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Saturday, December 3, 2016

It's Raining, it's Pouring....

What happened to my last blog?   The last several entries have attracted averagely 60 page-views in the first 2 days, and this last one, 2 (two!).


Maybe "autumn life" in more northern zones is not really a favourite or evocative time - believe me, I have many memories of returning from a colourful cycling or travelling trip in Europe or beyond, to return in October to grim rainy cold Dover with it's hang-dog train employees, and anticipation of a dour (that's pronounced "dooor" in Scotland) winter in some crappy job....

I totally love autumn here.  It stands for revival, release of energy, trees barking (in a tree-type way - they kind-of bark in their roots, but you can't hear it). And every rain event I sit and revel in the ahh-ness of it, and imagine the water of life seeping deeper into the receptive living earth.
Of course, storms are the best,.... 


Today it is raining all day, a lot!  I guess the rain falling on my yurt roof brings out pensive thoughts...

Sinking into nature is what happens if you are open to it, but we humans are a fickle species,  The previous generation quite obliviously tore away their connection with nature in favour of the more immediate stimulation of the blossoming of different elements of the human psyche, as the next generation will be the ones to fully realise the downside of this loss.  

And the revival may just reveal a gaining of a common wisdom   All is to come, though not necessarily not for us to see.

I think of humanity as immature at this stage.  Not stupid, insensitive, etc as some of us critically label ourselves, but just at the level of a child, without the checks and balances of good parenting.   


Meanwhile,  in this present condition,we put our posts in the sand, and those with sensitivity seek out the posts, as oases, and the oases may provide foci to inspire and give release to the energy of those who reject the rush to destruction.


The autumn continues to be a good productive time, with lots of good stuff to come - not just land-work, but we will be doing a lot of re-designing and adding to the area in front of the houses: on the agenda is a vine-shaded area, water-fountain pond, see-saw and trapeze bar for the kids' area, and sun-dial.  You will see it all here in the months ahead!



Above are our present volunteer helpers (aka wwoofers), Daniel on the left, Eric on the right, with me in the middle,  mulching our young trees in the infant food-forest.  Feast your eyes on the new goose-nibble protectors / summer sun-shades around the youngest trees (mostly year-old chestnuts)....



.... and here is one of my babies in its sanctuary...







Looking outside the enclave of Várzea da Gonçala for a change, not far up our steep-sided Cerca valley, there's some good social stuff going down too, and a dynamic spontaneously happening. Thursday evenings there's music in the tipi round the bend in the stream, and not just a few hippies strumming and hitting bongos - some great musicianship and a wide variety of instruments. I don't get to go as I don't play so inevitably am on child-duty.  18 people last week, mostly from the valley, all nationalities, one of the stars being Pedro, who, with his brother and mother run the oldest (30y ago the only) grocery shop in Aljezur - also a keen permaculturist and holder of knowledge of the old ways.  



Wednesday evenings we go playing pool at the local pizzeria - bar,  Friday night is Várzea film night -kids at 6, adults trailer (home-made or special interest) 7 to 9, main film (movie or documentary) at 9,  Then there are fire-gatherings and a surprising number of birthday parties, grownups and kids - last Saturday it's Megan's 9th, here holding the parcel in pass-the-parcel...

For years us fledgling ancestors agonised and discussed how to make the "neighbourhood" more interactive, but these things come about through critical mass, common need for sharing, mutual respect - and absence of television.

Snails and slugs love the autumn weather too....


.... did you know....
snails move about at about 45 metres per hour, which means, in a day they can cover a kilometer.

they can survive for over a year without water, and surface temperatures of 60c,  and generally live about 10 years!

and slugs (don't ask me how they know) (or why) evolved from snails

I'll love you and leave you with these juicy ponderables....

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Autumn Life, and Otter!



It's rained, the grass is growing, and our little river runs again.  Summer turned to autumn, and the land wakes and life shows its hunger and delight.

Strange words to those of northern latitudes, where nature is slowing and preparing for rest and withdrawal, but here on the west Algarve it is a special time.   Happy beneficiaries are our (now 4) geese, here enjoying not just being out in the green green grass, but with new shelter and pond....



... their purpose is to graze the meadow among the trees in the growing season, while also supplying us with amazing eggs, about one a day.  The smallest trees do need to be protected as the spring comes, but for now the geese are only interested in the succulent new grass.

There's a lot going on around these parts recently, land being bought, more being sought, things afoot. Across the valley a Swiss couple last year bought a big plot of land, and just last week had a full clearance of the scrub "mato" vegetation done. Now it looks like this....



The trend is gathering pace, and it is easy to speculate that in a decade the ruins and abandoned land which cover most of our valley will be bought, or, even better, settled by descendants of those who left two generations ago.

This said, this is the west Algarve, and there is a slowness - in the best sense of the word - to the ways of the local government - as well as the pace of life, around here, so don't be speculating about Macdonalds opening up in the Cerca valley anytime soon.

Meanwhile, right here, right now...  in the last few weeks, I've been in my own space and element, putting trees, seedlings, and acorns (planted with leaf-mold from parent (or cousin) trees) into the soft, yielding earth.


For the last 2 weeks I have had the assistance of Chloe and Anouk, from Brittany, and here we are planting the latest of the autumn plantings, this tree being a white Guava....

So far, 70 young trees have been given a home on the varzea (meadow) land,  mostly (40) feijoa (Acca sellowiana - I like that name) and a dozen 1-y old castanhas (sweet chestnut), and different varieties of oaks, 2 guavas, and a selection of nitrogen-fixers.  Dig the hole, mix in some compost, fill and squish down, mulch with anything you can find to cover the bare earth - I use straw/manure, leaving a space around the trunk. And wish good-luck....

The deep-rooting plants which were able to keep growing through the long dry summer have been cut, right in time for the rain.

Timing is everything in the cycle of the seasons, and, as the old people around here knew almost instinctively.  It is something one learns by experience, especially in a venture such as this, where you realise after several years that doing the right things at the right time not only works, but saves enormous amounts of energy.

Image result for ungrounded lifeAnd not only energy.  Wherever one lives, having a pattern that works gives balance to our psyche and makes life enjoyable, easier and more fun.

Spend time on distractions, and stuff that really isn't grounded in our lives' true nature, and we never get a chance to be US.

Which is bad.


I tend to mention this "food-forest" quite a lot, and never used the expression until Chaym here started using it.  I much prefer to refer to it as "future food forest" - fff! - as it sure doesn't look much like a forest to me now. This is a fairly "typical" shot of a part of it, as it looks now.....



.... in another 4 years or so it will be very different.

We were privileged to have staying here, sadly only to the end of October. Ilf and Lies and family, from Belgium. I mention this here as Ilf, who has a great knowledge of bird, animal, and insect life, has had a night-vision video-camera set up by the river for a couple of weeks, and recently picked up this footage of an otter, just by our summer bathing-pool....   (ok, this is my first ever attempt to put video content on the blog, so let's hope it works.... and by the way, you only need to see the first 10 seconds)

video

This winter I am going for diversity, inter-planting the present selection of trees on the lowland area with a wide variety, with the 70 new trees among the 200 or so already there, but also, starting to develop the food-forest aspect more, adding herbs and shrubs and bushes on the summer-irrigation canals.  Another feature this winter will be lots of climbing plants to scale the riverside willows.

Rain gives a wake-up to the plant-life in a way that irrigation just doesn't do. Whether this is because of the extra oxygen, or electric charge of the raindrops, It makes an almost instantaneous difference to the land it touches, including the vegetable garden, which is bursting with health.




Cue the work of Chaym..   His passion and energy for all things related to the Várzea horta is true inspiration, and his scope is substantially beyond the usual conception of what running a vegetable garden involves.       I asked Chaym if he would like to put a piece here in the blog to outline his perception of his work, and here it is....

Agro-ecology is based on traditional gardening using many kinds of techniques from around the world to create intensified small scale hortas (vegetable gardens) functioning like a small managed ecosystem. 

In Várzea's horta, my emphasis as an agro-ecologist is integrating Moringa and maintaining humus-pathway-swale based beds, growing seasonal vegetables intensively on home-produced poultry manure, mixed with kitchen waste and bio-char, and anaerobic liquid fertilizer based on comfrey and dry poultry manure ..
 

The 1st plant section of the garden is only 400 square meters, but it provides daily for 3 families, plus volunteers, course attendents, holiday guests, chickens and geese.     Seasonally, there are 2-4 major crops, and 3-5 minor crops, medicinal herbs, fruit trees, and edible weeds..
 


The 2nd section, the poultry, supplies, all year, eggs and manure, which feeds the plant section:   The 3rd section is the staple-crop/green manure section growing winter onions, potatoes, carrots, rye, and  summer pumpkins, amaranth, soy, maize, millet, and sweet potatoes.


Back-tracking a month or so, but not to be forgotten, happened the Women's Natural Building Course, given by my wife Kris, with huge support and top cooking by Ana, from Aroche, Spain.  They made a brilliant dynamic team, and have plans for many such events in far-flung locations in the future.   Here they are - again - excuse repetition from last blog, but it's the only pic of the two I have....

The idea seemed a good one at the outset, and it worked extremely well.  It attracted the inevitable digs at feminism etc, but the truth is, the social dynamic works in a very natural way, and here the group of 6 gained not only knowledge, but great empowerment and positivity,.from their 12 days at the Várzea.

Fly away, new blog, through the squalls of twittering......     By the way, please feel free to send feedback, suggestions, ideas, anything!   And a big welcome to readers in Cambodia!





Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Waiting for the rain....

It's this time of the year.  Ten years ago, to follow last blog's theme, we arrived in late summer, and when the first rain came, on 13th September 2006, I was in Aljezur on my bicycle as a thunderstorm came on, disgruntled shopkeepers putting out their awnings,

I was exhilarated,  and cycled up the 350m hill to Marmelete and back, totally soaked.  In the days following, our river Cerca began flowing and the ground turned from brown to green.  Though this revival of life in the autumn was something I could have logically expected, it was a wonderful surprise to the senses, especially because of the contrast from the "old country", where things go to sleep in the winter.


This is the time of the year that not just us, but the whole land is sitting, waiting.....  also my tree-nursery is full of eager young seedlings and cuttings just itching to get their thrusting roots into mother earth....




.... everything's patient but thirsty and on energy-save.  Over our time here it has rained in September sometime, averaging roughly between the 10th and 25th - apart from 2010, when it didn't rain 'til 26th October.



So what are we doing, apart from WAITING?

Well the place is a-buzz in fact.  In a spectrum of things...  Maybe I should give deference to the vegetable garden, where Chaym and Petra have been planting  and seeding in abundance for the winter food supply.


Roots, and greens, annuals and perennials, all that wholesome stuff - and we are very happy that the Moringa trees "Moringa oleifera"- seen here in the garden (the spindly trees in the foreground)....


....are getting these bonus few sub-tropical weeks to get better established before the winter.  They are the "miracle trees" of Africa and the east, with super-nutritious leaves - and a real means of empowerment for the people, against the attempted monopolisation of the global food production by the likes of Monsanto.  In true subtropical regions they grow into big tress, and it is said that one mature Moringa tree can provide ALL the nutritional needs of a family!


People!  Alex and Nicky and their boys, Theo and Phoenix, now 7 and 5, have come to stay at least for the winter - before moving to their yurt in the spring.  Then a week ago we welcomed Ilf and Lies with Maren, 7, and Rune, 1, for the next 6 weeks.  Finally, have arrived, Florian and Sandy with 3-y-old Tao,  until December.   I guess I could do a group photo, but then some of you will go  thinking Várzea is a "community" - and I don't want to go into THAT again...


But that is not all.  Oh no, that is not all!  In a few days, too few to mention in fact, will see the start of  Kris's (ok, she likes to be "Chrissey" these days (but then women always need to change things...)) natural-building workshop ("by women, fore women!") which promises to be a really great event. Kris is partnered with Ana, from Belgium, via 16 years in Aroche, Spain, an old friend from a PDC hear 6 years ago - and an astonishing diggereedoo-player.  Together they make a great team and promise a super atmosphere for the course.                                         Here they are...

Personally, I'm still watering my thirsty gasping trees.....  And just now building a house for my new TELESCOPE which arrived last month - the final arrival of something I have hankered after since I was at school, spending winter nights in Wales in many jumpers outside with binoculars and star-maps. Well, finally, it has arrived (yes, I know that's already 3 "arrive"s in this paragraph)  Here is my "observatory" at the latest stage of construction....





... the roof must be strong, weather-proof, and light enough to swivel off on hinges.

But today it's way too boiling hot to work outside, in the sun - 34c it says on the shady-spot thermometer,    I've had enough of it - BASTA! as they say round here.  Just want to get planting and digging - the oak trees seem pretty low on acorns again, maybe a few more than last year, but rest assured, trees will be planted in good numbers...     So instead I'm scribbling my blog....


Finally I mention again the kids phenomenon in our neck of the valley , with this photo of the Aljezur school bus, picking up the local bunch....





...on the road at the Várzea.




A year and a half ago I would take our Megan up to the road to get the bus - just us!                                                                                                                                                                                                              

Now there are 8 children off at 8.30am!



Then there are the 4 home-schoolers up the road a little, and several pre-school.... the story is only  beginning to unfold....



Fiction or not, it is interesting to imagine the picture here in a decade's time, when our now-7 and 8's will be 17.s and 18.s....








Anyway, I'm sending this edition into the ethereous superhighway,.... please feel free to give feedback - a slowly growing following read this stuff, but of course most people don't venture beyond the facebook blah and all these brain-drugs....  (oops, there goes my cynicism again...)


Love from Várzea.....

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

TEN YEARS

10 years.  We, that is Kris and myself, arrived at the Várzea on the evening of 23rd August 2006.  We never intended to live in the Algarve, but chance, whatever that is, brought us here.  I might as well tell the story....

We'd spent a week on the south coast with  Kris's older children from previous marriage, which in August (bad enough at any time of the year, full of misplaced, mis-brained expat english) was our personal vision of perdition, and badly needed to get out.

So, after dropping them off at Faro airport, we headed up north again, where we'd been land-hunting already.  I wanted to show Kris the west coast, where I had come on my bicycle in the 80's, so we went via Cape St. Vincent up through Aljezur, where we stopped at an internet café, next to which was an estate agency, full of villas with swimming pools for sale, with one lonely-looking photo of a green jungle with old houses showing through. 

To me it was pretty-much love at first sight, or more like it, at first feeling, and we never went further.



We weren't the first non-Portuguese to come to this valley. In the 80's there was a big movement of German alternative-thinkers who arrived at a time when the demographic changes of the time was leading to the abandonment of many traditional smallholdings, and for holders of Deutchmarks, buying rustic cottages valued in Escudos, property was amazingly cheap.  German friends here now tell of the culture-divide which confused and amazed the local Portuguese - seeing these strange people, dressed in hippy clothing, which they considered as rags, arriving in Mercedes vans, buying land and houses like kids in a sweet-shop!  They also felt sorry for their ineptitude with life-skills, and were always supplying fruit and vegetables to help them...


Aljezur only got electricity in 1962, and this valley, 50 years ago, was almost totally self-contained, needing only a handful of items from the outside world, represented by Aljezur.

This we know from Dona Alzirez (on the left), in this picture with one of her 2 sisters, who were born and grew up at the Várzea from the early 40's to late 60's...



When we came in 2006 things had moved on again: the pioneer Germans are getting older and nearly all their children have moved on again.  When we arrived, there was not a single child under 12 years old in the valley.  


Now there is a new change afoot, which I believe will not be another false dawn.  Since we arrived,  people came to stay here, in exchange for help, who became good friends and neighbours, then more, and in our part of the valley others came and saw positive things happening, gardens started, lands cleared, a home-school group started, a social scene happening.  People had babies, others came with young children.  

Now, in our 2-kilometer section of this Cerca valley alone, live 15 children under 10! Some homeschool, some, like our daughter Megan, go to the regular school in Aljezur. The future is opening.

10 years.  A lot has happened, twists, turns, ups and downs, that at least at the personal level.  On the practical level, it's been a decade of learning and changing, on many levels.   I see Várzea da Gonçla  as a place which is just beginning to take on a form. 



The time so far has been a process of evolution of understanding, as well as of knowledge, and the process continues to be closer to an ecological succession than a planned or designed project.   


The connection to the nature is a slow steady process, it isn't something you get from a meditation retreat or an ayhuasca ceremony, it starts with things that you DO.  I'm certainly not saying these things are bad, only that if you are not doing things, you are not truly connecting. Or interacting.

Human life is by nature a creative learning process, and this represents flow and movement.  Without this, life easily stagnates, and things that stop degenerate.  This is true for whatever a person does.



I woke this morning to a bright flash as I looked up at the centre-hole in my yurt, went outside to a beautiful pre-dawn sky, yellow full moon just setting, Orion rising in the east, all quiet - strangeness.

All this past stuff....  All I really feel now is that THIS IS WHERE WE BEGIN!  The time so far - part of now, the present - is the accumulated sense of the place, which allows the future, which is also part of the now, to release itself.  This is a long-term project, and in 10 years' time...  this is the mysterious unknown part of the present - if we try to envisage it, it becomes this thing we call the future. which is entirely fictitious.   But if we are capable of wisdom and humility to interact constructively with nature, then things can progress well.

I was 61 this week!   A few days since the hotness which had been for a while relaxed, and it had signalled the end of a natural summer recess of pottering and watering.  Now I have started a daily routine of river-clearance - annual job, with some help from Chaym this year,   It addresses one of the 2 catastrophic threats to the land, destructive flooding. The other is, of course fire.  One for summer and one for winter.  

Many years ago, when our valley was a vibrant, living, social network, and fertile fields were cultivated along some 10km, linking with the Várzea Grande of Aljezur ("várzea" is the Portuguese word for the fertile river-plain), cleaning the river-course was one of the crucial communal tasks at the end of the summer.  Here are pics of work-in-progress...



and one section finished....



Without this work, the invasive cana (Arunda donax), the fast-growing bamboo-like plants that take over the river margins, descend each year into the river and choke it, diverting the course and ripping away the fertile topsoil.     It's happened all down the valley, as well as on our land in the years of neglect.   So that's what I'm doing mostly.   (I'll add a picture for this soon....)



Also great party night in Aljezur's old town last night - 28th August White Night - favourite was "Pouca Terra", a great local band.

(sorry this is my best photo, at least I didn't lose my camera)





Information is good, but only when it informs the awareness and understanding, and assists our honest intent to connect with the reality of world.  I knew a girl, years ago, who asked me what I meant by "reality". Maybe a fair question, it certainly got me thinking.  It's connection. To the living world which energises us.

We are born with it, it's what remains when we die. 

Between these events it's our guide, and in our present world it's pretty-well submerged by mental STUFF, things people are given to think are important.   

Television, conspiracies, brexit, blah,  In the words of TV Smith, of my favourite '77 punk band, The Adverts, "If there's life on earth, and it still thinks, better head for the hills and wait for daylight!"   Francesca; wonder if she found her reality.

Apologies for over-rambling,,  Soon, we hope, rain, and planting trees again!!!

PS  A warm welcome to my first ever Blog viewings from China...

PPS  I've hopefully made it easier to give feedback now, so please feel free to comment, hackle, or say whatever you feel....  thanks.





















Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Summertime '16

Summer-time. A whole different feel and routine.  It's 30 degrees every day, the river is dry along most of our boundary, so we take siesta-time walks up the riverside path under the trees, to the "nibble-fish pool"  - here are Megan and Jaya boating on the surf-board....



...work becomes water-orientated too, and I have been having fun making new schemes for using our river-pipe supply.  Here is one of my spray-tubes in action...



... we raked the last grass-cut into 2 long lines (about 50m long), then I laid a tube along the top, and drilled it with a 1mm drill-bit to perforate. Then pump water back from our pond - for about 10 minutes every 2 days.
The result:  A rotting-straw fire-break, a compost-oasis, and a planting zone along the edges, especially for the autumn.





Summer is the quietest time, time to take time-out, enjoy siestas. We are just coming into the season of fruit-drying - first, tomatoes, soon pears from the wild trees. Later, figs,  plums, apples and late peaches.  A project for the next month is to make a warm-air dryer, for the early autumn when rain can prevent drying of the late figs and fruit - more on that next time...

Meanwhile, last Sunday, 17th July, was Várzea Open Day - our first for 2 years in fact - and it was a fun, chilled-out family-orientated day, lots of kids' stuff, games, trampolining, tours of the land and garden, great music-jamming all day, top food and cakes, and more cakes, and an evening after party, Here's some idea...


What is the Várzea about?  We get a steady stream of e-mailers, visitors..., "We are looking for a small piece of land, etc",  "We would like to come and see a thriving eco-community" (Well, ok, but Várzea da Gonçala is not a community. At this point we are 2 families and 2 helpers, without external income other than what we make from the place itself).

Practical people, vegans, permaculturalists, travelling-in-hope'ers - anyway, there are many people, individuals and families, who basically want to make a life-choice to get a piece of land and live off it, with it,  Most are interesting, intelligent people, often from successful careers. Some are well-grounded, some are dreamers.

I don't want to put anybody off, I always liked the Alanis Morissette lyric "I recommend biting off more than you can chew to anyone!".

But it's not Shangri-la, and it's not easy.  The people who lived from their land in the past had a huge amount of handed-down wisdom and knowledge, they had many neighbours to exchange food, expertise and energy with. They knew the ways of water, with great efficiency, and the ways of the seasons.  They lived, by modern standards, incredibly simply, with minimal energy needs.   And life was not so monetarily or otherwise controlled in the past - there were fewer impediments.

What you need?  You need plenty of start-up money, and you have to love what you are doing - you need to have energy in abundance, and enjoy every day's work in the spirit of forging a lifelong connection with your home, your land, This labour has to be sustaining to your spirit, not a drain on it.



Why am I writing this now?  Mostly because of the way I feel part of  this place. I spent 3 hours this morning and evening giving the first summer water to a hundred or two seedling oaks on our kilometer-or-so of hand-dug swales - and it was a totally uplifting experience to see the infant beginning of re-afforestation, which will take about another 5 years (more acorns in every autumn) before anything is really visible. In the meantime, I seed grasses and legumes each autumn on the swales, cut, in spring (very selectively).  They don't have their mothers, you see, so they need protection, nurturing and, yes, love.. Think that's hippy? Think again. It's integral to life.

Ok, enough said: money, energy, love.... here's a pic of some of our neighbour - accross-the-river - Dan's, Victor Schouberger-inspired river-rock shapes.... (the river's getting pretty little now)


It really does work, at drawing the water's flow to the centre of the river, creating a barrelling vertical flow, deepening the centre, instead of horizontal eddying eroding the banks. And riverside trees, with their roots, are nature's practical appliers of the technique.

To end this edition, a farewell toast to Andy, who has been such a calm and positive presence here for the last 4 months, giving care, understanding and feedback ideas to all the practical help he has given. He has a contract to look after a small-holding near Granada for the rest of the summer, though I'm sure we shall see him again...


Enjoy the summer, and keep dreaming......!


Sunday, May 29, 2016

Rain, fun, communication....

Great rain!  We had about 120mm in the second week of May, which is perfect timing for the land, filling up the soil with moisture just before the anticipated summer dry months of June, July and August, during which we can pretty-much rely on as being entirely without rain, with autumn rain usually coming again in mid or late September.  Here is a photo, courtesy of my brother John on his visit, from last week....



Rain means a lot of things. We can see it as a communication between the atmosphere and the land, or as the life-giver, presenting oxygenated water to plants, animals, fungi and bacteria,  To me it is always a joy. .Especially in May.


What are we doing here at Várzea da Gonçala at this time of the year?


The garden is in full action - lots of planting and seeding of spring-summer vegetables.

Pumpkins, squashes, beans, tomatoes (the best, and lots of funky varieties this year), sweet potatoes, peppers, to name a few.  All Chaym's work...


I have also been putting in perennial tree-cabbages, pumpkins, beans, and sunflowers by the irrigation channels of the food-forest.

Chaym has a great diversity of mixed beds, perennials, flood-irrigated beds (from our river-tube) and drip-irrigation.    And trees in the garden too!




Spring cutting is my biggest job - this is to mulch and protect the ground (one day the trees will take care of this,, as well as much of the fire-risk), followed by raking for fire-breaks,

But there are other ways, and this time around I am getting pretty out-of-sorts with the whole spring-cut thing,  We need grazers, and at this stage of the young trees, birds are the only reasonable option. Turkeys, turkeys, turkeys - and geese, and turkeys....

Turkeys are not aggressive like geese, so children-friendly, and very omniverous - there is not much they don't eat, in fact, from keeping down winter and spring vegetation in return for manure and eggs, to parasitic grubs and eggs in fallen fruit. Even acorns.  And turkey meat is very good.  To start things off, I recently got 2 turkeys from the market, Esmerelda and Jojo by name.....

 ...and if plans go to plan, they will be the ancestors of a couple of dozen by the autumn, free-ranging with a secure roost.  Maybe next year fifty or so,  A whole new thing.

I mentioned this to our guest at the moment Danny, and he told me of a documentary "my life as a turkey", of a man who spent 18 months in Florida nature with "his" family of wild turkeys, not encountering another human for the whole time.  It's the best documentary I've ever watched, absolutely brilliant - please give yourself a favour...  documentarystorm.com/my-life-as-a-turkey


Other stuff...    setting up the irrigation for all the new trees, making a new palm-frond roof for the tree-house. And soon I shall start making a nice big solar warm-air dryer.


Our small group here all have our roles, which makes for a happy camaraderie.

Chaym is the garden magician, Petra does seeding, transplanting and animal care, Kris looks after the houses, Jim (picutre, right) is now making great wooden tables, for outside the guest houses,...

Tracy tending around the houses, and I do more the big-picture stuff.

Oh, and we are mums and dads too!




We have also had the pleasure of having Andy volunteering, having attended both spring courses, PDC and Gardening, and stayed on since.  A great motivated easy-going positive presence...




Not to leave out the geese, who had just one gosling hatched, Beaky the dad being a protective force not to be messed with. Here is the new arrival (centre) getting pretty big already...




As always, what makes any system fnction well is the right communication, the everyday interaction of participants. People of course, but also between us and the natural systems we are working with.

Communication.is another one of those words that mean more, the more you go into them.... It's what nature is doing all the time, within you and without you, as John Lennon put it.  All life is in constant communication, though we rarely even imagine it.  Here is a great quote from anthropologist Richard Nelson's study of the Koyukon Indians of Alaska....

"Koyukon people live in a world that watches, in a forest of eyes. A person moving through nature - however wild or remote the place may be - is never truly alone. The surroundings are aware, sensate, personified. They feel. They can be offended. And they must, at every moment, be treated with the proper respect."

Intelligence is everywhere in all nature, we are participants in a totally connected network. and the natural world judges the quality of our participation.  We have, as humans, fantastic unrealised potential, which maybe can start being manifested when, instead of being aloof from the rest of the natural world, we fully respect it's incredible complexity, and it's wisdom.

xxx from Várzea..




Thursday, April 28, 2016

Nature in full flow....

Greetings from an April-showery, green and flowery west Algarve.

A full-on spring.  The transition towards the summer is just beginning, rain is pretty sparse but continuing still in bits and pieces, the whole landscape is lush and green, flowers starting to come out everywhere, and bird-life sounds ever-present, loud, and vibrant, and at night-time I fall asleep in my yurt to the sound of nightingales.  Life is highly expressive in spring, and I don't think it's my imagination, that this time round, it's extra-extra.  Here is a nice contrast in the views from the doorway of my yurt, first when we put it up last summer....


.... to this week...


This spring we have run two great courses, and a very positive and harmonious atmosphere is present here at Várzea da Gonçala.  In the middle of March, our (11th) Permaculture Design Course was full, with 20 students, and similarly with our April Food-forest and Ecological Gardening course, full with the maximum 10 students - 5 of these attended both, making a neat numerical symmetry.  Here is the group photo from the Gardening / Food-forest course...


... and here is one from the pizza-night of the PDC, being entertained here by the beautiful Welsh voice of Louren...

The most uplifting thing of hosting these courses is the people who not only attended but participated in the place, in diverse ways, for the whole duration, giving their positive energy to the Várzea project. All, without exception, aware, open, enthusiastic people, from many different backgrounds and life-experiences, and a whole range of ages,

A common philosophy which united most of them was the desire to exit the mental slavery of mainstream society and seeing it's transparently false ethos. And a big part of the goal is clearly self-empowerment, gained by understanding the ways of natural processes, and how to apply this understanding.

As well as having this creative input from our courses, it is also marvelous to have, in our end of this little valley, a diverse collection of free-thinking, positive (I like that word, you may notice) creative people, from permaculturists to antropologist, knowledgeable gardeners to psychiatrist and martial-art teacher as well as radical-thinking "loonies".

For me and daughter Megan, it has been great having my brother John here for 12 days, and it's good to be able to offer him, as with others coming from a more regimented life-style, different outlooks, in a place to chill out and appreciate a more natural pace and pattern of life.  He's a globetrotting author these days, and his book "From the Dry Bone to the Living Man", a biography of A.T. Still, founder of Osteopathy, is hitting a sensitive nerve in the world of over-prescribing reductionist medicine. Interesting parallels here to big-agriculture vs. permaculture.  He just about makes the picture....




The time of planting and digging is still in full swing in the veg garden, but for the rest of the land, the focus moves to irrigation and cutting, preparations for the 3 or 4 months of total dry.  The usual complete absence of rain from May to mid-September or so is a feature which gives a big challenge to the re-establishment of a tree-based agriculture.  


First priority, to give good care to the 65 little chestnut seedlings, grown in pots from seed and planted out in the last few weeks.  Chestnuts, more than any tree, need shade in their seedling stage, so I have been planting in the shade of lupins, which now have climbing beans to grow up them in summer as surrogate mother-trees. Here's one of the many -see if you can spot it! (summer beans still to sprout)...




I still see this as very-much early days in the Várzea project, and the overall appearance of the place is still not too different to what it was about 5 years ago, but the trees are gradually accelerating in their growth and underground connections, and in another 5 years the changes should be very apparent.  Not just visually, but the feel of the place and the energy of its nature.


Finally, we have a new tipi, this time a "sympatico" shade of light brown, or is it beige?  Anyway, this courtesy of the home-school group who still come to the Várzea twice a week, and this is their teaching space and focus - also for us to use when they are not...


Enjoy the spring!


Saturday, March 5, 2016

Time

We have said goodbye to the merrie month of February again - a fine month indeed, everything green as can be, light increasing, warm sun, planting trees time, pruning, seeing the life gearing up to the spring energy before the summer sleep. (apologies to those in more northern climes, I really don't mean to rub it in, as February can be pretty grim up north, as my brother in Snowdonia does remind me of wetnesses beyond the dreams of our geese....)

Funny, everything seems in hand this year so far - things moving along in time, all booked up for the March PDC (permaculturedesigncourse) and just a couple of spaces left for the April gardening and food-forest course. And my big two-yearly cut of all the cleared hillsides finished.....(I'll replace this photo today when I take a better one)



.... cutting early this time, mid-winter instead of spring, to let the cut material have time to partially break down before the summer, so minimising a fire, should one come.  Also allows the grasses to grow and seed before summer. Cutting is accompanied by planting, and planting here on the clay hillsides, sun-baked for 4 summer months with no rain, requires swales to allow a protected microclimate.  Then plantings on the swales. Stop me if you've heard this one before...!

Look what Jim's done to the outside-kitchen space....

Here' "another green picture" (my brother's been telling me there are too many green pictures on the blog), which doesn't look like anything logical if I don't point things out, but this is the "badlands" which are getting properly un-badded these last couple of years - they used to be semi-desert, since many years ago a series of floods stripped the top-soil away.

Positive feedback of human intervention has created new soil, which initiates a virtuous cycle of building fertility. People often tend to underestimate nature's creative and regenerative power, especially when guided with action based on.understanding. And of course, trees!

 Many more trees this year, and more variety too.    I'm no longer surprised how each year I can't understand my ignorance of the previous year.  This has been going on for many years now, so that I have little doubt I shall have the same thoughts in another year's time.  Learning, the opening of the mind, is a many-wonderful thing, and without doubt I have learned more in the nine years I have lived here than in the rest of my adult life. More useful stuff anyway.

The work we have done here in the last 9 years is a little dot, a tiny capsule of regeneration, We don't have much in the way of resources at our disposal, but it is something at least.  My friend Esther just today sent me a link the this project, http://www.institutoterra.org, in Brazil, which is wonderful to see, and great to see the vision connecting to the surrounding area and drought-stricken family land-owners...  It's humbling and inspiring - take a look, if you've time.


(I just found this pic, and feel the need to share it.... Hi Katie!....)

Why is this Blog entitled "Time"?    Recently was announced the detection of Einstein's 100-years-ago- predicted Gravity Waves.  The final untested prediction of Albert's general relativity. He said they would never be detected, because we would never make anything sensitive enough to be able to detect them. Well, he was wrong about that, and they found the waves. I'm no science-freak, and really dislike the mentality that it holds all the answers, but it has its awesome achievements, and this is one.
A century ago, and he somehow connected to the pattern of the universe, to predict the existence of something so esoteric in the make-up of the fabric of reality.     Einstein was a wise man, not corresponding to the usual image of the cold, arrogant image of scientists.   It is revealing how he referred to his creative years as the time he was in touch with "the old one" and how in later years he felt he had lost this connection.

Time, connection...      It's an observation, that when I talk about planting acorns, or even trees in general, for example walnut trees, which will not bear fruit for about 10 years, people get sort-of detached.     I don't know, somewhere most people are not prepared to go...    Is it a symptom of detachment?  In nature, connectedness means the future is intimately linked to the present. I have a contention that nature inhabits the whole of timescape, just as we inhabit the landscape. The future is not a disconnected "maybe" as we see it as we cling on to our immediate or short-term concerns, but part of it's reality.  I am not saying that nature knows what is going to be, but that it is part of the pattern of the timescape, and that its awareness inhabits the future, as it does the past and present.
Here is our little river, the Cerca, this week....


... it's a metaphor..  As for us, if we refuse to look past our noses in this timescape, we are as if in a fog where we can expect to fall off the next cliff.


... I do know lemmings don't really do running over cliffs on purpose...  But, we all know that the future will come to pass. We know, that whether we like it or not, at least, in all probability, we will be around in 5, 10, 20, 40 years' time (ok, I guess I'm an optimist, but in 40 years I hope to be celebrating my 100th), and yet most people I know still think it's a bit weird to plant a tree which you won't really be able to notice for 5 or 10 years.  I do try to point out that time actually passes, things actually come to pass, and 10-years'-time now will actually be the present, in 10 years.  Here is a nice Einstein quote: "There is a way of thinking about reality, in which the distinction between past, present and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion".



We have had the pleasure of having Matt and Anna and son Oren here for the last month, and I must show Matt's home-made crucible and home-made bellows, in which he made his own bronze forgings out of nothing but a small hole in the ground, lined with clay and filled with charcoal (also home-made), with his own mix of copper and a little tin.containing metal he could find.






First make a shape in wax, then surround with soft clay, dry the clay then melt out the wax, then fill the cavity with the melted metal and let cool!





 Just for fun, and a wonder to us and the children...



Fun.  That is what nature has all the time. Life is fun: it is deep inside and notseparate from what is serious.

Another theme:  Nature is neither competitive or altruistic, it simply does what works. Both involve connection and mutual balance, and participation in the dance of life, the dance of energy. Fun.

Até Jà!