon seems to make the duvet a light souskylighthebrce of its own and this casts a surreal, ghostly luminescence that reflects against the wooden walls and the wooden ceiling – this wood spiraling above me to create the massive skylight itself, bedoffering a window to the outside world in this sudden moment of wakefulness. The silence would be eerie if it wasn’t so magical, deep and penetrating, rising up from the earth, telling stories I can barely hear that ask me to wake up and write.

I am sleeping on the Moors, sharing the same land where the Bronte sisters used to live not so long ago, just a few fields and a number of sheep away from their home. This is a powerful land of rolling vistas where Wuthering Heights – the famous English novel – was birthed by Emily Bronte. An introvert who never had much connection with anyone outside of her immediate family, she gave birth only to this work of art and then died the year after it was published. She was only 30 years old and likely died of tuberculosis, brought on by the harsh weather of the land and a weak viewbody due to possible water contamination from the graveyard nearby.

Their water source was runoff from the local church graveyard and a morbid consideration runs through my mind of the family literally drinking of death every day as they pulled water from the well. Death was indeed a frequent event in her short life. Her mother died when she was three and most of her siblings died before she did, except her sister, Charlotte, who outlived them all and became the other famous Bronte writer.

Emily died on the couch at home on a cold December day less than a week before Christmas at the age of 30, having no idea of the impact her writing would bring to the greater world of literature, songs and film as the years rolled on like the moors themselves. She knew only that her novel became quite controversial, and many people despised it for its intensity and lack of Victorian convention when it came to emotions.

The wind is incredibly strong outside as I write. The trees are blowing and without sounding like I’m trying to wax poetic I have to say that each time I’ve been here I wait for the sound of tree branch scratching against glass in the middle of the night as Cathy calls from a formless body for her Heathcliff. I can feel how the energy here created the story she wrote. The moors are ancient and I have just woken from a prophetic dream that has told me something quite important about things about to become my life that I need to be aware of. This is the third time I’ve been here visiting dear friends and each time the land, and the feeling it evokes in me, amazes me with its depth of silence and spirits. Waking and sleeping here is like living in a novel.

To begin describing the remarkable house I am staying in, I will start with the bath I took before bed. It was an extremely hot bath filled with essential oils. bathThis wouldn’t seem an extraordinary thing if it weren’t for the fact that the entire home I am staying in lives solely off the land and was built by hand from everything reconditioned. It is built within, and encircled by, the old green mossed stones that only sheep used to ingreen stoneshabit to keep out of the cold by staying huddled together with a good windbreak. Inside, this house looks like a piece of art, complete with steaming bath, shower, electrical lights, heating and water…..all off the grid and built entirely without permission.

Steam from my bath filled the room lined in wood, the water having been drawn from old culverts built in the 1800’s by Irish slaves – culverts designed to bring water to all parts of the moors for the orchards and the sheep. open culvertOld, reclaimed windows artistically filled the walls around me and I drew pictures through the steam onto the glass as I soaked in candlelight reflections. bath2The windows look out onto darkness, and within the darkness, beyond the moss-green stones keeping us hidden from the world of laws, I knew there were only trees in occasional huddles, and larger stone walls that criss cross the mostly open land where this homemade hobbithouse my friends have built, resides. The stone walls were built in a time that is long forgotten yet still present on these rolling hills in their alternating wet and then blue skied days.

I am writing in the centre of a home completely made by thrifty hands, which is nestled within this stone enclosure that shares the space with three beautiful trees that cover the hobbit house so that no one can find it. Strawberries and moss cover the roof so that it is entirely invisible from every angle. Living off the grid and building your own place with your own hands without someone else’s permission is illegal in a world that works on different time than these storytelling Moors. My friends live on the edge, not only of the world, but on the edge of what the world of rules deem as appropriate.

I have never seen a place like this. Not only is it artistic and beautiful, it is also warm and sensual and made completely – can I say again – of recycled material. It was built for the practical reason that a place to live – aside from the former yurt that had lived out its days – was needed. The materials to build it had been accumulating for some intuitive project or another by my friend whose name I won’t mention just to keep it all a big secret….and he has built a masterpiece.

We eat to the bottom of our bowls a comfort stew cooked slowly over the day on the wood stove. The warmth and sustenance tastes of things that remind me of how well we’re taken care of….when it is windy and cold outside but inside you’re warmed by a fire with a heart full of love. insidedayWhere tea and cozy sweaters and purring cats mark out your minutes in an orchestration of life in its sweetest, most tranquil moments. I am here by the grace of a friendship that started with the maker of the stew as well as the home ~ a woman I met over 25 years ago when we were under twenty and sharing a life and an apartment in the South of France. There have been so many moments I have looked at her these past few days, been grateful for the ease of our friendship, always at home in her company and that of her partner. I have been marveling at how time flies, as if it were all just yesterday, like old people used to say when I was young. Younger.

The wood stove in the living room has a boiler at the back of it that heats water as the fire is stoked throughout the day. Fresh copper pipes pull water from a tank outside that connects to the culvert stream of Irish slave sweat, further down the hill. The culvert graciously offers fresh water on a continual basis to the tank that fills in the heat of the wood stove. The heated water is then pushed out through pipes that circulate through the domed kitchenhobbit house and the cooled water goes back into the tank to be reheated. In this way, steaming hot water is provided for the shower and the bath. There is electrical lighting that uses speaker wire my friend has had for many years (in case it was ever needed) that is hidden behind wood dinnerspotartfully and which attaches to old batteries that sit in the outdoor ‘kitchen and pantry’. Inside there is a coleman stove for tea and a small cutting board, bread, cheese, fruit and nuts. Food is bought for the day it is needed and refrigeration is only the cool of nights outside if needed, and nothing is wasted.

The entire structure is enforced by a massive half-globe shape of strongly welded metal. The man who built this home received it for free from a show hosted by Disney or some other conglomerate with a lot of money. They had spent 10,000 pounds building it, and gave it away, finding nothing else constructive to do with it. My friend built the house around it so it has a solid core that can hold the structure together. 

The old chicken coop – now that all the chickens have disappeared, having been eaten one by one courtesy of  foxes since I was here last – has been made into an outhouse. If you can imagine a classy old chicken coop of an outhouse, this is it. It is walled inside, with pictures hanging for your viewing pleasure.  The toilet seat is carved, smooth wood with a piece of art of a mirror hanging behind and above it. coopdayWindows flank a view onto various kinds of bushes and trees that share the vegetable allotment that initially began the story years ago of my friend-the-builder living here. Red and black currents grow around nettles that poke out everywhere, a cacophony of fruits and food and herbs, some largely unknown, abundantly offer themselves in an orgy of organized green. At night, the christmas lights around the mirror over the toilet shine from a solar connection by day that keeps the chicken coop alight all night so you can find your way there easily in the dark. The contents this outhouse collects (in a plain plastic bucket beneath visitors) is composted completely and then used as fertilizer around all of the plants. I had no idea human shit could be used as fertilizer….I don’t know why that seemed such a strange concept as it was explained to me. It likely has something to do with the cultural Cartesian hangover we’ve been handed, believing ourselves to be different animals, greater ones, than the ‘animals’ of the earth…and our shit is only good for flushing away as if it never happened. Perhaps.

The home here took around ten thousand pounds to build, mostly for the skill of a local carpenter who helped build it, and that’s around 15 thousand US dollars. Bit by bit funds and wood and glass and window frames and pieces were found. flooringThe floors are old foundry flooring that was black with soot and the accidentally spilled blood of  men over many years, and each plank was sanded down by machine until one could find the grain again. The door is a circular one, to make the hobbit house complete, with iron holds and handles to open them made of old leather from horse girdles my doorsfriend has kept for over thirty years, waiting for the perfect project.

Some of the wood that provides the support for the roof over the outside deck is old oak of the kind that can no longer be found around here. It is only known that it comes from an old English ship from the 1700’s that was left on a property for years waiting to be used for something else, covered in Nettles until my friend uncovered them. As he points them out to me he says that he would love to know more of where they came from and for all he knows slaves were chained to them…he knows they carry stories that are timeless and hidden forever. He wonders about them every time he looks at them and now they help hold his hobbit house up.

hobbitopendoorWood is everywhere. Old wood. Copper pots, candle sticks and old bits and pieces in and all over this small Yorkshire town. We would only find such items in an antique store in North America, whereas here they live in it everyday. There is something about the texture of living in natural wood, not bleached or painted, just wood, old and sincere about its origins. Something timeless about the smell of the air. Something that makes me feel like no matter what the weather, there is always something taking care of us – the earth, the wood, the friends, the stew, the tea, the laughter and the love. Something that when I am not with the earth, or when I am in modern environments of metal and steel I cannot feel as readily.green man

I am going to go back to sleep now under the full moon. I am grateful that I live in a time where wood still exists and stands on this planet despite mans best efforts at blind eradication, and the earth still speaks to us in prophetic dreams as I drift in the timeless arms of friendship. One day, I will dream, the world will be filled with hobbit homes and we will always know, each and every one of us at every moment, how well we are taken care of.

buddha