Saturday, 6 December 2008

27 Trees

Twas mid-October or so, leaves were turning orange. The month, locals told us, to plant trees. Having never planted a fruit bearing tree in my life, the idea seriously appealed. After all, now we have a bit of land, and I suppose all a tree needs is land, some water, air and sun (and all those just appear for free anyway, right?).

Also we had Paulo (in picture, lecturing on something or other), our nature & land-use guide. He would insist it’s called permaculture, but I’m not so good with names. What he professes certainly seems to make sense: follow the productive patterns, or tendencies, that nature does anyway. But instead of weeds and brambles, lets throw in some plants we like, that produce food, let them interact with each other, let them grow vertically as well as along the ground. Think about light and wind when building something, or planting. Integrate your house with this productive place, so waste is absorbed in the land, and the land is absorbed, through food, into your house. All makes sense.

Paulo was not very impressed at our sudden urge to fill the land with trees. First, he insisted, you need a plan; you need to know where the water flows, where to build a ‘swale’ (a ditch dug on contour along a hill that captures water as it flows downhill) and so on. Yes yes, we tell him, we’ll do that too, we just really wanted to get the tree growing thing started. It can take years after all before they bear fruit, so why not get a few up and atems now then we can think about other things while chewing on a cherry…

So market day came and we went along to meet the tree folk. There we were, standing staring at all these head-high twigs, with labels or colourful pictures attached with the promise of juicy fruit. This, I felt sure, could no way become a pomegranate-producer. So dead looking. OK the oranges and lemons had those dark green waxy leaves. They looked nice. We were like kids in a sweety shop. We went mad: two of those, three of them, Oh, shall we try a white cherry to go with the 4 dark ones we just bought...

We found a seller right on the edge of the market, on the side of the road, selling his twigs of future fruitiness for 2 or 3 euros each. This drove us even crazier. Paulo tried in vain to hold us back, until he too cracked and dived in to the melee. Laurentiu was still here then too, our Romanian film-making maestro, as ever with camera on back, absorbing everything (he films everything all the time until you don’t notice him anymore).

It’s a bizarre thing to choose trees. It seems like the best thing you can do with money. You’re buying a bit of future, like painting in a multi-coloured multi taste experience into future moments that we will, if all goes well, be part of.

For Kira, our tree-climbing creature, we think about which one will grow good hand-holds. For our water tanks at the top of the land, which will create shade the quickest. And kiwi, the fast growing mega leaf that has to be the master-of- shade, we pick to people a dry exposed terrace which gets baked in summer. And, we imagine, an arched avenue you walk under, picking a couple as you go.

One of the best things is the variety you can revel in at this almost sub-tropical latitude (though now it feels more like sub-arctic, in our freezing uninsulated rented home). That’s the thing, it gets a major winter – there was snow in the hills last week! Then a balmy summer. OK, it probably won’t last long in the searing heat that global warming will no doubt deal to us, but while it lasts it seems to be the ideal growing zone. (Kira in picture here raiding some local black acacia trees that we planted around our new trees. Paulo introduced us to this nitrogen fixing concept, good for soil apparantly, and this leguminous tree does just that...)

So our mixed bag (van rather) had – in the baby tree sense – an orange, 4 cherry, 3 pomegranates, a lime, 4 apple, pear and peach, apricot, a lemon or two, an avocado, 5 kiwis (four girls and one bloke – why would this plant be about sex and no others?), 2 red-current bushes, a purple fig, a walnut, chestnut and a hazelnut, 4 grape vines, some pears and God knows what else.

Driving off I suddenly realised it was like buying pets: we had to go and look after them, plant them and so on. Saturday and kids out of school, we all charged down to get planting, which took a bit longer than we had envisaged. In fact it’s taken days and days. Half the problem is deciding where to put things. De we want to pick cherries over a cliff, or have them grow “to you” up on a terrace (Paulo would ask as I was hacking a hole for one of them beside a precipice). Oh.

When we got them to the land we realised we had 27 of them. 27! This is Kira’s day. And mine too. A special number for us. We liked that.

It hadn’t been raining much. We bought a hose and spent hours trapesing round the land to water them.

Then the frosts started to come, by late November sometime, and half the citrus were looking particularly unwell, loosing leaves and just being miserable. We were killing our pets. This was terrible, we tried lime taken from the old walls in the house, ash from the fire, Paulo insisted peeing on them was the thing (we stared at each other in horror) a neighbour gave us some seaweed they said would help.

Then we were told they needed shelter, insulation, against the frosts. So another day is spent building these mad structures around them, and laying old corn stalks over the top (a very permaculture sounding bit of advice from the guy in the market). here's a photo of a straw hat for the orange... Someone also told us that if you put a bucket of water below the tree, frost will go there instead. So we do that too, see the avo water shot...

So now we wait. We wait for spring, for buds to appear, for branches to wake up and stretch into the horizon, and sprout leaves and decide on their shape. Like putting dough in the oven, or even seeing a wee baby and wondering what it’ll look like when its not so small and floppy.

We wait for our future to come to us, well the other way round I suppose, and knowing that in between that time other things will, hopefully, happen in the spaces between the trees. Like a place for us to live in. An outdoor kitchen (between the fig and a Clementine – yes we bought one of those too, a surprise for Chimp, Clementine, Lily and Leon when they come).

The hazelnut we put in front of where we’ll build an outdoor shower and bath, because it grows quick and will become a living screen; also when you’re steaming in the bath you can reach out and get a couple of hard nuts (hang on, surely we should have put a fig there instead – how do you open hazelnuts while you’re having a bath?).

Now it rains a lot, so we don’t have to spend an afternoon watering them all. But what about summer. Uh oh. Didn’t think of that. Summer will come and maybe we’ll find a way.

Last night I was having a dream about visiting someone on the Western shores of Ireland somewhere. For some reason I was deciding that we should move there – hey, it was a dream. But I remember actually planning how to move the trees, one by one, to this new windswept future I had invented. Our twiggy pets have crept into my dreams.

Monday, 27 October 2008

where a small hole became a big problem. Main house roof crumpling in... Mid October, Paulo standing on the wee back terrace, which we'd cleared a few days before. Glorious sun all day, it has to be said. Cool air, hot sun.
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Monday, 13 October 2008

Waters of Ancora

This weekend we headed for the coast. Partially to overcome my gloom at being more than a stone's throw away from the ocean, from the moving mountains of transition that provide so much energy, fear and well, distraction...
We made it to the first surfable beach within 35 minutes: a definite record. And not a bad spot either, always slightly smaller from Ancora and Afife to the South. Quite small ish looking, till we paddled out (me and Nikita) and got sucked out in some current, spooked by looming faces, and freaked by booming noises coming from the mouth of the Minho, as all those thousands of tonnes of river blend into their salty cousin, the sea, every second. (The quanitites involved make the mind boggle, and, clearly, large rocks move under water with large booms).

Vila Praia de Ancora (its full name) is the next beach town. Kind of a new-town of Portuguese sorts - lots of concrete apartments overlooking a vast arch of a beach - bay, with a fishing marina at one end. Also the end point of the river Ancora, but no potential here for a rivermouth surf spot...

Swell was good, chunky indeed, but locals bemoaned build up of sand in the bay, wrecking the waves. They predicted big winter swells soon, that'll clean it all up, plus river flooding changing the silt buid ups. I suppose they've seen it all. Still, there were some fine looking lefts in the middle of the bay, if you could make the epic paddle out past masses of whitewater for about half a mile... With a dropping sun we decided against in favour of finding our spot for the night.

The spot is way at the end of the beach, out of town already and heading south, turn off the main road and drive through an odd mini-community of lived-in houses near the train track, and the sea appears in sea mist and spray. Wind still hardly a flicker, land still warm from the days sun. There's a cafe there run by a Spanish guy and his Portuguese wife. He likes to talk about life and Spanish guys who zoom down from Vigo to surf after work, about his son who goes to school here, about the mad new construction planned round the corner...

There's nothing else around there, sand dunes and an out of place play park. We like it and park there, feast out at the 'Spanish bar' and return to Cora (our van) to make nests in the back with our collection of blankets and soft things. They say it rained in the night - sure didn't wake me.

Low tide was around 6.30am; i'd heard that the waves work best at mid-tide, so i couldn't sleep too long. By 8.30 i was in the water, the beginning of a pretty epic paddle past all sorts of hectic white water, rogue sets and swirling currents. Morning rays blocked by sea fog and early cloud. A prolongued dawn almost. Nobody about, eery, but also familiar, assuring in a way. After thinking I was out back, then getting pummeled by another big set, I paddle out further still, in good view of the town now, starting to loose site of the shore i'd paddled out from...

A set (of waves) looms into my bit of middle-of-the-ocean that's not going to land on my head. But not far off, I think as I paddle frantically up the face, thinking this is way bigger than it looked from shore. This being my first day out of proper surf since my foot broke itself, feeling all better now, I don't want to be making too many mistakes...

After a while i catch a slightly less spooky left hander, make the drop- to my surprise - and turn to see a long overhead glassy smooth transition running away before me, but not closing out. Not too steep (no barrels there). It lasts a few turns, but they last for hours in my head. They need to too, as it's pretty much the only decent wave i catch that day. Later i paddled over to the other side of the bay where a couple of locals had - finally- woke up to come out. Any other place would be stowed out with way too many other riders, here it seems not. I need to keep this quiet. Good thing nobody will read this. Makes me wonder why i write it, get in habit I suppose.

It takes about half an hour to walk back around the bay, back to the van. The wind is still slight, and offshore, but there's still a bit of sea fog, obscuring the eager mid-morning sun. Out of this fog I see the oddly familiar shape of two girls - my lady and my daughter. Out of focus like this it's like I see them for the first time, with all the familiarity we have built up after months and months in each others company. A few steps more and Kira takes off, running towards me charging along the sand, i can see her grin now, her joy and flow. She just runs up to say hello, give the wet-ish seal dad a mini-hug. She doesn't waste time with pleasantaries such as how was the surf or whatever, just goes straight into her near-continuous natter about life around us, why the sand is just so, or what would happen if we didn't have ears. We reach Monica and walk back together, in the warm day. Our life warm with each other. Nikita, groggy from sleep and reading appears and grins. We get to the Cora, uncover our stores and feast on the playpark on fantastic fresh cheese, figs, tea, local tomatoes that taste of tomatoes, olives and quince jam. No hurry, nowhere to run to. We enjoyed. I'm still enjoying now.
Kira venturing into mystery waters of the river Ancora
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Wednesday, 1 October 2008

Tuesday, 30 September 2008

Tito's plan

Tito is our architect. Well, not really: we've never paid him, yet we've spent hours in his office over the last year or so, and since moving here in August, we see him all the time to ask stuff. This time we got him over to the house in Troporiz, Happy's house, yes, to talk about what we can do with the old buildings. We didn't really know what we wanted to talk about, it was awkward initially, we just kind of pointed at things and said silly tings like, that's a roof, it's broken, we should repair it, is that easy enough ? and so on.
Then he changed the subject and wanted to talk about coffee and cakes in Scotland. How people live there. The cost of living (after the latte is gone) and the salary of a teacher - he's also a part time secondary school teacher.

After that we flowed much better. It was hard to find the words in his language. He wants to know english, he insists, but like many people here they just can't face trying, so they let us massacre their language and seem quite happy participants in the dialogue. Well, I massacre it, Monica seems to have mastered it, including their mannerisms, already.

Anyway, afterwards, we realised we knew what we wanted to design, and went on our own to the drawing board and pretty much laid out the whole house plan. Wierd, he had no part in it, yet his being there kind of sparked us off to get going and thinking, and drawing and planning.

Another guy I met the next day, Victor, is a landscape gardner type. His english is OK but again he seems to decide not to speak it. It seems to be becoming easier to understand everything so that's fine, every day it's a thrill to learn a new word, or a way of saying things. Like 'pingi' is small coffee with a dash of milk. Where did THAT come from? Victor told me what "terrace" was, but now i've forgottern again. That's another problem.

Anyway, we walked the land and he told me about all the plants, the value on the market. We have a few old overgrown olive trees that provide no olives. Some shade I suppose. He said they were worth a couple of grand (!!). Their roots and small and in a ball below the tree, so they're easy to uproot and transplant. How bizarre. We talked about chippers behind minitractors, to mince our broom and brambles. About pigs and their fancy for eating roots - he's never heard of this crazy idea. Doesnt' mean it can't be true or done, no, he agreed, it doesn't.

He said there was masses of work to do (everyone tells us that). And that it could cost a lot. True, it could, but then i suggested that loads of people come out to help and work, and live in roundhouses or huts, shower in a simple solar shower outfit, make food in a semi outdoor kitchen. Yes he said, this would make it way cheaper. Do that and it would be good. He seemed to like the idea. I liked that.

I need to tell people about this idea. I guess i should use this blog for that purpose. Hmm, lots to do. Need to figure out how to post a picture....

Thursday, 18 September 2008

The House of Mr Happy

I met the "Presidente de Junta" - the mayor, basically. We went to the municipality and talked about mills and stuff. Then he took me for coffee, where he invited a couple of older gents. Turned out one of them was the godson of the former owner of our place. The history flowed: the owner was a Senor Felix. So the house is known in the village as that "A casa de Senor Felix" (the house of Mr Happy) !

Our new connection to the history of the land went on to regale us with tales of scrumptious strawberries grown behind the kitchen. Of the chicken run. Hoards of fruit trees and vines.

They are delighted that finally someone's come along to renovate the old place. Was / is falling to pieces.

Photos soon...