Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Gardener’s Day (a.k.a. Dachnik Day)

Yesterday many gardeners whose plots are producing their first vegetables celebrated Gardener’s Day. At Cottarton, several of us brought dishes made from vegetables we grew and mushrooms foraged from the woods. Flowers too. The table was laid with crab-apple wine and beer, dandelion wine, salads, chantrelles, fresh potatoes, sprouted beans. Despite a very cold April and May, with June and July temperatures resembling November’s, our Earth was still able to produce a festive bounty. The crowning blessing was the weather --- a balmy 20 degrees: the first such day for at least two months, brought on a strong southerly wind. And no rain. Am I too presumptuous to suppose that the Earth thanked us for the attention we gave her? Even the bees came out of their log and buzzed about us.

We raised our glasses to the Earth, and to Love whose power brings out the flowers and the fruits that energize us. Then the music began: Roy, Jake and Charles on their respective instruments and the rest of us singing. Magda brought each of us a sheaf of barleycorn, tied with coloured yarn, and led us in the song John Barleycorn a traditional harvest song. Maddie painted all our faces with whatever theme we asked for. When the guests left they took with them  garden produce and flowers from the table. Gardener’s Day, generally celebrated around July 23 is close to August 1 the medieval festival of the Gule of August, or Lamas. These days it doesn't make the Daily Mail headlines, but long ago it was a significant celebration of  the first harvests. As with most of our present day festivals, its origins lie with the Celts. August 1 was Lughnasadh, when the first corn was cut, and the first blueberries picked, corn rituals performed and marriages. Not only the harvests begin but the first mushrooms pop up --- but the Celts make no mention of those. It was a religious festival too. According to Monaghan’s  The Encyclopedia of Celtic Mythology and Folklore,

…a custom Lughnasadh shared with the other Gaelic festivals was the lighting of bonfires and visiting of holy wells. The ashes from Lughnasadh bonfires would be used to bless fields, cattle and people.[14] Visitors to holy wells would pray for health while walking sunwise around the well. They would then leave offerings; typically coins or clooties (see clootie well).[15]

It was not just an opportunity for food and booze but had a spiritual significance of reconnecting with the power of the Earth. In a curious way our day at Cottarton turned out that way too. Every now and then our guests would wander off to be alone for a while, down in the field and away from the bustle, to the walking labyrinth or to stand by the stream. Jake went off to pull sticky willow from our hawthorn hedge. The old spirit of Lughnasahd was alive.

In Russia they celebrate a Gardener’s Day whose date varies from region to region, but it began with Dachnik Day among the ecological communities. The Dacha is a small plot of land in the country with usually a rustic cabin. Dacha villages are found outside many cities and are where people raise vegetables on which they, “Dachniks”, subsist throughout the year. The celebration of Dachnik Day combines  feasting and song  with a conscious recognition of spirit that expresses itself through nature.

I find it curious how Dachnik Day, conceived only ten years ago, has since then spread throughout Russia and to many other other countries, without any particular promotion.  Certainly no commercial promotion. It appears to answer a psychological need in us. But for what? It's not only a date for a good party; you can have one any Friday night. Our psyche needs to feel a connectedness with our spiritual heritage in a deep way that isn’t tainted by old traditions and dogmas. To express our gratitude for the power that makes the corn grow and provides us with our daily bread.

Happy Gardener’s Day to everyone.

Thursday, 19 July 2012

Gateway to Paradise

Recently Amber looked over the back fence as the burn flowing at the foot of a steep bank, and noticed a little glade. We all thought about sitting there by the bubbling creek. The voice of the live water can bring inspiration, peace, and open even a door to another dimension. But how to navigate the steep and slippery incline down to the water? Here's the solution I came up with--- steps cut into the hill and framed with treated wood. It's a typical technique when building a mountain trail; heavy work but with Jehan's help we banged it out in a day.

 Jehan is here from France, working as a WWOOFer. Under this program,Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms, kids volunteer to work at organic farms throughout Europe for their room and board. It's a great way to see the world on a limited budget and learn organic gardening/farming techniques. Jehan has been in Scotland since May, on the Isle of Skye,Perthshire, and now at Cottarton. Click on this link for a walk up the hill to the gate. Turn up the volume for the sound of the water. The steps are muddy, but soon a news layer of grass will make walking easier. My nephew Juan Bleggi plans to replace our old Gateway to Paradise with one worthier of the name.

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

The Weather Report for Scotland

Last night after the local news,  instead of the familiar well-dressed weather-man standing by the map of Scotland and presenting the same dull weather, there was this wild-eyed chap in wellies, with long, white hair, a loose shirt, half-unbuttoned. When he spoke it was evident that he’d lost half his teeth. This is what he said, at least until a couple of men in black appeared and marched him off camera.

Good evening. In case you haven’t noticed it’s rather cold and rainy out there. Temperatures are holding around 12 degrees Celsius, a bit disappointing considering that this is mid-July, normally the hottest time of the year. (A toothless smile) Also, if you’ve been watching the earlier news you’ll have seen the floods in England and Wales, also very unusual for this time of year. (Long Pause) It’s been raining fairly constantly, with only short breaks since April. Gardeners take note: Earth is still barely warm enough to germinate seeds. Grains are growing slowly. Elsewhere around the world: record heat waves in the eastern United States along with a loss of lives. In southern Russia, the death toll from the floods is expected to be more than 150. (His stare was serious this time).

So, what is going on? They tell you that the Jet Stream is doing something or other. (A dismissive wave). Empty words. The truth is that the Earth is very sick, and that she has a high fever. She’s alternating between shivering and sweating. Over the past few hundred years she has been poisoned and she can't take it for much longer. To resist the toxins, she must withdraw from her normal activity and take care of herself. Wrapping herself in a blanket of clouds she’s lying in a dark corner away from the glare of sunlight. With little milk with which to feed her children, she must wait until she's better.

And now for the forecast. Well, to some extent that depends on you. When was the last time that you were sick, seriously sick, in hospital having to eat hospital food. Nurses bustled in and out, stuck you with needles. Took your blood pressure. Doctors strode in, wiseacred about what might be wrong with you, shrugged their shoulders, affected a smile. A bit like our politicians and weather scientists. What made a difference to your day? It was the people who visited you. The ones who brought you grapes, oranges or a book to read. They told you how much they missed you. The wife who talked to you, held your hand,stroked your hair,or the kids who kissed you and asked when you were coming home.  Just seeing them made you feel that you needed to get better. That you couldn’t just roll over and die. At least not yet. And maybe that’s when you decided to live. That too many people depended on you.

Ah yes, the actual forecast. You want to know whether it will rain during the Olympics. More importantly whether the nearby river will crest. I’m very sorry for those of you who have lost your homes and your livelihood. My house was flooded yesterday. While I sloshed through the water in my sitting room, trying to rescue my pictures, I thought of the land. She’s sick because we poisoned her. Even while she’s trying to shake her fever, we still pump her with toxins. And we expect her to heal? She loves us and misses our love. It's time to think about her welfare, make her feel appreciated so that she knows that people still love her. Don't dismiss her because she is sick. She wants us to touch her with our bare feet, to caress her, thank her for giving us a home and for feeding us. Tend her fruits and her plants. Grow close to her. Acre by acre  help her regain her health. She needs your help. Let her know that you appreciate the bounty that she freely bestows.

Do it and you'll see her smile.

Friday, 6 July 2012

The Kin Domain

When Amber and I moved to Cottarton people often asked, “Why are you moving to such a remote place?” “What are you doing there?” Truth to say, we weren’t sure, except that we  wanted to be closer to the land, partially supported by her bounty. So did our friends at Coldhome, though in addition, they decided to build their space from the foundation up. Next to our cottage stands a field: one grassy hectare that we’d no idea what to do with. For four years we developed a vegetable and flower garden --- but what next?

Recently I discovered that we’re part of a greater movement throughout Russia, Australia, the US and Europe, of families establishing themselves on a hectare of land with the vision of building a home for their children, and their children. A place that will provide food, energy, water and most importantly good physical and mental health through work with the land. In Russia such a smallholding is known as the family hearth, “Rodovoje Pomest’e”  or the Kin Domain. 

In the UK,  the movement of families to the land is slower because of high land prices and obstructive planning regulations, but it is growing. There are a few eco-villages --- communities of energy efficient houses made of natural materials. The Findhorn Community for example. Not all houses have enough land for self subsistence. The concept of a family home passed down through generations isn’t yet in the UK zeitgeist. Mobility of family members is taken for granted. Generations are often separated by large distances.

The concept of the Kin Domain was developed in Russia, following the publication of books by Vladimir Megre,  The Ringing Cedars. The books, presented as the teachings of Anastasia, a Siberian recluse, became best-sellers and inspired thousands of people to move closer to the land. Within five years of the books’ publication over 150 new eco-villages took shape. In Russia, the Kin Domain expands on the Dacha (country cottage), and is made possible by the high availability of empty land in central Russia; Siberian ghost towns waiting for people to revitalize them. See the reference article Ecofarming and Agroforestry for Self-Reliance for how micro-farming works in practice.

These days, the nuclear family is on shaky grounds, the family table disappearing fast, children are ferried rapidly from one activity to the next, food is grabbed on the fly. In the Kin Domain, families work together to build their space, promote a sense of cohesion, an appreciation for the land and how it works. Unrealistic, nostalgic, a step backwards or all of the above? Perhaps not. As our social fabric continues to disintegrate with crime, high unemployment, violence, mental and physical illness and the breakdown of the family, it seems to me that the prospect of people working together to build a healthy life has much to commend it. If it becomes a mass movement it could emerge as the force that turns the tide for the better. Green shoots of a new civilization.

 One can be cynical and assert that Kin Domain people will booze and fight each other just as much, as folk living in council flats. Isn’t alcoholism worse among country people? Haven’t we seen it before in the sixties with people moving onto the land and growing weed? This movement appears to have a different ideology. There’s less talk about getting high and having fun,  and a lot more  about what the Earth needs: an emphasis on clean living, hard work, a spiritual connection to the land, natural healing, home education of children and building a solid foundation for a family through a monogamous relationship. Each topic could be a separate blog.

Here's the plan of Cottarton.

We’ve already dug a pond and plan to plant 600 trees early next year. Within 20 years they’ll form a forest that will break our winds, provide homes for birds, squirrels, a wood supply to keep us warm, and building material.  Our present plague of slugs suggests to me that our ecology is out of balance. We need to restore it, increase biodiversity so that the land can not only support us but a wide variety of flora and fauna (deer excepted --- they’re NOT welcome). We'll also have herbs, perennial vegetables, and one or two cereal crops to support us. All for not an unreasonable amount of work?

To be continued…..