Saturday, May 26, 2012

Walking on Water

Bom Dia. For those of you who have been following our blog over the last 5 years, you'll know the adventures we've had here at Vale de Moses and the times where we've needed more than a mustard seed of faith. Through all the restoration work to the houses and re-cultivation of the land, we've always known that one day people would come to this valley to find rest here.  But we never imagined they would also be able to walk on water.

We've just finished our 4th Yoga Retreat of the season, and it's a wonderful thing to watch how our guests relax and open their bodies and their spirits through the course of the week. Even their faces change. They soften.

Yesterday we all went for a wee trip down to the River Zêzere, for a mud bake and swim in isolated paradise. It is one of my favourite places on earth. The feeling of swimming out to the middle of the warm river, with not another soul for miles, floating on your back, admiring the Herons and Kites and Eagles as they circle overhead eyeing their next fish meal swimming beneath them. It's an experience I treasure.

And to top it off, thanks to a Portuguese artist, João D Filipe who was born in our village of Amieira, I now know that the River Zêzere is also the purist river in Portugal, as it runs to Lisbon for its drinking water.

The mud bake thing is a ritual too in its own way. We discovered the therapeutic and cleansing effects of mud baking in 2007 while wild camping in the Abruzzo mountins in Italy. And have since taken any given opportunity to smother ourselves in river mud and bake hard in the sun. Just as floating in pure flowing water of a river or the sea connects you to all the waters on our planet, so in some way smothering yourself in mud connects you to all the earth too.

We love it and it's a real joy to be able to share the experience now with others.

We have a week off until our next guests arrive first week of June for our "Rainbows on your Eyelashes" retreat. You'll be pleased to hear that we managed to get that big list of projects done in our last week off. Patio in the courtyard now has a red limecrete and stone, easy to clean floor. The chicken shed (more like palace) is finally ready for layers to move in. The kids have metres of new wooden bookshelves in their rooms. The farmhouse roofs have their boarded trim to protect the wooden structure underneath and the saloon doors are hanging cutely in the library so Moses and Saphira can sleep in the hall. Next week I'll be making and hanging kitchen and bathroom cupboard doors, and an outside fox-proof (here's hoping) fence for the chicken run.

The work never stops. But neither does the water flowing in the river. Nor the thanks for the life we have here in the forests of Portugal.

May you all get to walk on water this week.



Monday, May 14, 2012

Good Bye Mac Dada, by River

It is the end of spring and the fires have been packed away for the year.   The air is thick with warmth and moisture; the moisture will remain for a few more short weeks before the ravages of summer arrive.  The day is unusually clouded.  The clouds, friendly and plump in character confirm the muted enclosure of the landscape.  On days like these everything is quiet, even the little translucent moths are less hurried than usual.  The dreamy charm of the landscape is enhanced, by the beginning of the roses unfurling.  The old roses have begun to tumble over the mossed stone walls, their thin thorny stems heavy with bloom.  This short and spectacular display I have waited for all year will be over soon but for now we are enclosed in a world of petals shocking pink, or bright garish lipstick red, or purest snow, white.  The new roses of apricot and cream planted to surround the kitchen garden are just swelling in bud and I will see them for the first time this year.   The smell of roses drifts through every window, lifted as it were from the opening petals by the humidity and heat.  I find myself doing any job that allows me to see them and smell them.  It is almost impossible to step away from their frivolous decadent generosity so delicate in this, timeworn part of the world. 

The day is almost tropical in quality and recalls a garden I grew up in.  A garden of mango trees that towered over my head the fruit tantalizingly out of reach, and banana groves, of bougainvillea falling over walls all the colours of the rainbow echoed in their soft tissue like bracts.  In my imagination I can see a man walking and watering and weeding and preening and primping over his plants.  I can almost smell him warm and salted from the tropical heat.  I can see his face creased with concentration determined to grow fine roses in spite of the inappropriate climate.  Sitting here it is amusing to think he tried to grow roses in his bountiful garden when bougainvillea grew like a weed.  Here I am thinking of how to grow a little bougainvillea in this temperate climate when roses grow like weeds.  It is always the same with us gardeners, the desire to grow the impossible because a plant reminds us of someone or a scene or a memory, or is just so beautiful that our desire is ignited and we just have to have it. 

I remember him waking and stretching in the morning, before donning his filthy old work clothes, sharpening his knife on an old belt head bowed and face in deep concentration not even his breadth could be heard.  He never went out before greeting his pack of dogs, gathering his tools and stepping out into his landscape to fulfill his ever growing desire for heaven on earth.  He demanded that I read my dictionary and anytime he came into a room I found myself sitting bolt upright, immediately wanting to look, well, occupied.  Laziness was not to be tolerated, and yet, he never moved quickly, he never spoke quickly, he didn’t even blink quickly.  He was powerful and a little scary, but I can find no memory of him raising his voice to me.  When or rather if the day’s work was completed successfully and his light shone on you, you wanted to stay in it forever.  To me he was a typical gardener where his every mood was so linked to the successful growth of his plants.  This man was my Grandfather, who I liked to call Mac Dada.  He was one of my first gardening teachers and yet he never said a word to me of plants, other than, “Go eat the cherries or go pick some mangos” always words to encourage a taste filled relationship so to speak.  I watched him, working tirelessly on his land, sweating profusely with the effort to assist nature and to see emerging from the soil some seed that had first formed in his imagination.  To my eyes, it seemed that some great symphony occurred between him and the soil, his subtle refined breathing, music to the plant matter that eagerly rose from the ground just to please him.  What he did with that landscape over his lifetime could only be said to be miraculous, and yet not many people will ever see his garden or what his human hands made of that place.  Perhaps this is the way that the greatest gardeners are, hidden and secret.

My grandfather died today.  I am very far away from that garden and sad that I never got to see him for one last time or talk with him about my growing obsession with plants.  As I sit here at the computer with my dogs curled at my feet and the fine old roses falling over the walls I know that I owe a great deal of my life to the time that I lived with him in the West Indies.  Goodbye Dada, you were a wonderful gardener, I watched you turn a barren hard piece of land into a virtual paradise through tireless effort.  I hope to be as dedicated a gardener as you were.  Today each petal of the roses that hits the ground will be a prayer for you, I hope that wherever you are now there is a garden without weeds or little things that bite, where all is crystal clear and growing on a wish and a breadth.

Today also another garden is being left behind.  Andy’s Mum and Dad will be leaving their beautiful London garden, a paradise of dedication of nearly half a century.  It was in this Dulwich garden that I first bowed down and gazed up into the cheeky face of my very first daffodil.  It is so very hard to leave one’s garden behind, but then all life moves on to new gardens and new planting opportunities.

And all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.  When the tongues of flame are in-folded.  Into the crowned knot of fire. And the fire and the rose are one.”   T.S. Eliot

Boa Viagem