Her fingernails soiled from digging, my teenage daughter Tanya scrapes the dirt from the bowl of the old clay pipe. Propping herself against a gnarly old Hawthorn she pretends to smoke, inhaling deeply before blowing fake smoke dramatically out into the landscape. It reminds me of a scene from Lord of the Rings, as Bilbo and Gandalf bounce memories around. I stay quiet. I know what this moment means to her. She’s found her place in this old land.
Crows dance in the clouds overhead as we sit and ponder, our bare feet warmed by our summer sun. There aren’t any signs of the farmhouse to be seen now, but we know we’re sitting in what was the heart of it. The hearth of it. Now walled with Holly and Hawthorn, the farmstead, Haddock’s Fold, has recently taken on a renewed significance for us. Few understand, but it doesn’t matter.
We understand. We know.
Standing, we survey the place and let it soak into our bones. We sense the spirit and feel what it was like. Suddenly animated, Tanya springs into life. “Here was his rocking chair, by the fire…. he could sit and gaze out over his fields, puffing on this pipe. There was a larder near that bush, perhaps the grandmas cooked in the kitchen in that corner there…” Her ancestors were coming to life, resurrected by the land, invoked by our spirits. Before we depart Tanya asks the place if she may borrow the clay pipe for a while. She leaves a gift of a stone special to her in its place. A token of exchange, a sharing with this ancestral homestead. A connection.
Walking back through the dry grass by the lake we felt so joyful. A deep satisfaction ran from the land under our feet, touched our hearts and warmed our souls. This place was home and always had been. Anglezarke was our place and we belonged to her. Do you know that feeling of deja vu? When you’ve been somewhere before? This land runs much deeper, the connection is raw with vibrance and energy. We’ve not just walked this land before – we are the land and always have been. Long, long before we were born this place held the plans of us and knew we were coming, that we were already there in many ways. It’s our soul medicine, our muse, and we are its.
Months earlier Tanya had felt the call to explore Anglezarke, this old, old land in which we lived. Together we’d walked her moors, paddled her streams, silently trod her woodlands and basked under her skies. We both knew there was ‘something going on’. Tanya got her teeth into researching our ancestry, knowing that my mother had been born not 50 yards from where we now lived and her mother had come into the world 500 yards across the valley, a mere minute from Haddock’s Fold. Imagine her delight when she found that at least the 5 previous consecutive generations had been born, lived out their lives and farmed at Haddock’s Fold.
Our place. Our land.
For over a decade I’d walked my dog daily along a route that linked these ancestral birthplaces, never thinking why, never querying why it felt so right, so comfortable. But now I knew that I was walking in the footsteps of my ancestors, and my daughter had joined me. The valley below my home, known as Abbysinnia to a shrinking number of older, rooted residents, followed the flow of the Yarrow and was the first part of my morning walk ritual. A high bank protected the west, echoed by a long slope to the east. Through this hidden ribbon of land Roe Deer ran, Buzzards called me home and an ancient riverside Alder became my Axis Mundi. The very same Oaks and Ash trees that now looked on me saw my ancestors as they too trod this way. I feel so grounded here simply because I am home. Long before I first set foot here the rocks beneath the woodland knew my ways and the roots of the trees were familiar with the beat of my step.
Today I often carry Tanya’s one year old son, Rupert, with me into the valley. He loves this land. As we duck and twist through the shrouding thickets he stretches his arms out, reaching to touch. I slow my pace and watch his face as bare wintry twigs caress his baby soft fingers. He particularly loves the old Oaks. He touches their bark, his blue eyes widening with wonder as a smile of ‘hello — I’m here’ plays across his face. The trees, remembering him, smile back.
My connection with this land, the wisdom we share and the plant medicine we explore have all been deepened since I began to walk barefoot here. It’s as if the land knows me even better, our energies intermingling as my skin earths with the skin of the land. Barefoot breathing has become my daily practice as I strive to know more, to tap into ancient wisdom and lost thoughts. The Barefoot Breathing e-course is built on the foundation of personal experience. Ever since Jackie and I felt the call to connect even more deeply with Mother Earth we’ve enjoyed sharing our work with many who, like us, desire to strengthen their bonds with nature. Would you like to join us? We’re giving away a free place to readers of this blog. Visit our Barefoot Breathing site to learn more about it, then come back here and leave a comment telling us why you feel the course will help you reconnect. We’ll choose the winner on Thursday, March 1st, and announce the result in the comments section soon after.
Jason Smalley is the co-creator of Essence of Wild and the Barefoot Breathing e-course. He works as a shamanic nature photographer, helping others deepen their connection to Mother Earth and Father Sky through the twin crafts of photography and journeying. http://jasonsmalley.co.uk/