Seeds

Our land – the straw-covered area – seen from a distance. It seems to have its own microclimate already . . . Photo taken in March

Green huntsman spider in the cabbage patch

 

A thoughtful conversation with a nature guide in the western Algarve – in Sagres, to be exact – went something like this:

Me – For me, this area is unbelievably beautiful, but I can understand why young people have the need or the desire to leave it to make money or satisfy their curiosity.

She – Yes, and often they are encouraged to do so. You know, I work in schools and sometimes I try to get different generations together. So I got a local woman of ninety years old to show the schoolchildren her garden. She was fit and well and she tended this beautiful garden that provided food and flowers. It was small but it was simple and perfect. And I thought, why isn’t that a worthy aim in itself? Why should that kind of life be denied to young people? Why can’t we dignify the process of making a garden, of growing food?

I’ve been writing this blog for three years now, and I’m about to stop – I’ll come to that in a minute – and while I want to stop, I’m also glad I started it, because it has helped give shape to the past three years and has given me, at least, a record of how I, and we, felt about this move, and why we did it and what it meant. Looking back, a pattern has emerged that I didn’t see at the outset. I wasn’t following a plan. It was an impulse. It was an impulse that grew out of being with my father when he died and gaining a visceral understanding that life’s strongest quality was that it was finite, that it would come to an end. This understanding, deep, sad, but also oddly freeing, was my father’s gift to me. It was a seed sown that grew quickly into a desire to sell up, to leave the big city, to leave stressful jobs and, on the basis of a short holiday in the Algarve, to move here. It didn’t make obvious sense, but I was impelled, and Husband was compelled, and it quickly became clear that it was as desirable an option for him as it was for me. A lot of people said this move was brave but it never felt like that.

The Algarve is a very beautiful and, in some areas, unspoilt place to live, especially if you manage to find somewhere quiet, like we did, but still not far – 45 minutes’ walk or about 15 minutes in Rollie, the Renault 4 – from a thriving small village. We went there on Friday night. Someone we know was playing music, keyboards and bongos, along with a drummer with the full kit, and it was a brilliant night. What is a café by day becomes a pub by night with all ages in it, and people anarchically smoking, and the woman from whom we pick up post in the junta de freguesia turning her hand to serving beer and making gin and tonics. At least, she made me a gin and tonic, while saying that she didn’t know how to make it, and that meant she made a very fine one and wasn’t mean with the gin at all. The very best part of the evening, though, was before we got there. Just a short distance outside the village, less than a kilometre, we were startled by movement beside us on the dark road. Seven wild boar, five of them humbug-striped piglets, were scrambling up the embankment to get out of our way. Nature is alive and well here, even if the hunters will be out to try to shoot them one day.

In all those years of living in the city and mostly enjoying the endless stimulation, I hadn’t realised how much I missed the natural environment. I had an undiagnosed craving for it: both physical and mental. Physically it was my lungs making the loudest complaint. Mentally: that’s a bit more complex to analyse and I don’t have the space here. A friend once said to me that all culture – the arts – was nothing but a substitute for nature, for man who has separated himself from it. She was quoting a writer I can no longer recall. It seemed a slightly outlandish idea then, but not now.

The city may be endlessly stimulating but it is also endlessly demanding: it insists that you consume, that you keep up; it forces you struggle to move through crowds, it forces you to struggle to breathe. It forces you to forget what really makes the world go round, which isn’t endless economic growth, despite what the newspapers and radio tell us. I tune into Radio 4 from time to time, and I am still dismayed at the need to report whether the UK economy has grown and by how much. According to the most recent report I heard just a couple of days ago, most of this limited growth was down to consumer spending, but that was all to the good, just so long as the confidence was kept up and the people kept spending, be it money or credit. The further away you get from this notion, the more powerfully insane it seems to be.

We have got rather far away from that. I find I want things much less than I used to; I need artificial/cultural stimulation much less, too. Having plants and animals growing all around me is stimulating. I have planted seeds and green shoots have appeared. Miraculous. I made lots of mistakes – and have many more mistakes to make, too – and one of those was planting too many seeds all at once. The profusion of shoots for which I feel responsible is rather overwhelming. Gardening advice is to thin them out. Thin them! That’s a euphemism for killing them, these tiny scraps of miraculous growth-potential.

Oh, I do have a tendency to take things too seriously.

I can see three stages, now, in our life here. The first was marked by curiosity. An abundant yellow flower with clover-like leaves coated the hills around us the first winter we lived here. I couldn’t identify it to begin with. It took me a while to pin it down as the Bermuda buttercup, Oxalis pes-caprae. Naming it was an important first stage in my life here. The fresh green cover it gave to winter land seemed such a good thing.

By the second year, I hated the plant. It was ‘a highly invasive weed’ that took over ‘disturbed land’. It was taking a hold in our garden. I spent a lot of time pulling it out by the roots. This second stage was characterised by activism. We were protesting against the plans to explore and drill for oil and gas in the seas around the Algarve and on the land. Learning that these contracts were in place was a terrible shock and we were determined to do all we could to stop them.

By the third year, I started to see the Bermuda buttercup in a different light. It was a pioneer. It came to disturbed land to clothe it fast; Nature hates bare soil. The oxalis came to sink roots and stabilise and nourish the exposed earth. The bare track made across our land by the builders of our swimming pool became covered with the yellow flower, and I looked upon it favourably. When it started to die down, many other plants – weeds, too, to some of you – started to fill up the area that had been rescued and made more habitable by the Bermuda buttercup.

Our third stage here is characterised by acceptance – not a giving in but an acceptance of limitations. I’m even more conscious that the ever-increasing speed of human ‘growth’ is destroying the very soil we live on. I’m signing petitions and marching against the destruction of the environment and the hastening of man-made climate change when I can. I’m still utterly opposed to the Algarve being turned into a region of hydrocarbon production, and I know the government cannot be trusted because they respond to the same ‘economic-necessity’ argument as everyone else in power around the globe. But I’ve also come to understand that what we do here in our backyard is what matters most. We – Husband and I – are only a short way into our lives here. We have so much to learn; perhaps we will never stop learning. What matters to us is to leave this patch of land a little better than we found it, with richer soil, all the better to hold and release water (and sequester carbon), more microbes, more growth of every botanical kind, more insects, more birds, more life . . .

I’m still not above a bit of natural engineering when I can and I was very happy when I managed to dissuade the barn swallows from taking over the red-rumped swallows’ nest. Now we have both birds. We can sit on the veranda at the front of the house and have barn and red-rumped swallows swimming through the air around us and filling it with their distinctive voices. Soon they will be raising young. The red-rumped swallows have learnt from their mistake of last year when the tunnel entrance to their mud nest faced our front door. Now they have canted the entrance around by more than 90 degrees so that it faces along the length of the veranda. In fact, it faces where the barn swallows are. This might be passive-aggressive.

Golden orioles have arrived in the valley with their eye-catching lacquered yellow bodies and black wings. Bee-eaters float overhead, their sound like children practising playing the recorder. Nightingales sing from stands of cane by the river. Birds everywhere are in full voice. I’ve only just noticed that a bird can sing without opening its beak. A blackbird, its beak full of nesting material, sang a beautiful song this morning, the movement of its throat the only clear evidence that it was the source of the music.

Writing this blog helped me understand what we were doing, it helped me to keep in touch with old friends and even to make new ones, but now is the right time to stop. After all, I have so many things to do.

‘I have great faith in a seed. Convince me that you have a seed there, and I am prepared to expect wonders.’

Henry David Thoreau

Red-rumped swallow finishing off the nest. You can see the footprint of the old entrance about 90 degrees to the right

Off to fetch more mud. When completed, the nest was lined with straw. Feathers will be the final touch

Barn swallow on the washing line

May Day figure. ‘Old as I am, I’m cooking snails, and you who’ve stopped for a look, would you give me a hand because I can’t quite remember the recipe’

Her great-grandson with a modern media message

Who keeps putting these stickers on Stop signs?

34 Comments

  1. Pauline

    Very moving.

    Reply
    1. Edith (Post author)

      Thank you, P. xx

      Reply
  2. Clare

    Beautiful, Edith the Editor. Thank you for allowing us to be part of your journey. We’ll miss you xx

    Reply
    1. Edith (Post author)

      Thank you, Clare. Come and see us one day.

      Reply
  3. Caroline Anderson

    I’ve enjoyed reading each post, feeling a connection with life and events near our own cottage, not far away from Sao Bras when wandering elsewhere. Thank you.

    Reply
    1. Edith (Post author)

      Thank you, Caroline. Lovely to know you’ve been following the journey.

      Reply
  4. Kate

    I’ll miss my Wednesday-morning dose of Algarve life. Thank you for sharing it, and good luck!

    Reply
    1. Edith (Post author)

      Thanks, Kate, for being a reader. It was nice to know you were there!

      Reply
  5. Louise Cattrell

    Thank you for the past three years of life from the Algarve-is really three years! So enjoyed all the events and things you have done. Will miss them. Especially the development of the permaculture.

    Reply
    1. Edith (Post author)

      Thank you, Louise, for being there!

      Reply
  6. fatma

    Wow. Very thoughtful. Sad and amazing in a sense. You are now taken root. Arrived. Is this your last blog then? A journey I feel that you and husband have undertaken, and that you have carried countless others of us with you, planting a seed yourselves within us of a different mind set, a stripping back to that we were born with in a way which contrarily it might seem is not a diminution, but an enrichment. Thank you for sharing your journey. I feel privileged.

    Reply
    1. Edith (Post author)

      Yes, last blog. Thank you, Fatma, for your fabulous comments, which I will miss. Hope to see you out here before too long.

      Reply
  7. Gilly

    Will miss reading your blog. I first started reading it when we were in the process of looking for our own property in the Algarve 18 months ago and found it very useful! We didn’t quite make it to Santa Catarina but found our piece of heaven in Fonte da Murta. Thank you for taking the time to write and wishing you and Husband good luck!

    Reply
    1. Edith (Post author)

      Thanks for getting in touch, Gilly, and I’m so glad you found your own piece of heaven out here.

      Reply
  8. JerryG

    Edith, your last blog comes on a special day. Today we signed to sell our house in rural Victoria, Australia. It’s been a labour of love from start to finish but the pressure of living with bank debt and the consequent pressure by phone and by email has proved to be too much. The concept of living without those pressures proved too enticing. And you know what we’re going to do? … we’re going to do it all again, but without the banks, without the exhortations to procreate at a pace that the planet can’t sustain, and at a pace and scale that we can afford. The important thing is that we wake up each and every morning to sunshine, love, and swallows building nests above the window.

    Oh! … and the other thing about today? It’s the eve of publication in the UK of our (underlined) second book together. Thank you for all of it, and particularly for the blog. It’s always been good to know that we’re not alone or insane!
    xxx

    Reply
    1. Edith (Post author)

      Dear Jerry, that’s wonderful. My heart is now full. Keep in touch. Very best of luck with the new venture. And I hope Bloomsbury send me a copy of the book!

      Reply
  9. Husband

    It’s so good to know that so many people, known and unknown, have been following our journey. Dear friends, don’t forget to come and visit us and be witnesses to the transformation!

    Reply
  10. Janice

    It’s been a pleasure to read your blog most Wednesdays and I shall miss it but many good wishes to you for the many things you still have to do.
    Janice (Lynne’s friend in Bewdley)

    Reply
    1. Edith (Post author)

      Thank you, Janice. I hope all is well in your bread-baking world. It was nice to ‘meet’ you via the blog.

      Reply
  11. Hazel

    Today’s sparkling and thoughtful edition showed me (as if I needed it) just how grey and dull Wednesday mornings in London are going to be without this little beam of warm sunshine from the Algarve! I’ve looked forward to and so enjoyed the blog since No. 1. Now I shall miss it but, as the old adage goes, all things must pass. If you miss it too, you can always start again!!! Much love to both. xx

    Reply
    1. Edith (Post author)

      Thank you, H, for being so present with us on this journey, as on so many others. See you soon, I hope. xx

      Reply
  12. BeckyB

    Wishing you love, happiness and lots of plants, birds, animals but maybe not ants in the kitchen in the years to come here.

    And so so glad that you started this as otherwise we would never have met . . . see you Saturday!

    Reply
    1. Edith (Post author)

      Thank you, Becky. Yes, see you Saturday!

      Reply
  13. Lionel

    Unlike everyone else, dear Edith, I’m CROSS! How DARE you desert us after providing such very welcome, beautiful, well-chosen words and ideas, profound and everyday, for us to dip into as and when, once a week or so? They have been re-illuminating and re-inspiring for a now slightly jaded long-term resident in ‘paradise’.

    Meeting face to face, irregularly, infrequently might just serve? Hmmm!?

    But what about ‘the others’, who won’t get to know what those swales become with time? I suppose they could track you down and spy on them from across the river? There were enough clues? But where will you now share your carefully honed ideas and responses to this contradictory Cu de Mundo (could apply to this country as well as to your corner of it)?

    Seriously though, it has been a treat, thank you hugely, I might even find some other blog to dip into?! You were my first (and only?). I suppose there are many others embarking on such adventures? Unlikely there are many as well observed and well reported on.

    Um abraço

    Reply
    1. Edith (Post author)

      Lionel, you are most kind in your comments. I do believe we are due a ‘face to face’. Let’s get in touch and make a plan. xx

      Reply
  14. Giselle

    Obrigada Edith, your posts have kept me in touch with my much missed Algarve home while I have been earning the pension I need to retire to it in the UK. I will miss your beautiful observations of nature which have increased my understanding of the nature I observe in and aroud my own Portuguese garden on the west coast. And it is always interesting to hear what the weather
    is doing! My decision to make the move was based on an almost identical moment with my mother as yours with your father and you have captured the poignancy of that life changing moment here in this last post. Life is indeed short, and needs living to the full. Enjoy this next chapter.

    Reply
  15. Edith (Post author)

    Thank you, Giselle, for reading and for leaving such a lovely comment. Good luck with your plans. Your garden awaits you!

    Reply
  16. Neil Sinden

    Hi there,

    Pleased I managed to get to this – very moving and thoughtful. I like the idea of culture as a substitute for nature….and great to hear about your success with the swallows. Here at St George’s Farm seem to be even more skilled and daring with their aerial displays.

    We are still dreaming about the old mill but increasingly preoccupied with our impending move back to London.

    Hope to make more meaningful contact again before too long.

    Lots of love to you both from both of us,

    Neil and Lynne

    Reply
    1. Edith (Post author)

      Lovely to hear from you, and good luck with the move back to London. Let’s be in touch when things are settled. xx

      Reply
  17. Janet M

    I’m sad that you are giving up blogging, because I have enjoyed reading along about your adventures. I was thinking of you this past weekend. CNN was on the TV at the DFW airport, running a story about the Algarve being the best known secret in Europe. I watched the show and they did not once mention the activists and protesters of oil development. How could they miss you 😉 ? Good luck on whatever the future brings.

    Reply
    1. Edith (Post author)

      Thank you, Janet. It’s been great to have you on this journey with me, and I’m glad your journey continues. (Yes, the Algarve is a very special place. Maybe you will make it out here one day.)

      Reply
  18. lionel

    Hmmm! just idly checking, late at night …. Seems you haven’t changed your mind…. you obviously don’t have words, and ideas, bursting out, that you need to communicate!!!! Pity.

    Reply
    1. Edith (Post author)

      Actually, I do. I keep writing the blog in my head . . .

      Reply
  19. Lionel

    Poor head! It might explode?

    Why not settle for an occasional(sp?) blog, you know, just to let your ‘fans’ know how that straw covered hillside, and those seeds are getting on?

    Only joking, late at night! I, fortunately can check.

    Reply

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

%d bloggers like this: