Volunteers don't get paid, not because they're worthless, but because they're priceless
Volunteers contribute to An Tearman in a variety of ways and for a variety of reasons. Some come specifically to help in the garden and find themselves inspired by a conversation over dinner, or moved by a song afterwards; Others might volunteer to share a presentation, then join in a group gardening session afterwards and find themselves exhilarated; some who are more physically challenged take delight in completing some small task, small but nevertheless important; some volunteer their organisational skills or a workshop and find themselves enriched by the process and feedback; some stay on after a workshop to help with the laundry and cleanup and enjoy an opportunity to discover a little more about this beautiful island; all of us gain indescribable richness from the co-operation and sense of community that can develop.
We are always happy to welcome volunteers to the project, whether during one of our Community Weekends which take place on the first weekend of each month, or at other times by arrangement. We aim to spend part of the time working on projects, whilst also enjoying community, taking time for sharing information, learning and the process of building a life-sustaining way of life.
If you would like to come to An Tearman to volunteer, please email us at and include information about your skills and whether there is a particular project or aspect of our work that interests you.
To get a taste of volunteering at An Tearman, read Gwen's story below.
Gwen and The Impossible Tree
I want to tell you about a special moment in a special weekend. To set the scene, remember that this is the first time in almost ten years that I’ve been in a situation like this: my human body feeling very little in the big world of nature around it, there to play its part in rearranging things. That’s me in the photo, gratefully wearing someone else’s “shitty jacket” and some very big socks. In the red jacket is Annie, unperturbed by the camera. She’s been here for months and knows a few things, in fact when looking for gardening instruction after a lie-in I was steered towards her, as ‘the director of operations’.
So here we are, clearing some sycamores in the garden. There’s a big massive pile of them that need transformed into a stack which will be dried then chopped into logs for the fire, or into debris for a bonfire. To begin with I feel quite overwhelmed by the tasks – there must be about twenty trees lying in front of me, their branches interwoven in an incomprehensible mess which I need to untangle before the trunks can be moved. But I’m here for two days, and I decide to live by my motto – something is better than nothing – and start picking up small branches that are scattered around the edges.
When I pick up a bit of tree I toss it into one of two piles: either the one for twigs and sticks or the one for branches and trunks. The twigs and sticks are broken into pieces that can be easily transported by wheelbarrow along the muddy path to the place where they will eventually be burned. There’s a comforting pattern to the way that easily snappable bits of tree branch off from bits that need a bit more effort, which branch off from bits that really need me to put my back into persuading them to part from the stern and strong bits that they branch off from. There’s structure in the chaos. When I notice this I get a feeling of freedom which allows me to work in flow.
The strategy is to methodically remove the small branches that are often entwined with each other, focussing on one tree trunk at a time, moving on to another trunk when its branches are obstructing the removal of my first object of focus. After freeing up the branch that was trapped I can snap it off and continue with the same trunk, right up to the point where the whole thing can be lifted and put in an orderly pile with the others. But there’s one tree, so linked in with the others, that I can’t focus on it for very long without having to move to another tree’s branch – it’s the impossible tree. Not only has it managed to get itself completely tangled up with the whole pile of sycamores, it’s also managed to meld with the bracken and nettles growing underneath it. That tree and me are at loggerheads.
That tree and me are both part of this operation to bring order to our surroundings in a way that will benefit the community here – it will bring warmth to the inhabitants of the house, and the ground underneath will sprout new growth that will support animals, plants, and even humans, in the opportunity of a cleared space. As I realise that I can only do what I can do, I relax into it and enjoy the movement of my body and the movement of the dead trees. Instead of battling this thing which is significantly larger than me, fighting the branches so that they spring back and whack my thighs, I learn to work with it – feeling where our limits are and finding another way if what I’m doing isn’t working. Often this means going back to plucking off branches thinner than my pinkie, working another branch until I can remove it and give more space to bend the first one enough for it to break this time round. Some branches I try to break by grabbing them with my arms straight out behind me, edging forward slowly foot by foot, feeling carefully the give of the branch so that at the moment it cracks I’m ready and don’t fall flat on my face with the sudden yield in pressure. I feel a bit like a donkey in one of those old fashioned photos – you know the ones that went round and round in circles around a big stone to mill flour? Or maybe a pack horse, pulling a plough to play its part in transforming the landscape to an ordered agriculture. Either way, that impossible tree isn’t budging and it’s time to go in for a cup of coffee.
When we get back to the job it’s easy to get back into the flow of things. I work my way through the trees, breaking up the pile branch by branch. Jamie wheelbarrows away the twigs, happy in the zen of being aware of all the lumps and bumps of the muddy route, keeping the load balanced over the rough terrain. We get into a good rhythm where I fill up one wheelbarrow as he’s returning with an emptied one, and things are good. When the light starts to go we admire the silhouettes of trees against the darkening sky and Annie tells us that it’s good practise to leave a site tidy at the end of the day. My main focus becomes the impossible tree, which is starting to look skinnier and sparser, “The impossible tree is becoming possible,” I tell Jamie.
We’ve planned to go in for a meeting at four, and it’s five to. Visibility is down and I’ve picked up my pace. Jamie’s taken away the last of the little sticks, and we’re breaking down the possible tree together, working wordlessly to get the job done. Suddenly I realise that all remaining branches are unencumbered and the tree is free from the others. With renewed vigour, I push and pull it, rocking it away from the gentle entanglement of what lies below it. With one big push, I rock it over on its back. The tree is free! “YES!” What joy and satisfaction! Both my arms punch the air in celebration, and I stand upright and proud, surveying the changed pile. The trunk lies in its new position, the side that had been lying in grass and dead leaves dark and damp in the falling light. The tree is too big for one person, so Jamie and I lift it onto our shoulders and march it triumphantly up the track. He starts singing the death march to the rhythm of our pace. It’s time to go in and start the next part of our An Tearman day.