Friday, January 24, 2020

Twenty-Twenty Vision.

A new year, a new decade. And not without real significance - there has been a falling-into-place of people arriving at Várzea da Gonçala over the last months, as well as events unfolding here, which have kicked twenty-twenty off on a great high. A TOP year anticipated. 

Starting on the 5th January, we had a big gathering of neighbours here for the first communal working day of 2020 - this has become a local institution since the end of last summer, and it was the Várzea's turn to host this one.  I named it "large mammal day" and involved about 15 of us some-larger-than-others mammals stomping through the mostly dead and dying pioneer scrub under the re-generating woodland on the north-facing slope here.

The object being to put next to the ground to rot the otherwise flammable material, which can't collapse down on its own due to bushes etc in the way.  Now it can nourish and cover the soil.  Fun was had....

...with food and beers and table-tennis after.  

We used to have these working days a few years ago.  Now, after the water crisis we were facing at the end of last summer, we got together to address what we could do to generally improve the land in our locality, and this was a positive response.   

I need to introduce the line-up of people for 2020 here at Várzea...

Arrived in the beginning of autumn, Mariano from Terra del Fuego, Argentina and partner Zarala, from Spain, for the long-term, and just a few days before new year, Zarala gave birth to little Leo.  

Then, also in December, out of the blue yonder came Eduardo and Natalie, in their large camper-bus, joining the place as if it was their natural home, with energy and great, giving, natures. 

Damon, an old friend and regular from past years, arrived in November.  Pavel, Indian by origin, a friend of Damon, always full of good cheer and willingness, came about the same time, and looks set for a good while!      This is Natalie...

Then there are the  regulars here...           Ben, currently renovating our top-house, having played such a big part in the total re-construction of one of the guest-houses last year. That's him in the second photo, above....                                                                        

...And Aga, our head gardener, full of life and ideas always.   Here with wheelbarrow...                                                                                                                               Then there's myself, and Megan, now turned 12.                                         

Also, as guests, since the first days of January, we have Holger and Farnaz - with (another!) baby-on-board due in a month or so -who are also come to stay long-term, that is, at least a year - which is the longest ahead I can usually plan for in terms of people at least. Also as guests, for the rest of the winter, Nima and her 4-year-old son Mattheu.   

That's a pretty big lump of people.  Thing is, with this lot here (16 and counting...) it's getting tricky to insist that we are not a "community"! (-:

2019 was historically the driest summer ever, in terms of river and water-table level here in our valley.  Parts of the river which have never been known to stop flowing, were reduced to lonely pools.  When told of the condition, old Portuguese who used to live in these lands were incredulous that this could be the case.

It is, as most will know, not just our local issue.  But the cause is not a secret, and I am not talking about climate change either, you'll be happy to hear.  I talk about our valley, but the logic applies to everywhere.

Water that enters the earth is retained in the land by organic matter - humus - in the soil.  Soil without organic matter has little ability to hold water, and it soon drains away.  So the ability of the land in the catchment to hold the water that lands on it is dependent on the amount of organic matter in the soil throughout this area.

In earlier times - only 50 years ago in our valley - the hills for the 30km or so to the river source were covered in oak forest, which not only kept the land cool and fully abundant with every manner of life. The healthy ecosystem went hand-in-hand with soil rich in organic content. The land held it's life, and with it it's water.

In these days the people who inhabited these lands grew their crops and grazed their animals and moved the water for irrigation in ways that maintained a happy and fruitful lifestyle.  Don't buy the myth that life was hard, eaking out a living off the reluctant earth.   We know better, from the stories of the old folk who lived here only 50 or so years ago - life was comfortable, fun, rich in culture, enjoyable.  Food was plentiful, and the people knew how to live well, with social gatherings, music, singing and dancing, and plenty of the local spirit, medronho, distilled from the fermented wild fruits of the bushes of the same name.

Back to the present.... 

The vegetable garden is flourishing again.  Here are Edu (front) and Pavel, in said garden.... 
(that's "said" not "sad"(pretty happy in fact)).                                         Meanwhile I have been carrying on my steady year-on-year plantings of trees with plenty of good help from Edu and Pavel.    Another 150-odd mixture of portuguese oaks, pyrenean oaks, holm oaks (azinheiras), seed-grown cypresses, and medronho bushes (arbutus unido) on the hills, a few fruit and nut trees and some pretty bushes for near the houses - time to get more flowers and colour around the place too.  Finally, this week, 15 baby Paulownia trees - a new one for round these parts, kind-of experimental, we shall see (check it out on the web if you're interested)

Given the uncertainties of water-supply in the summers, I am intalling a large - 75 cubic metre - tank, this winter, to be filled by pumped river-water (which otherwise drains out to the Atlantic ocean), which is sufficient for one and a half months of irrigation and domestic use if called for.  A far better option than trying to suck more water out of a dry land in the summer.

I am going to wrap up on this note, with a new-decade's resolution to update the blog frequently.  No kidding!


Unknown said...

Congratulations on your inspiring project and on the beautiful people you've picked to create a loving and caring community. May 2020 be a year full of enriching experiences for everybody around. Blessing galore!

Diogo Ferraz said...

Lots of people! And what a start for the year. It's great to see people caring for Várzea and for the valley. Hope to visit soon.