High in the mountains on the isle of Evia Greece, in the arms of the elements of nature, the wild flora & fauna, Ruth’s easy and creative nature finds its expression on the canvas of nature. When spirit and matter co-operate together the beauty of life unfolds. It is simple and austere.
Ruth, could you give us a description of the area in which you are settled?
I have a small piece of land in central Evia, on the slopes of Mount Dirfi, and the closest village is called Seta. I live in a little cabin there. The place is quite isolated, as there is not a village close by, so there is no electricity or connection to mobiles, what we call off the grid. The land is high enough on the mountain so it has an unusual climate for Greece. Still Mediterranean with quite a warm summer but we get frost from any time in September to May so one must grow things that are not frost sensitive. There are a lot of spruces in the mountain around and lots of wild mushrooms. It is a good place for high altitude crops such as cherries, walnuts, apples and chestnuts. In a typical winter, from December until April, there is snow on the ground.
How easy was it to turn a wild space in nature into an eco-human friendly space?
It was enormously difficult physically, a real challenge. But that was what I needed, to work hard, and not think, and get physically and satisfyingly tired. I wouldn’t say that every human would find it friendly, these days.
When I decided to plant some trees the first thing I did was to get rid of most of the brambles and wild weeds. I had to put up a fence because there are goats up there that eat everything and I had to protect my samplings. After that I planted some vegetables to add to the local wild greens, available to eat.
I knew nothing about gardening when I went there. I thought that I would just sow and wait… I didn’t know anything about quality of soils but I learned that as I went along, mostly through reading.
There was a wonderful book about biodynamic gardening by John Soper that talked about gardening in tune with the moon and forces of nature.I tried to follow his recommendations wherever I could by making my own fertilizers and pesticides, and by working the land in co-ordination with the planets, and making compost in the bio-dynamic way.
What do you do for electricity and water?
There is stream at the bottom of the land so I have water for watering all the things that I grow there. My drinking water is from the same stream but we have a pipe that goes from the very source where the stream comes out of the earth. I have a wooden stove and the wood I use is from pruning and dead trees that I collect from the land.
Electricity is not a problem, I have oil lamps for the evening and reading lambs that work with batteries and are charged with a solar powered battery charger… I am usually exhausted having worked all day on the land and I enjoy reading for a while before going to sleep.
How did you decide to settle there?
I first settled there in 2003. Before that my life was very different, I had lived on another island with my family, near the sea, I worked as an examiner of English as a foreign language and travelled all around Greece through this work. Then when my son was going to University in England he died in an accident and my life changed, after experiencing this shock. He died around Christmas and his body was cremated. In spring we took his ashes to this land partly because once my son had said that the best time of his life was when we had gone camping on this land and had a memorable time just living in nature. So I thought that was the perfect place for his remains. So in the spring we went to this piece of land to plant some samplings with his ashes. While I was planting these trees, a man that was growing potatoes on a piece of land next to mine came to see who these people are. We had owned this land for around 20 years and came occasionally to camp. The potatoes’ man suggested that we build a little cabin there. He knew a neighbour that could make this cabin for us and so we said that we would think about it. We went back home and when we came back after some time he had already started building it without our permission! In any case it seemed a good idea and things were in a way happening for us and so I moved in.
How did your contact with nature help you deal with your condition at that time?
I started digging and walking and observing nature and I found it was the best therapy for me to deal with this enormous change in my life. It made me physically exhausted so that I could sleep like a baby at night and it challenged me mentally because I was learning. Through observing I could see how nature lives and dies…but never really dies…it is a continuous process and you just have to go with the flow and embrace what happens in your life. I didn’t think too much, I just did… My life became nature, chopping wood, making campfires, cooking, eating whatever grew and flourished and could harvest in the wild.
What was the greatest gift you experienced through this relationship with nature?
The greatest gift is the peace I found in my heart. It is the spiritual blessing that the time I spent with nature has given to me.
What do you think death is?
Death is just a lie. You can see that from nature. It is an on-going process, all of nature is continuously living and dying and re-inventing itself. Nature is our greatest teacher, protector, saver, and life–giver.
Do you think that life works for us?
I would say life works with us. The secret is to embrace it, take the difficulties and learn from them. To realize that we are not separate human beings but we are all one. We keep forgetting it so life comes and reminds us.
In what way does nature inspire you to work with her?
When I see nature suffering, in any way, I want to help repair the damage, for example when I see a tree damaged by a tractor, or land that has been scared by man’s interference, I feel an ache in my heart, and try when I can to repair the damage.
Would you say that art in nature is a way to communicate with nature, or understanding her more?
I feel that a walking meditation in nature, or a swim, or gazing at the stars are examples of communicating with nature. Art in nature is about spending time in nature, and communicating ones own inspiration, and about honoring her and playing with her. Ultimately we are here for a tiny mini- moment of time; we are privileged to be able to stop, to smell the flowers and to play.
Ruth was interviewed by Vasia Pelegrati