Tag Archives: boat

Druids afloat

We’ve just had our first anniversary of moving to the boat, which seems like a good time to reflect on the experience. Boat life has definitely changed me, and altered the dynamic in my family.

The first and most obvious issue was space, moving from a large two bedroomed cottage to a narrowboat meant paring down our possessions. A lot. Tom had already done that to change country. I had to consider what to put in storage, what to bring, what to give away. James had to contemplate his vast array of toys. The process turned out to be similar – what has good memories associated with it, and what reminds us of things we would rather forget? We took the opportunity to get rid of anything with unhappy associations. What do we really use and enjoy, what is just ‘stuff’?In the space of a few weeks, we contemplated our need for and relationship with every physical thing we owned. And I have to say, we judged well. We swap books and toys around with those in storage every so often, but I don’t miss any of the things I let go of. Rather than having a lot of toys, James now has a few that he really gets good use out of, and a better idea what to pick out for himself when looking for new things.

The shortage of space inside means we are outside a lot. It also means we have learned to work and move around each other, careful of each other’s space and needs, co-operating to make what space we have work for us. That’s been really good too, and I think in terms of inter-personal skills, has fine-tuned the child’s sensibilities. He defaults to tidying up now, has learned to manage his own space and possessions, and has become very good at fitting in. We’re a quiet boat, and a happy one.

Electricity as been an interesting issue. Boats are self contained units, which means generating your own power. This has made us super-conscious of what we use, and absolutely careful about not wasting it, or frittering it away on pointless things. Computer time is really focused, and if we can find a non-electrical solution we use that instead. So we have a wind-up radio, and sometimes we use candles. It makes for a more relaxed and peaceful environment.

I’ve always loved to travel although I don’t do well in cars. Boat life means moving at least every two weeks. A change of views, a different route to school and in the holidays and at weekends, adventures further afield. There are a lot of villages that are a bit like ‘home’ and we go to events all over the place. We meet a lot of people. And of course all the other boaters are moving too, with a shifting, transient community of friendly people. The flow of neighbours, the webs of friendship and the real sense of community amongst boating people is lovely, and I’ve really enjoyed that aspect.

I’ve learned a lot about me in the last year. I have learned how little material stuff I need in order to be happy, but I have also learned what I cannot do without. I’ve fallen in love with small-space living, I can’t imagine I’d ever want to live in a big house after this. I love the compactness. I love having to think carefully about what I need, and what is useful. I had thought before this that I wasn’t a materialist, that I was mindful of electricity and water consumption, but I’m even more aware now, and it’s a good awareness to have. Living small means living lightly, but rather than feel restricted by this, I find it increasingly liberating. Inside the boat is a warm, contained space, outside is everything else, and room for adventures.

I miss having the space to grow plants, and I would like enough room for all my books, and I do occasionally hanker after the kind of kitchen that has a table in it and room to feed large gatherings of people, but there will be time for that in the future. I find I don’t hanker after gadgets, or even furniture that much. I could imagine living in a traditional Japanese style house where beds are rolled up each day and people kneel at a low table to eat. The trouble with ‘normal’ is that we can so easily forget it isn’t necessary, or inevitable much of the time. I don’t need much, and my child, with his one box of toys, his stack of books, a bike and a lot of open spaces, is happier than he’s ever been. He doesn’t seem to miss the gadgets either. His main desire for more space involves room for bookcases and his wish to have his now considerable book collection to hand too.


The coming of autumn

The shortening of days is becoming more apparent, as we move into autumn, here in the UK. The first signs of leaves turning, the swallows gathering ready to migrate, and the falling temperature all show that summer is ending. We move towards the darker time of the year.

I love the colours of autumn, and in a slightly perverse way, I love the sadness of it. Autumn is the time of letting go, the relinquishing of summer, of leaves and colour as we head for the cold, damp greys of winter. It is a reminder that all things must pass, that nothing is forever. Life, beauty and joy can be such fleeting things, and it is essential to embrace them as they come, because nothing lasts and you never know what may slip through your fingers. I believe in making the best of things as they come.

Druidry honours the full range of life and experience – the dark times as well as the light, the cold days as well as the brightness of summer. We honour the lean times as well as the rich ones. I try very hard to relate to when I am in the year, to engage with it and find what is good in it. But at the same time, winters are hard, and this winding down towards colder, darker days I tend to find difficult. But again, there is nothing in my Druidry that requires me to happily celebrate this time of year, only to recognise and to honour the processes both within and without.

For folk who are assured of warmth and ease, the winter can be a snug, cheery time, the weather not a major intrusion on their lives, the central heating protection from temperature. I’ve never had that. I’ve never had a car, and walking, or cycling in the depths of winter, in freezing rain, or with ice on the ground, is really hard. I’ve never had central heating. Keeping a fire in takes work – much less now I have a Tom, but in previous years that’s been a struggle all by itself. Keeping warm, getting clothes dry without a tumble drier, and all the other simple details of living are harder in winter for me. I’m conscious that my ancestors would have had similar issues.

Looking towards the coming winter – my first winter on a boat – I have no idea what to expect. It’s a small space to heat, and it’s inherently snug, but last year the canal froze, and I have no idea what that would be like. I’m trying to relate to that as a potential adventure. Last year, walking beside the frozen canal was beautiful, and I saw a lot of wildlife. Watching the trees change through the autumn will also be beautiful, along with watching the migrant birds come for the winter. There will be much to celebrate and enjoy. The trick, so far as I can tell, is to focus on the good stuff, and to re-shape life around it, rather than trying to use resources to maintain ways of life that do not fit with the prevailing conditions. I’ll shift my working and playing patterns to follow the availability of natural light. I’ll crotchet more in the darker months because I don’t actually need to see to do that. I will also mourn the departure of summer, because that’s part of the process too.

The one thing I am absolutely certain of is that nothing, and no one, should tell us how to feel about anything. I’m very wary of anything that tries to instruct about feelings. Humans do not all feel the same way, and I do not believe there is any one right way to feel in any circumstance. I’m also conscious that some of the time, what religions do is very specifically try and shape how we feel, pushing us towards certain emotional responses to the world. This is also true, sometimes, of Druidry, especially around the solar narrative of the year. We are supposed to feel like trees. We are supposed to be full of energy at midsummer and resting quietly and midwinter.

I am not a tree.

I’m also very wary of anything that prescribes greeting each new thing with unbridled joy and enthusiasm. I do not happen to like the ice. I respect it, but I’m not going to dance with it. Ice does not make me happy, it makes me afraid. I find extreme summer temperatures equally unappealing, I am not a total sun worshipper either. I like the inbetween times, the days that are neither one thing or another. As I honour what happens outside, I also have come to respect what happens inside me as being my own, natural reaction to things, and to hold that response as something I am entitled to. I’m wondering if this means I can sneak a few hours today to honour my inner sloth.


River stories

I’ve spent the last few days on rivers – The Severn and The Avon. I grew up near the Severn, longing to get into the water by any means, but unable to do so. She’s a magical river, home to the goddess Sabrina. There was a Roman temple to Nodens on her banks, no doubt other temples too and she has seen human activity since there were humans around. She’s also a fickle, moody, changeable river, which makes her dangerous, and every so often she takes a blood sacrifice. The Severn kills.

Simply being afloat and on the river was an intensely emotional and spiritual experience for me. You see the world differently at water level, familiar cities and landscapes came at me very differently. Travelling at the slow speed of a narrowboat, I also saw a lot of wildlife – kingfishers, egrets, herons, cormorants, an abundance of ducks and swans as well and lots of trees. It’s been a beautiful few days.

So, what have I learned? That I want longer ropes on the boat, for one. But on a spiritual level, it’s harder to pin down. I saw mist on the flood meadows where sheep and cattle have been grazed for thousands of years. I saw ducks sleeping afloat, ours the first boat in the early morning, catching the river as it is before the people come. People, boats, and noise change everything. Most of the time we don’t even get a glimpse of what life is like without us. But I had a little of that – a sense of the lives lived beyond human awareness, the secret lives of creatures and plants. I want to be a smaller, quieter presence, better able to blend in, to move amongst other living things without frightening them off. What I really want is to be on the river at dawn, in a canoe or coracle, paddling quietly, making few ripples, not breaking the air with sound. That would be true magic.

The more I think about this as an ideal, the more I feel it’s how I want to move through the world all of the time – as unobtrusively as I can, catching glimpses of those other worlds and existences. Going slowly enough to be able to see them, quietly enough to hear them, taking the time to look, and the care to notice. I think there is always more to see, deeper to go, and I wonder how much further I can take my own understandings in my day to day living.