Afterwards I walk back down the track with Vernon. That's not his real name, because this is more than two years ago now. But I do remember two things about that day: the first is how the "deprived" and "difficult" children responded the best to this wild and creative environment and really came into their own. The second was the question Vernon asked me:
"I love this feather," he says. "Can I keep it?"
"Of course you can," I said.
"How much does it cost," he asks.
"It doesn't cost anything," I tell him. "It's free."
When you are talking about living without money, what you are really talking about is living with the values of the free. Living without money is not poverty, which is a lack of money and resources, the fate of most people who live on the bottom rung of a civilisation or capitalist system. It is the deliberate way of life that Mark Boyle embodies and writes books about. Living in a world where people and land and birds are not market commodities, but integral to the living, moving, breathing fabric of the planet.
Some of our living without money is a consequence of the economic downturn, a Transition making do. But mostly it is about reestablishing a collective value system that is not based on scarcity and debt but on the abundance of the earth. If you live within that abundance, you are never poor. You live like the tribe, within the richness of life itself. Rain, laughter, imagination, the closeness of trees and your playmates. The delight of having a physical body, of being alive, of having a heart that can feel and connect with all lifeforms, that can trace in its mind's eye the sky path of a bird now flying across the ocean from Africa. That remembers that this small insignificant bird will return to these woods in April, as he does every April, to sing a song that makes all the world stop in its tracks.
When you are open and free, that's when the gifts come. People are happy to give or lend you things. My neighbours are happy to lend us ladders and their lawnmower. Philip is happy to give me his boots. I am happy to receive them (even though they are two sizes too big). I have been longing for boots all winter and now here they are! There is a lot of happiness in these exchanges. Because somewhere deep inside everyone is that song, that desire to give to life. We like to be generous. We are taught to be mean and possessive, but we long to give, to have those small conversations over the fence. Transition allows us to give in a way that is not compromised by good works or charity, by patronisation or demand for gratitude. They are small insignificant acts, like those cups of tea Caroline was writing about on Thursday. But all of them break us out of a mindset that keeps us locked away from life and from each other.
Time is MoneySome of these gifts of course are invisible. We live in a world of stuff and we measure our success and our easy passage through life in terms of stuff, the owning of properties and technology, cars and smart new clothes. We are the inheritors of a consumer culture, built on the bourgeios values of possession and conspicuous extravagance. But most gifts you can't measure or own. Not really. For example, when our spade broke, I sent out an email to Sustainable Bungay asking if anyone had got an old one knocking around they didn't use. David wrote back and said he would mend it for us.
You might ask: what did you give in return? As a fellow craftsman, I could say giving someone an opportunity to pass on their skill is a reward in itself, especially when it is joyfully received. Or that we pay forward. Or I could reflect, as I did last week in a post on the Gift Economy:
When push comes to shove, everyone gives their gift. What they have in their hands at the end of the day. I write. I write in praise of everything I see. All the small and bold moves a people are making to downshift. All the beautiful and difficult things we experience. I write in praise of the people who are learning to love their neighbour and not worship Mammon. I write for the new paradigm. I am writing our story. I write for free.I worked out that since I joined Transition I have written about 250,000 words which at the lowest rate for journalism (now much lower than it used to be) works out about £50,000. This doesn't include editing newsletters, news blogs, social reporting, tweeting, taking photographs, organising press releases, teaching people about Becoming the Media, or any of the meetings or communications that bring people together and keep connected. I am not alone of course. Everyone immersed in Transition will tell you the same story.
And as lovers of nightingales will tell you: because this is your heart as it sings in the dark, this is what freedom on earth sounds like. Listen!
Photos: Schoolchildren and daisies from We'll Be coming Down the Mountain Singing; foraged spring greens from the River Blyth; outside the Give and Take Day van; Mark and Nick sawing the elm; David mending spade; blackthorn road