Saturday, January 30, 2010

Return to Trace

Hey guys just a really quick one this morning.  Will try upload more details of what I am up to.  But just to say I am really well.  Gardening, gardening, gardening.  Actually digging holes, land looks like a rather large mole has been through it.  Craters appearing everywhere ready for the new moon planting season in Feb.

Best thing has been finding Tracy Chapman again.  Lost her for a few years but now she is back in my life and all seems so much sweeter when she is singing.  If you fancy an album to pull at the heart strings and leave you in complete acceptance of what is but a determination to do your best at living check out her album, Tracy Chapman, "New Beginning".  Its beautiful man, listen and fall in love.

Peace love and all good things to all,

River xxx

P.S. Our friend Charlie and Hannah have their next blog up. Some great advice on how not to and how to pick olives for the best tasting olive oil...

The olive oil barons

If a little knowledge is a dangerous thing, then Charlie Skelton is the deadliest olive farmer in Portugal

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Back on Line by River

After Christmas, we lost a few comforts...

First we lost the use of our little lounge.  A stream opened up in the lounge which meant that our wet floor was only safe for wellie boots, rain coats and salamanders.  Our house is tiny.  Memphis and I don’t even have our own room.  And yes, for all of those of you wondering, that is a little inconvenient.  Some things which ought to be spontaneous have to be scheduled, actually that does have its rewards...  But I digress.  Lack of use of the lounge meant that everything; two futon mattresses, several rugs, hoards of cushions and alot of firewood had to be moved upstairs to our already small sleeping area.  Moses got two new cushions for his bit of the floor, he is well chuffed.   Memphis and I have had the single futon on the end of our bed.  We now sleep with the weight of it pressing down on our front ankles at night (good stretching).  Effie Starlight and Falcon Bear promptly took the new cushion arrangement and lack of lounge as a sign that all family matters were now to occur on Mummy and Daddy’s bed.  Napping, reading, interneting, playing cards, and yes, eating. This is normally sacrilegious, absolutely categorically no nibbling children on the bed.  Yet for two weeks now, there they have been.

Secondly we lost the use of water. Our pipes are a serious nightmare to dig in.  Memphis and Filipe did a great job where they could, but for quite alot of the 300 metres from the bore hole to the house, the pipes are sitting on hard bedrock.  So at some point we may have to bite the bullet and hire a man with a large obnoxious sounding tool to dig them in.   You can’t seem to hire a tool without a man in these parts, but I like that it’s more, human.   However, until the pipes are dug in we have to tolerate a bit of frozen pipes now and again.  The only flowing water through the house is the little stream in the lounge, great for Moses, not so great for us.  And it was surprisingly sweet and tender for Memphis and I as we had to go down to the river to fetch water to boil for drinking.  We set up little buckets for the children to wash.   And with that job done we concentrated on simply keeping the house warm and relatively dry.  The whole time we were doing this we felt like Mama and Papa birds our only concern keeping the little chicks warm and dry, watered and fed and yes, entertained.  They won’t be little chicks for much longer; neither will they think our bed is the best place in the world to be.  I know I will miss that, I can already see the shift happening in my Joshie.  It’s don’t blink time.

Thirdly we lost the use of the internet and our telephone, due to some falling tree in forest breaking line action.  Not such a bad thing you might think.  But where we are its not so good.  The internet has been a real blessing to us, more so than when we lived in London.  We have been able to keep up with friends, and find out what is happening in the world.  It has been really wonderful watching the children maintain their relationships with friends and family even more so than when we lived in London.  Interesting, more connection over more distance.  So the loss of the internet and phone, equalled Winters six together.  It also meant having to take a 15 minute walk through the hills in the snow (loss of car) to give someone a message.  It was well cool to take the time to spend 45min to give a message which on the phone would normally take 3.  Loved it.

Fourthly we lost our electricity.  Basically it was going on and off so much that we decided forget it.  Not normally a big loss for me, since I am not a big fan of the stuff and enjoy being cut off from it.  Childhood in the tropics.  Further it seems right to be awake outside when it’s light and asleep when it’s dark.  But for a few nights, a bumble around in the dark, dredging up candles was called for and suddenly our little bunker was turned into a dolls house size cathedral.

Fifth I lost my wellie boots, slate and thin rubber equals big hole.  My wellie boots are a major loss they mean 1. I have to stay inside since it has been so wet (monsoon wet) but cold.  Walking the land in any other shoe is impossible and I just don't do slate barefoot, not that tough yet.  2. It means being inside virtually all the time and that is just unheard of in my life.  3.  It means being INSIDE I tell you and if indoors for too long I start to pace, internally and before long verbally and after that physically, bad bad news.  Yet, surprisingly there have been rewards.  Being indoors meant several days thinking of planning the work in the landscape without the disturbance of seeing it.  It meant seeing it in my mind’s eye and drawing it, writing it, listing it, planning.  It also meant that as soon as the rain stopped yesterday I went out and paced out over one third of the land and put in my stakes where trees and shrubs will be going next month.  It was great, every idea or thought that I’d had, looks like it might actually work out in the physical space and I don’t know that would have happened if I had been trying to clarify my thoughts outside as I usually do.

Often I have heard people talking about basic living like it is something to run away from, run to sophistication and everything at the touch of a button.  Over the years I became more and more unsure of this.  When we came here our time in the motorhome was fairly basic.  Yet we managed to find space for Michelle when she needed to kip.  Our home is tiny yet we seemed able to do without a room with no real suffering and with more opportunities for intimacy.  Loss of phone and internet meant more time talking about things together and strangely more time talking about the people we love and feeling close to them.  Things I would never say normally have been said and heard by my children and Memphis.

I just realised that it has been two weeks since I left the land.  I had opportunity to go with Memphis this afternoon but have decided to stay here instead.  I am back on line I guess and the time away has given me some things to think about.  But two weeks, I never even noticed the time fly.

This morning I went up to the houses and looked at them, these two small by most people’s standards, but too us now huge houses.  Separate bedrooms!   Yes that would be more convenient.  But I won’t be able to wake up and hear Joshy's deep breathing and Ellie's little chats with her friends in her sleep.  Ellie tells me she likes it when she gets up before us and sees Memphis and I sleeping, now that is something that only this house and this experience could give us.  There will be no river running through the house for Moses to drink from.  There won’t be all of us together in the same space doing our own things.  I started to feel sad.  I know the houses will be good, we hope to get older and might not be so up to the present shenanigans of our adventure.

Those houses have always felt like my home and I am looking forward to experiencing them but I know something that this little house is giving us will be a story in the past. I really hope we never forget or ignore this most precious present.  We still have things in a garage in Oleiros and I am sure it will be like Christmas day unwrapping our things, but I can’t really remember what they are and am not sure we need any of those things now.  I spoke to my Mum today and it was such a joy to talk to her and be Vonnie the daughter again. Some things are so worth the connection into the industrial complex.

The car is working again, the roads are clear, internet and phones are connected (thanks electric man i know it is miserable and wet) the electricity is unfaltering, the rain has just stopped and hark, I can’t hear the stream trickling through the lounge.  Soon the weather will truly brighten and we will be back to building.  But now that we are back on line I find myself asking what is it that we need?

It is surprising this completeness, I was afraid to make this jump and sometimes it is still frightening to not see another soul for days on end.  I thought when we begun that there would be more hardship and suffering.  More loneliness and isolation.  Yes there have been some tough days and even today when I found myself hauling the heavy compost bins out I did wonder “indoor, water toilets”...but no, my trees need this good stuff.  No water toilets and no TV, those two we definitely don’t need.  Speaking of TV, I watched a show of a TV series called "No Going Back", and thought the name meant people who sold it all and couldn’t go back no matter even if they wanted too.   But sitting on this side of the show I now think it meant no going back because they didn’t want to, the adventure is just, worth it.

Simple living has its rewards.  Slowed down time to do your life and to love your loves.  Are these our higher needs or our basic ones?  I can’t remember, an LSE education down the water toilet I guess,  but there is one thing I do now know through experience, this basic life gives a great deal.   One day we will plant trees where those stakes are.  Will they grow well?  I don’t know but I sure hope so.  Will we grow well here? I reckon so because there really is no going back to the life we once lived, no matter how good it was and sometimes it was very nice, but I’ll take this any day.  Our life has been pared down to the elements that please us the most, fire water earth, stone, food, air, work, rest, music, a few people, love and of course, goes without saying really, plants.

Perhaps all the times of human beings are uncertain.  But these are uncertain times, many of us feel the threat of a faceless predator, or perhaps as the Matrix best put it, the threat of the 'machine', detached from the human conscience and the public guidance of protest and tolerance.  These are not the times to dither, if there is something you really feel will enrich your life and the lives of those you love, do it.   Sometimes you will lose but when you win at it, the feeling is as our American friends say, awesome and it sure beats the hell out of dithering.

I think I will now go and try to set us up a lounge for the evening.  I now know we don’t need it but it would still be nice.  And if the little stream through the lounge comes back?  Well, there is always the bed (and the little one said...), roll over.



Friday, January 15, 2010

Walking in a Winter Wonderland

Ain’t it magical eh? Bitingly cold, and at times most inconvenient with its inevitable accompaniment of frozen pipes, true, but above all, snow just can’t fail to transform even the loveliest of landscapes into a world richly enchanted.  The silvery green leaves of the olive trees are sprinkled with a heavenly icing sugar. The pines in the forest are all lined with the whitest of glistening light along their branches as if an artist sneaked in unnoticed and lovingly brush stroked them into the scene. 

There've been some crazy wild ice structures like Superman's hideout in miniature, growing vertically up from the mounds of clay around the place (if you know what these are or how they're formed please add a comment).  And the stones stacked in the terrace walls and littering the hillside and paths, more accustomed to the baking heat of the Portuguese summer sun, appear not so much surprised (they’ve seen it all before of course), as resigned to their requisite attire of snowy hats and icy beards.

Kids have had their obligatory snowball fight this morning. Moses has been galloping and frolicking with glee, almost exactly like he was a March Hare on speed. Vonnie has wandered the land dreaming and planning and intoxicating herself just by being in the very midst of it all. I’ve been chopping firewood and filling containers of water from the river, that’s thankfully still gushing vehemently at the bottom of the land. Water pipes from the bore hole froze up yesterday, so we’ve had no running water.  Now we have enough to drink, to cook with and to bathe in (after being boiled on top of the wood burning stove of course) for today at least and are hoping for a bit of a thaw tomorrow. Já está. Agora não é um problema.  Agua é vida. Tem ser feito assim!

Right this second we have all retreated inside the small Xisto stone cottage where we live. A small open-plan type cottage, on 3 levels, made by a double layer of mezzanines. Kids’ sleeping lofts on the top floor one at each gable end, our bedroom on the middle floor shared with a bookcase and bench on a wooden walkway that surrounds an open hole where you can peer into the kitchen and lounge on the floor below. It’s cosy. Makes me think of families of sleeping hedgehogs and bears snuggled together in warm dry dens with waxy butt plugs.

It’s hibernation season of course. We’re all bunkered down, Vonnie and I, the kids, Moses the retriever and Angel the cat, as we have been so often since the first cold snap in December. A tree fell in the forest yesterday and snapped our phone line so we have no internet either. Yet we are content, warming ourselves by the heat of the wood burning stove, listening to cool vibes and entertaining ourselves, reading novels, getting lost in Monty Don’s gardening books, cooking, writing, and sleeping (Angel and Moses), each in our own spaces, yet fully together in the bosom of this family.  

Sweet, sweet Sunday.

Back to work tomorrow (up at our other houses in the picture above.) Maybe next weekend I’ll write a bit about how school is going for me and the kids (all good) and River will update you on what’s happening inside that amazing head of hers.

Enjoy the weather wherever you are.


Friday, January 8, 2010

Great first Guardian blog by our neighbours

A good year for the olives

Charlie Skelton moved to Portugal to live quietly and eat custard tarts. Then he realised he'd bought an olive farm ...

We are very very proud of them. But if you were in any doubt that people are struggling over there in the UK and elsewhere, check out the unbelievably spiteful nastiness of some people's comments. This kind of move touches some pretty deep nerves out there.

New post from us soon. Needless to say we're back at the stone walls. Ice nor rain could keep us off them. Peace and Happy New Year to you all.

Memphis and River.