Cuddling lambs, bottle-feeding donkeys and eating liver…

Northern Spain seems like a completely different universe to the South. It’s green green green, and the soil is so moist and easy to work with after the hard, dry ground in the Sierra. I think the perfect weather for me would be somewhere between the two… Maybe what it’s like in the middle of Spain? I don’t really know, as we were too delirious to leave the station in Madrid.

Apparently just before we got here they had a quite a few days in a row of hot days (in the thirties) and sunshine. It’s been a mixture since we arrived – a few days of rain, a few days of sunshine and a few days of just cloudy more-than-a-tshirt weather. It’s been perfect working weather most of the time – not too hot but still warm enough for shorts and a vest-top. Although I haven’t really been doing much hard, manual labour so that makes a difference. Matt and James have been working really hard building a wall, so on Wednesday they decided to start work earlier to avoid the heat in the middle of the day. Since Matthew’s alarm clock is generally me punching him in the arm and telling him that his alarm clock is going off, I decided to get up early too. I was finishing a job that I’d started the day before in the garden – planting corn. On Tuesday evening I’d spent a couple of hours weeding the area and digging trenches and then on Wednesday morning I set to mixing the soil and planting the corn. An interesting thing that Dane explained to me is that weeds shouldn’t be so much The Enemy that they are in a lot of gardening done today. Having some weeds around actually helps to keep the soil moist and healthy. So when I was weeding, I left the weeds there (as opposed to collecting them up and taking them to the compost heap) and then when it came to planting, I mimicked what Dane had done in the rest of the garden and used the weeds to make little squares around where each seed was planted. This was really handy for keeping track of where I’d got to and also made it look really neat and tidy. It was so relaxing in the garden that morning, the perfect temperature to work (funnily enough it was much warmer at 8.30am than at 2.30pm that day) and just the distant sounds of animal’s bells and birds singing.

Dane and Jillie are pretty much the same age as Matthew and I (they’d have been the year above us in school), which is funny to us because they seem like real grown-up adults and they’re married and everything. I don’t know if it’s because I’m the younger sibling, but I have this kind of automatic feeling that everyone is older and wiser than I am. Okay, not everyone. But I’m often really surprised to learn that I’m older than or the same age as people. I wonder if I appear as young to other people as I do to myself… And when will I actually start thinking of myself as an adult?

James, Jillie and Dane are all such lovely people and have been really welcoming. Each of them always thanks us really sincerely for every little thing we do. Jillie and Dane have only been here since the beginning of the year, after coming to visit as HelpX-ers like us last year and then deciding to move here. James has had Duruxa for around six years, but has only lived here full time for two. To begin with, he was working full time in Oviedo and only coming out to The Farm at weekends to work on renovating the buildings. This place really is his baby and you can tell how thrilled he is to have a community beginning to form here. It’s just the three of them at the moment, but the plan is for a larger community, and I can really visualise the place full with people and animals.

 

Duruxa is a bundle of old stone buildings (some dating back 200+ years) and wooden oreos (one-room square buildings on stone stilts). James lives upstairs in the main farm house and Dane and Jillie live in one of the oreos. Downstairs in the main farmhouse is the communal kitchen and a small living/dining area, but the table is generally outside (under cover, in front of the kitchen) and we’ve eaten outside every day so far. Before Dane and Jillie came there were no animals and no gardens or food being grown here (although James did a lot of wild foraging) – which is a bit crazy to try and imagine. Now there are various gardens around the grounds with more and more fruit and veg being grown. My favourite garden, and the one I’ve spent the most time in so far, is ‘The Circle Garden’ – named because of it’s shape. All the beds are curved, with pathways like a maze around all the huge, beautiful plants and with tree slices buried in the beds, forming stepping stones for a more direct root than the path. Also, as Dane pointed out today, if you stand at the back of the garden and look out towards the mountains “it looks like you could walk in to the sky”.

 

Oh, something I forgot to mention in my last post was that as soon as James picked us up in Cangas de Onis last week, I realised I’d left my camera in Oviedo. Pretty annoying. Luckily I have my phone and Matthew has his camera so it’s not the end of the world, but still a bit rubbish. I rang the hotel and they said they’d hold on to it for me until we’re next passing through (in two weeks), which I hope is true because there’s a load of photos on there from Karen’s and Granada that I hadn’t put on to my computer yet. Fingers crossed.

 

I am absolutely loving being surrounded by animals here. Firstly, there is Saya – Dane and Jillie’s puppy, except she’s the size of a full grown big-ish dog… she is going to be huge in a year or so. I can’t remember her breeding, but she’s a breed that is generally bought to guard sheep around these parts. She’s a cheeky little monster, not the most obedient dog in the world but she is only a baby (which is really easy to forget because she’s so big). She also doesn’t really have any other animals to play with here, although she desperately wants to make a playmate out of Pachu – the two month old donkey. I’m completely in love with Pachu, I think it’d be pretty impossible for anyone not to be. He was rejected by his mother because some silly farmer left her tied up when she was pregnant and she gave birth to him in the night and didn’t recognise him as her child by the morning. As he really should still be suckling on his mother, he has to be bottle-fed every three hours (with a mixture of powdered horse and goat milk). Best. Job. Ever. It’s pretty hard to tell how Pachu feels about anything except for milk – which he clearly feels there should be a constant supply of – he’s so nonchalant (or maybe just really zen). He likes to just wander in to the house when nobody’s there to stop him and surprise Jillie in the kitchen or demand some milk, like, now.

Duruxa also have a few acquired goats which are currently up on the mountain with a nearby farmers goats. There’s also a few sheep, including a ram and an incredibly sweet tiny little lamb who is only a few weeks old. In an effort to make him more comfortable around people than his crazy mother, we’ve been bringing her for cuddles with us at the table or in front of a film in the evenings. There’s a rideable horse called Zoco who they’re looking after for a friend and who me, Jillie and Dane had a little ride on the other day. It was nice to ride again, after riding and being surrounded by horses every day in Ireland and then boom, nothing. Also, they’re quite pleased to have someone here who knows a little about horses and could tell them how to put on the tack and hold the reins properly and things. Unfortunately, Zoco desperately needs his hooves trimming so we couldn’t ride him properly (he was tripping over his own feet), but hopefully the farrier should be coming soon to sort that out. There’s six chickens who’s eggs are delicious and there’s also four wild horses (two are semi-tame) and when we arrived one was pregnant.

“The foal will be here any day now,” we were told on arrival and on the second day, when everyone went out for the afternoon with Dane’s family, we were terrified the horse would go in to a difficult and dramatic labour with only us here to do anything.

What actually happened was on Tuesday when I was taking a siesta, I heard Dane’s voice from the top of a cherry tree.

“Oh… the baby horse is here.”

Dane announced this super casually and of course Jillie and I (and Matthew) squealed like the girls we are and everyone rushed over to the horse’s fields from wherever they were. James had said that she’d probably just get on with the birth and we wouldn’t even notice, and he was absolutely right! We’re not sure when the foal was born, but we guessed Monday night or Tuesday morning and she (and her mum) looked absolutely fine, walking around, completely clean. Amazing.

Unfortunately the mother is a bit scared of humans, what with being semi-wild and all, so it’s pretty hard to get close to the foal. But yesterday (in the rain), I spent a good forty-five minutes approaching the mother and foal, crouching down closer and closer and eventually the foal actually came over to me. I was able to stroke her a few times and I think if the mother hadn’t be there breathing in her ears (“oi, keep away from that two-legged purple thing”) then I would have been able to get a lot more interaction going on.

 

Yesterday it was time to face the unfortunate realities of trying to live self-sustainably on a farm. It was time to slaughter a lamb. Not the tiny little one that we’ve been cuddling in the evenings, but a six month old ram (well, I guess he wasn’t technically a ram yet but he had little horns). James’ friend came round to give a hand and him, James, Matthew (taking photographs) and Dane (taking notes) all gathered round for the slaughtering and skinning. Jillie stayed inside (she was also a vegetarian before moving to Spain) and I carried on with de-stoning cherries on the table outside the house – where I could see some of what was going on, but at a distance. This guy did the whole thing with one knife and made it look like the easiest thing in the world, it really is a skill. No one here at Duruxa felt particularly happy about the whole thing, and they hardly ever have meat here but… it is a sad fact of farming. Either they can have it to eat, or they can give it away or sell it to someone else to eat. Like, at ECOlonie it was a completely vegetarian community with no meat allowed to be cooked in the kitchen but they had a goat farm, for milk and cheese. If you’re getting milk from an animal, you’re getting babies from an animal and this inevitably leads to a whole bunch of extra males. Sure, ECOlonie weren’t eating them themselves, but somebody else was. The main aspiration here at Duruxa is to be completely self-sufficient – which isn’t easy – and if you’re trying to achieve that you’d be stupid to give away such a huge supply of food.

So, three months ago I basically hadn’t eaten meat for around ten years. This morning, I was James’ assistant as he axed, sawed and cut up a lamb carcass. It’s not like I’ve ever held the opinion that nobody should ever eat meat, but this was still quite an, um, occasion (?!) for me. Oh, and tonight I’m going to try lamb liver, as fresh and organic as it comes.

Eating the odd bit of meat again has been strange. You have to chew meat so much more, which is probably a good thing for me because I generally eat way too fast. Also, it’s a completely different kind of ‘full’ after eating a meal containing meat, which people have told me before and now I truly understand. I couldn’t imagine eating meat every day, you’d just feel it in your stomach continuously, surely? Strange strange strange. Although the whole thing was intense and a bit gross, this is definitely the best possible way I could be eating meat in my opinion. I saw this lamb running around the field, I know he had a happy, healthy life with owners who really care for his well-being. I know he was never fed any crazy hormones or shut away in a tiny enclosure, I know he was slaughtered as quickly and compassionately as possible, and I know he will be tremendously healthy for me to eat. Particularly his liver, it’ll boost my iron levels higher than they’ve been for years… if I can swallow the thing.

Anyway, enough about killing animals and eating them. Generally the diet here is vegetarian, as much from the garden as possible and super super healthy. Jille’s cooked up some delicious things since we’ve been here – using the most of the delcious fresh veg in the garden. The other day we tried to make some cherry cookies from the wild cherry trees… they weren’t the best cookies in the world but it was fun! Jillie made some amazing berry icecream that was much more successful.

***

So… I ate the liver! I actually quite liked it. The texture wasn’t as meaty as the other meat I’ve tried recently, less chewy. Matthew loved it, James was surprised to enjoy it because he hated liver as a child, Dane didn’t mind it, but poor Jillie completely lost her appetite after trying a bit. Luckily she’d cooked up a yummy veg stir-fry to have with it, which definitely helped… I don’t think I could just eat a whole plate of liver or anything. But yeah, it wasn’t so bad.

So I’m going to leave it there for now, but still have lots to tell! Will write again soon…

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