Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Sustainable Living: Do we have to live in the woods?

Thinking about living sustainably reminded me of the lack of waste on a survival weekend in Kent. It wasn't really a lack of waste it was more imagination in use, therefore, needs less. Everything had a purpose; every strip of nettle, every drop of water, every sinew, every leaf; oak twigs became toothbrushs. Nothing was wasted as we got back to nature in the civilised October woodland.

Inspired? Certainly, I came back and read a good chunk of survival expert and woodsman Tom Brown. It put my mind in a new location and highly influenced my current writing project. All because I lived in the woods for a weekend.

It wasn't too hard a drive - M6, M1, M25, M20, M2, A2 - in my tiny banana car. Weather was good, expectations high. I'd packed everything I'd need for a weekend in the woods, keeping everything to an absolute minimum. The biggest thing was the water container.

Being self-employed it can be difficult to get any time away so the build up to the weekend had been immense; previous adventures has been confined to a few trips to see delightful friends in Oz. Not the most sustainable way of having a holiday - flying half way round the world. That's another reason why I was so excited about going to Kent for the weekend. I was searching...I was searching for an Oz that was closer...my Oz.

As a child I spent most of my time outdoors but as an adult paying the mortgage by sitting in front of the computer had taken up too much of my time...I wanted to rekindle that love of outdoors remembered from the heights of Kanangra Walls (see profile pic) and the freedom of childhood. So the little yellow bee flew through the Kent countryside with October crawling at the leaves and blue skies all around.

The weekend was outstanding - no tent. I hadn't taken one on purpose but the sleeping bag was brand new and toasty warm if a little restrictive. Good job really because if I'd turned over in bed I might have knocked the shelter down.


All went to plan; the entrance faced the fire, there where no cracks or holes anywhere and I'd picked out the prickly chestnut husks from my crunchy bed. That was it really, the rest of the weekend was one big kid-fest for me...there is no way I was 37 at any point during the weekend.

I made string and remembered the 70's classic "basket-weaving class" in the community centre. Back then for hippies and bored mothers - but really just keeping us connected to our ancient roots.


I realise now how gnome-like I looked with the leafy hat perched atop my head and ears sticking out. I ran through the woods like a demented giant pixie catching leaves. Who Does That!?! When was the last time you chased falling leaves?

We foraged for food, although all meals were provided, and plucked a pheasant, not a pleasant job. I was the last to finish...the smell! Gak! But cooked by Lief later, well...outstanding. I tried to soak up as much knowledge from her as possible but one brief weekend was never going to be enough.

And we "played" some interesting games that increased our awareness of the landscape around us, which I've used since and will continue to use and spread to anyone else who dares to go for a walk in the woods with me. Reminding me to connect with the vast amounts of energy around us.

Each morning we were sent away to find our "sit spot". A meditation place if you like. I chose the same place each time, where the broad leaf woods met the "Christmas Tree farm". Stumps of older trees outlined the area, the sky was blue, the sun warm. I've never felt like I can do the meditation thing, mind wanders and to drag it back takes some going. But I enjoyed the quiet time, listening.

The instructors down at Natural Pathways were fantastic; Hannah, Lief and Sal and dared me to keep the various leaves I'd caught falling from the trees in my hat on the journey home. They wanted proof... So here it is!

Services on the A2 - got some very funny looks off a French couple who had probably just got off the ferry!

I laughed, most of the way home infact. Sang my heart out to Supertramp and Seal, The Stones and any other song I knew. The laughter bubbled away for days and infected everything I did.

To recapture, even for a moment, that freedom and lightness of existence that being responsible with no responsibilities (think about it) brings. The moment I arrived I turned off the iPhone and revelled in the connected unconnectedness of everything.

At Natural Pathways all water was graded and used according to how grey it was, saving a huge amount (no figures - too darn child-like to think about how much until after the fact); all except modern packaging (brought in by us, the trainees) was recycled within the camp and the fire pit was covered as we left. It reminded me of a sign I saw on a beach in Australia - leave only footprints, take only memories.


Now that's the most sustainable way of living.

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