Fire forms the beating heart of the house: by day, just a background image, flickering weakly, demanding food every few hours. By night though, as the darkness crawls up the side of the valley, it reaches out: a red flame, sullen, hot, stretching it’s tendrils of warmth through the building. In the deepest night it lights the cave, a natural focal point, our faces turned towards it as bats flit outside.
I’ve spent the last few days with David on his farm in Wales, sharing stories, thinking, writing, reflecting. Grounded time: time with my feet in the mud. For him, this is a way of life, a connection with his horses, with his land that filters through to his language and thinking. We are all grounded in our everyday reality, in both location and mindset. Morning: feed the chickens, then phone calls. Work, interspersed with a break to take out hay for the mares.
The tractor is red: a hundred miles and twenty years from the rusty grey steel beast i last drove. That one was old, older than me, older than anyone maybe. It lurched, grunted and coughed: the red tractor, by contrast, is youthful, purposeful, strong. Thrilling: i get to drive. Twenty years slip away as the smell of hot oil and hydraulic fluid seep past my nostrils to ignite my brain.
There’s something abstract about driving a tractor: the noise isolates you from the land, you become a beacon in the landscape. Horses warily skip out of the way as i tentatively edge through the gateway (i hadn’t shared the story about the time i tore the gate right out with a forgotten trailer…).
The farm itself, as with most old buildings, is repurposed. It’s original story is long told: done, gone. Reinterpreted for a new purpose, rebuilt, remodelled, renewed. Less a new chapter than a whole new book. The very landscape here adapts: as we drove in, David recounted not stories of the present, but foundation myths of the past. “This is where the Romans got to”, “this is where the Saxons halted”, “this is who owns this land”, although he’s wrong of course: this is who stewards it. Like stories that are told and retold, we don’t really own it, but rather mind for it and care for it for the next generation.
At the heart of it, the fire: from the front door, looking across the valley, we see the woods. Every year the dead and fallen boughs gathered, sawn, split and transported to be stacked in the woodpile to feed the house, to feed the farm, to put light into the landscape.
We are working, not just on the land, but through our stories. It’s about building alignment, sharing vision, co-creating something out of thought and talk alone.
But always grounded.
Experience seeps into memory. I sit on the train, heading home, but glancing down at my boots i can still see the mud, and in my memory, the movement of the tractor as it skids though it.