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August 06, 2015

Make hay while the sun shines

I first came to Hawkwood College a year ago and a bit to attend a course led by Eradicate Ecocide campaigner, barrister (and proud wearer of Po-Zu shoes) Polly Higgins. Then it was a bitingly cold January. Now it’s a blessed summer’s eve.

The fields are bigger than I remember, the woodland sanctuary and walk more beguiling, the ponds and wetlands fringed with swaying wildflowers, and the cows shockingly friendly (the last time a cow tried to lick me was in India).

I’m here for the Seed Festival, an eco-art gathering. At its heart is a mission to fuel a culture of care for the earth and each other. There’s a stellar line-up of speakers.Green Party leader Natalie Bennett, Jonathon Porritt, the founder of Forum for the Future, Satish Kumar, peace activist and editor of Resurgence and The Ecologist – sadly speaking on the Sunday, after I go – Scilla Elworthy, Nobel Peace Prize nominee and founder of Peace Direct and Charles Eisenstein, author of The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know is Possible are the biggest draws.

But there’s also music, workshops and all manner of enticing-sounding stuff, like a kind of ‘eco-allsorts’: dip in, and you might randomly ‘pull out’ a herb walk, cloud appreciation, den-making, straw bales, earth mandalas, green poetry, a Reindeer Road exhibition of images from the Siberian Tundra and so much more that you wonder quite how the organisers managed to pull it off.

For me, it’s a chance to reconnect with friends, to be reminded that I’m not crazy to harbour a belief in the sacredness of the earth, to enjoy the beauty of the land, roam (in my Po-Zu’s, naturally), take a break from researching my book, and hope that somewhere along the way some magic might arise, in a mysterious, alchemical fashion. Isn’t that what we all secretly come to a festival for? Enchantment? Connection? A chance to leave behind our everyday existence and enter a chimerical realm?

For me, the magic comes slowly. I’m a tired writer. I am constantly doing. I need ‘undoing’. What might ‘undo’ me? Plonking myself down on a hay bale. That feels pretty silly and fun. A peaceful stroll through the woodland sanctuary. You climb up some stairs through a walled garden, a sort of Narnia, and then disappear up a path. It’s the peace of trees, dappled with sunlight. Later I listen to Boe Huntress perform. Her song 'Green Dragon’ is a re-imagining of the myth of St. George and the dragon. In it the maidens aren’t sacrificed, they’re initiated into a fierce, proud womanhood. This song – I’ve heard it before – floors me. Sends shivers up my spine. I like it so much I listen in on both performances, the evening one as I lie on the grass, arms flung wide to the sky.

Jini pozuing in Jules

The undoing makes me receptive to the talks and talks in a field, sitting on grass on a sunny day are more appealing than talks in a building. I stray indoors though for Nathalie Bennett, the leader of the Green Party whose deep sincerity inspires me to become a member. ‘We need to live within the environmental limits of our planet,’ she says.

Jonathon Porritt could read the phone book and I would sit up and take notice – he is compelling and articulate and driven by a fierce anger. ‘There is no vision from political classes around the world,’ he says (the Green Party excepted, of course). He is such a natural and visionary leader. I begin to daydream about a parliament with him in it. But his anger is leveraged with hope: ‘How do we make change work practically?’ he asks. Practical, local action, the sharing of resources, community building, and gatherings like these are part of the answer. (Offstage, on the subject of Po-Zu: ‘You’ve got to love people who put that much care into a pair of shoes,’ he says. Indeed, paradigm shifts encompass production too).

I’ve heard Charles Eisenstein speak before but this talk, on the intelligence of nature, (with special mention for the humble, potent and love and life-giving seed), inter-being and how we and the soil are one, echoes so much of what I and probably all who’ve come to the festival believe, deeply. Sometimes though, our beliefs need validating.

‘The courage to care for the earth comes from love. We don’t need to fix the planet, we need to fall in love with it again,’ he says. ‘Experiences in nature are transformative’. Suddenly this tired writer feels inspired anew and remembers why she is writing the book she is writing.  

I begin to shift into a lower gear, slurp cup after cup of sweet chai, refuel on dhal and rice, chew my way through a sweet, chocolatey tiffin, stare at the cows some more, turn my face to the sun, make new friends, amble, rest – it feels good to do all of this. Sometimes a slow unravelling, having no particular destination, is the best magic of all.

By guest blogger Jini Reddy