Walking lightly upon the Earth takes ‘neighbourly cooperation’

Here in the British Isles we refer to our vacations as our holidays. This goes back to the root ‘holy days’, those days within the ecclesiastical and liturgical calendar when even the lowliest of labourers would get their chance of a rest. I’ve just got back from my holiday and my spirit is certainly refreshed and revived.

With the cost of gas being high both in the USA and Europe – we are paying €1.33 a litre – I am grateful that we decided last April to attend a music camp that was less than 100 miles from home. With no wilderness in Ireland to really compare with what is available in, say, the North American West, camping on a low-impact, light-upon-the-Earth site is our homegrown alternative.

The Earthsong Camp is an eight-day music camp and admission includes a smorgasbord of workshops in drumming, dancing and singing. It’s family friendly with a very strict no alcohol, no drug, no cell phone, and no electronic music policy. It was rare to even see someone smoke tobacco.

There were around 400 people attending and 160 of those were children who had their own workshops in the Children’s Creativity area. In the evening if you didn’t fancy Taize chanting or drumming there was a cabaret where lots of children were encouraged and affirmed to get up on stage and have their talent – for joke telling, performing playettes they authored, hula hooping, or forming a human pyramid – openly appreciated. Adults got up, too, and sang – in English or as Gaelige – told stories, performed their poems, did mime and acrobatics, and told jokes, too. It was in the best of the old Victorian family concert tradition and also the Irish cottage ceildhi tradition, too.

The land was treated gently with ‘dry’ toilets at either end of the field with hand washing stations to maintain hygiene. We were all asked to bring phosphate free washing up liquid and hand wash detergent. We dug out turf to create our circle’s campfire for cooking and to dig a ‘fridge’ and filled in the holes and replaced the turf when we struck camp. We separated our rubbish for recycling – glass, plastic, Tetrapacks (milk containers), tins and then the stuff that can only go to landfill. We collected any nails and returned them to the site crew to make sure that when the cows start their winter grazing their won’t be any nasty surprises for their hooves.

There were seventeen in our campfire circle and we shared cooking, washing up and keeping an eye on the children. My niece was overjoyed to play with three-year-old so her mum could go for drumming workshop. The three-year- quite basked in the adulation of the ‘tweens’ and teens.

This is an example of mitheal. In Irish that means neighbourly cooperation. Its origin comes from this time of year when the hay is being cut on the long sunny days. In the past each neighbour would take it in turn to help his neighbour bring in the hay and it was reciprocated. In this way the work gets done, and no one gets overly exhausted by having to do it all themselves. It’s a true win-win situation.

So everyone signed up to do their bit for the wider camp as well as in their circle, whether it was acting as personnel in the on-site shop or ‘gate lodge’, helping with the children’s workshops, cleaning the toilets and replenishing toilet paper and sawdust, lighting up the workshop tents as dusk descended, tidying up the costume tent, or any of the small tasks that were needed to keep the whole shebang smoothly on course.

The combination of creative activity, cooperation, respect for the land and each other created a camp that made a holiday a holy day and fun sacred, where boundaries were made and respected and our spirits stretched and refreshed.

May your own ‘time out’ this summer be similarly blessed.

About BeeSmith

I was born in Queens, N.Y, reared in Pennsylvania, did university in Washington, D.C. Then I moved to England for nineteen years. I lived first in London and then in Leeds. After my partner's sister died of cancer in 2000, we decided to take the leap of faith and move to Ireland to be nearer his family. Despite our friends thinking we were mad and feckless, it has worked out. The angels really do look after fools! We have a cottage on an acre and a quarter three miles from where the River Shannon rises. We have a polytunnel to grow vegetables and fruit organically, a small orchard of apple trees and plans to create a sacred space on the land over the rest of our lifetimes. We share our home with two tortoiseshell cats, Zelda and her daughter Zymina, and three dogs, Murphy, Pippin and Cara.