Late on a Friday afternoon, after a few hours of driving through Glastonbury and the South West countryside of England, we arrive at Embercombe, where our four-strong family has been invited to share an ‘experience’ weekend. As a site, Embercombe is a residential and educational working farm situated on the edge of a wide rolling valley, with views from the top of the property extending generously for miles around. Yet as a place and community, it offers much more than you might expect.
First impressions are of a lovely and well-organised space with the capacity for many different uses. The herb garden directly outside the kitchen – planted in old truck tyres – is lush and practical, the long tables lining the deck hint at communal dining and the circle of stones around that fireplace beckon me closer.
A Warm Welcome
One delightful vegetarian dinner and a great sleep in the yurt village later, we awaken to a divine and misty morning as well as another beautiful, community-made meal in the dining yurt. Our sleep is certainly aided by our host has building a fire to warm our space before we arrive, that keeps us toasty well into the night. And I really enjoy it when we all sleep in the same space, even if it does mean usually having at least one child in the bed with me by morning. Maybe it’s the eskimo in me (well, the fantasy eskimo at least).
The Children’s Fire
The day begins with a fire-circle. All 25 of us sit around the morning fire on benches and one by one we speak honestly of how we feel to the other willing listeners. It is a powerful briefing: Tim ‘Mac’ Macartney, Embercombe’s founder, has been charged with spreading the story of the Children’s Fire. This compelling philosophy arose from Native American wisdom and, is based on a concept that all leadership and major political decision-making must have the best possible future outcome for our children as a foundation. It means putting the concerns of our young at the centre of our consideration. Fittingly, as we talk around the fire, our kids play openly in the field beyond, occasionally screaming or laughing as if to agree with the idea.
Fire and feeling
It is a heartening experience to sit around an open fire at the start of the day with no other purpose than to tell the truth about how you are feeling to group of people with a similar intention. I am moved to tears more than once to hear what was really going on for the other residents of the temporary community. From deep and important transitions and synchronicities to the most basic of grateful sentiments, I relish the feeling of openly and warmly receiving people’s truths in this way. I am able to compassionately hold the spaces that each person presents as their own and take a moment to honour them for sharing it.
Work and play
Next we work. We choose jobs from a list of things that need doing, split into groups and head off to toil on the land – digging trenches, maintaining the farm, cleaning toilets, cooking or gardening. I find it doesn’t really matter what I am doing because it is the act of doing physical work with a group of people that is important. This is a rare experience for a city girl like me, and one the dormant hippy in me thoroughly appreciates.
The whole day, our kids continue to play. With barely a stick and a rock at hand, still they find games. The pine-log play equipment occasionally takes their fancy and they soar on the hand-built swings, or the younger ones jump on the ‘pirate ship’ and go sailing on the high seas. My three-year-old daughter recruits a lovely young woman from London to come on her adventures with her and spends much of the next day or two in fantasy-land, reminding her new adult friend how to play like a toddler.
Space to connect
Around mid-morning our 12-year-old goes for a walk by himself. When he returns my husband (his step-dad) suggests they walk together so he can show him what he has discovered. Our boy talks about some things that had been going on for him after our recent relocation from Australia and his transition into high school. My husband, with our boy’s permission, tells me what they had discussed and we are able to hear him in a way we would not have been able to at home.
Somehow, having the space away from the day-to-day and the calm of the lake and field help our son to get honest with us and for us to hear him as an equal, and respect him for his words and feelings. Even during the week following our visit I feel the closeness that this honesty has created between us. It is lovely to see our boy with fresh eyes among all these internal and external changes he is experiencing at the moment.
Conversations among people over the weekend tend to be more open and hearty than usual. Some of us sing together on Saturday afternoon, our voices ringing out into the valley in complex harmonies. It feels so wonderful to be in a harmonising group, which quickly becomes a respectable choir. Things seem more possible out here.
Things seem more possible. And this fascinates me, that a change in context and some contact with nature can shift our perspectives so much. These shifts are reinforced powerfully when combined with an intention to collaborate for the weekend as a temporary community, with its own rules and routines. A community in which there is a concern for one another and a communal reliance to get the meals cooked, the bathrooms cleaned, the beds made. It works so well.
Homeward bound to return
Coming away from the weekend is bittersweet. I am exhausted and ready for home, unused to the intense concentration of authentic conversation and communal activity. It is also incredibly heartening to see the people that run Embercombe striving to provide people with an alternative, another way of existing – one which involves truth, connection with the land, and connection with each other. I am able to bring kernels of that experience into my life at home and enjoy a sense that these ideas and experiences are more accessible than we are often aware.
Well done Embercombe, I’ll be back.
To share the magic, you can join us on an Embercombe Experience Weekend for a warm welcome to our land and community.