Today we visited with Brendan, the host and builder of our accommodations last night, who graciously made us a breakfast of organic porridge, simmered apples directly from the trees on the land, and robust coffee. As perfectly delightful as our cabin was, his family place, also built by his own hands, was equally intriguing and welcoming. Essentially a harmonious, elegantly solid, eclectic mix of stone, wood beams, and glass, smoothly fitted within the surrounding trees and shrubs, it had “grown organically” over many years (“as I went from bachelor to partner to us being parents”), and seemed to match its maker. Brendan was born of an Irish mother and an English father, grew up in England, and studied art. Seeking the big questions many of us creatives ponder, he did what he needed in order to make a living, and continued to learn. He practiced TM, read about alternative approaches to life (“I knew pretty early I could never be at peace working the standard 9-5 gig.”) and eventually found and bought the plot of land he’s been on for 28 years.
For several years lived out of the small “caravan” in the photo — which is pictured in a mostly empty field, the same site that’s now happily forested and grown into lush greenery in all directions and on which his homestead was built. He befriended the old Irish farmers in the area in those first years because he appreciated both their wisdom and company. They had an “open front door” in the evenings and anyone could wander in and sit around the fire and ask questions and listen to stories. “I learned a lot from them.” Clearly Brendan is a great appreciator; we had an immediate bond. He spoke of his challenges in completing all his ideas for the property—including a new space that might accommodate retreats for yoga and other spiritually oriented gatherings—while raising a 12 and 6 year old (two other children are out of the house on their own). Regrettably his lovely partner Rachel had to be at work and we didn’t get to visit further with her. As a friend mentions below, their solid partnership made this beautiful inspiration possible. Brendan was eager to hear about my art making, and Anselm’s work. He reflected on how he had given up making paintings toward his interest in botany and plants and the land, and considers his home, the dwellings and the gardens, as his art and his spiritual path.
We talked with regret about idiotic political leaders, about f*cking fracking and pipelines, the crisis humans are creating for ourselves and the future generations with our unsustainable lifestyles, and our hopes because of what we seen sparkling in the younger minds coming up. He related how he’d been an activist for peace and environmental issues in his younger years, but has accepted it was now best for him to focus on his own local issues and home place. I shared similar concerns and sentiments. “My work on the gardens is my ongoing art in process” ...humbly adding: “I feel as if it’s my own way of helping heal the planet.”
We spoke of competition versus cooperation, and how we both had only recently begun to recognize money not as an inherent negative, but rather as, in Joseph Campbells’ phrase, “congealed energy” and a tool we might use to better the world as we choose. “We only have been renting a year, but this place is doing really well. It seems to attract a certain type of person, and there are a lot of them thinking about the earth and how to contribute. That makes me feel hopeful. Some have even started looking for land around here already...In a very small way, through Airbnb and people staying and seeing this place, I hope it might give them some ideas or open them up to new possibilities about how we can live in better harmony with the earth.” The sensations from this land he has “reclaimed” by plantings and allowing it to reforest are soothing and energizing.
I told him about a country called Floyd and friends I knew working in ways similar to his path. I shared my recent joys tubing the Roanoke River, and some of my own journeys and uncertain new directions. He mentioned struggling to get the Irish Forestry (Much like our national forests they are not preservation minded but bidden to corporate wood and paper harvesting production) to preserve a small stand of local old growth forest. Detailed with us how Ireland was once nearly completely covered in Old Growth woods, and where we might go to experience this last vestige near his home. I shared information about a woman I’d met just Saturday who has established a nonprofit to save the freshwater rivers and streams all across Ireland, in the hope they might lock arms in their missions. It’s my growing belief one of the best hopes we have in changing our foolish old unsustainable paradigms is by connecting with like-minded folks and strengthening our nets by helping each other.
We spoke the arts as cultivating a “way of knowing” similar to experiencing the wisdom of the natural world; of synergy; of our “mature” bodies needing yoga; Sufism; lunar modules and living on Mars and our imagined importance in the Big universe; of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi; of teenagers sleeping into lunch and staying up all night; eclectic things and practical joys. I’d chosen this lodging less than 24 hours before, by instinct, following my gut, and now in some very real ways, I feel I’ve met an Irish brother.
I’ve mentioned and shared on many FB posts my love of the writings of John O’Donohue. I hoped later this week to visit the Nat. Park in a region a few hours north Connemara, which had inspired some of his writings. So I was tickled to find “Anam Cara” his most known work, among the small collection of books in our cabin. I took the copy to breakfast and pulled MY copy out of my backpack to show Brendan. He looked at the two and his eyes lit up with joy! “Oooh, yes!” Brendan then went on to tell us about when he first was settling in Ireland, he lived in a place nearby, an extraordinary geographic region known as the Burrens, “it looks like a lunar landscape” (pictures coming on another post) and suggested we go.
At one point Brendan added, “About 30 years ago, I was new to the region so I thought I’d attend a church a few times, ya know, it’s a good way to get a feel for the views of the local folks. I went into a church in this small town, and I couldn’t believe my ears. Here was this priest, in conservative Catholic Ireland, and he was sayin’ all these radical type things I’d never in my life heard in a church! About finding spirituality in nature, and the need to connect to the Earth, all sorts of things like that. I said to myself, I need to find out who this guy is.” Turns out, it was an impassioned young priest who in the next year would become enmeshed in a protest against developing some land in the region vs leaving it naturally preserved. He soon left the priesthood, and became the famed mystical poet/philosopher of Ireland, named John O’Donohue.