It was cold at Broadhembury. The snow hadn’t melted from the flurry the week before and everything was freezing anew each night. Even the most delicate things were standing up strong to the cold as each blade of grass to massive oak in the exposed areas of the land had at least 5mm of ice crystals parading themselves along each each twig, along each stem.
Being Back the in Woods
I love being in the woods, I remember as a child taking our dog for a walk in some woodlands near where we lived and always being overtaken with a sense of adventure and discovery but from that point until last October my passion for woodlands and its many inhabitants was hidden from view. It wasn’t until I immersed myself in outdoor life and farming through wwoofing and found myself living and working in woodlands that my passions again were found. Now I can’t wait to spend time in woodlands.
The leaves, the mosses, the birds, the flora and the fauna, the skeletal structures of the trees in winter, everything fascinates me and excites me about the woods and as I have never been to Broadhembury before it made this trip even more important to connect with the land that Buddhafield holds many of its retreats on. It is a stunning place to take time out to reflect, the trees are an aid in finding wisdom and tranquillity.
A Permaculture Approach
The work that we did on this retreat was to prepare the ground for the planting of a forest garden. A forest garden is one of the principles of permaculture whereby the planting of fruit and nuts trees or shrubs exist within the ecosystems of the forest. It creates diversity where companion plants help each other to grow by fixing nitrogen in the ground or deterring pests / attracting predators to name just a few. The creation of a forest garden is done in layers. These layers consist of large deciduous trees or the ‘canopy’ layer such as chestnuts or oaks, small trees/large shrubs that will be planted in and around the larger trees. Then shrubs that will be alright in the shade, Herbaceous perennials to add to ground cover such as mints, a main ground cover and thereby a natural mulch and the last layer are the roots and fungi. The important part to remember is that all layers consist of edible or medicinal plants thus creating a productive garden containing a wide range of lovely thing to eat or cure or make things with. It is a system that needs to be carefully thought through but after the initial slog to create the garden with all its layers it should be relatively hassle free. So in amongst the a massive patch of gorse (you can just see a bit of it in the picture above) a forest garden will be created.
As I mentioned earlier the retreat was cosy but that was good for keeping warm. We had one dome which was our kitchen and hanging out space (and knitting space for three of us!). For our meditation we had a simple shine placed in the centre of the dome with all of us sitting in a circle around it. It was a movable fluid space that was kept warm and comfortable for the duration of the week. I have been lazy recently in my meditation efforts but I had decided that being on retreat I would make myself do the full meditation programme. After waking up in a very chilly van on Tuesday morning, I ventured out to a sun on the tip of the horizon and carefully found my feet on the ice and walked the short distance to our dome. There everyone was gathered with our simple white shrine with a Buddha and two candles and I settled into the earth to concentrate on my breathing whilst a robin hopped in and out welcomimg us to his home.
A Strong Resilience
I have worked outside in freezing temperatures before whilst wwoofing and I struggled to keep warm then whilst sleeping in our van. Our van has gone up market since then we have a burner inside so sleeping inside a freezer this time was not a problem. Working in these conditions is good though, even without a burner and sleeping in a tent, to reaffirm your confidence in being able to work and live in freezing temperatures. It is all about seeing the beauty in each day, in each moment, if coldness sets in go find something warm (our dome was really toasty, thanks to Shantikara being our amazing housekeeper!). Physical outdoor work keeps you warm anyway as you are using all your muscles and generating heat that way. Its about thermals, its about wool, its about absorbing energy for the glorious winter sunshine and staying strong to yourself and the others around you. As you hear the sound of bramble leaves crisping up with frost at dusk, it is surprisingly easy to be and enjoy the outdoors in winter.
The idea to start our forest garden was to initially make three corridors through the gorse. The gorse patch must have been at least two acres in area so this was a task in itself. It is not a good idea to take away all the trees in one go as the animals that reside there would get confused, having somewhere for them to retreat to for protection is always important when clearing ground. We only wanted to clear enough gorse to make it easier to initially plant and then maintain the trees that will be planted. One corridor that stretches all the way along the bottom of this particular area was to be planted with 100 alder trees which would eventually provide a wind break and protection for the garden. After using hand tools on the first day it was obvious that this would take a while and to make any kind of impact in the time we have so we decided to bring out the chainsaws. By the end of the week there was a network of paths in the gorse for the fruit trees. One of the paths framed a view of two oak trees and the landscape beyond.
Missing Trees Found
Amongst the gorse we came across several birch trees and willow trees that were having to fight for life again the relentless spikes of the gorse. These trees were liberated and being fast growing will provide some of the main structure of the garden.
After the freeze came the thaw. By the Friday the day felt like the first day of spring. The sun was beating down on us and the ice was melting, jumpers discarded and work continued with a renewed vigour
A Bright Star
On the last night in this wondrous place whilst brushing our teeth by the van Tom and I happened upon the brightest star in the sky. I haven’t ever seen a brighter star. As it twinkled the flashed out chards red, blue and green in the dark night sky. Truly a mesmerising sight as the crescent moon rose above.
Buddhafield retreats provide a space where you can really hear. see, smell and touch nature in all its wondrous glory and really connect to the earth you live on. I really appreciate that this is one of the facets of Buddhafield as I love to spend my time working and living outdoors and having the freedom to appreciate this Earth is important to me its about the unspoken clarity about the interconnectedness of us all and the abundance of the place we inhabit.
To experience Broadhembury yourself there is ‘Creating a Forest Garden Retreat‘ from the 28th January till the 4th February, there is also a weekend option. Well worth a look especially if you have been inspired this post. For more information about Buddhafield whole retreat programme follow the link.