In some ways, my woodland abode occupies a parallel universe several magical steps removed from the one in which this document exists. It sounds strange to say, but it’s no exaggeration. To reach my place, to truly reach it, is to step beyond a cultural construct that you might not even know is there and which you probably wear like a second skin, a space suit, a portable existential framework of possibility. To get to my house is a journey in both topography and reality.
I’m going to do my best to describe both aspects of that journey for you here in words. However, I will no doubt fail to convey even a hundredth part of the adventure. I am resigned to this, and yet I am sorry. I wish to reach out to you with my heart, to take your hand in mine and walk with you along the snaking, tree-lined, moon-drenched path into the magic. But probably all that I will accomplish is to reach you with a thin echo of my voice distorted as if through an ancient gramophone played in some windswept place.
And so I also invite you to come and visit me in the woods sometime, to experience my place first-hand for yourself, should you be interested to see the full picture and not just the reflection of it in these few shards of coloured glass. There’s a cup of tea waiting for you beside the gently dancing flames of my earthen hearth. There’s stillness to bathe in, and the music of birdsong and living waters. There’s natural space, restful and vibrant, to enfold you in a Now that is as young and as old as dreamtime.
But please be warned. The magical steps required to reach my little hut, either in your imagination or on your earth-feet, will probably leave you transformed. After experiencing the enchanted and elemental simplicity of my humble home deep in the wonders you might find yourself pondering strange questions like, ‘how do I go about about growing a pelt?’ and ‘when did we forget how to fly?’ This Earth is a deeply magical realm, alive with a wild and full spectrum of possibilities. We are essentially unlimited in our capacity to experience joy and to create the lives of sacred beauty that our hearts fervently sing about.
Are you willing to wander some way towards paradise? Would you put a toe, maybe a foot, maybe the whole divine spiritual organism of your star-lit stardust miracle body outside the matrix of normality and backwards-forwards onto the sacred, pulsing, sentient goddess-body landmass of the Living Earth? Are you ready?
Yes? OK. Let’s go.
We let our feet wander out of the local settlement and along a little lane into the Welsh hills. It’s the kind of lane with a rogue strip of grass growing down the middle of it, running between drystone walls and tumbling hedges. It climbs up and over the boulder-strewn shoulder of a holy mountain and then down into a valley heavily wooded with broadleaf trees. At a certain unremarkable point there’s a greenway branching off to the left. We take this track and leave the tarmac behind. Buzzards and crows call from the sky, winged voices of the mountain. Trees line the way, meeting overhead. On the right runs a little stream which sings on its journey to the sea from a spring higher up the mountainside. We follow it, our own oceangoing songs not quite on our lips but whispering in the awakening quiet of our hearts as we meander out of the world and into the whispering woods.
We are walking along a path that has been in constant use since the days of the stone-circle makers, part of an ancient web linking sacred sites across the Mountain of Angels and far, far beyond. Echoes in forgotten languages still sound around the standing stones that have been incorporated in later millennia into the dry-stone walls lining some of the way. Who knows by what spells and under what conditions of reality those stones were originally erected, and to what purpose? Many say they were sung into place. Some propose that gravity is a modern construct, like linear time, and that outside that construct weight actually has little to do with mass and more to do with conditioning. Perhaps the very idea of purpose was alien to the hearts and minds that first walked this ancient pathway. Is there purpose in the dance of the sun and the moon?
Leaving these and other speculations unanswered, as would any fox or foxglove, we continue downhill, letting our feet feel the texture of the ground beneath us; letting our bodies draw telluric energy and the subtle information it so loves to receive from the energy field of the earth; letting our awareness contain the fact that the ground can feel us also, absorbing our footfalls, their rhythm, the tattooed intention they transmit to the soil and to the multitudes of insects and microscopic creatures that live there, as well as to the stones and to the interwoven root systems of all the living leafing beings that we walk amidst, as well as to the badgers and rabbits and voles and mice in their dens and underground nests. More naturally than writing or playing a jungle drum, our footfalls are at each step communicating our life-walk to the intricate web all around us, each pad spreading out like the flap of a butterfly’s wing from the epicentre of contact through concentric circles of connectivity to all beings on the planet and beyond.
Yes, the Earth knows us as we walk her textured surface, is aware of us, feels each breath we take, each beat of our heart, each rippling thought that flowers in the gardens of our minds. She is with us always, supporting us in being, each step of this multi-dimensional earth-walk.
Can we hold this awareness as we walk together deeper into the woods now, along a narrow ribbon of well-worn path, oaks rising taller and older all around us, holly and hazel clustering amongst an increasingly jungly gathering of sylvan revellers. Can we remain awake to the fields of sentience we move through as we move, holding our aliveness open to being experienced as we are in so many ways through the extraordinary sensory apparatus of countless wild beings and, through the combined sentience of all these, by the vast loving intelligence of the living earth herself, whose presence shines through all? We can try. We can open. We can feel ourself being known by knowers other than our own rational kind, sensed by a kaleidoscope of sentiences broader than our homo-sapience has hitherto appreciated. And we can feel ourselves accepted in our efforts to be present to the fragile and tender presence of those to whom we have long been strangers, marauders, conquistadors, alien managers. There are no grudges here, only hopes for renewed connection.
One of the reasons I came into these woods to create my woodland abode is my hope to do just this, to renew connection, to become present, open and reciprocal to the depth-field of felt intelligence that flows through and around and between all living beings, and to place myself in full and relentless contact with the mind and heart and body of Gaia, immersing in her elemental life so as better to experience my life in the context of her dreaming, her medicine.
We imbibe that medicine as we walk this snaking path, filling our eyes with the natural shapes of branches and leaves, stones and clouds. O to feast on natural contours and conjunctions until the hard lines and flat smooth reflective and labyrinthine facades of modernity dissolve from our psyches no longer to structure thought and being! The harmonious diversity of self-willed nature enfolds us in its wild embrace, its alchemycal symphonies of perpetual interspecies communication, its textural banquet of endless tactile delights, the musical tapestries woven from wind and singing water, from birdsong and buzz of transparent insect wings, rustling leaves and the minute sounds of the soil, woven on the loom of consciousness with warp of earth and sky and weft of listening heart.
Longing to be ourselves re-woven into this ecstatic diversity, re-kindled to its dance and re-rendered existentially vulnerable within the ever-quivering web of fire-lit dancers, we can choose to deeply re-experience our innate belonging to and contingency upon that precious, fragile, primordial web.
All around us as we move our miracle bodies through the endlessly vaulted cathedral spaces between these arching trees—scudding clouds and blue infinity glimpsed beyond—we are being offered communion. Here, deep in the woods, with only self-shaping nature visible in every direction, every which way we look our eyes are met by living presences happy that we are here, a panoramic party of wild consciousnesses to which we are innately invited. If we are quiet inside as we walk amidst these playful interwoven subjectivities, if we are open to them, whispers of welcome are offered at every step, fey voices speaking languages of wild fragrance and colour call to us, sparkling their greeting to our subtle senses. When we are unarmoured, vulnerable, our hearts hear and naturally respond in kind, a subtle reaching out with our auric field, translated sometimes into an appreciative loving glance, a stroke of a leaf, a brush of cheek to bark, and a myriad tiny responses we might not even consciously be aware of but which, at a subliminal level, token a natural affinity and spontaneous reciprocity.
Sometimes I just fall over in love and wonder and hug the ground, laughing or crying.
Caught in wonder, awakened to the vastness and intricacy of the wild dance around us, our hearts cradled in the overflowing love and creativity that is gifting our miracle earth to us anew each moment, we are reshaped, the vessel of our awareness softening, rounding and re-alchemising to accommodate a new wine, the sap-rich and moss-filtered starlight soma that is clear as light, deep as earth.
All our lives we have known this wine, have been peripherally aware of this dance going on around us, obliquely attuned to the almost overwhelming intensity of aliveness thrumming just beyond the horizon of our conscious perceptions. It is our natural, magical milieu, the life-blood in our veins, the rainbow substance of waking dreams and the divine ground we move on and excavate through as we make meaning out of stardust and then build our palaces or prisons with it. The sudden inundation of myriad wild and holy sentiences we’re experiencing now is only a remembering of what we have always known, some way beneath the conscious layers of our psyches. We’re only returning, rejoining the paradise party that in truth we never left.
Paradise is being alive with all of ourselves, here at home in the manifold mystery.
We cross over a trickling stream that sings like tiny silver bells and then flow up and over a series of small undulations in the land, our path snaking between boughs and hugging the gentlest contours as we ascend and descend the folded terrain. This path was chosen by feet that walked with love and understanding. Those footfalls still resonate here, and we add our own resonant steps to the many layers of human and animal patterings that this path has received over wild years uncounted. At the top of the last rise before we descend to arrive at my little hut we pause as the wind blows brightly around us, swaying us slightly, our hair dancing. Tuned in to the presence that moves through all things here, we let our eyes and hearts appreciate the flowing wholeness of the way everything in the woods moves together under the influence of the invisible element, not all in the same direction at once but as one, each branch and leafy stem and feather in accord with one un-willful will, responding each in its own way as parts of a single cogent motion. Can we flow down the incline to the stream that borders my clearing as part of this flowing harmony, surrendered to the natural force of grace that animates the living tapestry?
We do, allowing ourselves to be united to the hidden force, to surrender to its pervasive grace, carried by our feet and the energy that flows into them from within and without, moving as if through a living mandala. We cross over the stream on two stepping stones into a natural clearing. A few steps into the clearing and gradually our eyes make out that what might have been a small fairy mound in front of us is in fact a dwelling.
People arriving unprepared and for the first time often experience cognitive dissonance. If you’d stumbled upon it by chance you’d be forgiven for wondering what species of being might live in such a dwelling. Many people find their senses reporting something so at odds with ‘normality’ and with what the narrative of modernity says is desirable or even possible for human beings today that they find it hard to believe what their eyes are telling them. Most soon become delighted, however, delighted to be surprised by the encounter with a structure and a way of life so clearly other.
It’s almost a den, my little woodland dwelling, if we bring together the dual senses of a den being a wild mammal’s hidden home and a child’s self-built playspace. It’s certainly both hidden and playful. It appears to have sprouted from the Earth or from some woodland nymph’s wild imagination. It’s like something from out of a fairy tale, or from another culture far away in either time or space. A child who visited recently asked, quite seriously, “is this a dream?” and began counting his fingers and toes to establish whether he was actually awake or not. In many ways, it is a dream.
It’s a surreal and uncanny sight. Nestled between two mossy-banked streams, the one we just stepping-stoned over and another on the far side of the clearing, surrounded by bilberry bushes and other long-time leafy residents, and again by gnarled oaks and sprawling hollies, hazels and rowans, the habitat is entirely wild, un-managed in any way, and yet in the middle of all of this jungly growth a little chimney puffing woodsmoke into the breeze sticks up through a green roof covered in moss and honeysuckle, ivy, ferns, brambles and many more woodland plants. At the eaves the ivy and honeysuckle trail over the edge towards their friends climbing up from the woodland floor.
The lovely sound of the two streams tumbling over mossy rocks fills the clearing with lively burbling. Insects buzz about and many birds are to be seen and heard among the trees in every direction. The woods spread out all around, a wild profusion of trees, plants, fungi, insects, birds and animals in the throes of the great party that has been going on here uninterrupted since forever. One really feels that here it has always been paradise. The light filtering through the woodland canopy is green and the air is rich with verdant scents. There’s a hint of elves whispering somewhere just out of sight.
Beneath its green roof my hut smiles a muddy-toothed greeting. It is tiny, circular, cute in a sort of furry way, almost more like a curled-up dormouse than a house. Its wall (it only has one wall, being round) is a wooden frame in-filled with straw and covered with clay-and-dung plaster, the same colour and texture as the forest floor. There’s not a straight line in sight, only organic contours flowing along with the mood of the woods. The windows are round or curvy, and partly screened by the overhanging plants spilling off the roof. The whole hut blends almost entirely into the woods around it, barely to be seen from more than a few dozen feet away through the undergrowth in any direction.
There’s no flower garden here and no garden walls or fences. There’s no gate and no paved pathway up to the front door, only the narrow ribbon of a track worn through the woods, with the occasional stone placed at a particularly muddy spot and some just outside the door. The door is made of wool-felt blankets, soft and warm, and is almost always strung open to let in the season. There’s no place, in fact, where the woods end and my hut begins. They roll right up to my door and tumble inside, in scents, sounds and textures. The hut itself, along with its few items of furniture, is made largely out of materials gathered from the woods around. Visually, materially and energetically, it is almost one with its milieu.
A few yards in front of the hut, the stream we crossed falls over rocks to make a tiny waterfall. It is here that I go to gather water for drinking and cooking and to wash; and to sit and watch the sun and moonlight dance on the rippling surface; and to listen to the wisdoms of the bubbling fall. This stream rises from a natural spring inside these woods we are in and flows clear between mossy, root-fingered banks down to this little waterfall and on to join a larger version of itself and then to the sea not far away. I’ve walked and swam this sea-going journey with the cool waters, under leaves and over smoothed stones to the estuary. I’ve felt the joy of the merging waters and I know the excitement of the water here tumbling through my perception on its way home to the ocean. Maybe 20 years it has spent inside the mountain and now is but a few hours away from the salty embrace of the great mother. I give thanks for every drop that flows through my hands and my body and often come here to sing my own songs and offer my prayers to the flowing mystery that is this silver rainbow goddess in liquid form, that she may carry them onwards to her meeting with the earth-encompassing sea.
There’s a stone goblet belongs here for drinking, and we share a couple of draughts of the living water, quenching a thirst deeper than we know, before retracing our steps to the door of my hut, removing our shoes and going in through the soft felt doors.
Stepping inside does not feel like stepping out of the woods but merely into a more fully sheltered part of them. Shelter, but not separation. One is held in cosy warmth and stillness, like being hugged by someone who really knows how to do it well. And at the same time one is turned outwards to the life of the woods, held in connection to the thrumming web.
The roundness of the space reflects the roundness of the horizon and also the roundness of our eyes, as well as so much else in nature, and so feels natural to our primordial sense of place. Moreover, our energy fields extend around us in a sphere, and in a round space such as this our energy bodies are not jarred by straight lines and strange corners.
There is no form of electricity in here or anywhere nearby, and so our bodies’ electromagnetic circuits are not disturbed, nor are the subtle currents flowing through the woods and the ground beneath the floor shielded or distorted but can flow unhindered through the space and onwards with our thanks and blessings. There are no whirring motors of electrical gadgets in the background, nor are there any chemical paints or glues or toxic materials off-gassing into the space, causing our subtle senses to recoil and contract, confusing our systems and creating subliminal anxiety. Nor are there any of these things for many acres around.
All of these factors mean that we can relax and be at peace here at a level we rarely experience within a sheltered space. The peaceful quality is enhanced by how little stuff there is in here. A few low tables made from hand-sawn cross-sections of heart-oak; a rustic wooden bookshelf with a handful of books on it and a hand-carved bowl; a rolled-up woven woollen futon; and a hazel-pole hanging-rail holding a couple of sets of clothes. On the floor are rugs and skins.
There are windows spaced all around the hut, not continuously but plentifully, so that each way one looks one can see out into the woods, where nothing but trees and plants, mossy rocks and streams meet the eye in every direction, with the sky beyond. At night there is pure darkness or moonlight silver outside, uninterrupted by artificial lights. Now, during the day, the light coming through the windows is green-tinted by the leaves. It’s a little bit like being underwater, in a soothing way. Between the windows the walls are earthen plastered, rough textured, curvy and uneven. Somehow, even with all the windows, there is a womblike quality to the space, soft and round, soul-nurturing.
The roof structure can be seen from inside, a spiralling reciprocal frame made from roundwood poles cut with prayers to and permission from the trees themselves. In the circle at the centre of the frame is a five-pointed star of rowan staves.
The doorway looks to the East, to the dawn. The opening is formed of two curved branches of oak that I found on the woodland floor and peeled to reveal their golden heartwood. Fitted together they form the shape of a yoni, which increases the womblike quality of the space. Outside, the stream can be seen flowing and dancing along and its music constantly flows into the hut.
We sit beside my rounded earthen hearth on sheepskins. To make us tea I rouse the quietly smouldering embers with dried bracken, twigs and sticks gathered from fallen dead branches and thoroughly aired to take a flame instantly. I love gathering sticks from the surrounding woods, going out after a few days of no rain and in maybe half an hour filling a couple of sacks with enough fuel to last two weeks of firelighting and cooking. It’s such an simple source of wealth, such a direct relationship with natural abundance. I enjoy knowing that no wars are being fought and nobody is being exploited or precious irreplaceable natural resources plundered to bring me the fuel I need for the primitive luxuries of warmth and cooking.
The fire leaps and dances, crackles and pops, shedding light and heat and also something more subtle into the space. A magical presence is fire, deserving of awe and reverence. I tend to keep a very slow-burning fire going almost continuously, glowing embers smouldering at the ends of two sleeper logs, ready to be awoken and leap into flame at any moment. It’s a bit like having a cat, or a resident divinity.
I like an open fire for many reasons. Practically speaking, it’s much easier and more economical on fuel to cook on open flames than on the top of a woodburning stove, for example. But its magical presence is the main reason. It seems such an affront to enclose fire in a box, to shut it up behind iron and glass. Fire is an honoured guest in my home, where I give it as pleasant a seat as I can. Sculpted, belly-like, incense-fed and fat with offerings, my adobe hearth is as lovely a home for the fire spirits as I could create for them.
I add a few bigger sticks now and on goes the trivet and a kettle filled with fresh water from the stream. As the kettle heats we sit, allowing a comfortable stillness and silence to enfold us. We are beautiful. Our bright open awareness of each other and the living world about us is an unfathomable miracle. It is an honour to be here with you, to experience myself and this place in the heart-field of your perception.
To be witnessed in our being is the greatest nourishment anyone can receive, and to witness another in such a way is a deeply beautiful and humbling. To behold:—this witnessing power, this great gift, art of all arts, is what our human being is about, the true use for our opposable thumbs. But it is not our gift alone. The beings we witnessed as we made our way here are still singing of their own joy at having being in our hearts for a while, while our hearts are still singing of our having been in theirs. Even now the birdsong that pours in through the open door becomes somehow illuminated to itself when we give it our quiet and open attention, and our spirits quicken to realise that those songs are being sung for our ears too, that our presence in this hut is known and enjoyed by everyone in the clearing and the woods around. The trees lean in to listen to and subtly inform our exchange. Our very being here is being here held in awareness. The natural reciprocity we can be part of when we choose to be is soul-deep and scintillating with magic.
The kettle whistles and I warm the teapot before sprinkling in some dried mint and nettle leaf.
What, I wonder aloud, is substance? Of what, ultimately, is this little hut made? Classical descriptions of matter posit tiny indestructible building blocks which join together to make other building blocks out of which everything is composed. These atomic building blocks are then supposed to interact mechanistically in predictable ways to create the movement and change we observe in the world around us. This is the Newtonian model. It is the foundation of the worldview most people live in today: atomised, mechanical. Current scientific descriptions of the universe have had to abandon this model. It is no longer viable as a true depiction of reality. Atoms are not indestructible. Sub-atomic particles do not interact mechanistically but in highly unpredictable ways. Physicists posit an underlying sea of intelligent energy—the quantum plenum—out of which the universe of form is constantly crystallising.
Personally I think it’s fair to say that everything is made of magic. This feels more true to me than any other description. In nature this is quite easy to experience. Dropping out of the mechanistic model and into a felt-experience of the inner life of natural beings is almost automatic, and it is a small step to then drop down deeper still into the vibrant sea of conscious energy that underlies each individual life-form and infuses the whole. In nature one is always but a few steps away from this experience. Much less so in built environments, which reflect and embody the mechanistically influenced consciousness that created them.
Yes, this is why I first came here, to remember my inherence in the mystery of root and pelt and winged heart, bloody and miraculous; to shrug off the strange mechanical armour wrought to shield me from feeling one with the fabric of magic of which our earth is folded like living origami. In this way these woods have been my healer as, through their gentle influence, one by one the hooks and barbs that once held my armour in place fell out and became bluebells and wood anemone; while the weird energetic wires that were attached to it—and through which fear flowed both ways—have atrophied and broken off, falling to earth to become roots and vines, or flying away, winged serpents, into the stars. Piece by piece the armour collapsed and dissolved into soil and moss and lichens as I unplugged from the machine and immersed in tides of wildness, my bodymind slowly becoming reclaimed by the sensual sea of elemental existence, increasingly naked in an organic spiritual embrace.
And so I say that my little hut is made of magic, as are your eyes that see it. It is also, in a strange way, made of the journey of unplugging I went through to be here, crafted with the energy released as my armouring slowly dissolved and I surrendered to being part of the fabric of this woodland tapestry. Building it was a co-creation between me, this clearing in the woods with its many long-time wild residents, and the sea of magic itself. It came into being organically, playfully, with a knowledge of how structures work and a loose plan of what I wanted to make, but also with a willingness to listen to what wanted to come through in this particular space, with these particular materials, at this particular time.
I believe that what has emerged from this co-creation is quite radically different from purely human-designed and built structures. It is energetically transparent to the magic, and its presence is not imposed upon these woods but is part of them. Living here in it, this is exactly what I’d like one day to be able to say of myself.