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3A4E1C57 (640x387)[1] Well looks like winter is arriving, nights are getting colder up here. Over the past four days we have gone from both windows open and just a sheet, to big window closed, plus duvet, light blanket and bedspread brrrr.  If you consider the days which are warm and sunny it says a lot about mountain living.

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This is the view of the maser from our back garden in the last of the evening sun, it is lovely at this time of year with the light throwing shadows it can sometimes look like a scene from an old painting.

So what happened? I’ll tell you.  We had decided to re-locate the wood-burner so when we came home and spent a cold evening I decided to get the job done. Out came the hand-held jack hammer, a few minutes and the hole was cut then came the shaping and fitting of the chimney pipes, followed by the cementing in of same.  So with hole duly knocked in wall, pipes fitted and cemented in (know I did a good job my wife inspected it to make sure there were no gaps for wasps or anything nasty to creep through) I smoothed the outside wall and went to have a rest. I felt really tired and had begun to sniff, It seems flying does not agree with me too well, although the flight was good and the crew were very cheerful and pleasant, I have caught a bug which is not good. DSCF4363 (640x480)

The Villian

It was at this point after making me a cuppa, putting away my tools and telling me to sit still for a while, my wife went off to her potting shed to continue re-potting her plants. However, I decided to finish the job and went to re-place the  whirly gig top on the chimney pipe. Now as you can see it is metal and just sits over the pipe so nothing hard about it except…. it slipped slightly and attacked my finger.  So a few minutes later there I am standing on the patio arm in air with thumb pressed hard against the finger blood dripping from the wound forming a nice little pattern on the patio NCIS would have liked that.

When she saw this my wife didn’t know whether to get the car out or sort it herself, but seconds later she appeared with a bowl of water and walked me into the kitchen hand in bowl.  Then disappeared to get her medical basket, by which time I had managed to dry the cut – which is quite deep – and she proceeded to bandage it up.

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Now for those of you who remember my other events with the ham knife – this is the only one left and its a small one – I can now tell you that unless I am wearing gloves I am BANNED from touching anything with a sharp edge….  I am currently sitting in my chair typing as I have developed a rather nasty cold and bad tummy, not really my weekend.  Still I am being well cared for and get to watch as much sport as I like hehehe.

(c) Michael Douglas Bosc

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This is what we should have seen

So today we were supposed to have snow, did we? Well let me tell you what happened.

This all started around Friday. We had been looking at the weather chart for our area and getting rather excited because according to the predictions we should have been in for some rain then snow.  Oh we fall for it every time.  Friday arrived bright and sunny if a little cold, so we decided to get some wood and even sat outside drinking coffee in relative comfort. However as the afternoon drew in we had 6 flakes of snow.  The nights here have been really cold and on Friday morning I found a bucket of water was literally a lump of ice.

On Saturday it was a sports day Rugby 6 Nations on the tv so I made my mind up it was to be a jimjam day in front of the fire. But again the weather was sunny so we went wooding again. In the forest further up from us are 4 very large pine trees which were blown over about a year ago, this meant they were just right for burning, so along with the chainsaw my wife and I set to work. Now you would think that two humans and a very noisy chainsaw would frighten the birds, don’t believe it. As fast as I was sawing and my wife taking the wood to the road this big fat Robin with a brightly coloured chest was bossing his way around the area, looking for whatever he could find.  I had left my wife searching for small bits of wood while I took a load of wood home and on my return I was surprised to see not one but several Robins busy sifting through the sawdust and discarded tree bark for tasty morsels.

Well with wood stored and firewood in house I reverted to my original idea and settled in front of the fire and tv to see both games and of course England win the Calcutta Cup. The night got really really cold another look at the weather chart suggested that sometime during the night we might get snow.

This morning however we woke to a rather watery sky and the cold, made a cup of tea, lit the fire and returned to bed where it was warmer. Then the hunters arrived bringing with them a grey sky and lo it RAINED! Needless to say two very upset and bedraggled hunters returned to their car bemoaning the weather man.  My wife dashed to the weather chart and it showed rain which SHOULD have been around the 2mm mark and there were also lots of large snowflakes showing. Oh won’t we ever learn? It must have rained for about 20mins, we got all excited brought extra wood in got the camera ready and waited….  Suns out and yep you’ve guessed it we are still waiting, but one day………..

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Well it had to happen sooner or later, I finally got to use…. ‘The Chainsaw’. da da daaaa.

It all started yesterday with the hunters and some very large gusts of wind. We were woken by the sound of vehicles and dog bells which herald the start of the hunting season.  The day was fine but cloudy  with the sun hazily peeping through, however by midday it had gone completely.  So we decided to do some of the odd jobs that we have been putting off.   It is surprising how good you feel when you tidy up the yard, but as the clouds got denser – and no, we did not get any rain – the wind picked up again.  Strong gusts blew through the yard making me wonder if the shed roof would blow off again.

Around this time I decided I should go and watch the Moto GP which was I discovered just up the road in Aragon, only to find that I had missed most of it so ended up watching Midsummer Murders oh well.

Then the sun came out, it warmed up so we decided to go and fetch the house water from the Hermitage at St. Jerome, so we loaded up the car with containers and set off. Halfway down the track we came off the riverbed – it’s been dry for a very long time – to find that the wind had brought down 4 fir trees.  This was too good to miss, I got out of the car took a look and decided these were destined for the wood pile.  I had been meaning to start on that wood pile for a long time, but since the incident with the ham knife and my finger http://bit.ly/mZJKlg,  my wife has not let me near the chainsaw.  But not today, this was a job for the morning, so I turned the car round and we drove up the valley to the ridge along that into Mora, found the garage bought some wine to celebrate finding the trees then went to collect the water.

There is a spring at St. Jerome which everyone uses for drinking water so we all fill up containers there.  To get there it is up hill again so our new fun is free wheeling down to the town. You can’t go fast because of the water ‘bumps’ these are placed across the road so that rain water (when it rains) can run off into the fields, they are not small or gentle so you have to break when you get to them. Anyway home we trundled happy in the thought of cutting wood. ‘Are you going to use a hand saw or ……..’THE CHAINSAW’?.  I’ll decide in the morning…….

I woke early, today was the day – Chainsaw Day!!!  I got up changed the chain, got fuel, oil and mask I was ready.   I drove us to where the trees were, turned the car round and took the ‘beast’ from the car.  The trees had been broken and fallen on to each other, so I managed to get the smallest one on to the track tied it to the towbar and got my wife to drag it back to the Finca. Before leaving me she handed me my phone ‘just incase’ oh ye of little faith I can master the beast.

When she had gone I turned my attention to the other three.  They were laying on top of each other sawing them from stumps was not the problem, it was the small branches which were problem.  They could spring back and catch me,  and yes one did. It was only a scratch, but it did hurt. By the time my wife got back I had finished cutting them from their stumps, and they were lying in the road.  I had just wandered down to the corner when the car hurtled round the bend my wife had arrived!

She was not the only one. After she’d had turned and backed the car up the slope, been pleased that I had cut the trees free without a mishap a 4×4 trundled on to the scene.  It was the boys from Garcia, come to move the trees.  They were first a little surprised, but after I said we were collecting them for firewood, I think they were glad that the ‘mad English’ were doing it for them. It was nice to think that they would have moved them for us but we got there first……

So we dragged the trees back to the farm for cutting up later.  It was warm so we decided to go shopping so went into town.  We got back around mid afternoon, and after something to eat it was… fun time.  It was a joy to cut the wood, making sure that nothing could fall on me, I dispatched the trees…I’m a lumber jack and that’s ok……

The final act of the day was to take the wood to the wood pile and then have a coffee on the patio looking at the stars.

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This is the river bar, only open in the evenings, It overlooks the river near the bridge which people have named the McDonald’s bridge because it looks like the symbol, only it has been here for over 80 odd years. The river bar is bright and relaxing, we sometimes go there after I have finished playing petanca as it’s near the courts.

Looking at these pics it does not seem possible that all is not calm, however it has been one of those weeks again. It all started when I woke on Saturday morning with a bad back. All the good work the chiropractor has done somehow got undone over night.  I have been a good boy, not lifted anything, just played petanca and taken my wife shopping.  I do enjoy our Wednesday trips to the market, then coffee after really nice.

After that we went to the Club Nautique bar for a drink as it was a hot day.  We sometimes stop here after petanca and watch the young rowers practice for the Muleta races. Normally they would have taken place a week ago but the new mayor of Mora D’Ebro cancelled the Mora Morisco, so no races or fiesta.  Anyway here are the boys and girls practicing.

As you can see from these pictures the boats are large and can be heavy to move but the smiling faces of the girls says how much fun they actually have.

So after a drink and game of draughts we went home. The rest of the week passed without any problems, but when I woke on Saturday my back was very painful, I really don’t know what I had done to it, but I watched  the F1 qualifier not too bad, bit disappointed in Maclaren though.

However, Sunday was another matter.   I think I mentioned that my wife won a Hammon, (this is dried ham) so just before F1 started I decided to cut some slices to munch while it was on.   Now the knives that are needed to cut these hams are razor sharp, the outside of the dried ham is rock hard, says it all really.  So suddenly, there I was arm in air, wife doing her oh my god he’s hurt routine. When I had finally convinced her that it looked worse than it was, (the blood on the kitchen floor and over the sink didn’t help) out came the nurses hat and the iodine… Oh how I hate that stuff it really really stings… That was bad enough but it was the alcohol she used to clean the wound that made me shout, well living in the country side you have to take proper precautions when silly old fools do this sort of thing.

So I have spent the week with a plaster on my finger, it came off today there will be a scar crescent shaped but hey battle scars are ok.

Anyway she rang the chiropractor and made an appointment, on Monday it was back to see the chiropractor and now it’s no petanca, again. There is a competition coming up next weekend  expect my wife will have to take my place in the team, they will win, hey ho….  But before that we went shopping into Carrefore, then to Lee Roy Merlin’s (that’s a bit like B&Q)  so what did I buy?  A nice chainsaw to help me cut the olive wood, strange really, my wife won’t let me use it, something about silly old fools and tools…..

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When you think of a forest  you picture tall trees, sun dappled glades, leafy paths, bramble patches, carpets of bluebells, swaths of primroses dotted with wood anemones. Flat tracks wending their way through the forest, perhaps a house here and there nestling in the arms of the trees, birds, deer, rabbits, foxes, badgers and other wild animals.

What you do not think of is war. Death, fighting, guns with bullets flying around, men fighting and dying on the terraces amongst the trees. A bloody time in Spanish history, when men fought their own people, even their own families, fighting for freedom and their rights – Civil War. This is the story of such a forest the one I live in and love.

The Bombed Church at Garcia

From 1936 to 1938  the Spanish Civil War  centered around this area, the river, train line, and mountains.  The village of Garcia was bombed by the Germans who used the civil war to practice their skills for when they took on England and the rest of Europe.  There the church was badly damaged, it has been left untouched, a memorial, and a new one was built in the village.

The rail bridge that crossed the Ebro was also bombed and destroyed  in an attempt to cut off supplies to the Republicans. It was later re-built in its present form providing a service to Barcelona one way and Llieda the other. Although passenger trains still run it is mostly freight that uses it now.

Memorial at Mora de Ebre

Every year the town of  Mora de Ebro re-enacts the crossing of the river and street fighting between the Republicans and Franco’s troops.  The town has erected a steel boat in commemoration of the event and planted a shrub at each corner.  On Catalan Day, the various organisations the Petanca Club included, lay flowers there.

The Republicans fought Franco and forced him back as far as Corbera de Ebro. The Russians, who had been supplying the Republicans with arms, stopped the supply, and the last battle in this area was fought at Corbera de Ebro. The village being raised, has been left as it was, their memorial to those who died both soldiers and civilians. A new village has grown up around the ruins and a thriving wine industry has developed. Amongst the fighting men of the International Brigade was George Orwell whilst Ernest Hemingway wrote for the North America papers, keeping people informed of the struggle

Since we have lived here I have dug up bullets and machine gun ammunition, some of it still live. We took a batch to the  History museum at Gandessa, here they have a pictorial history of the war as well as artifacts. Here we found out the just what the fighting had meant and saw a photograph of the railway bridge at Garcia destroyed by the Germans.

At peace

But that was then.  Today the forest is a place of quiet, with a sense of peace and safety. The only disturbance is the odd vehicle or bicycle going up or down the valley.  The track that wanders towards our farm, twists and turns its way through it, crossing the baranca then upwards and onwards. It is rough and stony, kept as natural as possible allowing nature to repair and heal its scars.

Parts are in dappled shade others in full sunlight, tall pine trees line the way whilst the natural oak trees, more like bushes than trees, dotted here and there, fight for their place in the ecological way of things. Today that is the only type of battle here, takeing a walk along the track reveals birds and flowers of  various types, some already known others new and interesting.

           

At this time of year the forest comes alive. Grape hyacinths, minature daff0dils, asters, poppies and much more flora than I can name. These are followed by wild Jasmin and Honeysuckle their perfume filling the evening air. The one flower we look forward to seeing is the little Orchid that grows under one of the olive trees. It’s small but perfect blooms are the highlight of the season, small purple slippers on green stems.

On a logging trip

I forage for fallen trees to stock up the winter log pile, noting where the squirrel drays and the misletoe balls are.  There are all sorts of shrubs and trees to be seen if you look between the pines. We have the odd Carib tree, Witch Hazel its stems corkscrewing skywards. There is one bush which spreads and covers a wide area, green with a reddish tinge in winter, which in spring is covered with red berries a birds delight.

To one side of the house is a terraced hill from where the views are spectacular, the local hunters  hunt there during the season on Sunday mornings.  Sometimes they shoot a wild boar but more often than not they leave as they arrived empty-handed.

A Squirrels Dray

The squirrels here are dark red almost black in colour. Thin furry sticks of mischief with pointed ears and a thick bushy tail, they dart along the branches of the firs playing games of run and jump.  It is later in the year we notice them more, when they are hunting for their winter stores. There is a Dray near the small house which is refurbished from time to time.

I have tried not to disturb my surroundings in the years I have been here.  Because I do not use chemicals on the land, the birds and insects have gradually returned to their habitat.   The olive trees, some hundreds of years old are doing well and with selective pruning, provide enough oil for the year.

Considering what has happened here over the years we feel safe. It is as if the forest envelops us in a healing of souls, just us and nature. This then is my forest valley, my home.

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The macer and forest

Writing is a consuming occupation. I have been so tied up in other events that I almost lost sight of where I live, and why I live here. We chose this place, our little bit of heaven, from one photograph on a sales blurb.  What makes you choose where you live? well apart from the reason you are looking to move it’s the feel of the house when you walk in the door; it will either say welcome home or I’m not for you.  Very seldom is it the surroundings, but in our case that was exactly what grabbed us.  

We looked at the photograph of a small Spanish house with a cisterna at its side and a large olive tree to the right and fell in love.  We came here knowing that we would have to be very green and inventive in our life style. The family thought we were mad but I am not sure they still think it now.  We have everything everyone else has electricity via solar and batteries, with generator backup for the winter months and to run the washing machine.  Hot water system, cooking and fridge/freezer are run by bottled gas, whilst the fire is fueled by wood.  We are not allowed to cut trees down without permission but being in the valley the wind can sometimes be very strong and trees are often blown down so there is never a shortage.

 Our main problem is water. We do not have a well and the cost of drilling one would be prohibitive, so we have stayed with the cisterna plus a header tank which provides the pressure for showers and washing machine. As I said before we have decided to add a few more tanks so that if the family come to visit there is plenty of water. The one thing we have learnt is how to conserve it, such as the washing is done once a week not every day. We shower quickly not take ages in there, the washing up is the only exception, all in all we have it sussed.

So how do we cope in the winter? quite well actually. The strange thing is last year it snowed and we were very warm and cosy. This year it has been so cold, that we have had to have the portable gas fire on in the bathroom during the evening and bedroom during the day as well as the fire going.  It is unusual in the fact that neither the house nor outside temperature have warmed up, so we have been cutting extra wood, it is surprising how many fallen trees you can find when you look.  Who said can’t see the trees for the wood? it can be very true.

I am pleased to think that when I get cross with the things I see happening in the world I can step outside and get a better prospective on life, its a true place of sanctuary.

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Although we do not have water on our finca after it has rained we are entertained by the singing of some rather fat toads who are out on the pull.

 

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We first saw one when I was moving some wood and found underneath a large spotted yellow toad next to a black curled up snake. The snake went flying via a long stick and the toad decided to hop it. Then a few days later we saw a brown toad by the wall.  These toads are here all the time they hide away during the hot weather but when it cools down and the mornings are laden with heavy dew, they come out. After dark they start their mating calls hoping to find a willing female. This year the cicadas had only just finished their nightly chatter when the toads took over. They have been happily singing for several nights now sexy little dears.

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As for Jimmny Cricket. I was looking at the young walnut tree when I noticed a large insect sitting on a branch. It is about 3-4 inches long, strong hind legs, with long feelers, it was its head that told me who it was. (Walt Disney can be useful). Anyway, there he was sitting there quite content and utterly convinced he was invisible – the walnut tree is a very young one and he is almost as long but not quite as the branch he was sitting on. I have taken photos, only not with a digital camera so it will be a time before I can post them. This evening when we came home Jimmny decided to play ‘you cant see me’. As we walked past the tree he moved round the trunk in the hope he would be invisible. It is now midday and I have just looked, he is still there enjoying the weak sunshine. Nature can be wonderful.

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