Friday, 29 April 2011

Climate, change

This house is built on boulder clay, the debris from the last (Würm) peri-glacial period in Montseny, 12,000 years ago. If I had been alive then I could have stepped out of my back door onto powder snow.

I can’t, because we live in a changed, warmer climate. So warm that palm trees (Phoenix canariensis) have grown here.

Phoenix, the late palm

 But now it’s getting warmer and so a parasitic beetle, the red palm weevil (Rhynchophorus ferrugineus) has invaded Catalunya. The beetles arrived here from the South and have gradually killed off all the Canary Palms in this district. Their larvae

Evil Weevil
 bore holes into the palm, eating out the heart and thus stopping any further growth.

Today we had to cut down the last of our two beautiful Canary Palms. It was full of weevil larvae and I did not want it to become the focus of further infections.

Climate. Changes everything.

Feed the Family

The fox (Vulpes vulpes) got a Guinea Fowl last night. I don’t mind, really. The fox killed to feed her or his family. They are efficient assassins – I heard one brief, strangled, squawk, and then silence.

I have only ever seen the fox once here – some years ago, on the track from the house to the village. Unlike the well-filmed urban foxes of Northern Europe, their Catalan country cousins are highly secretive. They are also slimmer and taller than the foxes that I have seen in the UK.

There is a kind of poetry in this. The fox, in Catalan is “Guineu”, and the prey, last night was a “Guinea.” So, “el guineu ha mengat la guinea.

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Spring Father

Spring. Just the word is enough to evoke a feeling of energy. Here on the Croft we have new puppies, springing…
Islay, the exploratory puppy

…new ducklings...

…and my first successful hatching from the incubator (we called him “Ink,” of course.)

Chicken, half baked
The energy is pervasive but there is another, deeper, feeling of parenting all this new life. Of being responsible for these young animals, and, best of all, of being able to care for them. Like most emotions it is incoherent (we may end up eating some of this new life…) but it is enough to wake me early, worrying about whether Ink is comfortable and secure in his cardboard home.

Friday, 8 April 2011


I have just made tincture of rosemary flowers. It is not a job for the lazy. Our hillside is covered in rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis), so there is no shortage. But I wanted just the flowers. Only 20g of flowers, but that’s a bagful. It took hours to pick.

I’ll have a kilo of flowers please…
I love doing this stuff – the mixture of making something, the chemistry and science, and the fact that is made for someone else. Cooking is the same – it is invention, science, and love, warmed up together.

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Life x 2, life ÷ 2

Like the Scottish crofters, I lead two lives. One here, one elsewhere. One professional, useful, interesting job, and one amateur-farmer. It seems to suit my Gemini mind and mostly life x 2 is good. Carpe diem, twice over.

Crofter at work, with Research Assistant

But sometimes, just sometimes, I wish I was in the other life, watching Paris sparkle from the top floor of the Pompidou, walking in the Jardin des Tuileries, or laughing at the Théâtre de la Madeleine.

Those sometimes, life ÷ 2 splits my heart.

And that’s painful.

Saturday, 2 April 2011

She Lived

Benbecula, the prettiest of the sheep with a wee sharp black face and black tail, staggered out of the field last night, foaming at the mouth and then jerking around, on her back, as I tried to calm her.
Pep the vet diagnosed Clostridial disease, and we treated her with a beer-bottle full of water with bicarbonate of soda (to reduce her stomach acidity) and a pack of dried yeast (to restore intestinal flora) as well as with Flunixin and penicillin.

Montseny beer - so good, even the sheep like it.

This morning she´s fully recovered.
I'm not.
Keeping sheep is an emotional business, a sort of low-level emotional catharsis, cleaning out your heart as you focus your feelings on an (apparently dying) animal. 'Low-level' because it is not, really not, the same as the feelings one has for a human but also because it's visceral, a feeling from deep in the guts (as it was, in this case, for Benbecula...)

Friday, 1 April 2011

Baa Speak

I’m learning sheep. I’ve managed French, Castilian and Catalan, but sheep is a headache. It’s a body language – principally because they are all body, and little brain. Steering them (out of a field, into another), feeding them, having them lie down so I can check their feet – all of this is a complex of persuasion, limited choices and, eventually, brawn.

But they are so delightful when they are wee.

The Ram with Hay Fever

Pure Water

Our spring is a hidden green dell in the field to the West of the house. The old maps, and the older men, talk of it running all year. In the last ten years it has only ever run in winter and spring, rushing cool, clear water into a walk-in stone-clad well. In early March there were Marbled Newts (Triturus marmoratus) as young black slivers, and this adult. Pure water newts.
Triturus marmoratus

Welcome, benvolgut, benvolguda

This is the story of a modern Scottish crofter, in Catalunya. He lives in a farmhouse – a masia called “Can Parròquia” – under the mountains of Montseny. His croft, 4 hectares of field and woodland, is home to an adolescent donkey, a sheep with hay fever (not a good condition for a sheep), six chickens (sorry, no, five; the buzzard just got one), a brace of guineafowl (pintade in French) who share one tiny mind, and two dogs. Some humans survive here too.

Two birds, one tiny mind...