Pastures new

The winter solstice sunset seems a fitting photo to head this post, which will almost certainly be the last one I write from Asturias. If all goes according to plan, next week we will be moving to our new home in northern France and taking the first steps in our next Grand Adventure; yes folks, Wallace and Gromit have nothing on us!

Let me explain. We aren’t leaving Asturias because we are unhappy here ~ far from it, in fact. I have written many, many times about how much we love it here and what a privilege it is to live in this natural paradise, surrounded by utterly stunning scenery and wilderness, revelling in a benign climate and welcomed and accepted by such warm, friendly people. In truth, I never expected Asturias to get under my skin quite as much as it has and for us both, it will always be one of the most amazing places we have ever experienced.

That said, we only ever planned to stay for five years. Much as we love it, this is not the right place for us to grow old and we always knew there would be another project to follow, provided we didn’t leave it too long ~ better to do it while we’re still fit enough and mad enough. We had hoped to stay until next summer but as we want to remain living in the EU, Brexit has sadly forced our hand. To retain the right to residency in France, we have to be there by the 31st of December; it’s been a bit of a nail-biting scramble but thankfully we will just squeak in. Moving house is a stressful business at the best of times, but to be moving country as well with all the chaos of Brexit, Covid-19 and Christmas in the mix feels like complete madness! Still, we have a habit of doing things the hard way and I think it helps to keep us feeling sharp and alive (if slightly frazzled).

I don’t want to say much about our new home as there will be plenty of that to come in my future wafflings and musings; suffice to say for now that we are very, very excited about returning to Mayenne and as we have lived in the area before, there is a lovely sense of ‘going home.’ There is a pretty stone cottage, a blank canvas of a (flat! 😲) garden and a parcel of broadleaf woodland all waiting for our attention; no big renovation jobs this time but plenty to keep us busy in the coming years. The less challenging topography means I will be back on my bike again and I’m really looking forward to cycling into the nearest small town for bits and pieces of shopping. In fact, we have the chance to really increase our green credentials all round which pleases me very much. The poor old car will be practically put out to grass.

We’ve been fairly nomadic through our years together but we have never believed in looking back; it would be all too easy to feel a crushing sadness at the thought of leaving such a beautiful place, but that’s not our way. We will be taking so many happy memories away with us, so many incredible experiences; our lives have been hugely enriched by our time here and we have learnt much about many things, including ourselves. I have no doubt that the sound of a cowbell or whiff of eucalyptus will bring me back to Asturias, in spirit at least, for the rest of my life.

The next couple of months are going to be fairly crazy as we move ourselves northwards in stages. The priority ~ as always ~ will be to get a vegetable garden started and we are already making lots of plans on that score; at least the Mayennais climate holds no surprises for us so it shouldn’t be quite such a steep learning curve as the one we had here. I’m going to miss frost-free winters and that abundance of peaches, though!

My blog is going to have to take a back seat for a while but, like a certain Austrian actor once famously said, I’ll be back! In the meantime, I’d like to say a huge thank you to everyone who has taken precious moments out of their lives this year to read, like or comment on my posts ~ I am genuinely touched and grateful, it means the world to me. I hope that everyone can enjoy a happy and peaceful festive season despite the difficult circumstances, and that 2021 will bring us all a year with less disruption and uncertainty and many wonderful things to celebrate.

The last word, however, must go to the place we have been proud to call home since May 2016.

¡Muchas gracias, Asturias, y hasta luego!

A design for life

I’ve never quite been able to put my finger on why it should be, but this time of year always leaves me feeling slightly enervated. Perhaps it’s something to do with the weather, the sun still hot and high, the air slick with moisture and brewing storms. Maybe it’s all the busyness of harvesting and processing things from the garden; I’m not complaining ~ we are so lucky to have such an abundance of fresh produce and the means to preserve most of it ~ but it’s a pretty relentess activity at the moment. It could be some kind of circadian rhythmic response to the noticeably shortening days or just a throwback to that perennial sinking feeling that the holidays are nearly over and the new school term looms! I’m really not sure, but I’ve certainly lacked the energy that swirls in abundance through those stormy skies.

Sunny evening, stormy sky.

The irony is that I know full well as soon as we have passed the point of balance at the equinox, I shall be bursting with energy and buzzing like a fly in a bottle with ideas for new creative projects. In the meantime, I’m simply pottering about without much enthusiasm. I’ve been felting little bags to stuff with birthday goodies for Evan and Matthew, finished knitting a pair of socks which I’ve been fiddling at for weeks, made another batch of soap, done a bit of spinning here, a bit of crochet there and, at long last, finished the dress I have been sewing. All butterfly-minded, I’ve been flitting from one activity to the next, nibbling at the edges of things but with no real appetite to get stuck in.

Self-set phacelia and hungry visitor.

I’ve tried to find the discipline to go for a run a couple of times a week but I have to confess, yoga has been far better suited to my mood and, with the new horreo flooring finished, I find I have the perfect outdoor studio. I love the combination of the honey-coloured stone and wood, both old and new, in such a light, airy space; it’s totally shaded from sun and sheltered from rain but the breeze can still blow through in a soft, refreshing way; I have wonderful views over the tops of the peach trees and yet it’s completely private. It’s like being up high in my own little castle and I love it!

View from my castle ramparts . . .

One of my favourite parts of yoga practice is the inverted postures. Children turn themselves upside down at the drop of a hat but how often do we do the same as adults . . . and why not? It feels crazily liberating and, in addition to a healthy flow of blood to the brain, it encourages us to look at life ~ literally and metaphorically ~ from new angles. So it was that I was resting in Downward Dog, contemplating the mesmerising sight of the eucalyptus trees in our woodland catching a fair breeze in their silver boughs, when the random thought of ‘permaculture’ landed in my consciousness. (Apologies to serious yogis: I realise when I’m doing yoga, I should be concentrating on only that! 🙂 )

. . . and in Downward Dog!

Permaculture is something that has interested me for some time and I’ve been dabbling in it for a good while now. I’ve done a lot of reading, watched hundreds of video clips, followed permaculture blogs . . . but never really fully engaged in coming to understand it properly. I’m not in a position to sign up for studying for the Permaculture Design Certificate at the moment but I’ve been struggling to find a truly viable alternative, and I’m aware part of that is a personal thing. There’s a lot of material out there, some of it really excellent and inspirational, some of it utterly dire. I’ve found it hard to gel with certain personalities or to subscribe to elements of elitism from some quarters and I’ve also found the quality of some writing truly terrible. (I know it might sound fussy and pedantic and yes, I did hang up my teacher hat several years ago, but if I am constantly distracted from the bones of an argument by poor grammar and spelling then the course is definitely not for me!).

Beauty in bloom.

Anyway, my yoga moment had me thinking perhaps it was time to look again and I was very delighted to find the #freepermaculture site and sign up for the year long course on offer. It’s only early days but my goodness, I think I’m going to love every bit of this course! It’s very accessible and user-friendly, bright and fun without feeling dumbed down or lightweight in any way. I like the fact that it’s delivered by different voices and that disagreement and discussion are encouraged as part of the learning process; I think that is incredibly healthy and I’ve always enjoyed a good debate. I love that it’s hands-on so that all the theoretical study will be put into practice and that plenty of time has been built in to allow proper development of thought and action. The fact that it is free is amazing, although I shall certainly be making a donation in support of the good work ~ I think that might be the ethical principle of Fair Share in practice both ways?

So, why permaculture? Well, it became clear once I started reading about it that we have been applying some of the principles to our life for a long time without even realising it, so it makes a lot of sense to pursue those ideas further and see where they take us. Certainly, much of our gardening practice is already along the right lines; for example, I would argue that the time, observation, effort, thinking, building and working with nature that we have devoted over five summers to yielding a healthy tomato crop here is testament to that. I’m excited to really get to grips now with the design concepts and start playing with new ideas and strategies around the patch.

Certainly, for us the concepts of sustainability and regeneration are key to our personal philosophies. The more self-sufficient, self-reliant and resilient we can become and the more we can reduce our carbon footprint and care for everything living in our space now and in the future, the better.

Iberian grass snake: judging by the bulge halfway down its length, it had just found a living lunch in the compost heap!

It’s not just about gardening and food production, either ~ and that’s another element of this course I welcome, the fact that that is made very clear. Permaculture, based on three sets of ethics and twelve principles, is something that can be applied to all areas of life and the challenge is there for us to try and achieve that in a cohesive flow. It’s not perfect (what is?) and I’m not saying it’s the only possible design for life, but I think it’s a great peg for us to hang our future on and see what transpires.

Part of this week’s harvest from the orchard; the fig season has started, too.

In many ways, this is not so much about us as about the future. Roger and I are currently 57 and 53 respectively; we don’t consider ourselves to be ‘old’ but we are under no illusion that the larger part of our lives is behind us. What we do now is for our children and grandchildren and all the generations yet to come; I have no doubt that Planet Earth will endure, as it already has for several billion years, but I think we have a serious responsibility to hand it down in a fit, viable and valued state ~ and that certainly seems like a big ask at the moment.

However, I am nothing if not an optimist, and starting my new studies has given me a huge boost in the right direction. I suddenly feel hugely motivated again, full of energy and enthusiasm to look, listen and learn, to shake off this late August lethargy and get well and truly stuck in.

Not a bad classroom!

I even chose to do an extra optional activity in my first week, an observation and study of a significant tree in the locality. I chose one of our mighty walnuts and spent a very absorbing and happy time sitting in the shade of its wide green canopy, jotting down my ideas.

I definitely learnt many things just from this single activity, not least that my spelling brain and the word ‘mycorrhiza’ don’t get on! I also discovered to my surprise that on a mature walnut tree like this one, the leaves are larger at the ends of the stem than further in; if someone had asked me to sketch one from memory, I would have put smaller leaves at the end, as they are on the younger trees. Observation is a powerful tool, indeed!

So, I’m very eager to see what these 52 weeks of study and activity will bring ~ who knows how our lives might change in the next twelve months as a result? It feels like quite an undertaking, a bit scary in some ways, but I do love a challenge, particularly one that keeps the old grey matter busy. Life is exciting, so full of opportunity and possibility, and there is something very uplifting and exhilarating about stepping out on a new path, wherever it may lead . . . yes, even at my great age! 🙂

New dress, new path . . . the adventure begins.