Ping. Spring bursts, headlong, certain. Lucid blossom pops on the fringes of the meadow, at the feet of budding vines, on the fingertips of the black-barked almonds. The reaches of the bare walnut canopy chime with chaffinch song.
It is disconcerting, bewilderingly precipitous.
I’m trailing behind the dogs, beyond the olive grove into the spooky shadows of the pine copse on the gentle sloping terrace above the corral. It is a place of whispers, corridors and half light, not so dense, nor too open, the fitting place to bury the sparrowhawk. This is where these birds prey, breathe, strike, belong. On my looping route in and out of the wood I pass two scatterings of feathers, one from a pigeon, the other a blackbird.
The sparrowhawk cupped in my hand – a juvenile, yellow-iris male I think – still had the steel in its half-closed eyebeam; a warrior, as Ted Hughes poem keenly summed, blue shoulder-cloak wrapped about him, weighing just seven ounces. Its Jurassic feet of shocking turmeric yellow, of clinical finesse and power tipped with curling razor black talons, were as perfect as the counter shaded bars on his chest. What a terrible waste.
The last time I had been so close to murderous creation was when its cousin and another farm and valley predator, a goshawk, had broken through the net canopy of our chicken run exactly two years ago. Dim-witted, I had stepped in, over the corpses of two chickens it had dispatched, and tried to usher it out. It looked into my soul. The raptor gaze was as shocking as the bulk. It was a force of nature.
The hawks were dark, untameable, graceless creatures of history, unloved by the falconers with noble peregrines on their gauntlets. Goshawks were deemed vile and fractious, hard to master. For sure their darting, shadowy world is far harder to glimpse, let alone fathom, so different it is from the soaring falcon. But what wonder when you see a hawk, sense the menacing, brutal power from that different world, the one we rarely see and decreasingly sense: the parallel universe inhabited by other Earth creatures who have evolved to perfection, who somehow have the power to shake us humans awake from our ludicrous dream that we know and understand, are wise and supreme.
The sparrowhawk had met his end on the bumpy main road that slices through the rolling vineyards and groves a couple of miles from the farm. In its tunnel-vision, terrain-skimming pursuit of prey it had crossed the path of a truck and lay flinching on the verge the opposite side of the road beyond the crash barrier. There was nowhere for us to pull over and, as ever, crazed Catalan drivers were furiously bunched up behind our bumper like railway carriages. We were heading for the olive mill and decided to check on our return journey to see if the bird was stunned or dead.
It was still there. The life within it had frozen, the beak locked down against the barred softness of its chest. We took it home and then I found a suitable spot to bury it beneath pine needles and two hefty stones, on the lip of the copse with an uplifting open visa of the valley, near the bee orchids.
I drifted deeper into the shadowland. Through the dreamy rhythm of the dark bark I was heading for the bowl of brightness at the far end, the latest crucible of labour where we are trying to make sense of our relationship with this land. On the western fringe of the farm beside a sunken holloway of cane, oak, blackthorn and bramble, we are, as sensitively as possible, steadily freeing a line of old olives from a worryingly combustible tangle. Imagining harvests to come we steadily stack firewood for future winters. We attempt, as we have done all over the place, to thin the dominant forces and to foster diversity, with mixed results. This corner of Mother’s Garden has been abandoned long enough for some of the undergrowth to tower 20 feet above the ancient olives. At intervals the mesh of the hollow has been breached by wild boar whose well-worn paths pattern the valley like the ancient ways of hobbits. And at the deepest point, where in 15 years I have never ventured before (and where we will leave nature alone) I found the half-crater of old badger set beneath a crooked hawthorn.
All this is but 100 metres from our pony’s dusty corral that sits in an elbow of the woodland. What nights frolics the old girl must witness, which explains her propensity to doze in the winter sunshine when out to graze. The creatures – boar, owls, badgers, rabbit, rats and cats that prey on them, weasels, deer – that inhabit that other world we rarely experience, must keep her awake most of the night.
Of all the cats that live off this land, arguably the wildest has wheedled her way into our warm kitchen. Gen Cat is classically feral. Her fat ringtail, her black side stripes on camouflage grey and her fearless countenance suggest her genes are predominantly from the forest. She will take a rodent half her size, refuses to acknowledge the terriers’ hatred, and yet at the same time has the guile to circumnavigate any doubts we might have about letting such a beast on to our laps.
Back in the hollow, as I tickle along with the clearing for an hour a day in the company of all manner of living things, I breathe in the benefit. I can begin to see the progress while weighing lessons learned from living so close to that other world,, fortified by a space I foolishly used to think of as solitude.
A new BBC “trust me I’m a doctor” experiment shows that taking 20ml of raw olive oil can have a positive effect on our hearts.
Read the BBC report here.
But that is just one wisdom. Savour it fresh and it is bursting with nutrients and all manner of goodness, not to mention fantastic flavour…..
To make it part of your daily health diet go to our shop.
And if you have any questions about our multi-award-winning fresh arbequina extra virgin olive oil (less that 2 per cent acidity and always with the pressing and bottling dates) just get in touch. We give advice and talks on olive oil goodness and health, so if we can help we will.
We hope you are well and have had a peaceful Christmas.
Some important news…
The price of our award-winning extra virgin olive oil will have to rise a little in the New Year due to increased transport and handling costs.
But we will delay these increases until 1st of February so everyone who has yet to order the delicious new harvest can do so at 2015 prices.
From February the new prices will be
5 litre container – £39 (formerly £38.50)
2 litre container – £18.50 (formerly £18)
Case of 6x500ml bottles – £40.50 (formerly £40)
Also, our delivery charge for orders under £100 will be £10.50 (formerly £10).
READ THE NEW REVIEWS – AND POST ONE
We are grateful to you all for your Ongoing interest and support – and for the first reviewers to post comments about our olive oil on our improved online shop.
Have a read, and please consider posting your thoughts too. The reviews are so valuable to us as we seek to find new customers, sustain Mother’s Garden and widen knowledge and appreciation of fresh, premium extra virgin olive oil.
To post a comment just click here to go to the online shop. Click on the photograph of a 2 litre, 5 litre or case of glass bottles and this will take you to the product page. Scroll down and you will see the reviews link.
BEST WISHES FOR NEW YEAR – AND THANK YOU
Thank you so much for being a Mother’s Garden customer, and for all the messages I have received through this challenging year. I am feeling better by the day and looking forward with gratitude and hope. Mother’s Garden in all that it encompasses means so much to me – family, nature, goodness and positive challenge – and we will, with the support of a great many people, sustain and grow.
We wish you health, peace, fulfilment and joy in the year ahead, our sixteenth on the farm.
Maybe you would like to come and stay in the farm cottage?
LIVING THE DREAM – two MOTHER’S GARDEN television documentaries now free to view online.
Do you want to watch – or watch again – the TV programmes that put Mother’s Garden, and our award-winning extra virgin olive oil, on the map? Channel 4 has now made available online the NO GOING BACK documentaries, starting with our journey here 15 years ago.
People have constantly asked how they can get to see the two insights, which until now has not been possible.
Back in 2000 we volunteered to be the first family to be featured on the first series of No Going Back just because we wanted a record of our adventure, for our children and grandchildren, and for our families and friends to have a greater understanding of why we were doing this.
We did not think many people would be interested. There had been no “living the dream” programmes until then. That first documentary was screened on Channel 4 in 2002 when ITV and the BBC were showing other highly popular programmes, a premiership football match, Footballers’ Wives and a natural history documentary about gorillas.
But that night, with our young children tucked up in bed, we sat in our Catalan farmhouse beside the open fire, talking, wondering …then the phone began to ring and ring.
More than 4 million UK families tuned in to watch, and since then the documentaries have been screened around the world, spawning countless other programmes and bringing a host of wonderful people to stay on the farm.
So here it is, the beginning of the Mother’s Garden story, our search for a different way of living, that has led to our our vital extra virgin olive oil business, three books, screenplays, holiday cottage visitors from all corners of the globe.
Please share with anyone who is interested in such life stories, in the finest olive oil or who may like to visit Mother’s Garden.
DELICIOUS, HEALTHY NEW HARVEST EXTRA VIRGIN OLIVE OIL – TAKING ORDERS NOW FOR DECEMBER DELIVERIES.
There is nothing tastier or healthier than the freshest, finest food is there? But have you ever tried this?
Order yours today (for mainland UK deliveries early December).
Choice of 5 litre, 2 litre or case of 6x500ml bottles.
Our new harvest arbequina extra virgin olive oil, being pressed as I write, zinging with flavour and goodness and exceptionally low in acidity, can be on your table in time for Christmas.
We at multi-award winning Mother’s Garden are pulling out all the stops once again to make this available in the UK for the festive season. A rare treat. All you have to do is get in touch or go to our shop to order.
If you have never tried our UK Great Taste Gold Star olive oil, this is the perfect time. Drizzle it on steamed vegetables, on baked fish, onto fresh bread or winter salads. Taste the difference.
And our 500ml bottles (available in cases of 6) make excellent presents for family and friends or to take to dinner parties.
Meanwhile the shadows lengthen as the farm eases towards winter. Our olives are all in but the other village families are still harvesting and the cooperative mill is a hive of activity, blooming with the scent of fresh olive juice.
A burst of rain has brought the usual enchantments, not least wild mushrooms. People are wandering the valley with baskets under their arms, including our friend Enric who gifted us four different kinds.
The talk is of a hard winter ahead, but for now everything seems to be holding its breath. We shall see, and I will tell you.
Keep well. And get in touch if you ever want to know more about Mother’s Garden, or to visit.
A fish rises to kiss the mirror of first light. Night temperatures have dipped and the valley is a patchwork of Autumnal embers. The reservoir whispers steam and, overnight, the frenzy of dragonflies has evaporated.
The days, though, still have warmth enough to stir fragile life. How brief the moment for some creatures. The metallic, dung-loving, magnificent green bottle fly that I fished alive from the pool, for example, has but a couple of weeks from egg to death.
And the pollinators still have fare. Our hammock-supporting nispero tree is coming into flower while the countless stalks of St John’s wort, that medicinal herb or noxious and invasive weed (depending on your leaning), still flames at the water’s edge and along banks and verges. It is so named because someone noted it coming into flower on June 24th, the birthday of John the Baptist; “wort” being an old English word for plant.
I potter. Our ravens sound an angry alarm and we look up to see them haranguing a goshawk. Two men come up the drive in search of Spanish Civil War echoes. Mother’s Garden sits on part of the site of the International Brigades’ training camp before the fateful, final battle against Franco’s Fascists in 1938. It turns out one of the men has just retired from the UN, so I change the subject from the old wars to cravings for new peace.
I vent. The world is crying out for the UN to show unity of peaceful purpose far and beyond nationalistic interests. It desperately needs certainty of funding rather than voluntary donations/bargaining tools from individual governments and donors . It has to change from the endless panics of emergency appeals that give no certainty for victims and the aid workers as to how long crucial help can be given, and to recognise that the likes of Syria, Iraq and Yemen, worsening by the day, need a long-term humanitarian commitment and funding plan. And it has to lead.
With 15,000 nuclear warheads pointed in all directions (labelled deterrents to the owners but weapons of mass destruction when wielded by others) and an annual arms trade turnover of more than £50billion we desperately need to talk. Far more pressure has to be put on all our leaders to never act unilaterally but to work tirelessly within the UN for peaceful binding solutions, for this world council to be the catalyst for compassion, consideration and action to help those in need, which is, ultimately, the most courageous, lasting and effective way to break the cycle of hatred and revenge.
It must be seen to be doing this or, if like now, be held accountable.
Further, every human being should have access to the UN, whether to be heard, to offer support or receive relief, and its significance and purpose should be transparent and properly covered by the world media.
The former UN officer sighs and agrees, palpably grateful to be in retirement.
I wave them off and realise I still have in my hand the pomegranate I scrumped from our neighbours’ loaded tree while feeding their chickens for them when they were away. Guilty as charged.
A burst from the mass choir of charming gold finches in the pine tops leads me back toward the water where a brimstone butterfly curtsies like a swallow to drink on the wing. Nearby a hairy white ermine moth caterpillar looking like a dirty bottle brush is moving apace towards the carcase of a squidged fig. A white is not one of the prolific ermine web spinners (orchard, spindle and bird-cherry) that can turn hedgerows white, but a spinner all the same, providing protection from predators.
I am learning to live in the present, taking one day at a time, eyes forward. But now, for good reason, I must slip into the past tense, look over my shoulder.
I was barred from spinning through the vineyards during harvest this year (by doctors and the boss, on account of my ongoing recovery), so instead of secateurs I wielded my camera and recorded Maggie and friends at labour. A good year, it seems. The timeless appreciation of fruiting.
How I wish I kept a camera in the car all the time.
Last week Maggie and I sat in Joe’s classroom at the high school, trying to make sense of the usual cacophony of Catalan at an evening parents’ meeting. It was the same old cheek-blowing challenge and we tootled home into the night comparing mental notes. When working as a team we can usually piece some the sense together.
Then there they were, rooting in a lane-side ditch on the fringe of the soft yellow glow of the town lights, ten feet from the door of the sleeping police station. After 15 years here it was Maggie’s first face-to-face encounter.
The five young, tan-coated boars didn’t flee. They barely noticed us. We pulled up right beside them and wound down the window. The adults must have been in the shadows of the hazel grove beyond the plain trees, but we couldn’t see or hear them.
Four of the infants continued to plough up the dead leaves, but the smallest boar stopped hunting for worms and nuts and fixed us with an inquisitive, trusting stare, oblivious to the madness and danger of our species, the self-appointed lords of all.
Life seems out of sync. Colours are missing. Dawns started to have the lustre of silver dew back in August, long before the usual onset of autumnal freshness.
On one of my ambles I savoured the company of a silver-washed fritillary butterfly (Argynnis paphia), lover of oak woodland and brambles, a big beauty, swift and powerful. But where are all the painted ladies, the red and the white admirals, peacocks and tortoiseshells? Is the early dew a portent of harsh winter? Is the absence of some of the eminent butterflies the consequence of climate?
I always think of my late mother when one of these wonders of nature flickers by. She planted gardens to coax them and would relish their vivacity. It matched her own.
It is a long while, too, since I have seen a large blue butterfly, a flagship for conservation should one be needed. It is needed, of course: We need stories of endangered survivors like these, even if it is a social parasite.
The large blue female lays her eggs on the leaves of wild thyme, of which we have an abundance. Then, at a certain stage, the larvae wander off and will perish unless they are found by a certain species of red ant (Myrmica sabuleti). The ants take the larvae back to their nests where they spend most of their life cycle in safety, feeding on ant larvae. How is this possible? It seems the large blue butterfly has evolved the ability, in larvae form, to mimic the larvae of a queen ant, both chemically and acoustically. The ants are fooled into caring for it.
Countless caterpillars of the rose sawfly (Arge pagana), mustard and green with black spots, are munching their way through the leaves of Maggie’s roses. The female insect saws parallel cuts into fresh shoots of the host plant and the eggs are deposited into them.
As with the large blue butterfly, what is under our noses never ceases to amaze.
Of ants in general, there is no short supply at Mother’s Garden. Irrigation pipes are their super highways through the undergrowth – red, stinger, black, dinky and juggernaut, we have them all. Everywhere the tireless workers trundle back and forth along cleared routes, some carrying home huge pieces of plant debris, to mounds of bare earth perforated with entrances. They may well be able to carry 100 times their body weight, but I wonder why the beefier members of the colony never help the doggedly determined little one carrying the largest load.
Not budging one millimetre was a stubble-chinned Egyptian grasshopper (Anacridium aegyptium ) that had settled on the cottage door, easy to identify because of its striped eyes. I did, however, check if this was another early warning, to discover they are solitary with no tendencies to swarm in Biblical proportions. That’s a relief. This adult was a pretty dull grey, but the tiny young ones (nymphs) can be bright green, or a shade of brown, even orange.
I was doing my rounds, and the next stop was the swimming pool. There is no telling what will appear in there, and I endeavour to check of a morning before holiday guests arise, stretch and consider taking a dip.
After saving several floundering insects I cleaned the filter and removed the less fortunate, which that day included a black and white bee that still has me stumped. While I had it under the magnifying glass beside the barbecue a fearless and menacing ichneumon insect stalked about the marble work surface. What an example of our complex, unfathomable world. Then back in the office, my mind on such small yet immense things, a tiny snail emerged from the underside of my desk and, oblivious, sauntered across my computer keyboard.
With socks hung out to dry on the mountain line we ready ourselves for nut and grape harvests. First, though, we lug the industrial cast iron nutcracker outside and work through nuts unbroken since last year.- almonds, hazels and walnuts.
Lightening storms and downpours have delayed the final ripening of the grapes by a couple of weeks, and the crack of thunder was echoed by the crack of a fat branch on the fig tree giving up under the weight of fruit, leaf and water.
An adult European whip snake coiled in the recess next to the electricity meter to escape the downpour (the meter is far from the house in a brick column at the top of the land) and it would have been wise to stay there. As the clouds moved on a snake-hunting short-toed eagle cruised overhead, harried by two brave small birds which I couldn’t distinguish. There was then a flurry of feathers as our two resident ravens chased away a goshawk.
The wind that carried the storm flustered then abated and the sweet scent of wet wilderness, herb and tree, hung in the golden evening air. Night fell and the stillness of the valley was paced out by the beep-beep-beep calls of the tiny scops owls (Otus scops) as I went to bed, having learned a little more.
For more photographs – see www.facebook.com/
Mother’s Garden Extra Virgin Olive Oil has been awarded a gold star in the coveted UK Great Taste Awards 2015. This is our fourth golden honour in the annual GT Awards.
Would you like to try some? We have just 1400 litres left, available in 2 litre and 5 litre containers and also cases of 6x500ml bottles. See our shop for details.
SHAKING THE TREE NEEDS REVIEWS
A long-distance hug to everyone who has bought the new Shaking The Tree e-book. Would you consider posting a review?
Two options – Good Reads and Amazon Books. Here are the links.
There is no more poignant measure of treasured time than the faces of your children.
The pig flew. Oh alright, it didn’t, but when whistled the hefty creature skipped daintily out of the almond grove, before hoofing it across the stable yard to bound up some railway-sleeper steps and join us on the play area terrace. It nudged its owner as much to ask “Yep?”, then turned to watch a girl on a swing.
The pig – Xanxa (Chancha) – stopped chewing and I could swear her head was faintly moving with the pendulum, further proof positive of salient thoughts. I would have given more than a centimos to know what they were.
Xanxa, of the spotted variety, bunks down in a pen the size of a tennis court with two floppy-eared goats, four noisy sheep and a pocket-rocket stallion pony. But for great lumps of time she is free as a wild hog, a good natured and heavily petted favourite at a farm school run by our old friends Carme and Joan.
The farmer who lived at Mother’s Garden from 1924 to 1964 had at least one pet pig. Do you know anyone with one? Tempting. What made me study Xanxa as she studied the swing was the flawless obedience, cognitive charm and contagious happiness, only the last of which can be found with our loopy terriers. Do pigs chase cars? I don’t think so.
Blasts of rain have greened up the pear tree terrace where La Petita is tethered just out of reach of the fruit. Blue-black fledged swallows twitch their tails on the sundial as fearless young, raised in the barn, unreasonably expect their parents to still feed them. At the back of the olive grove on rougher ground a host of gipsy roses or butterfly blues – scabious – are a wild flower feast for the pollinators, including lesser swallowtails. These subtle blooms will bring colour and lure fascinations well into autumn. They are treasures you can easily pass by: The small flowers are deserving of you kneeling to take in the intricacy.
On the meadow of a morning, crowding around our lone cherry tree we have an abundance of the tender blue of chicory, while at the top of the land there are mesmerising globe thistles, throbbing with blue violet light. Blue is not the celestial prerogative. Even as you walk there are flashes from the host of blue-winged grasshoppers leaping out of your path.
Apples, plums and elderberries bubble on the stove. Maggie’s APE jelly is legendary. And still the bushes and trees sag with fruit. August opened with the clatter of thunder and puddles, so as I said the grasses have come again, much to the contentment of our equine barrel, now almost 30 and full of heart. We must be doing something right. The verdant resurgence will make the going tougher, though, for the rare Mediterranean tortoises, another of which, a 20-year-old male, emerged on the farm last week. That makes three.
I swim sedately in circles in the reservoir, like a gentleman of leisure in a Turkish bath nervous about his toupee, my alarmingly wafer frame out of sight to all but the goldfish, frogs and water boatmen. The strict orders are still in force, but trying to be inactive when there is so much to be done is torture. The good news is I seem to have put back on about nine pounds, not that it shows. And my marbles are regrouping.
The Moon Daisy film project is about to do the rounds of casting agents, directors etc in America, so channel all positive vibes in that general direction please. Ideally, we need a great actress of circa 50+ to read the script and want to do it, it offering, after all, the phenomenal role of key protagonist Jess Healey. What? Not read the book? I forgive you. Only about .0001 per cent of the UK population have…. yet. I aim to return to work on another screenplay this month, one that is stirring interest in three countries. And sales of e-book Shaking The Tree, full of nonsense like this, continue to click upwards.
Meanwhile I read almost incessantly, although it is costly. Coleridge beckoned the other day (I had been learning about his habit of climbing mountains and getting into tight spots) so took one of his tome’s off the dangerously shallow shelves (another Kirby cock-up) that scale the wall beside my bed. When I put him back he wobbled; then, to save himself, he nudged the collective works of William Cowper who lost his footing. Coleridge clung on, but hardback Cowper plunged, smashing the face of my mobile phone idling on the bedside table.
Now I’m reading Cowper, of course. God may well move in a mysterious way, his wonders to perform, but I’m after Cowper’s nature writing and telling observations. It is good to be reminded that existence is a strange bargain. Life owes us little; we owe it everything …. and so on.