I got up to find J in his swim shorts already doing battle with the elements and dressed for wet play. He looked mildly wild and unhinged, thorns in his hair and mud across his cheek, eyes wide, and we commenced the guy-rope tethering, thorn dancing, mud splashing and tarp re-jigging hooha of the morning previous. It was, again, intense. And hysterical. And we managed to also eat scrambled eggs, make tea and coffee, arrange a playdate, and make chocolate granola, so it was a lot mellower than it might sound. Life goes on, even when there’s little more than an overgrown carrier bag separating you from a tropical storm.

J then proceeded to make a boat. Not unlike Noah in similar such meteorological circumstances.

This is the second time that he has tried out this particular design of boat. The first we made after a trip to the Historical Museum of Culebra, where we had seen a small canoe made from a piece of roofing tin, that islanders used to use (not long ago, this past generation) to race between the small Cays around the island. The design is simple and the boat can be put together using the roofing tin, a pair of tin snips, a two-by-four, a few screws, a garden hose and some epoxy, in a couple of hours.

The first attempt produced a boat for The Z-Man. It took on too much water for J to be able to do much, but he could balance it and row a couple of metres before it took on too much water and the joy-ride aborted. Z was always highly resentful of his father taking such liberties with his boat, so the fact that J was relegated to ship’s mate and boat hand fitted in pretty well with the power paradigm of the moment. Z had a blast deliberately capsizing it, fishing off the side and being pushed around by his father behind, who was holding on to keep it balanced and propelling it forward by swimming whilst wearing flippers.

Carrying the boat down to the beach, with it poised bulkily across the back of our bike trailer, garnered a bit of attention, especially from locals,who were smilingly asking us whether the thing would float and, I like to think, were mildly imprused (that cross between impressed and amused) by a couple of newcomers sporting such a relic.

photo 1(4)Well, yes, it did float. But the tin canoe mark 2, today’s attempt at an improvement on the original, the larger version, did not. It sank. Instantly in fact, it was quite something to watch. In got J, a touch less confident now that we were actually down by the shore, beginning to wonder about the seaworthiness of this new vessel; and down went J, boom – under and down. To the bottom. It took just a second. The only visual evidence that there had ever been a boat there at all was about two centimeters of wood at the stern pointing up out of the water.

J rose from the water, broad grin, and proclaimed, ‘I hereby christen this boat – Planter’.

And here she is. Planted. Featuring, from left to right: thyme, parsley, rosemary, basil, lemongrass, oregano, basil, dill, mint, sage, and savory.


Not lazy full. Productively full.

It is a great feeling. Not a blissed out feeling, nor a manic feeling either, not dreaming, not hoping, not sleepy, not wired. Not self-satisfied, not aggressive, not rebellious, nor flag-bearing, nor charge-leading. Not shy either. It is odd how much easier it is to define ourselves principally by what we are not, when we are trying to pinpoint precisely what we are.

Last night, at The Z-Man’s request we took off the few metres past the duck and chicken coop, and down into the lake-bed. Adventures with children can be so close to home, don’t you think? It is one of the many special gifts that our children bestow upon us – the gift of staying right where you are and seeing everything so much more clearly. It is the gift of remembrance: all the magic, all the lightness, all the beingness of truly 4

Our ‘lake’ is a man-made pond that Senora Azul had dug before she left for the summer. It is a vast one-day-to-be pond, designed for the irrigation of the farm. It is already a puddle. A growing one, it swells a tad after each rainfall, but it is definitely currently a puddle. Still, to a boy raised on desert-earth, where trickles are creeks and streams are rivers, this muddy puddle – our muddy puddle – is a Lake.

And it is a-buzz with Life. Deer visit for sunrise refreshments, dragonflies dip and rise during the heat of the day. Last night it was a-buzz with the frenetic energy of a five year old boy rejoicing his own being; naked, bathing in moonlight, shrieking with delight, plowing through the grass and soaring high into the night sky as he pointed out the big dipper and ‘the Rion’. He span in circles, he sang, he was utterly unfettered, completely complete, naturally supercharged and righteously radiant.

He was incredible. Both J and I shed a humbled and grateful tear to witness this ecstasy. It was so raw, and at once so powerful and so vulnerable that we were entranced by this fire-fly that we are blessed to call son. It was utterly, totally and deliciously enchanting. We returned to camp and Z and I bathed together in the moonlight, while J played mandolin to Lady C in the tent and the crickets joined in the chorus.

This morning we repeated our field trip to the Lake. We visited the dragonflies who were already celebrating their own dance, examined the hoof-prints of the deer who had silently supped at sunrise, and were joined by our three dogs and our three ducks.

We acquired a third duck yesterday – Elizabeth, the ‘tame’ duck of a friend of a friend, who could no longer be housed where she was, due to the arrival of a rambunctious puppy. So, Elizabeth came home us and fits in just perfectly. She has begun mothering the two ducklings, stands up to the dogs and cats like a goose and will, I believe, soon overtake the Chihuahua as Queen Bee around these parts. We favor the underdog, so this is a good thing.

photo 3Incidentally, on the subject of Chihuahuas, we learned the other day that Chihuahuas are not actually descended from dogs at all, but are distant cousins of the fox. The desert fox, I assume. This makes perfect sense, as anyone who has ever hung out with a Chihuahua for any time will surely verify – Chihuahuas are not dogs. Not at all.

Take now for example. I am alone – J has taken the children into town on the bike to run some errands, pick up a new bike inner-tube for me and have a Dad-Kid adventure. The dogs – the two dogs – Alfie and Lulu are at my feet. They are both lying on their left side, Lulu looks up to check I am there occasionally, then lays her head back down, Alfie moves only to scratch, or to lick his used-to-be balls.

Honey, the Chihuahua, is nowhere to be seen. She vanished as soon as the dog treat received for not running after the bike and trailer was finished. She will remain, cowering, in hiding, until Z’s return. She is a one-person rat – ahem – fox – ahem – Chihuahua.

I digress.

Our new friend, Elizabeth, is a true Queen. That was my point. The Queen is a duck.

And the sweet beauty of life at Pirate Camp can be summarized by a few key sense-impressions, moments for me that will forever characterize this feeling of right now:

Walking down the path to camp from the garden through waist-long grass and clouds of tiny, blue butterflies;

Planting seeds (greens, beets, carrots, tomatoes, pumpkin, squash, beans – more to follow) while my children play together inquisitively and sweetly on the porch, with books and sticks and leaves and the breeze;photo 1

Cooking sausages on sticks around a camp-fire with my life’s loves;

And That Moon.

[…]As a short postscript, I have just returned from picking J and the children up from town. It would seem that a bike trailer, two kids, an enormous load of grocery supplies, heat and several hills do not go that well together – even when your husband is a super-hero. Thank goodness for the ability to borrow a truck from time to time, I suppose. Now to get manifesting that horse and cart.

The Chihuahua was, incidentally, not hiding at all, but had scoffed her treat-for-not-running-after-the-bike-trailer, and then promptly upped it and ran two and a half miles after the bike trailer, catching up with it half way along its journey into town. That crazy rat-fox-dog.

When we got home, the duck was taking a rest on the couch. Pirate Life Rules.


I have heard it said that the truth is in the details. Or is it that therein lurks the devil? Maybe, for some, the truth is the devil, although I would argue that the truth is always liberation.

Regardless, today my focus is those devilish, revealing details.

Many people ask questions, people near and far: those whom I see around and about the island; those further away on the phone or in an email, on Facebook, or comments on this blog.

How’s it going out there? How are you all finding life at Pirate Camp? How do you deal with the heat? What are you using for light? Refrigeration? A bathroom? Cooking facilities? Laundry? How are the animals doing? What do you feed your chickens? Are you growing anything yet? What have you learned?

Last night J and I were discussing this. And we concluded that there is little that either of us offer in reply, other than to smile and say, ‘it’s awesome, so awesome’. Yet, from the outside, what Pirate Camp Life actually looks like is probably hard to imagine, so allow me to take you through the keyhole of our life without doors.

We wake up pretty much with the sun. One of us puts the kettle on.

The children wake up naturally and gently and (usually) in a soft and gentle mood. The Z-Man begins playing with legos or something mechanical or robotic, Lady C begins her day-long activity of ‘Coco holdaduck/holdachick/holdachicken’.

I drink tea.

I am able to converse.

photo 4(1)The Morning Motion for all, takes place, less in an outhouse currently, as there are no walls or roof, but outdoors, as with everything else. We built a simple ‘thunderbox’, which I believe is the term. Basically, we have a five gallon bucket, on the ground, boxed in with three walls and a roof. The roof part has a loo seat shaped hole cut out of it and onto it screwed a nice, comfortable, wooden loo seat. Most pukker.

The early sun through the trees makes for a pleasing and calming MM moment.

Each time you go, on top of your ‘pile’, you add a handful or so of dirt and grass. Simple. We deal with the humanure – as compost – by emptying the bucket when it is full into a composting bin, made of four wooden pallets arranged in a cuboid fashion. We layer in some cardboard and lots of grass, both fresh and dried.

The cardboard adds to the heat of the compost to aid its breakdown, as it traps air in the pile. We can add thermometers to check the temperatures, but we have read that after two years it will be completely safe for all compost use – before that, if the temperature is hot enough. We may invest in equipment but, for now, the knowledge that we are transforming our waste back into food – indirectly – is a good feeling.

Sometimes J has woken up before us all and is already at his Mobile Solar Office, stationed somewhere deep in the woods, specific location unknown. In this case, the children and I will make breakfast: homemade granola; or eggs; or porridge; or pancakes; or fruit salad; or some combination thereof.

I will have more tea, or a coffee.

photo 3(5)Next we wash ourselves. We run a hose from the street level, uphill, down through trees and brush, to a holding tank, from which we syphon using another hose, further down, through more brush and grass, to our wet area: the shower and its neighboring washing up and laundry station. The holding tank is under a tree and in some pretty dense shade, so our water always runs cool, even in the heat of the day.

The children prefer a bath, so they each take a tubby, while the base of the shower is a pallet, with a large shell holding the soap, razor, washcloth and scrubby mitts.

Then it’s feeding time for all our animal companions. The chicks are alone in a smaller cage in the kitchen camp area, for their own safety so they don’t get lost, eaten, or lost and then eaten. They get some granola and fruit from our own breakfast, some cracker leftovers, crumbs, raisins, honey water, fresh grass pulled up with dirt and bugs a-go-go, a touch of cat food maybe, and a little apple cider vinegar in their drinking water to help them digest what they eat. Their cage is on the floor directly too, so they are able to scratch around all day.

photo 2(8)The chickens and ducks are out all day, scratching and hunting their own protein. Along with the bugs and worms, over the six or so years we have been raising them, I have witnessed chickens eating mice, rats, thousands of fly larvae, snakes. They are not vegetarian – in any way. That’s where the Omega 3 EFA in your eggs comes from, and the Vitamin D. That’s why ‘conventional’ (since when has animal abuse been the convention? Yuck, where have we come to?) eggs are devoid of nutrition.

Confoundingly though, these chickens have yet to produce us an egg since we moved them here to Pirate Camp. Elizabeth has popped out a fair clutch of delicious and creamy, large-yolked duck eggs, but the chickens seem to be highly protective of theirs. We can’t find them anywhere! Watch this space – we WILL have chicken eggs for breakfast.

We serve the cats their scran – grain-free cat kibble in a tray. It is a bit of a free-for-all. Around the tray this morning scoffing cat food, were Alfie the dog, Tiny Little Rockstar the kitten, Elizabeth the duck and two chickens. The other cats looked up at me imploringly until I gave them their own separate bowl. Wussies.

Alfie, Lulu and Honey then get their bowls of food – gone in 6 seconds. Snarfed. Inhaled. Boom.

Next, do we need to do some laundry? Yes, all too frequently, we do. The children and I unload the laundry basket into a large tub, add laundry soap, and fill with water. We woosh it around a little and let it soak while we get on with other things.

In one laundry load, I will had a cup of washing soda (made from heating baking soda on a tray in the oven at 245F for 25 minutes, to change its chemical structure and make washing soda); a generous squeeze of Dr. Bronner’s , or some other natural, organic soap; a cup of white vinegar;  a sprinkling of non-chlorine bleach (like Oxi-Clean, if you are stateside), a drop of lemon oil and a drop or few of lavender oil. Wazaa.

Anything that needs pre-soaking can sit for a few hours in the sun in Oxi-Clean and a little topical strength hydrogen peroxide before the laundry.

photo 4After the laundry has soaked, I load it in again, same as before and scrub and scrub it this time. I stand in it and act like I’m pressing grapes – fun and makes for very clean feet for babe and me. I scrub it with my hands, take out each piece and wring it, then fill the tub again and rinse everything. Twice.

It’s pretty laborious and somewhat therapeutic. I want to use the word ‘devotional’ as was suggested to me recently, but, rather like the oft-illustrated washerwomen of yore, I can see the muscles that this ‘devotion’ is enabling – my biceps, shoulders, forearms, and I feel rather heartier and more butch than the archetypal image of the zen monk sweeping.

Late morning play time: maybe to the beach together. That’s about a third of a mile down the dirt road outside the entrance to Pirate Camp. It’s called Mosquito Bay and is a lot more picturesque and considerably less of a bite-fest than its name would suggest. Lots of thorny trees though – got to watch your feet.

The Z-Man and Lady C and I are currently assembling a collection of natural artifacts, so we are always on the lookout for things to add to that. We collect shells, sticks, crab parts that have been pulled apart by hungry sea birds, interesting leaves, dried and dead creatures – lizards, dragonflies, snakes and the like. We spend the heat of the afternoon sorting through our finds into categories for our museum, which will be showcased by solar exhibition, details of that to follow in the fullness.

photoThe kids are often involved in painting or making projects of one kind or another. Wonderful, colorful, naked, messy fun.

We spend time doing kitchen things like brewing kombucha, fermenting veggies, sprouting salad seeds, flavoring oils with herbs from the garden or with garlic.

photo 1(5)We haven’t got our solar oven facility going yet so, on the occasion that we need to bake, we use Senora Azul’s kitchen for that. The other day we made chocolate mini-muffins and had a tea party on the deck over a bookfest at siesta time. Delicious.

Lunch: eaten at camp, altogether, around our table that is an antique boat hatch sitting atop a spool. Sitting on pleather or pallet or dirt.

Afternoon. Hot as hell (Caribbean summer). Sometimes we are able to weather it at camp, if there is a little cloud or we are just feeling particularly cool as cucumbers that day.

Sometimes we are up on the covered deck at the main house enjoying the cool breeze and delightful shade that this spot affords. It’s a brilliantly conceived addition to Senora Azul’s place and we enjoy those cool times together bookfesting it up, as with the aforementioned muffin day.

Sometimes though, as with yesterday, we are out at that hot time, at the beach maybe, seeking the shade of a palm tree and the cool of the turquoise water. Snorkeling, napping, swimming, spear fishing,  reminding ourselves that, yes, we are indeed supremely jammy bastards who get to call the exceptional beauty of a Caribbean island our home.

The farm gardening stuff sometimes takes place at this hot time of day, simply as it is a time when both children are quietly occupied, either playing quietly together in the shade of the deck, or C is asleep and Z is reading to himself.

photo 2(7)This means that I can then don my wide-brimmed hat and sweat into my eyes until I am blinded by salt and my contact lenses are smeared, while I spread compost, weed, plant seeds, dig, hand-turn the soil with a garden fork and generally have a fantastic time with my hands and feet in the dirt, quietly and in my own thoughts. It is a satisfying time.

Although a lot more comfortable if it can happen a little later in the day, after the intense heat is done, or earlier, before the intensity is fully mounted. But easier to go with the flow of everyone’s energy and pay the heat price, rather than force everyone else to fit into my vision of the shape of the day, and then pay the miserable, wingeing, moaning child price.

That’s just how I roll. Makes for happier kids, a happier (sweatier) Mama, avoids the struggles that are not worth letting rise, while granting my children the power to give shape to their own daily lives and find their own flow.

I’m sure this style of parenting has a name – child led? Empathic? Organic? Intuitive? Relationship-driven?

Any one of those monikers sounds better than the ‘she’s a mug/pushover/those children need discipline/everyone needs routine’ or – my personal favourite – ‘at some point you have to realize that the real world just isn’t like that?’ criticisms that my parenting style occasionally elicits.

One day I will write about my thoughts on the realness of that Real World, but this day is not that one, so I shall parp along…

I don’t know what my ‘parenting style’ is called – other than, Jo-Mama-Style – because I steer clear of those sodding awful parenting books, as they always make me feel like I would rather be reading something else.

With so many brilliant books to read in my one, short life, why would I waste my time reading a how-to-raise-your-kid manual, written by someone who doesn’t know my kid?

Anyway, I digress, it’s my ranty tendency. Apologies.

J dedicates his Pirate Camp work-time to working on construction projects: coops, the loo, stairs for our raised platform, kitchen counter tops, tables; the list goes on… As well as weed-wacking, weeding, planting, and tending to cisterns, hoses and the like. Between all that and riding his bike with the two children in the trailer behind, he is getting buff.

At some point in any day, returning to camp I will find that one or more of the dogs has dug up the kitchen floor, and one or more of the chickens has taken a dust bath somewhere else in the living space. There may be a duck egg waiting for us. Honey is digging a hole as I write this actually. I will then fill the hole and tread it down, cut some long grass and strew it about the living space. It makes me feel like a medieval English villager actually.  And then there are the iPhones, Internet hotspot, solar chargers and power tools, social networking sites, internet memes and emoticons helping us keep it real and grounded in the 21st century ;)

photo 1The afternoon cools – it’s luscious. Probably my favourite part of the day. Like a daily Autumn. The shadows get longer, the light softens, the heat dampens and we potter about the place in all manner of different ways, from gardening, to fishing, to filling up water tanks and re-syphoning, to playing legos, to building altars and shrines and rock mounds, to hiking through the woods, to exploring new paths from the beach or vantage points from the hillside, to sitting, to drinking tea, to idly facebooking, to sewing ripped clothes or making new or reconfiguring old ones, to phoning a friend, to taking a final dip of the day.

Then dinner, and struggling to head off the pre-mealtime meltdown. Attempting to prepare food and remain calm while refereeing irritating and seemingly pointless battles between just five and nearly two year old children should be a Zen mind sport practice recognized by the Olympic committee. It quite sucks.

We eat, light fades, up solar fairy lights, re-cue tubby time, towel, teeth, bi-parental story-time, song. Lights out. Ahhh.

Kettle on. Chocolate out. First uninterrupted conversations of the day. Mutual blinding by head-lamp whilst being simultaneously dive-bombed by blood-thirsty mosquitoes.

Game of Thrones?