The joy of ducks
As I am writing, it is truly a day for ducks: the rain is drumming down on the roof of my little caravan; my current home. These days I am working in exchange for room and board at a little community associated with the Findhorn Foundation on the edge of the town of Forres in the North East of Scotland. We are currently a household of around 12 people: 6 staff and 6 volunteers, this number fluctuates daily with weekly volunteers and, it all feels like family. I have been drawn back to this part of Scotland after spending a five weeks in the Findhorn Foundation nearby this summer, with the desire to learn about what life is here in this family-sized community.
Newbold House was built in around 1892 by the Woodcock family (Colonel and Mrs Woodcock) and passed hands over the years to be rented by The Findhorn Foundation in the eighties and ultimately bought by, what is now, the Newbold Trust. The house is home to staff and volunteers and used as a guest house, and for venue hire for workshops and retreats with art room, ballroom, music room, sanctuary and newly floored dance space available. The house is beautifully decorated and maintained, with a conservatory built by the same construction company MacKenzie and Moncur who, supposedly, built the the glass houses in Kew Gardens. It sits on seven acres of land with the Muiry woodlands reaching right up to the house and gardens with contemplative spaces and seating areas, flower beds, lawns, orchards and the wonderful walled garden which includes fruit trees, vegetables, herbs and meditation spaces. Within the walls of the garden there are the remains of the old glass house heating system: a fire which was light within a fireplace in the wall would draw hot air from the fire pit in the centre of the garden through two glasshouses where tropical fruits were grown throughout the year. Only the smaller of the two original glasshouses remain; it is now used for potting and planting, but the old chimney and fire pit for the heating system sit unused, as a reminder of different times, when the garden was run by a team of 8 gardeners: stoking fires, planting, preparing, tending and harvesting for the kitchen. Now the garden is tended by two staff members and a rotating group of volunteers, one of which is myself, for some of my time. It is my favourite place to be here, and luckily when I wake in the morning the first thing I see when I look out of my caravan, are old apples trees and views into the walled garden.
The garden provides all of the vegetables for the residents of the house and a number of weekly vegetable boxes for the local community. Everything is grown on organic and permaculture principles and, in comparison to so much of our food that is transported hundreds if not thousands of kilometres from its source of origin, it travels just a few hundred metres from garden to the kitchen where it is prepared for our bellies and happy tastebuds. It is a delight to be in an environment where I have the opportunity to tend vegetables and then prepare them in the kitchen for community meals. There is a sense of ‘rightness’ and groundedness to it that simply brings happiness that I cannot explain fully in words. It is the simplicity of this situation that I love – the lack of packaging, processing, sanitising, shipping, boxing, stacking, buying and selling… we simply pick, wash, prep cook, and eat together with gratitude. And any waste goes back into the compost and starts its journey all over again! From my time in Cloughjordan and here I can feel the goodness of local growing and eating, in my cells and bones.
There is a richness about the way of life here: in the food that we eat and the company that we hold. And much of the fine company is of the non-human variety. We are surrounded by the Muiry woodland which, to my delight, and reminiscent of the story of the Secret Garden read to me as a child, I need only lift the latch on a large wooden door in the garden wall and I can step out into an enchanted woodland that stretches all around. It is filled with Scotts pines, heather, bracken, song birds, squirrels, deer and rabbits. And within the wall we have the family Border Collie: Poppy, two cats and ten hens that have of late been raising questions in the community around issues of animal husbandry: what do you do with hens when, after their standard two year laying life, stop producing eggs? The usual thing to do is to have them put down, but in community who will do this? Here for the want of an executioner the hens are kept and fed: cared for in an old hens home.
Alongside the Old Hens home are the newest animal members to the community: three black/petrol blue/green Indian Runner ducks. They are here just a few weeks and have been very warily settling in remaining nervous of people and Poppy. There have been wonderful efforts to welcome them: an enclosure prepared with a duck house and a sunken bath with a rainwater collecting device that delivers water in a gullied cascade.
So, I LOVE ducks, and was delighted s few mornings ago to be given the task of cleaning out and refilling their bath: I had spent little time with them and was grateful for this chance to get to know and observe these gorgeous little creatures, and I felt that there must be something I could do to help them settle in. While I was clumsily pushing the water hose through their enclosure, clamouring around, in and out through the gate and explaining to the ducks that ‘it’ was all going to be OK, that ‘I came in peace’, I left the water running for a while on the ground until it began to make a puddle. The ducks who had been making sure they were at all times at the furthest point away from me, suddenly became very interested in the puddle that had been formed. They began moving in a six legged huddle and sidled over to the puddle in slightly muffled excitement (that is probably pure projection on my part as I was guessing what might be coming next). When they got to the puddle they couldn’t contain their excitement (projection) and made such gorgeous little chirpy/quacky noises as they sifted through the delicious muddy water! They loved it! Took to it like…. (ahem) ducks to water!!! They were right at home. After a while, as I went in and out of their enclosure sorting their bath I created a bigger puddle for them and they just waddled right in and didn’t seem to even worry that I was beside them spraying water around.. Ah it was a joy to see them so happy and excited.. about their new water features!! Duck puddles for …puddle ducks.
Now I am quite in love with these ducks and I am loving the opportunities here to interact with all aspects of life around me. I am learning on a very practical level about my need to relate and co-create more intimately and lovingly with the elements in the world around me, that make up my life.
This morning I started writing this piece in the pouring rain in my caravan and now as I finish I have just finished watching Leonardo Di Caprio’s new documentary, Before the flood and had a family discussion about what each of us can do in our lives that inspires us and hopefully invites others to participate in actions that make a positive change in the world. In order to create better ways of living, I choose being in community, sharing in community, interacting with the simple aspects of my life that bring me joy: like making puddles for three Indian Runner ducks.