Monday, 17 June 2019

A Taleswappers Tale.

"Stories are recognizable patterns, and in those patterns we find meaning.  We use stories to make sense of our world and to share that understanding with others. They are the signal within the noise. So powerful is our impulse to detect story patterns that we see them even when they're not there."  

~ Frank Rose

Summer is reluctant this year. We wait, through rain and wind, for the sun to peek through, to tentatively reach towards us, shy and unsure.
We wait, trusting that it will come.
In truth, it feels familiar, like an Irish summer ‘should’ be, and really brings home just how our climate has changed in the last number of years, how we cannot claim Ireland to be guaranteed rain-doused and rainbow-bedecked any more. While last summer’s drought was unusual, our winters have been drier too. And this is not going to change any time soon.

Romania ~ April 2019

I have been to some dark places over the last couple of years, down to the depths, into the darkness, at times paralysed by fear and grief - what will become of us? Of our children? How can we even begin to fix this? Overwhelmed by my grief. Hence the long gaps here - I simply couldn't write.
But somewhere there in the darkness, I found something. I found when I turned and looked into it, this darkness, when I swallowed my fear and opened my eyes and looked it face on, I saw it for what it is; a story. And I realise that I have always known this, in my bones. The bones of my knowing. We only ever have our stories. It’s what creates our reality. As I have written here before, whatever story we tell ourselves, or whatever story we listen to that others tell us, we believe it.
So yes, this dark, devastating reality we now face is the result of the story we believed for decades, The Consumer Story (does anyone else think being called The Consumer sounds like a pretty hardcore Evil Being who will wreak havoc and destroy the Earth? Hmm…) This is what The Consumer has created.
The only way out now is to tell ourselves a new story. It’s the only way. We start with a new story, with changing people’s minds. But this is urgent and critically important because there is another Dark and Dangerous Story being told with increasing reach (it's tentacles are long and sinewy) - the story of Collapse. The doom story that has no hope. And we know that fear paralyses us, people need hope to be galvanised, they will leap into action when they believe there is something to save. Albert Bates calls it an emotional virus, which can be highly infectious, but one that can be resisted. A new, beautiful story is what we need, one that is not only hopeful, but that is based on real possibilities.

Romania ~ April 2019

So, in that dark place that I found myself in a couple of summers ago, I understood it was not somewhere we should stay, there is a danger of that, of getting stuck there. When faced with the 'undoing of life as we know it', of course it holds the possibility that we will fall into the darkness and never find a way out, and that is terrifying. Now that this topic is on the High St. and in political arenas, thanks to the likes of Greta Thunberg, and groups like Extinction Rebellion, there is really no getting away from it, and I understand people's reluctance. Because falling into Collapse does happen, it has to happen. How many people do we know who feel like there is no point? We are doomed. And so that story of Collapse takes hold and starts to become the new reality for those people, and then becomes a virus that infects others around them and... well, you know those TV shows about viruses that bring about the end of the world....?  But the bit that is missing for many is that we are not meant to stay there. We need to see it for what it is and use that information to begin the new story. Those of us who have been there, who have seen it, must come back from the darkness, even though we bring grief, we have to be the storytellers, the taleswappers of the new hopeful story, the bards.
It wasn't some big epiphany that allowed me to climb out of those depths, more like just getting up each day and carrying on, and reaching, every single day, for hope. And sure enough, it was there, once I learned how to look, how to listen out for it, that beautiful, new story. And the more I reached, the more I found, and the more I found, the more I reached until I was very much on a journey with a purpose.

Romania ~ April 2019

So, back in April of this year, I found myself traveling into the wild mountains of Romania, into the heart of the Wild, and there I was able to ask questions of the Earth, of myself, as to what needs to happen next for me? Along with other seekers, we delved into our Wild Minds, searching for our Selves among the trees, rivers, mountains, wildlife, mist, and stars, and as we wandered, we were connecting with those elements or other-than-human-beings in a profound way. It was magical, challenging, scary, heart-filling, whole-making. It was facing into the raw and the beautiful, all acutely Present, right there with us every day from the moment we awoke. It was a balm and it was a Summoning.
I came home with pockets full of lichen, stones, moss, feathers, bark, seeds - seeds for planting and pollinating, seeds that are germinating under my tongue, my skin, waiting for the sun, or for the moments that are ripe to be spoken. And then they fly, little fluffy-tufts that people want to blow away, uncomfortable, sticky things. But I can't help it, there they fly, those difficult things that need to be named, that need to be taken by the hand and led into the clearing so we can all see what exactly we are dealing with, and therefore create a gameplan for ourselves.

Romania ~ April 2019

I was barely a week home when I headed over the sea to Scotland where I was lucky enough to attend the Climate Change and Consciousness conference in Findhorn in Scotland, which had incredible speakers like Vandana Shiva, Charles Eisenstein, among others, all of whom had something vital and eye-opening and hopeful and inspiring to say. In the context of this post, I found what Jonathon Porritt had to say of particular interest. He says that we already have everything we need for a sustainable future. It already exists. We don't need to wait for some new technology to be invented, it's all here already. And as Paul Hawken of Drawdown says, “Inspiration is not garnered from the litanies of what may befall us; it resides in humanity's willingness to restore, redress, reform, rebuild, recover, reimagine, and reconsider.” Drawdown offers 100 solutions to reverse global warming. This is real!
Because there is another story, another reality being created with a different vision, and it’s gathering momentum. I am speaking from first-hand experience. But "It's not the waking, it's the rising" that counts. It needs numbers, it needs people, to reach tipping point, and that’s when change happens exponentially. It’s up to us to create the world we want to live in now. I believe that we will change nothing if we don’t change our consciousness. It’s pointless to even try. It means creating a new world, a new way of living, a new way of being in community, a new way of educating our children, a new way of communicating, a new way of resolving conflict, and most important of all, a new way of connecting with, and relating to, the rest of the beings we share this beautiful planet with, including the planet herself. Because without those fundamentals of connection and meaning, we will get lost in our grief.

Findhorn ~April 2019
“We need to tell the stories that create a deep longing for a future that looks very different to the present. A future of cleaner air, children playing in the street, cities with food growing everywhere, louder birdsong, thriving local economies, an age of connection, conversation and community, schools and hospitals fed by local food, a sense of collective purpose. A future of renewable energy, rewilded landscapes, imaginative and playful architecture. It’s going to be amazing.”
Rob Hopkins

The leaves sway outside my window, nodding to me in reassurance - 'we will be alright', they say, 'don’t worry. We are not sure about you though. So go on, get out there and tell the tale, the one where we finally, gratefully, gracefully join hands together.'
So, I would like to leave you with an invitation. If you don't already know, go out and find who are the changemakers in your local area, find out what they are up to, find a way to get involved. I promise you will feel better. There's even science to back up the fact that volunteering reduces stress and anxiety. We humans need to have a sense of purpose, we need to feel we are contributing.
“The great thing about the dilemma we're in is that we get to re-imagine every single thing we do...There isn't a single thing that doesn't require a complete remake. There are two ways of looking at that. One is: Oh my gosh, what a big burden. The other way, which I prefer, is: What a great time to be born! What a great time to be alive! Because this generation gets to essentially completely change the world.” Paul Hawken

Findhorn ~ April 2019


This land like a mirror turns you inward
And you become a forest in a furtive lake;
The dark pines of your mind reach downward,
You dream in the green of your time,
Your memory is a row of sinking pines.

Explorer, you tell yourself, this is not what you came for
Although it is good here, and green;
You had meant to move with a kind of largeness,
You had planned a heavy grace, an anguished dream.

But the dark pines of your mind dip deeper
And you are sinking, sinking, sleeper
In an elementary world;
There is something down there and you want it told.

By Gwendolyn MacEwen (1941-1987)

Thursday, 30 May 2019

Song For Remembering.

What is this I now hold, this golden light?
It is fed by the rain and the moon and the stars,
it is Earth, moulded and shaped by my hands.
Hold it up to the light, there, do you see?

The bones, shells, stones,
flowers, feathers, leaves,
the saltwater.
The songs.

The songs it holds, the songs it remembers,
that shimmer and shake,
awakening, rumbling,
that long to be heard again, that call your name in the night,
that come on the breeze through the open window.

You say you don't remember the words,
but the words remember you.
They recall your grandmother's grandmother's names,
their hands in the earth, their sweat and their tears,
how they showed up again, and again, and again.
And they remember you.

So, take to the woods,

walk the soft earth,
find the place that you left that still holds your shape.
Lie down in her arms, your ear to her heart,
your fingers entwined in her leaves and her grasses.

Listen! Do you hear?
The songs of the birds, the worm and the beetle,
the bee and the spider, the snail in her shell.
Let their songs fill your veins, liquid notes in your ears,
for their voices are the ones that need to be heard.

Let their silken threads weave you back into remembering,
for it's in the darkness you will find your voice is among them.

And when you show up for them,
they will show up for you.

Thursday, 5 July 2018

We Were Wildlife.

"...the 50,000 generations that preceded us in the Pleistocene, which is the age of the Ice Ages, when we became what we are as part of the natural world — when we were wildlife, if you like; we don’t think of ourselves as wildlife anymore, but we were wildlife then — that those generations are more important for our psyches, even now, than the 500 generations of civilization which have followed the invention of farming about 12,000 years ago. So that there is a legacy deep within us, a legacy of instinct, a legacy of inherited feelings, which may lie very deep in the tissues — it may lie underneath all the parts of civilization which we are so familiar with on a daily basis, but it has not gone; that we might have left the natural world, most of us, but the natural world has not left us."

We walk this earth with tender feet,
searching hands,
breath held in silken clouds somewhere in our chest,
eyes wide, unwilling to blink.

Wander in wonder, hearts trembling and cracking open, remembering.

Remembering what it felt like,
peeling ourselves out of the boggy ground,
the imprint our bodies left behind us,
the empty place we walked away from.

In our ancient woodlands,
dark and leafy,
we clambered over mossy boulders,
through quiet pools and meandering rivers.

And somewhere in our journeying,
heads down,
we left the forest,
took to the fields,

and for a while we did not look up,
did not see the treetops dance and nod to us,
alive with Life.

Until we paused
and looked back - look
the way back obscured and overgrown.

We are lost.

So, hands scratched,
we search,
cheeks whipped,
hair entangled.
We search.

We search.


For the way back in.

Listen, Great Silence.
Are you tired of me talking in your ear about this yet? Sorry.
(Not sorry!)
I have written about this so many times before, too many to mention here - heart sore and bewildered, or ecstatic and awestruck, each time reminded of this deep connection we all have to this tellurian mother we are part of, deep in our tissue, our ancestral memory. So many times I have questioned our disconnect, our willing abandonment of a more balanced, indisputably obviously more natural and commonsense way of living.
Yes, I do have others I have met here on the edge of the forest, scratched and whipped and searching like me, but I am interested in you, the Great Silence, who do not want to talk about it.

Come here to me.

Surprise me now, and talk to me.
Tell me, do you know what happened?
Listen to that ancient, scratchy voice inside you that is longing to be heard - that's it right there, 'just in the threshold of hearing', close your eyes, take a moment to search it out, to find it. It longs for you to hear it and has much to say.

We don't need to look very far.

Watch the children.
Do as they do.
For they are our teachers.

"We have such a brief opportunity to pass on to our children our love for this Earth, and to tell our stories. These are the moments when the world is made whole. In my children's memories, the adventures we've had together in nature will always exist."
~ Richard Louv, Last Child in the Woods.

Reach out your hand and you can touch it - the fabric of this place we belong to. It's under our feet, outside our window, it is present in those differently alive beings we share our homes and gardens with; 'our' cats and dogs, the birds in the treetops, the insect on the wall.
Stoop down and push your fingers into the soil, brush your hands through the waving grass, lie down and look at the sky above you. Take a moment to look at leaves. 
We all need to take a moment to look at leaves. 
Close your eyes.
Feel this Earth under your body. 
And listen.

Everything we need is right here.
We just need to reach out our hand to it,
grasp hold of it, and never let it go.

Let it help us find our way home.

Bring ourselves back to [Wild] Life....

The Lover of Earth Cannot Help Herself ~ by Mary Oliver
In summer,
through the fields
of wild mustard,

then goldenrod,

I walk, brushing
the wicks
of their bodies
and the bright hair

of their heads –
and in fact
I lie down
that the little weightless pieces of gold

may float over me,
shining in the air,
falling in my hair,
touching my face –

ah, sweet-smelling
glossy and
colorful world,
I say,

even as I begin
to feel
my left eye then the right
begin to burn

and twitch
and grow very large –
even as I begin,
to weep,

to sneeze
in this irrepressible
of summerlove.

Sunday, 25 February 2018

I Had A Dream...

Have you ever had a crazy dream that somehow somehow becomes a reality? There have been so many times over the last year or so when I have had to stop and pinch myself, hardly able to believe we have managed to do what we have managed to do. As many of you know, I and some fabulous people have spent the last few years creating something so ginormous and mad that it hardly seems possible that normal folk like us could actually do such a thing.

We made a school. Like, an actual, real school, with students. The hilarious part is that any teacher that had me in their class would pale at the thought of me of all people being involved in setting up and running a school. I did not like school and school did not like me. If I had a euro for every time I was told I was 'a square peg in a round hole'...
However, this is a school with a difference, and while there are many the world over,  it’s the first of its kind in Ireland. The difference is there is no curriculum, no classes, no teachers per se, the students decide how they want to spend their time, and for any of you not familiar with this concept, right now I am sure there are a million questions firing off in your brain, like can they still go to college? (Yes they can and do!) How do they learn? I could happily get up on my soapbox now and ‘talk for Ireland’ as they say, but you’d be much better informed if you read any of the articles linked below.

People ask what a typical day is like for our community, and there is no one answer to that. Every day is different, but you can guarantee there will definitely be cooking, games, conversation, exploring, reading, sharing, dreaming, cleaning, negotiating, building, making, drawing, wondering, creating, running, climbing, bouncing, questioning, honing, messing, contemplating, and a million other unquantifiable activities, all of which adds up to learning that is based on the individuals terms and needs, which in turn creates a vibrant, busy, active environment which is both exciting and fun, but also challenging in the best sense of the word. Phew!

Every day I am more and more convinced of what we are doing, all my apprehensions and wobbly moments of terror are a thing of the past, and I believe in this with no doubts whatsoever. Every day I am blown away by how these children and young adults, who having been given trust and freedom and responsibility, are striding forward, taking confident leaps towards their future, with such joy and determination (and challenges too, of course).

The thing is, we are self-funded, we do not receive a penny from the government, and now that we are a charity (CHY 22018) we can accept donations and we are beginning to look at fundraising. So, here is something I have never done before:
If you are so inclined, we would be delighted if you wanted to donate to our cause, (or buy us a building! We also have a growing waiting list and will need a new home sometime in the next couple of years) or even just share this with family and friends and ask them to share it on too. Our Donate page is here

Every little helps!

For some further reading you can start here:

Sir Ken Robinson on parents obsession with sending their children to college - article, and TED Talk.
Dr. Peter Gray on the importance of play - for mental health, and happiness.
Sudbury staff on education - patience and the long game, and the fear of falling behind.
More on our website here - Wicklow Sudbury School, and our Facebook page.

Sunday, 18 February 2018

Where My New Story Began.

I want to tell you a story. Actually, I'm re-telling this story, because this post is four years old now, originally on my Milkmoon blog, and this project is celebrating five years, which is incredible to me. But I'm sharing again because I am so darn proud of what we have made, and how it has continued to grow and evolve and attract more and more people who want something more in their lives than neighbours they barely know to say hello to. This is genuine community, meeting our human need for social connectedness in a way most of us had forgotten.
My dream is to see this grow, to become a community of communities that support one another, that also meets our human needs for food, shelter, energy, livelihoods. I hope to share here, over the next few months, a taste of the kind of things that we are up to here in our little stretch of Irish coast.

But for now, this is where it began:

December 2013:
Sometimes Life amazes me.
Picks me up by my tail and whirls me around a bit, then deposits me somewhere unexpected and never-seen-before, and so, a bit ruffled, and maybe even somewhat bedraggled, I pick myself up and dust myself off, check for injuries, and then Proceed With Caution. It doesn't happen very often in life that there is a significant change, I mean, a really, really big one. Usually it's the slow meander along the winding little pathways, with occasional wanderings off into dead ends and loop-the-loops which bring you right back to where you started. And there are lovely woodlands along the way, with leafy green and yellow light dancing up there above you, and sometimes there are banks of the sweetest flowers nodding their heads in the balmy breeze, and sometimes there are puddles of muddy water you have to wade through in your favourite shoes, or stones that trip you up or find their way into your shoe and hurt your feet. But sometimes it turns out that the little beaten track you are on suddenly opens up into Wonder, a great grassy plain with a smooth road and the sea sparkling in the distance, and suddenly everything feels Right, and Good, and you find yourself skipping along, kicking up your heels and skirts, and warmth blooms in your heart.

Sometimes Life amazes me.
And I find myself doing something I could never have dreamt of, only a few months ago. And the phrase, In My Element, suddenly has meaning. 
A few months before we moved to this town we began meeting weekly with a bunch of rather splendid folks who had a rather splendid idea about what this town needs, and so, we have spent almost a year now, talking talking talking about just what that might be, and slowly something began to take shape, and then it began to grow, and to our collective amazement we are now in the midst of Something Splendid that is now fluttering out there, above our heads, stretching it's gossamer wings and testing the air. 
We have no idea where it will take us, or what it will bring, but it is exciting and inspiring, and speaking in a voice that, it turns out, many people can, and want to, hear.

We are part of a growing community co-operative that is still finding that voice, but that is strong and clear and determined. We started out as a wholefood buying club, and then we put on an event, a vegetarian feast with music and dancing and singing, and we started to tell people about what we were doing, and all around us these little lights began to go on, in people's eyes and hearts, as they listened to what we were saying, and they began to add their voices too, and now we find ourselves here, with a gathering crowd of good intentioned, hopeful folks who know that this is the way forward. Sharing our resources, our skills, our experience, sharing those tender seedling ideas that we carry around in our hearts, sometimes for years, not knowing what to do to help it grow, because some things need more than one person to develop and grow into that wondrous something that has untold potential. But then, when we gather together, and begin to talk, magic happens, things do begin to grow, and faster than you could have imagined. And we all realise that it is possible to do things differently than we are told. It is possible to do business another way, that things don't always have to involve money, or multinational companies, or foreign businesses, that we have everything we need right here on our doorstep. We have the community we need, right here in our town. And you know what? So do you!

The most exciting thing we have discovered is that as soon as you begin to speak, to ask for what you need, you find it's right there, down the street from you, in your community, and it has been all along. There is a network of amazing people all around you who want the same things for themselves and their families that you do, and all you need is a place to come together to talk. A Common Ground to talk about the common ground you share, the back to basics, real, stuff, like how to feed your family, how to provide a real and rich experience for your children of what the world really is, and how people really do want to help one another, because it benefits us all, in the end. And in doing so, we discover how to pare away the unnecessary, stifling, consumer mentality we are all infected with, and to get real again, connect with people in a heartfelt way that brings untold riches of the kind we haven't felt since childhood. 

Last Saturday evening we hosted another event, this time a pop-up restaurant, a seated, four course, vegetarian meal for 30 folks, in a studio in what was once a factory that made the rather famous Beverley Bags in the 50's and 60's, and I found myself In My Element. Seeing all these people, many of them strangers to one another, gathered together and talking talking talking, connecting, sharing food and drink and laughter, stories and ideas and intentions, well, I thought my heart would burst with happiness.

It's all true, you know, what we know in our hearts; that we all want the same thing in the end. A safe place, with love and support, a community that lifts us all up, collectively nurturing and sustaining us, and that carries us forward into a hopeful future where we are doing things the way we want to.

Local friends, and anyone interested, you can find us,
And online on our website here. 

Thursday, 1 February 2018

Awakening Thoughts on Imbolc ~ Lá Fhéile Bríde.

Things have been quiet around here ~ we bedded down, hibernating, dozing, dreaming in our winter snuggery. We watched as storm after storm whirled around us, (Brian, Caroline, Dylan, Eleanor, Fionn ~ some we were more intimate with than others) wind and snow and rain, though not as much of the white stuff as we'd have liked. The children lamented as they saw every other part of the country slip into Narnia~esque dreamscapes, while we languished on the edge of our temperate, rainswept grey eastern coast, the glistening snow visible right there on the mountains, just within reach.

Winter Solstice fire on the beach.

Winter walks.

Languishing, quiet. Until now.

Until the persistent piping of our neighbour, a little Great Tit who makes their home each year in a nearby Silverbirch tree, breaks through the sloth and torpor that we have sunk into these last couple of months. Like a clarion call, it pierces our Winter atrophy, rouses us, stirring something deep within us, some recognition of unfathomable, subterranean Knowing that is all around us ~ Nature just getting on with it regardless what we humans get up to. At the same time my body relaxes its cold weather holding tension, there is a quickening in my blood.

Winter walks.

And I am reassured.

And so, we loosen our scarves just a little, sniff the cold air, breathing in that delicate hint of something moving in the air, our extrasensory ears divining the first trickle of sap rising beneath our feet.

Winter walks.

It is time for new beginnings, for dusting down and shaking out our hibernating nests, for waking what is sleeping in us. Like Mole, we suddenly long to scrabble our way up to the sunlight and roll in a warm meadow. And as the evenings stretch themselves, reaching their fingers towards that first glimmer of extra light, the warm meadows of summer beckon us and we too leap forwards in the simple joy of living and the delight of spring.

So here's to Imbolc, officially the first day of Spring here ~ Happy Brighid's Day to you all!

Tig an gheimhreadh dian dubh
Gearradh lena ghéire
Ach ar Lá ‘le Bríde
Gar dúinn Earrach Éireann.

The house of winter is very dark
Cutting with its sharpness
But on Brigid’s Day
Spring is near to Ireland.

Monday, 6 November 2017

Stealing Stitches ~ A Samhain Interlude.

After a weeks break for Samhain (Halloween), we are back at school. Outside the window, there is a tree who is clinging to the last of its leaves, just on that bit that hangs over the garden. Rust, orange, yellow, green, fluttering merrily in the wind, and each day when I leave to go home, my car is festooned with them and it makes me immensely happy. The day before Ophelia I rushed to the woods, sure the trees would lose their splendid autumnal frippery in the following winds, but miraculously they didn't, and I have spent the last few weeks eyes skyward at every turn, filling them, drinking in that yellow and rust and orange, saving it for those dark winters evenings when the world rests in greys and browns, and I can close my eyes and find it there, that warmth. We are blessed to live in a place that is made up of winding roads lined with beautiful broadleaf trees both old and new.

Daily I wrestle with time, feeling as though it does not belong to me yet demanding that it does, stealing stitches, one at a time, pushing the needle determinedly in and out, making, creating new things where before there was only thread and fabric and vague notions wisping around my head or somewhere over my shoulder, there behind me where I cannot quite see them except perhaps out of the corner of my eye. (You know the way some things you cannot look directly at, instead approach gently, sideways. Innocently.) But eventually, those individual stitches begin to add up, become something, and take on a life of their own.
And they begin to tell a story...

So many things in my life can be added up like this, things created a stitch at a time, things big and small, things that felt frustratingly slow or simply not any-thing until the whole cloth is revealed. Whether it's one of my stitcherys like this one that took me forever, or a big project like our school that seems impossible until suddenly, look! we've done it.

Samhain brings many things for me, my favourite time of year. As soon as the clocks go back it's as though we slip in to a different world, under cover of the growing dark, shadows and hidden things become more present in our days, and we find the time to sit with whatever awaits us once the distracting summer sparkle drifts away.

Outside the window in the fading light, the children bounce in the leaves on the trampolines, barefoot, hooded, their voices high and excited, glad to be back, bringing the cold air in with them and their pink cheeks when they've had enough.
We are past Mabon, the equinox, now, speeding towards the shortest day.

And so we begin to slow down, savouring the darkening days as we slip comfortably into our slippers and light the fire, snuggle up together on the couch, and, as though pulling out photographs of our summer past, I mull over and examine all the threads that have been weaving together throughout the busy Doing months, pulling them together where needed, revealing the picture of what is being formed, thinking about what comes next for us.

There is work to be done over the winter months, for we have what is perhaps our biggest pot on the boil, to date. Bigger even, in some ways, than starting an alternative school ~ that is, creating a magical place to live with a bunch of kindred folks who share the same dream as we do.

There is a mountain looming ahead of us, but what lies beyond it is just too enticing to not at least try.