Discovering the Wild Twin: a permaculture journey

Lily Rose Sequoia
Tuesday, 3rd May 2016

Imagine giving up your home and career to travel to the wild edges of permaculture, live off-grid, meet inspiring new people, learn new skills, and change your life forever. Lily Rose Sequoia describes her journey deep into the permaculture world and the discovery of her 'wild twin'. Have you met yours?!

A storyteller once told me that we are all born with a ‘Wild Twin’, a magnificent, unencumbered soul, who rode into the world on the back of a feral goat, gripping at its horns with one hand, and the other raised to the sky. The story tells us that she was thrown out of the window on the day you were born, and that we will spend the rest of our lives trying to find her. But they say, that if we listen, perhaps, we will hear her and the distant drum of hooves, and maybe even catch a glimpse of her…

I was working in London as a Personal Trainer. My English degree lay dormant, and my days were filled with city clients, as I immersed myself in exercise and escapism. My long weekend bike rides held a whisper of something that tasted like freedom – the open road, the trees and fields, the space. Somewhere in the whirring of my pedals was the beating of hooves. 

Meanwhile, Pete was going through a similar experience. His work as a designer on large international projects such as the World Expo in Shanghai, had left him increasingly challenged by the consumer-driven world that he was perpetuating through his work.

Following a quiet drumbeat, and drawn by the call of the sea, I moved to Brighton in 2008. A year later, on a bright August morning, I met Pete, who had also left his life and work in London. Something stirred within us both that day: a recognition, and a knowing that this was the beginning of something… the beating of hooves was getting louder.

Shortly after we met, Pete began an MA in Sustainable Design, and as he dug deeper into the complexities of western civilisation. He took me with him, each discovery and perspective was passionately shared and discussed. It became clear that in meeting one another we had found not only love, but also a desire and the strength to start asking difficult questions of the world around us. Here we were, living our lives as members of a ‘civilised’ society, but at what cost?

Set adrift by his studies and with a need to develop some practical skills, inspired by its three key ethics, (of Earth Care, People Care and Fair Shares), Pete enrolled on the Permaculture Design Course. Soon after we both found ourselves volunteering with Brighton Permaculture Trust, where we discovered a new group of kindred spirits and model for life.

Living Off-Grid

The following year, we were married in the woods, and in August 2011, we made a life-changing decision. We decided to swap life on the rental treadmill for life on the road. We moved out of the house we had shared with friends and into a truck we bought at auction, exchanging the comforts of bricks and mortar for a more basic and elemental off-grid life.

Living on the road, we found ourselves embraced by a community of edge-dwellers. A sense of tribe and belonging came with cups of tea, and shared information about places to gather fresh water, or special locations to park-up. Pete also found himself with a new income stream as he helped others to design and modify their live-in trucks, using a skill he had joyfully discovered through necessity when he fitted out our truck to create our new home.

Life on the road also brought us into direct relationship with our consumption, and with that, our waste. We had a wood-burner for heat, but space was limited, so we had to be economical with wood. Similarly, water was limited to a 10-litre container for drinking, cooking and washing. Power came from a single solar panel, so winter nights were long, cosy and candle-lit. As for our waste - suffice to say that we always knew where the recycling stations, community compost bins and public toilets were, and never drove anywhere in the countryside without our trusty trowel!

I won’t deny that I didn’t occasionally yearn for a hot bath, and yes, sometimes I would experience tears of frustration trying to get the fire lit, yet this life was having a profound effect on the way we were interacting with the world, and something within us was shifting. The echoing drumbeat of the hooves continued…

In 2012 we made a spontaneous (and somewhat ecologically paradoxical) decision to drop everything and take off to The Andes to volunteer on a permaculture project we had seen advertised on the pages of Positive News. It was an adventure we had both dreamed of. This trip to a wild land beyond our imaginings seemed like the perfect way to begin our married life together. Working and saving in the months leading to our departure, and with our fare as wedding gift from Grandma, we flew out to Chile with an open ticket and £1,000 in our pocket.

For an amazing six months we volunteered in different permaculture communities, gaining skills and sharing profound experiences with the people we met along our way, as we wild-camped our way across Chile, Bolivia and Brazil. But as we moved to our journey’s end there was also a growing realisation that the life we were yearning for wasn’t going to be fulfilled by endlessly travelling far away lands - however rich the culture or breath taking the landscapes - that in fact, our wild twin was calling us home back to the people we loved.

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Coffee picking in the Bolivian Amazon

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Life and editing in the bus

But what was this feeling - this yearning for connection, for belonging, for home? Where were our tribe? Yes, we had tasted it when we had first moved into our truck, but after glimpsing the Indigenous cultures of South America, and witnessing the direct effect of the civilisation process on people, and the land, this sense of separation felt now more profound.

“What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” Mary Oliver.

Back in the UK, we were determined to venture into the wild edges on our home soil, to discover the fertile, untamed spaces beyond the ‘civilised’ boundaries of our culture. We wanted to unearth the pieces of an alternative story, as we searched for meaning in a world that had seemed hostile to our deeper truth.

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The Scorraig garden

One thing was clear: whatever we were to learn; whatever knowledge or wisdom was to be gleaned from this quest, it was our responsibility to share it. We were greatly inspired by the Shodh Yatra, which is an Indian term that means: “to undertake a journey for the search of knowledge, creativity and innovations at the grassroots”, whereby information is carried from one village to the next, and shared in order to perpetuate and evolve vital skills. How could we incorporate this idea into our exploration of the UK?

At first we thought we’d write a blog, but when a friend offered to sell us his second hand professional film camera, it seemed the universe was pointing us in a new direction, and before we knew it, we were starting a documentary film project.

In January 2013, with no prior film making experience, we set off with our camera. Then, two months into filming, I discovered I was pregnant. Suddenly our quest took on a whole new level of poignancy and meaning.

Over the following year, we travelled across Britain exploring a hidden landscape of people, places and ideas. From wild camping on Scottish loch sides, to sleeping on bedroom floors in Bristol, we met storytellers, horse-drawn travellers, educators, organic growers, anthropologists, circus performers… we also spoke to visionaries such as Satish Kumar, Polly Higgins and Patrick Whitefield. And, all the time, carrying with us this new life, knowing that these people and places were becoming part of our child’s story, and ultimately, its future…

We were amazed by people’s openness and generosity, and their willingness to talk to us about their lives. It seems we are all storytellers if we are given a listening ear. It was a sometimes tender, and often humbling experience. Hearing the stories, struggles and wisdom of others nurtured within us a sense of hope, and inspiration that will stay with us; and it let us know that we are not alone in our questioning.

It had been a long and profound year, and we began to understand that life is not a linear story, but a circular one, as the leaves died back into the ground, and we moved out of the van, into a friend’s place to nest and prepare for the birth of our baby…

Since 2014, we have been working on the mammoth task of editing over 120 hours of footage. This we have done, mostly powered by solar, working at a desk in our bus, with babe-in-arms. It has been deeply challenging, intense, overwhelming… but it has also been insightful, and it has confirmed for us the world of possibility that exists when we move back into relationship with ourselves, each other and the natural world.

It’s impossible to perceive how deeply this experience has affected us, but I can tell you that during this time, I have glimpsed my wild twin more than once, and I have heard not only the beating of hooves, but also her quiet whispers, telling me I am home. 

This Summer 2016, we will tour 'wetheuncivilised, A Life Story', continuing our ‘Shod Yatra’ across the UK, sharing our experiences and screening the film for communities, festivals and transition towns with a solar-powered cinema. Throughout the tour, and beyond, the space will host circle gatherings and skill-share workshops relating to the themes discussed in the film. For dates and locations, or to arrange a screening in your area, please go to: www.wetheuncivilised.org

You can watch the trailer HERE

Further resources

Zero waste and the art of living off-grid

Living for Free - a community thriving by recycling other people's waste

How to Live Off-Grid

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