Welwyn, Hertfordshire, England

July 15-17 & 19, 2001

I still keep in touch with a few of the English people from Sunseed (Los Molinos, Spain, March/April 2000) and it's about time for a reunion before another year's out. Some have been doing other volunteer projects in South America while others seem to have vaporized at the end of last year. We haven't been able to get the group together since last summer, but I'm still in touch with Katie, Andy and Sue W.

Since the foot & mouth outbreak limited my camping plans in England this year, I was hoping we could organize some sort of outdoors activity and Sue had the perfect project: working together on building a house with ecology in mind. Since we were building the house, we'd have to sleep outside in our tents. It proved perfect for testing out the new tent and waterproof boots I lugged over from America.

After my first day I felt my body ache from the bending over of brick laying. Worse was the frustration of having to relay my bricks two or three times to get them exactly level. The next day, I avoided bricks and stuck to digging drainage area, moving around bricks & dirt and sawing timber. I felt fine on the days without brickwork and was able to enjoy the nighttime campfires.

The scene is set back from the road and hidden in the trees. The back is open to a field where the outhouse, outdoor bathtub (with fire under it for warm water) and the tiny 100 year old covered caravan sits where Lydia has lived the last year. This is definitely an oasis less than an hour from central London.

The neighborhood is full of luxury cars, motorized entrance gates and millionaire homes. Lydia's place will be on a different scale. A composting toilet, wood heating stove, rammed earth walls and a dirt roof will make this one stand on different values. The cost of the land alone lets you know she's not poor, but the design shows she's certainly alternative. Some of us volunteered to learn house building and others just to help a project we believe in: greener living. And good people help good people just for the sake of it making the dream of her Thrift Cottage come true amidst this grassy garden.

I'm learning some basic home building procedures; however, most fascinating are the people I've met on my first two days.

Most inspiring to me was John. He worked all day without shoes, knew mind boggling rope tricks and makes a point to spend 2-5 months in the Himalayas each year living simply and freely on 7000GBP annually (half of this coming from selling bowls he brings back from the mountain people). I probed enough to find he has found the same wonder in solo-travel and simplicity. I told him his life sounded wonderful, but what about when you are old? The government won't take care of you and you have no security for that, do you?

"I am older now (41), but perhaps I appear young to you because I'm happy and don't have a 9-5 or dependants to worry about. And I don't worry about being old. I'm perfectly happy to die under an avalanche or something when I'm really old. Perhaps I enjoy the mountains so much because out there, you are looking at survival - it makes me appreciate life. I feel I am truly living out there."

Thoughts well taken. A friend back home told me the answer to the meaning of life was happiness, however you find it. John might be a fine example of this. I must make it to Nepal someday for a tame sample of what he's discovered out there too.

If I was attaching myself to one locale, I'm sure Lydia (39) would have some great thoughts to share too as she beamed with some sort of self-discovered wisdom and optimism. It's not much of a surprise that these two were once (in fact recent) lovers. Both are living proof that idealism doesn't have to go away with maturing realism.

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