It’s been a while since we wrote. Life is moving on, gently, incrementally, so a lot has changed without our really having found anything momentous to blog about. Nevertheless, an update is in order!
Harvest season is over, and considering how little work we did sowing and tending this year, we must be pretty smug about the crop! Uncounted kilos of apples, enough walnuts to keep us through the winter – jars and jars of japonica jelly, quince jelly and membrillo, apple sauce, hawthorn jelly…
One momentous event has to be that Ria is now living full time on the premises. Roughing it a little, particularly since the bathroom facilities are so basic. Chrisje and Theo between them got the fuel-oil stoves working (though the one in the living room needs professional repair) – they will have to see us through this winter, as we’re not yet far enough along. I’d never seen one of these stoves before – they have quite a distinctive burner. I guess they’re indigenous to this place – the café next door but one has an identical one. They are very efficient! Keeping the kitchen stove on the lowest stetting heats the whole living space – and maintains a constant supply of hot water (slow heated in kettles), cooks the rice, soup, apple sauce and what have you at no extra cost. Though, yes, it’s fossil-fuel guzzler, so it’ll have to go!
The architect – a very friendly, understated gentleman by the name of Eduard Maes – has visited us twice, to hear our desiderata and measure the place up. It’s a bit like lining up dominos – we still need to make some strategic decisions about how we’re going to heat the place, how we’re going to harvest water, what to do in what order, bearing in mind that the roofs are going to have to come off… We are quite clear that we want to do as much as we can ourselves, and wherever we can, we want to learn from the folk that come to do the work.
One source of learning who has already brought his knowledge and experience into the mix is Mark, fresh back from Greece on his way to Lithuania with his little dog – a mine of information about growing things and building things. We took him off on a jaunt to buy some tools at a real Aladdin’s cave of ironmongery in Aarschot, and then used the tools to pry up some of the floor(cup)boards in the attic to inspect the state of the beams.
Now that the frost and snow have put paid to our swale-digging fantasies for a while, we have turned our attention to the joys of demolition, and are preparing the uninhabited upstairs realms for rehabilitation – whatever form that might ultimately take. Dismantling the partitions, pulling down ceilings, making a deal of dust and an unsightly pile of debris in front of the house.
In all this activity, I must admit to being overawed by the competence and effectiveness of my sisters in crime, Ria and Chrisje. I feel quite inept and clumsy in comparison, and tend to content myself with fiddling around the edges while they get on with the ‘real’ work. That left me, for example, dismantling the old mattrass in the front bedroom – what an education that was. Discovering craftmanship while stripping something back down into its basic components, blocks of wood, nails, tacks and staples, a miscellaneous assortment of springs, some kind
of grass or straw (that will go straight onto the garden), an expanse of jute/hessian that will serve nicely instead of a carpet to combat weeds and prepare soil for the spring… I was reminded of what I have been learning in John Michael Greer‘s book The Ecotechnic Future, about the scavanging society that will most likely come once we find ourselves having to re-use the minerals and metals we have already taken from the ground, when we no longer have the available energy to extract more. The calories and time required to dismantle that mattress was quite staggering – although less, I’m sure, that that needed to construct it in the first place. I really wonder whether we’ll find some ingenious use for the springs. Whatever happens, I felt a lot better afterwards than if we’d just dumped the thing in a landfill.