Permaculturing in Portugal

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

Hall of mirrors

Creating this site has been an extraordinary process for a number of reasons. It’s not that I’ve finally taken the step of learning how to run WordPress blogging software on my own site, because that isn’t particularly extraordinary. Nor is it that I’m putting this site together before the formalities of the purchase have been completed, even if that is a bit extraordinary (and possibly more besides).

It’s this. To write something vaguely coherent about our experience, to boil it all down into a few (though doubtless still too many) paragraphs, I had to take a step back from it all.

As soon as I did this, reflecting on the 6½ weeks between first setting foot in Central Portugal, this decade at least, and shaking hands on the purchase of a property here, this startling degree of coherence emerged in the pattern of events like a image emerging from a random collection of pixels.

It was a lightbulb moment.

This is what I should be paying more attention to — pattern, process and coherence. Of course I know this already — it’s what I’ve spent the last decade and more doing workwise, and it’s very much part of the principles of permaculture as well — but somehow putting it into practice in my own day-to-day life I still keep tripping over my own feet.

There’ve been so many moments in the last month, particularly with the £’s precipitous plunge against the €, when I’ve wondered just what on earth I’m doing and whether premature senility hasn’t set in already. So many things to potentially go pear-shaped! What if I’m wrong about this being ‘the place’? What if I run out of money? What if I’m not actually capable of building a house? What if …? Wha …

But from a step further back it’s much easier to see that the craziness isn’t in what I’m doing but in what I’m thinking; in rational mind trying to be master instead of servant. Instead of focusing on what it does best — designing plans and systems, devising solutions, sorting paperwork, checking consistency and coherence — I’ve been allowing it to fret about things over which it has no dominion, driving me nuts. The sense and sensibility in the pattern and process will take care of itself. It’s that lesson about getting out of our own way; trusting, working with nature, not against it. Creating a synergy of rationality and intuition rather than regarding them as mutually exclusive choices.

Emma, who has an ability to see straight through to the essentials and no patience for endless discussion or prevarication, said it all as usual. The moment she set foot on Quinta do Vale she laid claim to the small house, picked up a enxada and started cleaning steps of overgrowth. The other properties we viewed she didn’t engage with and was soon bored. She shouldn’t have needed to add “For f**ks sake mother, this is the place. Just buy it.” But she did, because the biggest idiots in this world are the ones who can’t see what’s in front of their noses and think that our minds contain all the answers somewhere if we can just be clever enough with them.

What is extraordinary too is how much this feels like the beginning of a love affair. There’s that power of a thought or image to evoke senses and sensations. Clicking through my collection of images of the quinta and selecting ones for the site it really starts to dawn on me just what a stunningly beautiful place this is. An image of the sun’s play on autumn vegetation: straight away I can smell the pines and hear the church bell chime the time from the village below. And it’s a really nice church bell too, with a melodious tone that feels like a sonic caress. An image of the fruit terraces below the larger building (which will become our house): the sound of the little waterfall trickles into my head and immediately I’m thinking that’s a sound I’d be content to listen to for the rest of my life.

OK, that’s more than enough cringingly cliché-ridden schmaltz for one day. Mind deplores that kind of nonsense. It’s so uncool. And really, do I have to use the word ‘really’ quite so much? Because at last it’s really, really real? Mind says “not until you sign the papers, hen!”. Technically correct, of course. But right now I’m with the feeling and the sounds and smells and sense of trust and honour in a handshake. It feels like the right way to start this project. Though of course I’ll be making sure the paperwork is correct too. Synergy, not schizophrenia.

Happy Solstice/Christmas/New Year!

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