There was no connection between the two, of course, but they happened at the same time, so in my mind they are forever linked. The opening of the Hub was the first time I used a stick in public to support my mobility. It also marked the moment when I stopped trying to convince myself that I could run a business, and allowed myself to begin to recover.
Recover from what? From the stress of massive loss and emotional trauma due to a house fire.
On the evening of 14th March, 2012, my home burned down. I and the dogs got out of the house safely, although I was wearing nothing but a dressing gown, a t-shirt, a pair of knickers and my wellington boots. My partner, though, was inside the house when the loft fell in. She finally emerged to safety after what was in reality about 20 minutes, but what felt to me like an eternity.
The fire service were amazing, arriving only 35 minutes after my mobile phone call to 999, over pot-holed country roads and up a rough, unmade track. As well as putting out the fire, they retrieved not only our medications, but also our photo albums, and the ashes of our beloved dog, Bella, who had died the year before.
While the firefighters were doing all of that, my partner, myself and our dogs were sitting in our car, on the other side of the stream from the house, calling our insurance company, and updating family members. In the midst of all of this, I received a phone call: a friend of ours, from the other end of the valley, was asking if we needed somewhere to stay.
I was flabbergasted. How on earth did he know? As it turned out, our nearest neighbours at the time -- a farming family who lived a mile away up the track to the road -- had posted on Facebook about our house being on fire, as they could see the blaze from their home. Nick had seen their post and immediately offered to house us, at least until other accommodation could be arranged.
His and his wife's generosity was unstinting. We arrived at their home close to midnight, but Nick stayed up to cook us a light meal. He also gave us toiletries that previous guests had left behind so that we could wash the smell of smoke from our skin and hair, and made sure we were settled in properly and had everything we needed before he himself went to bed.
The next day, we went to our nearest town to buy a few items of clothing to see us through the next couple of days. When we returned, there were two large bags full of clothes, waiting for us to sort through, which had been brought round by concerned members of the local community.
Despite having lived in our home in this valley for nearly 12 years, that was the moment when I began to feel, for the first time, that we were fully members of a community.
It was a moment of trauma and horror, but it was also a moment of surrender, a moment in which we accepted the support and love that was offered to us.
We stayed at Nick and his family’s holiday cottage for the full two years and six months that it took to wrestle the money due to us from our insurance company, and to get our house rebuilt and ready to move back in. That 2+ years was not an easy time, for any number of reasons.
Once the battle was over, once we were safe back in our own home, I was finally able to relax, and to start to process the stress of it all; and once that processing started, the impact of the trauma shook its way through my body and brain, leaving me with levels of fatigue, confusion, and pain I had never experienced before.
But I also felt a sense of connection that I had never experienced before.
I’d always felt a deep sense of connection with the land where we live: the rocks, the water, the plants, the animals -- even the insects; and I’ve always found a sense of connection with human beings a challenging experience to reach. This feeling of community here was, and remains, deeply important and precious to me.
So when the call was put out by the committee of the Hub for small pieces of art on the theme of ‘community’, I had to take part. The result is the image at the top of this post.
It was important to me to express and embody both the human and the non-human, and to hint at the more-than-human in this work: focusing too much on one or the other puts everything out of balance. I am a Witch, which is to say, someone who dances the edges between the human and the non-human, the human and the more-than-human.
The watercolour background is the view from my studio. The plants and animal remains stitched to the canvas are items I found and selected from walks not far from home -- my non-human and more-than-human community.
The hand and the heart and the golden threads express my experience of human community -- love, compassion, and connection, shown through actions, small and large. They are held within the embrace, and live within the context, of vegetable, animal, mineral and spiritual nature, interwoven with them, fully part of the all-species tribe of this place.
Community is human, non-human and more-than-human. Community takes our ‘broken’ parts and offers them back to us in love. Community is becoming whole; realising wholeness.
For that, I am profoundly grateful.
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