August 2017


Although 0.3mm of rain was forecast for yesterday the sky remained clear with no sign of rain even in the distant Spanish mountains. At teatime a few clouds appeared and water droplets fell for a minute. I was at the far end of our land and didn’t get wet. Was that all? Forecast wrong. But at least it was the harbinger of rain.

At 11pm as I was closing my laptop computer, with the living room windows still open, I thought I heard drops of rain on the “lawn” outside. I went onto the patio and there were certainly sounds of raindrops so I sat on the swing seat and listened as rain arrived, then remembered to put the rain gauge out. I listened happily for the next twenty minutes as the first rain since mid May pattered off the vine leaves and soaked into the bone-dry earth; 3.5mm fell and the air smelled sweet.

after the shower

This morning there was mist hanging on the village and the moisture allowed sounds to carry clearly. I sat and listened to the cockerels dotted around the landscape and the bells of a flock of sheep in a field to the east of the village. It was cool, lovely!

Three days ago I checked the sweetness of the grapes with the saccharometer and found that they are ready for winemaking. However they are not big and plump. After late frost froze off the first crop of baby grapes, then two weeks later in May the same again followed by three months without rain, we are lucky to even have an estimated twelve crates of fruit, under half the usual yield. I decided to hold out for some rain, to wash off traces of ash from the forest fires from the grapes and to get juicier fruit. The first rain for fifteen weeks – at last! Now, at 9am, the sun is hot as usual, but the air feels fresher and smells good.

Advertisements

The muffled sound of a slow propellor aeroplane awoke me this morning, so I knew that the forest fire in Louriçal do Campo was still burning and in its third day. I turned on the television and found (on national news) that there is now a fire even closer to us, on our side of Fundão.

alcongosta fire 14aug 2017 credit RTP

The TV shows scenes of urgent activity and people shouting with flames in the background. Outdoors here, although it is hot weather the sun is not white but orange and glows onto the parched fields where faint ash drifts down.

 

 

As we walk on the patio it swirls around our feet. The air is smoky blue, still and quiet as on a foggy day. There is no sound of birds nor barking dogs, not even tractors today. It’s like the world is waiting for something. There is the smell of woodsmoke in the air.

This picture was taken at breakfast-time from the swing-seat on our patio.

When the wind starts to blow the sun brightens and the blue smoke thins, allowing us to see through and across the valley to our village.

From the patio I can sometimes hear the drone of a fire-plane above the blanket of smoke which lies thick and grey over the Serra de Gardunha near Fundão. Today is a public holiday, Assumption of the Virgin Mary, and normally Fundão would have an extra market day. Clearly that won’t happen now.

alcongosta fire2 credit RTP

Castelo Novo is surrounded by fire and people can’t leave their village. On the internet we find that 300 firemen, 95 vehicles and 12 planes are involved in fighting the fire. Many local roads and even main roads in the area, the A23 and N18, have sections which are closed. This is for three reasons: to prevent rubbernecking, to ensure fire services have clear access, and to avoid cars getting trapped and subsequent loss of life. These are reminders of the huge fire in Pedrogão Grande last month in which officially over sixty people died -word on the ground is more like double or treble that number. The flames consume much of the oxygen from the air locally, so a car engine can’t work; it stalls. Then the car’s occupants die from smoke and asphyxiation. The same in any house in a burning forest, and there are hundreds of these houses hidden in the woods; after the fire there are no trees to hide them and their blackened walls are revealed.

Santa Luzia dam near Pedrogao, empty

Because over 70% of Portugal is classed as in severe drought (and 10% more as extreme drought) there’s little water available to douse the flames. Santa Luzia dam is almost the nearest to Pedrogao Grande and the picture was taken in July 2017. Even the base of the dam is virtually dry, and a fire plane could not fly over the surface to scoop water up from here.

 

 

Our neighbour has just phoned us to say another fire is burning six miles from us. We hope there’s no wind tonight. This picture was taken at 7.30pm from our lawn.

Update, 16th August.

No wind overnight and the bombeiros  have put out the main fire. Several fire planes went overhead mid-morning, going to the current big fire further south in Santarem. The air is much clearer now and the temperatures are back to high 30’s. We had an Amazon delivery at lunchtime and the driver said diversions are in place because power lines are down – in rural Portugal power and phone cables are not buried, they are on wooden poles. Several times we have driven through fire zones to see burning poles hanging from the power lines they once supported.

Sometimes there is poor mobile coverage in forest fire zones because the power line to the mobile phone relay masts have burnt down.

 

 

We were on holiday in Madeira and on returning to the hired car, found a ticket on the windscreen with a parking fine. To park, it seems, cost €1.50, but we had not seen the ticket machine. The fine was €150. I was distressed.

I had been reading an inspiring book, “Care of the Soul” by Thomas Moore. In it the author points out your responsibility to look after your own happiness and psychological wellbeing, and explains how to do it. “Tending the things around us and becoming sensitive to the importance of home, daily schedule, and maybe even the clothes we wear, are ways of caring for the soul”, to give ordinary life depth and value.

I have always used a fountain pen and ink for marking and for writing letters, and had decided that now, in my sixties, I’d save up to buy a really nice pen.

Parker Sonnet Fougere silver

It turned out to be a Parker Sonnet pen made of solid silver with a gold-and-platinum engraved nib and pretty gold trim. I could get a second-hand one for £230. Paying a €150 fine would wipe out what I’d saved. Laura pointed out that if I could afford to pay a €150 fine I could afford the pen, so just go ahead and buy it when I got home. Sensible.

Well, when we got back to our rented apartment Janet rang the owner to ask for help how to pay the fine and he said the €150 was accumulated parking fines on the car; ours was €6. Laura said, “There you are, dad.”

Then my mind turned over the idea, why spend so much on a pen to write letters that no-one would reply to? Janet said that’s not the point, you are not writing to get a reply, just to enjoy the experience of writing and sending the letter.

Parker steel Falcon

Also I don’t need a silver pen just to write a diary, the steel Falcon I have with a beautiful hi-tech integrated nib has been great for decades.

But still that soul issue lurked. Long story short, I treated myself. The pen sits in a little pool of light on top of the diary on my desk, so I see it many times every day as I walk past, it’s part of my environment. I use it daily and refill it with brown ink every two weeks; doing so makes me content and gives my writing time more richness. I savour using my Sonnet.

You have to be mindful of the things that make you happy and make an extra effort to do things that make you happier each day.

 For me it also means making good dinners and sitting down for a proper family meal. Having log fires in winter. Spending quality time with friends and family. Tending our trees and vines. I could do these things an easier way, but done carefully they make life richer and therefore I’m caring for my soul. Others benefit too, of course.

I could just chuck meat under the grill, but eating outdoors (a barbecue) with all the trimmings and the homemade wines is all care for our souls.

I commend this to you too. What parts of your routine give depth and meaning to your life at the moment? How would you show yourself that you care about how you spend your life, your time that you will only have this once?