After an unexpected and unavoidable change to fieldwork plans, Anna and I decided to embark on a spontaneous adventure to track down the dismantled and rehomed parts of Fife’s Earthship. We have relatively few opportunity to spend a full day together doing fieldwork and were determined we would not let the time go to waste.
The Earthship, an eco-building once located on the north side of Kinghorn Loch in Fife, was a two decade long project showcasing sustainability in action, with reuse and repurposing at its heart. The structure, made mainly of earth filled tyres, was able to maintain a year-round comfortable living temperature and had its own electricity supply powered by onsite renewables, as well as its own sewage system and water supply. I visited the Earthship once whilst working at SEPA and whilst sad to learn of its closure was delighted to find out that almost all of the materials from the site were rehomed, including all of the tyres.
Recalling a snippet of information (that 500 of the tyres had been taken by a sustainable glamping initiative in Fife) we headed for Silverburn Park near Leven, a site undergoing redevelopment with sustainability at the forefront. Would we track down the rehomed Earthship tyres and learn the story of their third life?
As is often the case when you have a sat nav where half of the touch screen doesn’t work Anna and I set off in approximately the right direction. Our perhaps indirect route led us past the Pillars of Hercules where, after spotting a sign for an organic shop (and toilets!), we decided to pull in. Instead of heading towards the shop, however, we followed an intriguing trail path into the woods (the Red Squirrel Trail). We started to talk about the concept of wasted time, and the sense of pressure that time-limited projects always brings. We talked about the importance of allowing ourselves time to meander, to attune, to think slowly and allow unexpected connections to form. Following the trail, we came across interesting sculptures and carvings including an engraved tree, whose hollow middle now resembled a small bird bath or fairy pool. The tree was marked as storm-felled in 2012 and was then 60 years old. After briefly researching the trail for this post I found numerous other recollections of the route, several of which shared pictures of the same tree. However, what we discovered next was not mentioned in any of the other blogs or walk reports we’ve seen.
After a couple of months of Waste Stories fieldwork (and many before that hoping the project would come to life), Anna and I have trained our eyes and brains to notice litter and waste that others might not normally notice – to see things that are lurking in the peripheries of our lives. However, the metres of glistening of glass, half-exposed black plastic bin bags, and even a protruding sink could surely not only have been noticed by our oddly acclimatised eyes? All along one embankment built up alongside the woodland burn was evidence of a former tip, part buried beneath a layer of soil.
We were intrigued: how could such a place could have come to be here? The trees growing out of the embankment were broad-trunked and tall, not spindly saplings. And yes the black plastic refuse sacks that formed a natural wall at the base of the embankment were hardly damaged, as if they had only been dumped months before? As we scrambled around, examining the glinting refuse, we commented on the potential of all the sharp objects extruding from the ground to wound small paws and feet. We continued to explore and speculate, picking up the odd ceramic plate shard or severed jug handle. Then, we came across a real treat. Emerging from a small hole between discarded bricks, concrete and the sink were some bumblebees. They had built their nest between these wasted objects. I always marvel at bumblebees and their busy, gentle way, but there was something special about seeing them beautify this scene. How quickly I had switched my attention to part-buried waste: the buzz of the bumblebees jolted us back to see the flora and fauna that had reclaimed this place and space.
After crossing a bridge across the burn, we found relatively little litter. There was a small campfire area, surrounded by tree stump seats and an enthusiastically collected pile of sticks for future users which provided a welcome contrast to the litter-filled firepits I’d been seeing along the shore of Loch Venechar and the Lake of Menteith.
After spending a little more time meandering through the woods and finding another hollowed out tree stump – this time filled with single-use coffee cups – we decided that we had best continue on our mission to find the ‘third life tyres’ and set off again for Silverburn Park.