I live on the rugged and wild coast of West Penwith, the southernmost tip
of Cornwall in the UK. People live here in the winter months but not many and for good reason, the wild ocean swell, storms and mizzle, a Cornish word for a combination of drizzle
and mist. There are places on earth which are far more harsh but it's still not easy to live here even with the comforts of a warm, dry home.
I haven’t lived here long. Local Cornish often ask me what brought me here. In all honesty, I chose this area to be as close to Africa as I could. You see I love where I come from and miss it but
not enough to live there at this stage in my life. So I gain solace in
the Red Hot Poker flowers and Mombretia that have escaped the
walled English gardens and into the wild cliffside edges. African plants like its people are strong and adapt to changes. Winter is now draping her cold damp cloak around this coastline. I stand on the cliff pathway and often contemplate and ruminate
what it took for the first settlers of this land to survive in this environment.
Looking around me I take a deep breath, close my eyes and feel into the soil beneath me, the wind whipping up the stony cliffs from the waves beneath me, the swirling waters below me and the soft cushion of plant life hugging onto the coastline for fear it may be wind-blown away.
I take a deep breath and transport myself to the past just to feel
what the ancestors of this land felt. Firstly I would need to find or build shelter. It is cold.
By evening the temperatures will have dropped to 10c or below and the wind chill factor will make it even worse. The clouds are looking in from their bandstand just out to sea. They also look as if they want to find a small cove to nestle in for the night to escape, tired of being shoved about by the energetic wind. Trees are few and far between. Not able to take hold for long enough to brace against the ever-charging winds. Once I have found a warm space to stay dry and could make a fire to keep warm and dry my damp clothes I would need to think about food and water of course.
Water, I could harvest from the rain and there are small rivulets and waterfalls flowing into the sea. I would also need to learn to fish and scourge the coastline for edible seaweed, although I am told all seaweed is edible, mussels, perhaps oysters and shellfish.
I would need to have the knowledge of foraging the plants that grow and thrive in this area. In Winter not much abounds but Gorse flowers interestingly are used in flower essences bringing hope.
We, as humans, need only a few things to survive; air, water, food, clothing, sleep, shelter and medicine. To thrive we need these basic needs met or we are always in the psychological space of surviving. Our next level of needs that humans have evolved to needing are having our mental and physical health, relationships and community, and long-term comfortable housing and this includes energy and then employment to pay for the “wants” we desire. We have as a civilisation become quite used to the fact that bigger houses, food that isn’t grown locally, warmer clothes, time and money to travel and explore far-reaching places to experience other climates and cultures are “basic needs” but we are spoilt for want. Life was tough for our ancestors. I take a moment and think of my life and how I chose to travel for much of it. I contemplate the choices I have made to explore the world rather than to settle and build a life in one place. As I sit in quiet contemplation of this thought process I think into how nature would support me to survive this existence as generations before me have. Without the ability to just move to another more affluent and flourishing place in temperatures, food abundance, and materials to make shelters. Spending time in nature I know one thing and that is it shares with me all her gifts. She holds nothing back really. She shares just as much with the bee as she shares with me. All I need to do is listen and watch other species interact with nature. Once finding a plant that is perhaps superior in taste or has very good medicinal values is to then find ways to harvest to have enough for the year. Whether to dry or preserve it in something is one very important thing but also to see how this plant propagates and save the seed from the best plants to grow enough for my consumption, to share with others and to leave enough for the animals, insects and bird life that equally feed on this particular plant.
Nature teaches me to surrender and have faith. By watching her rhythms and keeping close to her. Spending lots of time with her I feel her heartbeat in the soil - the life essence for all of plant life to exist. And so I think of how a single tablespoon of healthy balanced soil contains billions of micro-organisms all living, reproducing and dying, eating and excreting. Just as our own physical health relies on a diverse gut biome so too does the health of all plants and ultimately us. There is a symbiotic relationship between the plants and roots, rocks and water, insects and animals and us … If we actually listen and spend time with nature we learn her balanced ways and in turn, I am more balanced in this respecting relationship.
I feel blessed to have found my way to this unique and beautiful area of the world and as each summer and winter passes I feel more into the rhythms and flow of this land and her inhabitants.