Tuesday 18 October 2011

Highlights of our first proper visit

We went to visit in late September for three weeks, partly to introduce Maia to her Polish family, and partly to make a start on our new future home. Here are the highlights of our visit:

1. Walking on to the land for the first time:

From the NE, our land starts with the treesAnother new view from the SE 
We did walk around quite a lot when we first looked at the property last Easter, but it was great to know that we're actually going to make it our home. Also, all through the three weeks it seemed like every time we stopped and looked around we got a new perspective, saw something new and beautiful again...

2. Getting the rubbish cleared:

We spent about five days clearing rubbish. It was quite a sad experience: apparently this house was the grandest in the area when it was first built, but it's last owner didn't manage to live up to this legacy and the rubbish everywhere told a story of things being lost and broken all the time and a family life in some chaos...
Here's one of the trailer loads of rubbish ready to go, and it was a huge relief to be able to walk around and find empty spaces and piles of wood instead of plastic.

3. Planting

This happened quite late, and it was too dry and early to plant trees as we'd hoped, but we did plant some walnuts - eight pairs, here with my nephew Adam doing the honours - and we also planted some calendula seeds and some green manure seeds (sunflowers, flax, peas and clover). Fingers crossed for some growth through all the weeds and the hard winter ahead...

4. Wildlife

We saw this pile of sand and went to investigate. I'm peering down a large hole and thinking about badgers...?

We also have an owl living in one of our barns (behind the trailer full of rubbish above) which is fantastic, except we'll be worrying about disturbing her when we start work properly...

Of course there were deer, buzzards flying overhead, frogs and crickets everywhere, loads of varieties of colourful bugs, woodworm and mice and voles and moles. Not a great many birds, but I think that will change once we start working more on the land and create better environments for them.

5. Flora

It was pretty late for most flowers, despite the Autumn sun still keeping me hot at work. As I walked from the SE though I found huge patches of all sorts of flowers that were resisting the thick grass from the rest of the land. Loads of evening primrose, loads of wild strawberries, lots of signs of cultivated strawberries further on, and lots of patches of other things that I can't identify yet, like this picture.

A friend of a friend does expert reports on the ecological value of land, and we're hoping he can come and have a look next summer. It certainly looked to me as if we had an exceptional habitat worth maintaining and supporting, but maybe that's just because we've been using so many chemicals for so long in the UK, and this could be common in Poland...?

6. Trees and woodwork

I always want to do more green woodwork, but it's hard (or expensive) to get the materials and the space to work them in Wakefield. In our orchardy haven there are so many trees we need to cut some of them down and it seems a shame to simple burn them. It was great stripping the bark and creating a frame for our treebog, although we ran out of time in the end. My first job was to build a saw horse from recycled planks from a barn, which was good. I found that nailing through green sycamore was very hard though!

7. Autumn harvest

8. Farm work

This is an 'arfa' or winnowing machine. Unfortunately my brother in law had an accident at work and cut his hand. Fortunately helping him out meant I had to use this thing which I found fascinating. A very simple machine, the electric motor turns a wheel which turns a fan. There's also a simple lever mechanism on the other side that moves a series of four big sieves from side to side. You pour grain into the top, the chaff get's blown out of the back (right of this picture), grit falls down the funnel at the bottom, and the cleaned grains come down the shoot on the left. More pictures here.

The only little thing was he needed 900kg, in eighteen 50kg sacks. In Poland, like in the UK, you're not supposed to lift more than 25kg at a time. Luckily there's a simple work around - just tell farmers to use two people to move the bigger sacks... Needless to say this doesn't happen in practice, and I changed some fat into muscle. I also got to drive tractors and use a chainsaw and do other things that exercised my health and safety instincts :-)

9. Art work

I was asked to help dig a foundation trench for a new shed, and the first thing was to dig out a large stone. What they didn't realise was that only about 5% of the huge boulder was visible above ground, and that I would take on the task as a kind of Goldsworthy-esque art project and dig a nice neat trench all the way round. Someone then came and blew it up with explosives, and still it was a huge struggle involving borrowing stronger tractors and trailers to get the pieces out, but we did manage to get a few pieces delivered to Sadowo where we may do some granite carving in the future...

10. Forest walk

One Sunday we went for a walk, including venturing together into the huge neighbouring forest. I love forests, and this was almost as magical as when I went in April. No elk this time, but mushrooms and flowers and calm and quiet and dappled light and visions of many more visits in the future as Maia gets older...

11. Star gazing

The skies are really clear and there is hardly any light polution. I saw in Wales a discounted little book of the night sky, and I was able on a couple of nights to learn more about what I was looking at, identify a few more constellations, and find the Pleiades.

In Greek mythology, Maia was the eldest daughter of Atlas and Pleione, immortalised in the Pleiades star cluster, or seven sisters. I was very pleased to be able to find this in the sky too, although we could do with some binoculars to see them more clearly.

It was quite a hard trip in many ways, but there was a lot to celebrate and we're looking forward to the future.

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