Thursday, November 9, 2017

Autumn Tales

We usually try to wait until about 5:00 PM to light the fire.  During the day bright sunshine streams in our south-facing windows warming our cortijo. But as the sun slides behind the hill to our west, the temperature drops suddenly and it is time to close the shutters and light the fire. Some days, like today, I light the fire early. 

The sun is now popping over the mountain to the east around 8:15 AM. The temperatures overnight are dropping to five degrees celsius, yet once the sun appears, it warms into the teens in no time. 

We start our day outside most mornings, bundled in our fleece jackets; by the time we finish our mugs of café con leche, we have shed the outer layers as the morning sun combines with the hot liquid to warm us inside and out.

With the shorter days I need to get the laundry washed and hung out in order to capture enough sunlight to dry the load. This morning I started the laundry before my morning coffee and had it on the line by 8:30. Shadows come early to the place where I hang the wash, so soon Sam will put in posts for a winter clothes line, in a location that gets the maximum sun.

Early morning laundry

Today clouded up un-expectantly. The forecast was for poco nuboso, but it was actually mucho nublado as low clouds covered the mountains and hill tops around us. And so today I lit the fire at 3:00. 

Early fire

We are enjoying beautiful autumn weather. With the exception of one very impressive rain storm, we have had endless dry and warmer-than-usual days. We try to hike at least twice a week and our routes have included walks along the acequia through oak forests, returning to our favorite standby hike around the villages of La Taha, and up to the fire lookout high above our house.

La Taha walk

Hiking with neighbors who are now good friends

On our way to the fire lookout

Through the oaks

A hidden waterfall

Last week we went to Órgiva for the weekly market. We typically avoid going to town on Thursday because it is so busy on market day, but sometimes it is fun to participate in the weekly event. There is a vibrant energy in town on market day as people of all ages and varied backgrounds wander among the stalls considering fruit and veggies, clothing and housewares.

We parked at the edge of town and as we strolled towards the market I took photos of the numerous flowers that color the walls and walkways this time of year. 

Some of the flowers and fruits of autumn

The citrus trees are loaded and the fruit is turning from green to brilliant yellow and orange. I think it is perfect that as the days get shorter and the nights get colder, the oranges and lemons ripen bringing cheerful colors and the promise of fresh juice to each day.

There has been some turnover in our small community. One couple has moved out, going their separate ways and leaving a cortijo for sale. And a bit down the road another couple has arrived, moving here from Australia. 

Friendships develop quickly and with ease; probably a product of necessity. Years ago when I moved to Oregon from the East coast of the US I was struck by the openness of the people I met. In the East it seemed that people stayed close to family and lifelong friends, but outsiders were always going to be outsiders. I surmised that the openness in Oregon came from the time of the pioneers arriving by wagon train, each leaving family and everything familiar behind to start over in the foreign, fertile NW territory. 

Our experience here is similar. Each ex-pat has chosen to leave the ease of familiarity behind. And in our new lives we find quick acceptance and commonality, enjoying the trust and companionship that comes from genuine kindness and openness. 

Those who have been here the longest have not forgotten what it was like when they first arrived and because of that, when someone reaches out, there is always a hand to assist and an encouraging word of assurance that seemingly large obstacles are actually quite manageable. It is those relationships, both with ex-pats, and with some of our Spanish neighbors, that have made this all so pleasantly possible for us, and it is a pleasure to now offer our friendship and encouragement to the newest arrivals.

Not the colors of New England, but stunning just the same

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

First Snow of the Season and Other Adventures

Sitting down to write, I look out on a grey, wet, chilly landscape.  For the first storm of the season, there was no timidity in its arrival; we have experienced wind, thunder and lightening, and periods of heavy rainfall. We lost a limb off the walnut tree, and Sam braved the elements to quickly clear several drainage ditches, blocked by fallen leaves and the dust of a long summer. 

But when there was a break in the rain and the clouds lifted for a brief period, we discovered fresh snow on the mountains.  Hopefully this will be the beginning of what will build to a good base of lasting snowpack. We have had a year of drought conditions, and the water and future snow melt are much needed.

Snow on the mountains!

Our house holds the warmth of the summer sun; the thick stone walls retain the heat until the chill becomes too powerful, and then we will light the wood stove and settle in for the winter ahead. Fortunately Sam had all of the wood chopped and stacked before he injured his shoulder back in April.  Now while he recovers from rotator cuff surgery, I need only to carry in each day's wood from the adequate supply. 

Pleased that we arrived back home in time to bask in a warmer-than-usual, and very sunny autumn, we have enjoyed exploring some of the varied terrains and landscapes of our region.

We hiked high above the villages with views down the valley to our property and beyond to the Mediterranean. 

Looking towards home and beyond

Another day we drove to the top of the Contraviesa, where, standing on the long ridge, the view south drops to the Mediterranean below and the view north reveals the expanse of the Sierra Nevada mountain range. There we hiked through a cork oak forest which had been recently harvested. Cork oaks are harvested every nine years and when they are harvested a deep, pink bark is revealed. Soon the color will revert back to grey as the cork replenishes on each tree. 

Walking in the recently harvested cork oak forest

Beautiful bark

We joined Spanish Highs Mountain Guides for a hike in the Tabernas Desert near Almeria. This unique area is also the home of "Little Hollywood," and the location for numerous films including Lawrence of Arabia, The Good the Bad and the Ugly and other spaghetti westerns.  As we walked, our guide pointed out where various scenes had been filmed. 

The setting for a scene in The Good the Bad and the Ugly

The cinematic history is interesting, but the landscape is stunning; we especially enjoyed the spectacular Marlstone deposits formed by lime-rich mud and calcium carbonate.

Back at home we continue our near-daily walks to the barranco. It remains a dry stream bed, but hopefully today's rain will provide some flowing water again. Yesterday we took a plastic bag and stopped to gather chestnuts from one of several large trees along the track. 

Steamed and ready to peel

We have been home for nearly a month and are settled back into the slow flow of life on the mountain. Today I have a pot of soup bubbling on the stove and we are happy for a quiet, cozy day in our comfortable cortijo.

Soup simmering

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Returning Home After a Visit "Home"

We returned to our mountain home a week ago and already we are settling back into our simple life.

A flowery welcome home

Our trip to the States was full and we were overwhelmed by the generosity of friends, and the joy of spending time with each of our kids and welcoming our new granddaughter. 

Our first grandchild

We were fed and housed by friends and family from Seattle to San Diego, and many locales in between, and from Las Vegas to Lancaster, Pennsylvania. We enjoyed spending time with friends who have visited us here in Spain, and with others we haven't seen in over 40 years. 

But our minds were never far from our home in Las Alpujarras and as the countdown neared our return, we found ourselves longing for the peacefulness of our life here, while experiencing heartache knowing we would, once again, be so far from our loved ones.

We returned to welcomes from our friends and neighbors on the mountain. Gracious neighbor picked us up at the Malaga airport and when we arrived home we discovered a lovely spread of veggies, and fresh cornbread and homemade jam, and other groceries, complete with Welcome Home cards from his family. Jésus, the shepherd greeted us warmly the next morning, and Manuel brought around a box of peppers and tomatoes and aubergines (eggplant) and a large bag of almonds from his trees. 

In the past I have asked ex-pat friends after returning to their new home, following the first visit back to the States, "Did you feel as if you were coming home?" Answers varied, but I can report that we definitely feel as if we are back home. And that is a comfort to discover.

Throughout the summer we enjoyed sharing stories of our new life with friends and acquaintances, and one question that was asked over and over was, What is a typical day like for you? We tried to explain that our days here unfold and we rarely have a plan for the day when we get up. I thought of that today and realized that today is very typical of our daily life here.

We woke up when the light came in our window, sometime between 7:45 and 8:00. Sam made the coffee and I set up chairs at our patio table where we spent the next half hour drinking coffee while enjoying the view. We heard the bus that makes an early trip up towards Mulhacén to drop day hikers, and we watched as it switched back and forth up the mountainside across the valley from us. The sun popped over the mountain just after 9:00 and we shed our fleece layers. 

The day begins

After breakfast Sam went out to gather piles of weeds he has been pulling since arriving home a week ago and I started a load of laundry. While the clothes washed I cooked some of Manuel's tomatoes and removed the skins in preparation for making tomato sauce. Tomorrow we are going to a gathering with friends and I will take Melanzane alla parmigiana (Eggplant parmesan) to share.

After hanging out the laundry, we went for a walk to the barranco and back. This is our typical "neighborhood" walk, on days when we don't go elsewhere for a longer hike. On the return I stopped to gather walnuts scattered across the track under an enormous walnut tree. We have a lovely walnut tree of our own and I've been harvesting them since we returned home, but it is hard to resist freshly-fallen wild nuts. We will have a good crop to crack and eat throughout the winter.

Back at home we had a snack and then Sam went back out to water the garden and move some plants around. I got the tomato sauce made and it has now been simmering for several hours. 

Making sauce

I decided to make salad and farinata for lunch. Farinata is a flat bread made with Garbanzo bean flour and it takes about 90 minutes to make. It is a luxury to have the time to make such a treat in the middle of the day. 

We ate lunch at 2:00 and then Sam picked strawberries while I cleaned up the kitchen. It is clouding up now and I need to get the laundry off the line. The house smells of tomato sauce while the outside air is perfumed with the mint that Sam pruned earlier. After blogging I'll rest in the hammock and then we will probably take another walk to the barranco later this evening; or not, we'll just see what unfolds.

So that is our typical day. There are variations and some days are nothing like any previous day, but the point is, there is no schedule. We can go many days without driving the car, and we never feel like we need to rush off to something. 

We are living life at our own pace and we do it to a natural soundtrack of birds and bugs, and at night to nearly total silence. Occasionally we hear a helicopter and rush out to see what's going on, or we hear the early morning bus to Mulhacén, or dogs barking in the distance, but the gentle sounds of nature and the heavy silence of nighttime heal our mind and spirit, and that is what we missed the most while we were away from home.

The peaceful backdrop for our life here

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Quiet on the Mountain

It appears that things have calmed down among our small group of neighbors and it has been five days since we have had any water issues. We like it that way.

Beautiful color on a recent walk to check on the water source

Spain is in the midst of a heatwave and we have learned to embrace the long afternoon siesta time. Most days it is ill-advised to be outside between 1:00 pm and 6:00 pm. 

Temps this past week on the Iberian Peninsula

The loveliest time is after 9:00 when the sun has dipped below the hillside to our West but the sky stays light for another hour. We enjoy sitting outside in the cool dusk playing cards and listening to the sounds of nature closing down another day.

Cards at dusk

This is my last post from Spain for a few months. At the end of June we will return to the States to visit family and friends, to welcome our first grandchild, and to distribute many of the items we currently have in storage. We will also sell the car that we've kept there, now that it is clear that our home is in Spain.

In one sense this trip is a trip "back home," however, without our own house in the States, it doesn't really feel like going home. We look forward to visiting with friends and family, but it isn't a vacation either as we throw ourselves on the generosity of others while we accomplish a long list of must-dos.

With the on-going political disaster in the States and the daily reports of violence, injustices and gun deaths, from a distance it seems as if we are about to fly into the eye of a hurricane. Our love for friends and family draws us towards what would otherwise be a situation we would make an effort to avoid.

We are leaving just as the apricots and peaches are ripening. Chestnut trees are in full bloom and the pomegranates are starting to form. We have enjoyed generous crops of strawberries, cherries and mulberries; all from our own land.

Each night I talk to the peaches encouraging them to ripen before we leave

Looking forward to gathering chestnuts in autumn

Anticipating pomegranates in November

Today my blog has reached 6000 views. This astounds me as my intent originally was to share our lives with the few people "back home" who might find it interesting. 

I've discovered that the viewers do not include our children. I joked recently about all the attention we showered on the kids and how each piece of kindergarten artwork, every report card, found a place of honor on the refrigerator door, but they can't find time to read through a weekly write-up about our life in Spain. I suppose it shows their independence and lack of concern for us, and that is no-doubt a positive thing. Right?!

I am thankful for those of you who have found your way to the blog. I suspect that many readers come because of my announcement on Facebook of each new post, but I have readers from places where I do not have any acquaintances: the Philippines, Russia, Belgium, South Africa, Turkmenistan, and beyond. I appreciate all of you who have taken the time to read a post or two, and I welcome you into this window on our lives.

I will post once or twice from the United States to share our observations after a year away. Until then, thank you for the support and encouragement that I get from sharing our story with you.

Paz y hasta pronto.

One of the last remaining poppies of 2017

Friday, June 9, 2017

The Bitter With the Better

We have entered the lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer here on the mountain although the "lazy" part hasn't really started. Sam has spent nearly two weeks using his strimmer (weed eater) to cut the grass and weeds on our two hectares (five acres). I'm certain that most will wonder why he doesn't mow it, but the land is quite uneven, and very steep in places with many rocks, and a mower would not work. In addition, after June 1st it is forbidden to use a blade to cut anything, due to the fire risk. 

Sam strimming a hillside

And so he strims, or strimms? When he refills the tank or changes the strimming cords, I offer up food and water, but otherwise he is out working for 5-8 hours a day. This isn't really what we imagined when we moved from our high-maintenance yard in Oregon, and next year it will be managed differently. We don't yet know what that will look like, but this isn't sustainable.

A freshly strimmed section

The days are long with the sun coming over the mountains to the east by 7:30 each morning and darkness settling sometime after 10:00 pm. This week the moon is bright and shines in our window as we fall asleep around midnight. The days have been hot, but the evenings are pleasant and often we are still outside enjoying the cool dusk at 9:30.

Just before sunrise

The nearly full moon as seen through the netting over our bed

There is tension in our little community. The details are not completely clear and it is probably best not to share them in a public setting anyhow, but while we were on our little trip to Portugal and Galicia in May, a conflict erupted here at home. The immediate result was that an angry neighbor disassembled, and later removed, the water collection tank that Sam had installed at the fuente several months ago. The impact was that three houses, including ours, were no longer receiving any water from the fuente. We rely on this water source for all of our household water.

While we were on our vacation we received numerous texts and phone calls from various neighbors about the situation. Perceptions and accusations were shared and hurt feelings and resentments were aroused. Needless to say, this greatly impacted our ability to enjoy our long-anticipated excursion. 

By the time we returned home, one affected neighbor had stuck the pipe back into the stream and, although the tank has not yet been reinstalled, we are all getting water again.

Just a pipe with some screen stuck in the stream where the collection tank once sat

Unfortunately imaginary lines have been drawn and we've been assigned a side by one set of neighbors. Actually, at this point, we have all been assigned to that side by these particular neighbors. It is unnecessary and unfortunate, but we can't control how others maneuver through this life. 

Sam and I came to this part of the world because we want to live quietly. We have raised four wonderful kids and we embraced all of the challenges and sacrifices that involved. But now we want to relax. We want the time and space to be still and to breathe deeply, and to enjoy each other without the distractions of a faster-paced life. 

We have been pleasantly surprised by the friendship of several good neighbors and we are content to smile and wave to those with whom we will never be close. But we did not come here for drama. And so we have stepped back from the current situation, waiting to see how the dust settles.

When I started this blog I promised to share the good, the bad and the ugly. Fortunately it has been very nearly all good. And it will continue to be, but real life occurs everywhere, even in paradise, and I wanted to let you know.

A poppy just because....

Monday, May 29, 2017

Camino Reflections

Two years ago today I started my forty-two day journey on the Camino de Santiago. I joined the ancient pilgrimage route in St Jean Pied de Port, in France, and six weeks later I arrived in Finisterre on the Spanish coast of the Atlantic Ocean.

On the Camino

The experience was life-changing in many ways and as I walked through regions and villages that had seemed near-mythical from my extensive research, I wondered if I would ever pass that way again. Over the Pyrenees, through the Basque country, across the beautifully barren Meseta and into the lush green rolling hillsides of Galicia; each day was better than the day before and I marveled at the varied landscapes and cultures of Spain.

Of course that was before I knew that just over a year later I would be moving to Spain. I had dreamt of a life in Europe, but I didn't believe it would ever happen. And so as I walked the 600 miles of my Camino, I wrote in my journal and took endless photos wanting to share it all with Sam, but assuming that he would never see any of it.

And now I live a road-trip away from all of it. In February we visited friends on the Meseta and I was able to share some of the route with Sam, and now we are just home from a trip to Portugal and Galicia where together we walked sections of the trail that I had enjoyed most. 

The Camino consists of numerous routes and it seems that we run into portions frequently. In 2004 we were in France and unknowingly walked parts of the Le Puy Way (Chemin du Puy) before either of us had ever heard of the Camino. 

Conques, France - 2004 before I'd heard of the Camino

The Camino Mozárabe passes through Granada and we have followed yellow arrows around town on several occasions, while running errands. In Seville we walked to a park and I discovered that we were walking on the Viá de la Plata.

Marker in Seville

Our recent trip to Porto, Portugal was to visit a group of five friends from my walk on the Camino. We had known each other for less than 24 hours, two years ago, but we've stayed in touch, and Sam and I were pleased to have a chance to visit with them in their lovely city. 

Re-uniting with Camino friends in Picturesque Porto

I randomly chose an apartment to rent on the edge of Porto, in Foz, where the Douro river meets the Atlantic ocean. I had no idea that the coastal route of the Camino Portugués, the Caminho da Costa, would pass several feet from our apartment window!  Each morning we watched as Pilgrims who began their Camino from the Cathedral in Porto, passed our window about an hour into the first day of their journey. I was delighted by this discovery but resisted calling "Buen Camino" to each one.

In Galicia we based our visit in one of the places I had stayed while walking the Camino de Invierno. The Invierno breaks from the Camino Francés in Ponferrada, and when I walked it I was the only Pilgrim for the (approximately) 230 kilometers of the route. The experience of walking that far alone was tremendously empowering. About half way along I stayed with Penelope and it was a joy to return and to visit with her again.

The Camino just before arriving at Penelope's

I was thrilled to show Sam stretches I had walked on the Invierno. Together we hiked a steep section that descends to the Miño river and we shared the view that took my breath away when the trees parted, giving the first glimpse of the steep hillsides covered with vineyards down to the river's edge.

A view that took my breath away

I drove him over mountains on deserted logging roads where I had walked for hours without seeing another human, and we wound along gorgeous river valleys; as we went he appreciated, even more, what I had done. He also noted that, had he realized I would be in such remote places all alone, he would have suggested I not take this alternate route! I will forever be thankful that I did.

Finally, as we drove back home from Galicia we paralleled much of the Via de la Plata. This Camino route stretches across the west of Spain from Seville following an old Roman road. We saw many Camino markers, and several Pilgrims as we whizzed past on the autovía covering in a day what takes Pilgrims weeks to walk.

It is unimaginable to me that I live where I can take a road trip from home to destinations like Porto, Portugal or to any of the Camino routes. I follow several Camino groups on Facebook and at any time there is someone I am aware of who is walking one of the routes. 

I am certain that I will find myself walking again before long.

The arrows are calling me

Friday, May 5, 2017

I did it! I got off of the Merry-Go-Round and I walked away.

I wrote this post on December 31, 2013. It is amazing to read it now and to see that I made it. When I read the list that I wrote then, of what makes me happy, it describes my daily life here in Spain. 

To those who imagine something different for your life - keep dreaming and keep moving forward. It can happen.

I'm spinning on one of those playground toys that goes around and around.  If it slows someone jumps off and pushes it faster and faster before jumping back on.  Sitting in the middle, the centrifugal force makes my head roll around in slow motion, nodding forward then leaning back and then forward and back.  I'm dizzy, but it is going too fast to jump off.  It slows and I want to make the leap but just then it is pushed again until the scenery is just a blur and I don't dare escape.

The Christmas lights went up just after Halloween this year and now on the last day of December they are being replaced with Valentine's day decorations.  Store shelves that only a week ago held last-minute discounts on Christmas supplies are now draped in red and pink with hearts and chocolates and cardboard cupids.  Next the Easter bunny will rest briefly on those shelves.  Before we know it the stores will be a blast of red, white and blue as we approach that uniquely American July day of celebration.  Then it is back-to-school clothes and supplies, just about the time we are ready to start wearing shorts and swimsuits in the summer sunshine.  And on and on it goes.

My e-mail box was loaded with Black Friday deals, then Cyber-Monday price-slashing followed by discounts that grew deeper and deeper as Christmas approached.  By evening on December 25th, the ads had switched to after-Christmas deals at "rock bottom prices."  Some people shop on the 26th to get cheap gifts they will give a year from now, stocking up on half-priced wrapping paper and Christmas cards that will be stored away and forgotten when it comes time to use it all.   And soon, about three weeks into actual Winter, the spring clothes will be out and it will be a frenzy of winter clearance sales.

My Oprah magazine arrives promising that 2014 is my year to shine - inside I will learn how to "brighten everything from my mood to my style, one easy tweak at a time."  There is a diet quiz that I can take and on page 130 I'll find "Oprah's Foolproof Stress Cure."  There is The secret to a great makeover and an "inspiring, powerful," new novel that Oprah has discovered.  I am worn out just reading the front cover.  Oprah has such high expectations.  Inside I am introduced to a few of her favorite things, a "Gratitude Meter," and a plan for finding joy.  Phew!  In this single issue I might find the power to really get my life together.

I want off.  I want to stop spinning.  Who is pushing this thing anyhow?  Clearly corporate America alone has the strength to make the Merry-Go-Round spin faster and faster without stopping.  And I have realized that every time I buy something that I don't need, I am adding strength to the push.  Each time I see an advertisement and believe that my life will be just a little bit better if only I had one more..., or a newer version....or a smaller or bigger or faster or shinier - whatever, I help the Merry-Go-Round spin.

And so I am going to focus on getting off of this thing.  I am tired of being dizzy and all this head bobbing is clearly not good for the mind in the long-term.  I want to put my foot out and drag it in the dirt to try and slow the rotation enough to jump off.  I won't take advantage of the after-Christmas or winter-clearance offerings.  Even if a shirt is only $10, that is $10 I don't need to spend because I already have too many shirts that I never wear.  I don't need more books on my Kindle - I have enough to keep reading for a year or two and even at $1.99, I don't need to add to my collection.  When I run out of things to read I'm sure I'll find a deal or two that will help me re-load my library.

I am not making any resolutions for 2014 - even that is some idea thought up to make us all feel inadequate so that we spend more money trying to feel better about ourselves.  Joining gyms, buying into diet programs, spending hundreds of dollars on containers so that we'll be more organized - if I want to get fit, lose weight or manage my junk, I can do that in March, or perhaps October - there is nothing powerful about January 1st.

So my effort to slow down the Merry-Go-Round is not a resolution, it is more of a leap towards greater peace.  I know what makes me happy (in no particular order):

Time with Sam
Growing my own herbs and vegetables
Visits from the kids
Time with small groups of friends

None of my truest happiness depends on things.  There is not a discount available that will enrich any of the activities listed above.  I'm letting my Oprah subscription expire- even that I tried to do a year ago but I was sent deal after deal until I finally bit.  She offered me a bag of some sort if I renewed my subscription at the low price of $12 for a year, but I had to hurry because there was a limited number of bags.  I kicked myself when the cheap, and not very attractive, bag arrived and then the monthly dose of what-I-should-be-doing hype.  Not this year Oprah - I'm on to you and I am also done with you.  I'm certain I will find more joy on my own than in the pages of a perfumed periodical.

I suspect this will take time.  If I put my foot out while spinning at a fast speed I might catch it on something and have to climb back on for a few revolutions.  I know that dragging my foot will kick up dust and those on the Merry-Go-Round might yell at me to either get off or get back on.  But I will do it.  I can't shake the image now and I feel empowered at the idea of eventually walking away while most will continue to spin and spin until they can no longer think straight.

No more spinning