Permaculturing in Portugal

One family's attempts to live in a more planet-friendly way

Weird weather

The British are notorious for forever talking about the weather, something sometimes somewhat incomprehensible to those living in more predictable climates. Or at least it used to be. If the people I speak to are any indication, the weather is becoming a much more frequent topic of casual conversation in Portugal, and more so this year even than last. (Always presuming my sampling isn’t coloured by a she’s-British-so-talk-about-the-weather type reasoning …)

Traditionally, and especially after a dry winter, em Abril √°guas mil – a more robust variant of Britain’s April showers – can be expected, but it was hotter then in April than it is now in July. We were frantically trying to get everything in the garden planted out before the summer heat hit, watering daily, and worrying about the winter’s lack of rain and what it implied for summer. Then in May an abrupt change brought almost daily thunderstorms and the warm damp conditions that heralded all manner of fungal problems for crops like potatoes and grapes. In June temperatures soared to August levels, over 40°C, but just for a week, and now we’re in this cooler phase. No rain, but frequent cloud and nightly temperatures low enough to need a cardigan and produce a good dew. This is Portugal! In July!

Local people shrug and shake their heads, saying they don’t know what’s going on. They’ve never seen the like. The weather used to be so much more predictable and the extremes are getting so much more extreme. Snow. Heat. Rain. Hail. Winds. Once-in-a-lifetime extreme weather events are becoming a regular occurence. Not just here either. Everywhere.

Forest fires in Portugal

Torrential rain in Portugal

Unpredictability seems key. Which is interesting. We are creatures of habit and routine and take a lot for granted – it’s a useful behaviour which allows us to use our limited processing capacity for abstract thought – but when you’re in an unfamiliar, unpredictable, chaotic environment then engaging autopilot becomes impossible and you’re forced to pay more attention to what’s going on – to wollemi (an Aboriginal word meaning “look around you, keep your eyes open and watch out”) – and figure out how to respond appropriately. If what’s going on is extreme, even life-threatening, then this is the only option.

It’s perfect!

If you were a planet wanting to shake humanity out of its deluded complacency, what better way to achieve it? It looks to me very much like Gaia (of which we are inescapably part whether we see ourselves that way or not) is intending to make permaculturalists of us all. But then I would say that, wouldn’t I? So predictable …

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