Choosing to Live Lightly Upon the Earth

What we are doing to the forests of the world is but a mirror reflection of what we are doing to ourselves and to one another.

Mahatma Gandhi

Seven years ago my life changed dramatically when I willingly bid farewell to a blissful Cape Town summer and signed up for an intense month-long Ecovillage living experiment at the opposite end of the world, joining an intentional community in the northeast of Scotland.

Swapping shorts and T-shirt for heavy winter layers I'd last worn during an icy ascent of Mount Kilimanjaro, I found myself in a white snow-blanketed landscape and silently asked the question: “Have you lost the plot?”

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Flashback to 2009 … Gabrielle Buist, Biz Brocke and Catriona Mackenzie at Glen Affric

This was a journey to the end of my comfort zone and beyond and I somehow knew this was one of the most important decisions I'd ever made. I was choosing to explore the idea of living more lightly and lovingly upon our beautiful Earth and doing it in the company of people from around the world who were no longer satisfied by consumptive and unsustainable lifestyles. There had to be a better way and together we were determined to find it!

My metamorphosis from Petrolhead to Pilgrim had begun in earnest and there was no turning back.

I recognise that my arrival at the Findhorn Foundation community and Ecovillage in 2009 was pivotal for me – and for many others seeking pointers to more joyful and sustainable lifestyles.

Another 30 folks from all over the planet had also signed up for what turned out to be an intense and exhilarating rollercoaster of a month. It left me feeling dizzy with delight and possibility. And if there was a highlight among so many it was perhaps the visit to the Glen Affric National Nature Reserve hosted by the award-winning Trees for Life conservation charity that is one of the best rewilding projects in Britain.

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Trees for Life founder Alan Watson Featherstone

Just one percent of the original Caledonian Forest survives and yet award-winning conservationist Alan Watson Featherstone, the visionary Scottish founder of Trees for Life, appears undaunted by the enormity of the challenge.

His high dream is a rewilded Scotland – from restored forests to the return of predators such as the lynx and wolf that’s probably the most demonised creature of all. “Who’s afraid of the big, bad wolf?”

Alan explains: “Rewilding offers an exciting vision of hope, through the positive and practical work of renewing and revitalising ecosystems. In the Highlands we have the opportunity to reverse environmental degradation and create a spectacular, world-class wilderness region – offering a lifeline to wildlife including beavers, capercaillie, wood ants and pine martens, and restoring natural forests and wild spaces for our children and grandchildren to enjoy.”

A remnant of pristine Caledonian Forest shows how it can and should look

In 2012, supported mainly by volunteers, the conservation charity planted its millionth tree and today is well on the way to realising its next major goal of planting another million trees by 2018.

Grabbing an opportunity to join the latest Applied Ecovillage Living (AEL) group I returned to Glen Affric and again found myself uplifted by the passion of the participants (many of them younger than the Trees for Life project) and by Alan. He led the way as we trekked through fresh snow, showing a reverence for the trees and creatures as he explained just how we can restore a natural balance to degraded Ecosystems.

It was a revelation to see how much has been achieved in the 26 years of the charity’s existence and even in the seven years since my last visit to the area – and how urgently we need that rejuvenation on a planet that is in the grip of climate change and often devastating human impacts.

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Harvesting pine cones for their seeds

But looking around me perhaps the best thing was seeing that spark of determination and hope in the faces of the 16 participants in this year’s AEL group. All are seeking a better world where they can feel more in alignment with their highest aspirations.

For many the programme and time spent at Findhorn has been life-changing. German Laura Bolz, the youngest participant at 19, said: “It’s been intense, fun, beautiful and really, really transformational,” adding wistfully: “I want to find a place where I belong.”

For some, at least for a while, that is the Findhorn Ecovillage and community, six of the youngers in the group deciding to stay on a little longer.

And I notice that despite the weather I’m still here, treading more lightly and lovingly upon the Earth while experiencing what it means to live each day more consciously. I’m learning a lot and that feels good.

Geoff Dalglish

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