In the sign of the Neighbour


Uncovering the tank requires spadework… Luckily, Ria knows where to dig!

I don’t do ‘new year’s resolutions’. But in 2018 I will be writing regularly here, where for the last few years my energy and attention have simply been elsewhere. Not that I haven’t been present and engaged on the land and in the house – I just haven’t been writing about it for the rest of the world.

For a personal update – on 1 January 2018 I became a(n albeit prematurely) retired person! This month sees me relinquishing my final home in Brussels (I’ve lived in 7 different ‘communes’ in my 30 years there) and moving lock, stock and barrel to Ransberg… shedding many locks, stocks and barrels on the way, to a variety of appreciative new homes.

What has stood out for me in recent months of life at 136 Dorpsstraat has been a more intense and intentional relationship with our ‘neighbours’. I don’t mean just the folks literally next door, but people that we have encountered over our years here who share the same kinds of concerns about finding alternative ways of living that consume fewer resources, shorten the production chains and stay as close to ‘nature’ as possible, all the while regenerating a sense of community. We have discovered that there is much to learn from and with each other and much enjoyment to be had in just hanging out together in companionable creative activity. I’m sure I’ll be sharing more stories about these good people and their passions as the year progresses.

The story that is living inside me for this post, though, relates directly to one of the core intentional practice patterns of The New Life:

“Offer what you can and ask for what you need.”

I think it goes without saying that it is easier to practice generosity than facilitate that practice for others… by asking for help! In this instance, the Kosmic Agent that invited us into practice was a block in the drainage pipes leading away from the septic tank that normally protects us from any direct relationship with our grey water and the goodness that flushes down our one ‘conventional’ toilet. This new situation brought it back up into our kitchen sink, followed, a few hours later by an almighty, gurgling burp and, much more alarming, a fragrant pool spreading out from under the fridge – suggesting a leak in a pipe under the stairs that we cannot get at without demolishing part of our living room. Oops…

We were quite a few days without showers or baths while scratching our heads over how to get to the bottom of the problem. Perhaps the septic tank was full and needed emptying? Did that. Phew! Now we can wash ourselves again… But no. Repetition of same unsavoury and worrying symptoms.


Head-scratching with Guy

The usual reflex (at least in ‘civilised’ society) is to call the plumber. But when you’re out in the country and not attached to the main sewage system, this can add up to major expense. As it happens, all our current pocket money and piggy banks are being channelled into the renovation of the two front rooms (in preparation to receive my stuff from Brussels), so that was a solution to avoid. However, while calling the plumber is a nice, clean, transactional interaction, where money changes hands and there is no further obligation, asking for help freely given implies an ongoing relationship of reciprocity and mutual obligation that society at large seems to have lost the capacity to sustain.

We are lucky, therefore, to have a delightful ‘go-to’ man for these technical problems, in the person of Guy who lives down the road at the house with the Oxfam banner fluttering outside the door and all the chickens in the yard (that you see only when invited inside). And Guy, when applied to, has one of those black snakes that you can feed into dark pipes and, if propelled by pressurised water, will eat its way through blockages (provided they aren’t brick walls…). The source of pressurised water, though, was not forthcoming. We didn’t have an attachment to connect the snake to the hosepipe. And the tap feeding the hosepipe isn’t what you’d call pressurised. So another step was needed.

Since Ria was busy papering the walls in the front room and doing her quarterly taxes, Chrisje was unwell and out of energy and Steve (my beloved, nomad-on-a-visit partner) doesn’t speak the language, it was up to me to overcome my trepidation, arm myself with my ignorance and Guy’s snake, and go ring at the bell of the neighbour on the other side – Geert – whom observation over the years has revealed to have every imaginable piece of kit a householder and smallholder might require – to ask if he might have such a water-compressor gadget… which, indeed, he did. Along with a snake designed to fit it!


Steve being a true-blood hero

Intra-species communication among humans being what it is (a very hit-and-miss affair), I had to go back round there three times before we managed to get the contraption working. Yesterday, finally, Steve put in the wet, muddy work to bore through the blockage and restore the flow. Ria and Chris celebrated by leaping into the bath tub later that evening (well, we had to test the system, yes?!) and lo, when the plug was pulled, a lovely glugluglu ensued, with NO reflux and NO burp.

All that remains to do is return all the loaned equipment, with thanks and some appropriate home-made token of appreciation (a pot of raspberry jam comes to mind), and an expression of desire to remain in neighbourly relationship on a more regular basis.

It feels good to share this story – as the first of many, now that I have the spaciousness and the calling to revive this humble blog, which is so dear to my heart.

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Open Garden Days – 3 & 4 June 2017

Ransberg garden

Last summer’s glory

You are welcome to come and visit us between 13.00 and 18.00 on Saturday 3 and Sunday 4 June.

We have flowers, vegetables, herbs, fruit bushes and trees, a pond, chickens, some wilderness and even a trampoline for those who want to kick their shoes off and blow off some steam.

The address is: Dorpsstraat 136, 3470 Ransberg (Kortenaken)

Ransberg jug



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The Forge @ Ransberg – Part 4: The Second Workshop

On the afternoon of Friday 19 June we welcomed Pierre and Leslie, Joost, Melinda and Christina. Anna, Chrisje, Michaela and her daughter Gabriele and myself joined in the making. Heather and Chrisje both stepped in to support me in the kitchen.

The weather was cooler, there were moments of rain. Everyone found shelter and the show went on.

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Saturday was marked by two momentous occurrences. The first was a visit from Ton Akkermans, who had taught Gabriella, Quentin and Heather the bowl-making craft, together with his partner Carolina. It felt like such an honour to have the whole lineage of this sacred work present at this special time in this potent place. In the evening we held a solstice celebration, with a sound weaving by Heather, Gabriella and Quentin, followed by supper and a fire circle. In addition to our workshop community, we welcomed Christina’s partner David, our neighbour Claude and Matthieu with his son Nicolas. The workshop closed on Sunday with another crop of beautiful instruments, duly initiated and set to travel off to different corners of Europe.

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The experience of the Forge@Ransberg has worked in subtle ways on this place and our shared story. It is my hope that Chrisje and I can build up some facilities here to continue the bowl-making work independently, with support from Ton, Gabriella, Heather and Quentin. The workshops are certainly something to repeat.

View all the photos I took of the Forge @ Ransberg

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The Forge @ Ransberg – Part 3: Interlude

Deliciously, there followed four blissful, spacious days of summer, with nothing to do, nowhere to go, leftovers to eat, time to be together and live on the land and make to our heart’s content. Steve opened up more space on the swales, Ria brought her presence to the garden. Chrisje worked in the mornings and forged in the afternoons. Michaela brought her daughters to visit. We held our own intimate initiation ceremony for the new instruments we created, and Steve hosted a small Flow Game… On Thursday we lost Steve and gained Anna and Quentin, and on Friday we eased back into our workshop routine and flung open the doors for another small community of makers.

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The Forge @ Ransberg – Part 2: The First Workshop

For the first workshop we were joined by Nathalie and Erik, Bernard, Matthieu and his daughter Lucie, Andrea and Holger, as well as Michaela and Chrisje, who also took part in the bowl-making process, while I focused on preparing of food for the weekend.

We started in the tent, which had been transformed by the instruments that Gabriella and Heather had brought with them, into a lovely sacred circle space. Here we started and ended our days with sounding of the bowls, gongs and cymbals, all wreathed around with sounds of birds and the wind in the leaves of the poplars. And the occasional synchronistic syncopation from the village church bells, the jingle of the local ice cream van, and the disco sounds wafting down from the Hias Palace of Swing next door!

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From the opening moments, our little community sank seamlessly into the natural flow of the bowl-making process. The first afternoon was dedicated to choosing the metal for the bowls, scribing the circles and cutting and filing the discs.

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After supper, we all trooped down to the fire circle to share conversation as we waited for the fire to create the heat needed for the first annealing of the discs.

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A thoroughly absorbing and magical process, rounded off by some magical gonging in the gloaming by Heather and Gabriella.

Day two dawned wet, so breakfast was hosted indoors. The living space breathed out and we all fit in without even squeezing.

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By the time we were ready to start beating metal, the sun had appeared. Each maker found his or her place, and the alchemical process of shaping the bowls began, each person ensconced in their own private process, each hosted by the land in the place they had chosen to occupy. The valley rang with the never-before-heard tap-tap-tap of hammers on metal on wood.

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When undertaking creative physical work with natural materials in the open air, it seems especially important to eat pure and natural, nourishing food. Catering was my self-appointed task for these days, and it felt especially potent to be able to source some of our means from our own garden – salad and herbs were already online, even though it was relatively early in the year.

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The evening saw the return of Ria from her hosting assignment in Amsterdam, There was time for conversation, companionship and tarot, and good fatigue saw most folks early to bed.

Day three brought us through to the end of the process, each bowl found its coherence through fire and anvil, and a fresh new generation of singing bowls came into the world. The workshop closed with the ‘initiation’ of each new bowl, welcomed into the commonwealth of sacred frequencies resonant with the invitations of these times on planet earth. What a privilege to be in such work together!

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The Forge @ Ransberg – we become a Making Place

Part 1 – Preparation

This summer, for the first time, this place opened its arms for a short spell to a larger community of humans, for the sacred enterprise of crafting singing bowls.

I had been hoping for this to come about for some time, having seen our hearth as a ‘making place’ ever since first setting my feet on this land. It might never have materialised, though, without a special ‘yes’ from a number people. Our neighbour, Claude, generously consented to offer the spare bedrooms of her magical home to house any of our guests who needed to sleep over during the making process. Michaela became my logistics angel and sheet anchor, holding the details with competence and absolute calm while I flopped around in resistance and debutante’s nerves. Ria’s friends Jim and Gie loaned us the use of their big party tent – an absolute must when planning outdoor activity in June in Belgium! And, above all, Chrisje, who took the massive step of opening her home to an unspecified number of complete strangers – many speaking no Flemish – for 10 days, during a working week. As an extra bulwark, Steve nomaded in, in the nick of time to help prepare for the arrivals.

I must admit, I had some trepidation about hosting so many people on the land for the first time. Would there be enough space for everything and everyone? Would the inhabitants of this place (including Twinkie, the chicken and the frogs) still find their needed moments of solitude and peace? Would I manage to cook for so many without melting down into a puddle of hysterical neurosis?

Late on the evening of Wednesday 10 June, Gabriella ‘Songbird’ Kapfer and Heather Cowen arrived in their big orange van full of smithing equipment and deep expertise, to accompany us in the adventure of making these new instruments. Their first sight of the valley, in the gloaming just as night drew on, created quite an impression for these very perceptive and place-savvy ladies.

We spent Thursday scoping the land and sensing into where to place the different stations on the bowl-making journey. The party tent, the forge, the tools and equipment… Steve started in on the tent construction – foresight had had me up very early during the heatwave of the previous weekend scything the tall, dew-laden grass at the bottom boundary to clear a space for it.

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Everything felt spacious, everything found its place. The sun shone and the land opened itself to accommodate all our needs, perceived and real. Chrisje miraculously manifested industrial quantities of divine dessert when she came home from work. There was even time for some sound treatment with Steve’s Tibetan healing bowls before bed.

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Open Garden Days in June 2015

Again this year we opened our doors to organic garden-lovers from throughout Flanders, under the auspices of Velt, the Flemish association for eco-gardeners. We received around 100 visitors over the two days, including friends, colleagues, neighbours and gardening enthusiasts. Ria guided people around the garden, answering questions and exchanging tips with beginners and masters alike. Much was learned on all sides.

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For my part, I was really with the land during these days, sensing its response to the stimulus of so many new life forms entering this space. It seems that there is a ‘human’ level of seeing, which sees the ‘garden’ that the human inhabitants have co-shaped with the land; and then there is a ‘creature’ level of seeing the land itself, feeling the place and being seen by it. Many of the people whom I spoke to mentioned feeling the uniqueness of this small piece of land, which harbours so many little biotopes and spots with different characters – the kitchen garden, the pond, the fire circle, the swales, the small island of wilderness at the core.

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Many people also stayed for tea, cake and conversations, and took the time to look through the picture books which tell the story, year by year, of the shaping of the place. I felt as though I had made many new friends and met some new neighbours this weekend. The cherry on the cake came on Sunday late in the afternoon, when two of the grandchildren of the couple who used to live here showed up. What a joy! We took a leisurely stroll around, and heard from these two cousins how it had been to grow up in relation to this place. How the land had been worked, and how their grandparents had held and lived here. Weaving some new stories into our field, drawing in some more of the history of the place, creating more wholeness.

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