Back in 2007, I encountered Mac, Joey, Suzie Mumme and Emma Brown at Be The Change conference in London. For me it was ‘love at first hearing’ and soon to be ‘love at first sight’, as it has been for so many others and the start of over 6 years of employment and a totally enmeshed life. They told me about Embercombe and I was there 3 weeks later.
One weekend visit in December was all it took. I was totally smitten.
On Friends Weekends in those days, everyone was left to fend for themselves, bringing a bag of ‘food to share’ and trusting in unreliable postcodes and unfamiliar taxi drivers. I was one of just 9 attending that Friends weekend. At my insistence, wanting to walk into the place that felt so special, the taxi dropped me off at the top of the track. Sadly it was the wrong track and I found myself 2 miles up the road at 11pm at night, rucksack on back, navigating dark lanes noisy with pig grunts without a phone signal or map. Some exhilarating time later, I breached a steep muddy lane, to be greeted by a fierce, “Who goes there?” from a red-pyjama-clad figure with hair and beard streaming in the wind. I had arrived. Joey was waiting for me, with honey vegetable soup on the stove in the cabin.
Shortly after, the role of Director of Development became mine after volunteering to help Mac with an Embercombe stand at, of all incongruous places, the Daily Mail Ideal Home Show.
My first working day came in May. Mac picked me up from the station and as we drove through Haldon Forest and onto site, everywhere was clean, green, bright. “My favourite season,” said Mac. I could only agree.
Joey’s caravan was vacant and instead of the yurt my friends were expecting to find me in, it became my Embercombe home. So began a year and a half of ‘weaving together the city and the country’, travelling regularly between my home in gritty North London and rural South Devon.
In London, we organised ‘salons’ where we invited interesting and engaged people aboard the Volharding, generously moored in St Katherine Dock.
Back at Embercombe, we hosted London corporate sustainability professionals and my old eco-activist network for Climate Conversation Weekends that mixed people up and generated the Climate Story Tellers group, who still share their stories with each other today, five years on. Some have gone onto become an Ambassador for Embercombe, some stay in touch despite moving to Australia and all of them are working on amazing projects.
I remember treating the Stone Circle with caution and respect and it was several months before I visited it. My patience was rewarded and during a Story Telling Weekend, a stone shared its own story with me, of the permanence and connectedness of all life here – the same material in the rock being bound in the dead plant nestling next to it, and also in my own skin. It was only later that I heard Mac tell the purpose of the stone circle, to provide the eye of the dragon of Albion and so enable the awakening of its people.
Joey taught me the importance of joining in and experiencing life for myself, not just being ‘out there, saving the world’ . He inspired me to really start living life, rather than standing on the sidelines of it, trying to influence other people. I owe my motherhood to this lesson.
Embercombe in summer was where I grieved the passing of my independence: pregnant, carrying buckets of water across the parched garden, over and over. Spilling water, eyes streaming, saying goodbye to my old self.
It was a fantastic place and the perfect season to be carrying a child. We were looking after an old gypsy caravan and for a precious few nights I slept on its red gingham pillows, out in the meadows. I slept so well, Johannes was sent by the Core Team to come and wake me to join our meeting.
Embercombe brought me to live in Ashburton and gave me a new community. On New Years Eve 2010 it witnessed my wedding with Andy and Doro’s blessing day. The Embercombe family looked out for us whilst Andy’s first kidney transplant failed and through the scary year of his being ill and the euphoria of his second transplant.
And all through this time our influence has grown: we run many more programmes, partnerships and enormous Friends Weekends. Mac speaks to bigger audiences and his and our reputation as a source of inspiration for living with deeper values is growing rapidly. To deliver this we now have a team of 13 paid staff not 5 and there are generally 20 volunteers living on site instead of two. We have an exciting new Ambassadors programme and a talented coterie of Associates.
Last year I realised how much I was struggling to meet my own, and others’, expectations of my role and to deliver all that it had become in only a part time hours. I decided to take The Journey for a second time and take stock of my situation.
The week brought me insights into where I’ve come from, the history of my recent forbears, the struggles they faced and how I stand on their shoulders. How they would want me to make choices that make me happy and bring me fully alive…this resonated with other messages I had received, from a stone in the Stone Circle and from the rock in the Kents’ Cavern, as well as my teachers on the programme. I also got to see how my choices to date have been so influenced by my concern with how you see me. It’s been your impression that counts, not my experience. God, that was painful. So ultimately, I came to really realise that it’s down to me to take care of my experience here on this beautiful planet. And that by taking more care of myself, I’ll be making more contribution to the whole that any of my old hard work striving to ‘change things’ ever could. Because I realise it doesn’t end there and that the more I take care of me, the more I have to give away, the more I can cherish everyone and everything around me. And the place to start is to cherish myself.
So that’s been my personal history in this magical place. Like many good Journeys, the impact took a while to root but the message of my Journey week in March finally penetrated in December and I realised I love this project and its people but I don’t believe my own purpose is to manage databases, social media, year planners and marketing campaigns. And that is what Embercombe needs right now. My love of telling stories and connecting people and finding ways to make exciting synergies happen kept me satisfied in the role for a long while. But right now, Embercombe can’t provide the space for me to spread my wings and be all I can be. So, trusting that the Universe supports our unfolding when we dare to let go, I’m stepping into the unknown to see what awaits.
The first project I took on at Embercombe was to create a music album, ‘Notes for The Journey’. I crowdfunded it and so every CD sold makes a direct contribution to Embercombe. I realise that 6 years on, the words I wrote on the cover speak directly to my years in this precious valley and to this point in time in particular. It looks like I have found the resolve to offer my gifts.
An enormous and heartfelt thank you to all the Friends, volunteers, apprentices, associates and staff of Embercombe who have made my time here so stimulating, enriching and funny.
You can listen to the tracks on the Notes for the Journey CD here.