I was woken by the intricate melodies of the song thrush marking its territory. The dawn chorus was astonishingly loud through the thin walls of a tent. Nature called. I unzipped the door and clambered out onto the long dewy meadow grass.
The cold waters of night lay over the land. First light pulsed in the East. In the West, the crescent moon and its court of stars were still up. North into the valley, first light drew the pitch out of the black; the lower fields lurked through thick grainy bands of blue. In the towns and cities the day is either on or off; you miss the long in-between of dawn and dusk, the magically prolonged moment in which the sun rises to challenge the nocturnal supremacy of the moon.
I feel most alive when I am camping. My first response, on finding myself jobless in late Spring, was that my family should spend the summer camping
The moon is taken seriously at Plaw Hatch Farm, a small two hundred acre biodynamic farm near Ashdown Forest in East Sussex. Biodynamic agriculture was devised by Rudolf Steiner, the founder of Anthroposophy and a respectable figure in the progressive underground that flourished in the late nineteenth century and the first decades of the twentieth century. Steiner’s thought is broadly categorised as spiritual science; he sought to unify science’s exacting practicality with mankind’s mystical yearnings. Biodynamic farming belongs to the later practical phase of Steiner’s philosophy, bringing together sound practices we now recognise as mainstream due to the organic food movement, with a touch of the occult: preparations made from cow horn and crystals infuse the soil with cosmic forces, while the respective rhythms of the earth, the moon and the cosmos influence the planting calendar.
The biodynamic farm aspires to a closed system: the animals are born and reared on the farm, and their manure fertilises the grass that feeds the animals which in turn produces more manure. At Plaw Hatch Farm, the cycle encompasses lambs, sheep and pigs, chickens and ducks, a rabbit field, cows, a milking shed and polytunnels of vegetables. And two beehives. New inputs into the system – such as campers – are taken in reluctantly.
I have long felt that camping could hold the key to a new way of life, and there was certainly an appetite for a new way of life in the economic wreckage
I feel most alive when I am camping. My first response, on finding myself jobless in late Spring, was that my family should spend the summer camping. After two rainy summers of commuting and childcare, the long-term weather forecast predicted a barbecue British summer. More prosaically, the pound was weak against the euro and the British public were pulling their horns in as the economy collapsed. So economically and meteorologically, the summer of camping seemed the fit response to unemployment. More than that, I have long felt that camping could hold the key to a new way of life, and there was certainly an appetite for a new way of life in the economic wreckage. The summer was my chance to explore the meaning and history of camping and how it related to a new view of society, our approach to parenting, even my manhood. The long boom was the era of Big Tent politics, in which our leaders drew together disparate factions under the promise of endless economic growth, a promise that seemed free of ideology. That era was over, and it was time to discover what Little Tent politics might bring. Instead of house prices, I would think only of tents and where to pitch them. As an article in the LA Times on music festivals noted, there was a “growing prominence of temporary structures in a world suddenly drained of capital.” Camping seemed a fit response to the failed property cult.
As dawn rose, the children stirred. The summer of camping would change their lives also; for the better, I hoped. There was a great deal for them to learn at Plaw Hatch Farm. About bees, for example. My son was only two years old and had never seen a bee dutifully fly between the long spears of purple-hued grass. We laid down together to watch the worker’s toil. Every time the bee buzz-hopped over the meadow grass to light upon a wild flower, Alfred laughed at the unexpected comedy of nature.
Bees are eunuchs in Nature’s harem
Making this detour by way of the beehive, the entire cosmos can find its way into human beings