Refurbishing the Long House

WoodburnerAfter years of trustworthy use, heating the sauna and Long House it’s time to say goodbye and thank you to our wonderful old wood burner.

As many of you will know, over the last 18 months we’ve been steadily investing in changes to our buildings to make them safer and bring them in line with current health and safety standards.

The Long House was our first building to include sleeping accommodation, and we’re now in the process of refurbishing it to install a new wood burning stove that will be housed in a purpose-built hearth constructed at the back of the Long House.

The stove will have a new opening formed from the back into the centre of the rear sauna wall, which will will make the stove safer in terms of fire safety, and the new flue will rise up outside of the building rather than internally.

This will also allow us a better layout within the sauna with more benched area. Our new stove will heat the bedrooms as well as hot water for showers, and we’re excited about this upgrade to the accommodation at the wood.

Pictured: Tim our Facilities Supervisor dismantling the old burner

Face-offs with cows, and flying chickens. Lessons in community from Ethiopian roads

Guest Blog by Alan Heeks, March 2016, first published at www.living-organically.com

It happens so often, you suspect the animals must enjoy it: why else do they spread the full width of the tarmac, instead of using the broad gravel verges? The cows are the worst: they glower balefully as if they might charge, and only turn aside from our approaching vehicle at the very last minute. At least the goats lose their nerve sooner.

Roads in Ethiopia are a community resource, with a stupendous range of users managing to share them. It helps that most roads are not just a two-lane tarmac strip, but a gravel belt each side. This gives lots of scope: for example donkeys on the far right, overtaken by a pony cart or a tuk-tuk, overtaken by a bus – with any traffic going the other way using the gravel strip on the far side.

 

Ethiopia road 2

I had rented a car and a driver for a long trip to the Bale Mountains, a beautiful, remote area in the far south-east of Ethiopia. We tried to overtake a slow lorry in mist, and car appeared, speeding towards us. My driver sensibly swerved off the tarmac onto the far-side gravel, alarming a lone riderless donkey whose lane discipline had been impeccable. We bounced along the gravel for a few hundred metres, and rejoined the traffic as if nothing had happened.

The sense of community remains very strong in Ethiopia, and qualities like tolerance and mutual support seem stronger here. There was never a sense that some users had a right to the road, and others didn’t: everyone flowed around each other. By contrast, in Britain it seems that car and lorry drivers believe they have an exclusive right to use the tarmac, and slower, more erratic travellers are an intrusion.

Livestock are a big part of rural life in Ethiopia, and the roads are constantly used to move them to grazing or to market. A lot of animals meander along with no supervision, especially donkeys, who have a strong impulse to turn suddenly across the road.

Because rural prices are much lower, my enterprising driver bought two chickens to take home to Addis Abbaba. They had a nice box with airholes, on the roof of the car. However, after driving through heavy rain, the box fell apart, leaving the chickens flying through the air.

The community response was impressive. Cars going the other way flashed lights and shouted to tell us of the problem. A huge lorry behind us stopped, and the driver rescued the shocked chickens from the middle of the road. I imagine one chicken telling the other, “I always had a bad feeling about today”.

Ethiopia Road

I haven’t yet mentioned the pedestrians, horse-riders, motorbikes, handcarts, nor the fearsome potholes, ruts, gulleys… but what’s impressive is how these myriad users flow peaceably around each other. British drivers could do with more of that tolerance.

‘Like One Big Family’

conservation weekendHazel Hill’s Conservation and Wellness Weekend

All 16 of us had a lovely time on this weekend, and did a lot for our own wellbeing and the wood’s. Many of the group were new to Hazel Hill, and made a really deep connection with the place and with other people.

We did some great conservation work, landscaping and planting the outdoor cooking area by the main buildings: this included planting a wide range of woodland shrubs, trees and flowers, and creating an amazing large wooden bench, masterminded by Roger Bingham.

Other highlights included large amounts of fantastic food, woodland games, and two great evenings around a campfire, with scary stories, and some lovely poems and songs.

These are some great quotes from the people on the weekend:

“I’m going to take away all the fun, and the love, and the family we’ve made.” (Joshua 6)

“I will take away the feeling of everyone chatting and chatting while they were working and spading. Five stars.” (Theo, 10)

“I had a lovely weekend and made some big life decisions. The community feeling and the mindfulness ideas all helped.” (Maggie, 20)

“I take away a sense of peace. I’ve reconnected with nature, and built a really nice bond. (Mandy)

 

Unwinding with Trees

HHW Women under treeMany of us find it hard to relax and switch off these days: busy lives, change and uncertainty, hours connected to smart phones and the rest, all contribute.

Spending time at Hazel Hill Wood is a great antidote. We don’t have mains power to charge your appliances, the mobile signal is poor, Wi-Fi hasn’t been invented in this neck of the woods.

This week I arrived at the wood after a busy, exciting day in London, with my head buzzing.  I took myself off to sit at the foot of a favourite beech tree, and within 10 minutes I was really unwound.

I can’t explain why sitting with your back to a tree (or hugging it!) is so relaxing, but many people find that it is.  Maybe it’s just being in a beautiful woodland setting with clean air and lots of birdsong, but I believe there is a wisdom in trees which can nourish us if we let it.

This is just one of the many sources of resilience which we will be exploring on the Natural Roots of Resilience Weekend which I am co-leading at Hazel Hill Wood, April 24-26.

Growing Natural Resilience: how can we learn from ecosystems

AHArkClose2 - WebSizeBy Alan Heeks

I talk about resilience a lot, and I hear very varied definitions of it from others.  Some regard resilience as a hard, cold, mechanistic idea, whereas my first images are of a green, creative springiness: the growing through problems that we can see in sustainable ecosystems.

This blog offers my views on how humans can learn about natural resilience from ecosystems, drawing on my twenty-five years’ experience in managing two cultivated ecosystems: a 130-acre organic farm in Dorset, and a 70-acre woodland in Wiltshire.

Magdalen Farm and Hazel Hill wood are both residential centres where people can learn through contact with nature.  The best insights don’t come from nature in the wild, but from cultivated ecosystems: managed to deliver targeted outputs in a sustainable way, which renews resources instead of depleting them.

Think about intensive or factory farming, where artificial stimulants (fertiliser) and suppressants (pesticides, antibiotics) are used to drive outputs, and the underlying resources are depleted and polluted.  Now compare this to a typical work organisation….

My model, the Roots of Resilience, highlights eight features of cultivated ecosystems, and shows how these translate to people in work and life generally.    One benefit of an ecosystem as a model is that is easy to embody as living, dynamic and intuitive, not as fixed or cerebral.  Most of us have a deep felt connection with nature around us, so why not relate this to human nature?

The Roots of Resilience articulates the main principles of organic growth and shows how people can apply them.  For example, here is Principle 3:

  1. The joy of crap: composting waste

The beauty of any natural cycle is that there is no waste: every output becomes the input to the next stage of the cycle. In a wood, dead leaves rot down to enrich the soil.  Organic farms compost both animal manure and plant waste to create a major source of future fertility, and this is a key to renewing resources whilst increasing outputs.

Where is the waste in your life and work that has discarded energy and value? Think about negative feelings like anxiety, or conflicts and failures. It’s often easier to ignore the waste, but it builds up within us and around us. Waste is usually messy: it takes new skills to collect and recycle it, but it can be done. For example, negative feelings can become a source of fresh understanding and constructive energy: both for you personally and in your relations with others.  For many people, a key resilience need is skills to handle increasing conflicts with other people.  This is another example of composting: if conflicts are faced and processed, they can generate growth in a relationship, but this takes good skills, and may need support from a third party.

This model explores resources/inputs, processes/approaches, and outcomes/results.  It offers a linked set of principles and methods useful for individuals, teams and whole organisations.   The benefits include: strengthening and renewing your resources, better ways to handle setbacks, and fresh inputs of energy and insight.

An important feature of the model is the relationship between the forester/farmer/manager and the natural resources they are guiding.  Here, for example, is a short description of Principle 5:

  1. Wisdom from Stillness and Tracker Vision.

If you spend time with organic farmers or foresters, you’ll notice a quiet, reflective quality alongside huge capacity for action.  Their vision, strategy, and response to problems arise partly from listening to the land, or whatever natural resources are involved (for example, yourself).  Foresters and farmers spend a lot of time alone on their land, walking it or just sitting still.

There are two crucial skills here: sitting with stillness, and ‘stalking the vision’.  This relates to the way observation and tracking are taught in wilderness skills: you must learn to sit or walk in total silence, and to cultivate wide-angle vision, so that you can see what is peripheral.  Tracker vision is invaluable for people in all walks of life.  The skills of Mindfulness are another approach to this same topic.

The best way to get into this model is to experience it and actually feel yourself as part of the system, with a guided walk through a cultivated ecosystem, such as Hazel Hill Wood.  This model will be the core of the weekend workshop on The Natural Roots of Resilience, which I am co-leading with Marcos Frangos at Hazel Hill wood, April 24-26.  For further details of the weekend, click here.

The model is too long to reproduce in this blog, and it is better to experience it first: so come to the April 24-26 workshop!

For more about Magdalen Farm, see www.magdalenfarm.org.uk

Alan’s book: The Natural Advantage: renewing yourself, inspired by his work at Magdalen Farm, which relates the principles and practises of organic growth from land to people and organisations,   is out of print but can be obtained second-hand. See www.living-organically.com for a summary.

Welcome

DSCF1591Hazel Hill is a beautiful, secluded 70-acre wood and sustainable retreat/education centre, seven miles from Salisbury, which offers unique scope for people to deepen their connection with nature and learn about living renewably.

The programme includes retreats, conservation, men’s and women’s groups, and the wood is available for group bookings. The facilities include heated bedrooms and sleeping lofts, indoor group room, camping area, compost loos, good showers, and a hot tub.