We awaken to peace and birdsong. Stillness surrounds us. Space. “We need to live in the woods”, I say to Pete. When we emerge from the van, and start our ascent to the communal yurt for breakfast. A thick blanket of cloud sits across the valley, the tree-line like huge mountains reaching up from a misty sea. The low morning sun, and birds sing, lifting the clouds, gently revealing soft folds of green. The air is crisp as our warm breath mixes with the steam from our porridge bowls.
We gather for morning check-in: the whole group gather around the fire, including around 30 guests and another 10 or so Embercombe residents, (consisting of Core Staff, apprentices and long-term volunteers). One by one, we say our name, and share how we are feeling – we speak of love, gratitude, excitement and anticipation, as we await the itinerary for the day ahead.
Jobs are allocated to a show of hands – 2 people cleaning the bathrooms, 3 chopping wood, 6 for kitchen, 8 for garden, and so-on. Willing hands reach skywards, and soon we are moving. The system seems to be effective – at least today, with this group of enthusiastic, and fresh-blooded volunteers.
Pete heads to the The Linhay, a sustainable build project due to launch as a land based learning centre in spring 2014. Pete and 4 others are put to work pulling nails out of reclaimed floorboards, so that the nails, and the wood, can be re-used. The Linhay will be constructed from material from Embercombe (timber from the woodland and cob dug from the site), along with reclaimed bricks and other recycled materials. One guy, from London, admits he thought he would find it boring, but somehow, the spell of working communally has shifted his perception to the possibility that such work can be fun, when it’s done together.
Meanwhile, I head to the wood-yard, where we quickly slip into a rhythm, passing logs along a chain, feeding them into the wood-store, where it will sit for a year or two to season. Rob explains that this isn’t always possible, especially at this time of year, when it’s cold, and visitors staying in the yurts have unlimited access to wood to keep their fire-burners stoked. Not to mention the burners in the communal yurt, the Centre Fire (a large multi-purpose hall), and the resident’s accommodation… It takes a lot of wood! This does open a discussion at another point, from one of the council members, who feels that there is not enough consideration given to the burning of wood at Embercombe. She calls for an Economical approach to the symbolic children’s fire that sits at the centre of the morning meeting, reminding everyone of the significance of the Children’s fire, supposedly at the core of everything at Embercombe. She calls for consideration for the life of trees, for their spirits, and suggests that if everyone in Britain burned wood to keep warm, that we would soon be out of trees. With the neatly manicured agricultural countryside, and the privatisation of our woodland, I fear she may be right. But could there be a way that we could use foresight to prepare for such a need? Food for thought… It made me consider our own usage… Pete and I are halfway through a tonne of wood that we bought from a tree surgeon in November. I would say we are pretty economical, but our space is small, and we make a fire only when we really need it, usually only in the evenings, as we are often out and about during the day. I wonder how much we would get through if we lived in a 1 bedroom house, or even a yurt!
A quick cup of tea; then to the garden. We re-plant runners from the strawberry plants, in preparation for next year. Dan, the gardener graduated from the Garden Apprentice role, and is now helping to manage the garden, which (in a good year) grows about 90% of the fruit and vegetables used by Embercombe, feeding an average of 100 visitors per month. Dan is even able to make a little extra income by selling garden produce from an honesty stall that sits at the gates to Embercombe. The food served at Embercombe is mostly vegan, with occaisional addition of some very happy, free-range chickens eggs, from the farm, which are light-heartedly referred to in the kitchen as “vegan” eggs. All other food used in the kitchen in organic, and bought in bulk by a local wholefood distribution company.
Lunch is an incredible rainbow coloured plate of vegetables from the garden – so satisfying to eat food witnessed on its journey from earth to plate.
Pete does some of the first filming today, it feels strange, getting used to carrying a camera around. People are generally inquisitive and supportive. It feels good to finally be bringing this little sapling out into the world, so much potential, but still so fragile.