By Helen iles
It’s early morning. The sun is already flooding the woodland scene outside my window, when a robin hops onto the patio table and appears to look up at me. “It’s a beautiful spring day!” he seems to say. “Get up!” But I’m warm up in my cozy platform bed in the rafters, and that sunlight is deceptive. I take another sip of tea, snuggle closer to Husband and tell myself I’ll just read one more chapter…
My relationship with home is a deep one. I grew up in Wales and brought up my son in one of the most beautiful places on the planet. In my small, low-impact, rural community we found shelter, safety (no-one located their doors), and a sense of belonging far beyond borrowing tools and sharing lifts (though we did that too.) It was wild. Our wooden shacks were at the edge of a forest, and down through the forest? The sea. I had work that I loved and that was useful in the wider community and (I think) in the world and to be honest, I was prepared never to move again. But then something happened. I met someone.
The someone-who-soon-became-Husband loved living in my little eco-home by the sea. He was from a family of small-holders so he knew the pleasures of being on the land, and of the imperative for modern people to know how to grow food. But there was also something else he had to do in his life. He had to travel for his work. As a scientist, he felt that living overseas for a while would increase his science portfolio and give him the experience he needed to be best at his game. For me, this was devastating news.
We lived for two years in my-now-our chalet home before crunch time came. He was offered a job in Australia. Would we go? (It was always a ‘we’). I gave him two years. “And then”, I said, “I’m coming home.”
It’s six years later now, and we’re living in Spain. Yesterday, we spent a sunny February day in our garden, mulching the new fruit trees, resting on the deck, chatting together between tasks. We didn’t leave the plot all day and I said, for the first time I believe, that this feels like how I would spend a favourite day at home in Wales — tending the garden, eating great food, reading the weekend paper and enjoying the peace of a quiet life.
The journey here, back home, if you like, has taken me via three (mind blowing) years in Melbourne and three (mind shattering) years in Spain. The person I was has been broken apart, reorganised and put back together again. It was a joyous, painful, spirit-destroying, soul-reviving experience. An experience that I do not regret and at the same time hope will never has to be repeated.
The ironic thing is, that when I left for Australia, I was on a bit of a quest. Through my film work, I’d been exploring what is is to live in an ecovillage and had realised that many intentional communities come unstuck through in-quarrelling. I wanted to visit some long-term eco-communities and ask how they have survived. As it happens, Australia has a few of those. Australia also has an ancient history of indigenous belonging, which is not my story to tell and yet I was honoured to feel its influence. So my adventure became a research trip, a documentary film, and now, eventually, a book. Given the current worldwide increase in division and intolerance, it would seem this is a question that really needed asking. The personal story — the internal and external dissolving of my life — runs parallel to a wider, deeper story about home and belonging. About how we create and maintain connections — with ourselves, with each other and with the land upon which we depend.
The book that came out of this journey is called A Thousand Ways Home. It’s slowly finding its way into the world, past internal and external gatekeepers. You can give me sign that you might be interested to read it by signing up for the Living in the Future newsletter and I’ll let you know of the next steps soon!