Tag Archives: Apples

Qiāng watchtowers of Suopo

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As we stepped carefully across the rotted timber planks of the bridge separating Suopo village from the south side of the Dàdù River the strain and hardship of the past few months began to disassemble. There’d been few opportunities lately to feel as free and unburdened as this: no visas; no language barriers; no early starts; no borders; no rucksacks; no interference – not today.

Prayer flags, nimble and translucent as bat’s wings, threatened to take off in the wind. Gazing at them I was reminded of the weeks we’d spent, four years ago, walking between the villages of the Nubra and Indus valleys in Ladakh, and rejoiced at the persistence of communities, the world over, who live and work in harmony with nature. Continue reading

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‘dem APPLES

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When you’re travelling some days turn out scrambled and others sunny-side up. Our day in Almaty was going the way of the former: scrambled. The apples, we were told, were no longer on the trees, and the co-ordinates we’d been given for the wild apple forests were more than a day’s walk away, beyond the reach of Almaty’s public buses and the elasticity of our rapidly shrinking budget.

In the Sayran Bus Station we picked up a weak wifi signal, slapped out the laptop, and stared in befuddlement at a Google Satellite image. N43.22.11’, E77.40.36’ was a nameless collection of bunched green ridges, gullies and veins of rock. With a little over 24 hours  remaining on our Kazakhstan visas, finding Malus sieversii would be like looking for a needle in a haystack with the added diversion of a ticking time bomb resounding in our ears. Admitting it hurt like a shot in the foot. “Sorry guys it’s off the cards”.

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Our timing in Kazakhstan had been off from the start. By the time we entered the country on the 14th of October half of our 30-day Kazakhstan visas had already elapsed. It was our fault really, a foolish burst of optimism that had made us think we could dance our way around Russian visa red tape in Tbilisi in under three weeks. The two unscheduled weeks in Astana waiting for our China visas was the final undoing. We’d gone about it all wrong, and as a result, we’d be entering China sans the precious Malus sieversii seeds. Continue reading

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Tale of two cities

View of Astana from steps of Khan Shatyry

Acquiring a Chinese visa has become a tale of two cities: Tbilisi (Georgia) and Astana (Kazakhstan).

Hapless bunglers that we are, we had hoped, indeed expected, that the wide world of borders would stay open to us even after we left Europe. As it turns out,  Georgia is the last ‘easy’ country for holders of a British or Australia passport to enter. Since crossing the land border between Turkey and Georgia at Sarpi, border-hopping has become increasingly difficult, time-consuming and costly.

A word of advice to the brave-hearted: it is possible to travel by land from Georgia toRussia, Russia to Kazakhstan and Kazakhstan into western China. The route that we took (we’re not as far as China yet) is as follows: Tbilisi to Kazbegi (mashutka), Kazbegi to Vladikavkaz (private vehicle), Vladikavkaz to Mineralnie Wodi (train), Mineralnie Wodi to Volgograd (train), Volgograd to Aksaraiskaia (train), Aksaraiskia to Atyrau (train) and Atyrau to Astana (train). HOWEVER, if you haven’t already acquired visas for these countries in your home country, then count on it taking some time and a reasonable amount of expense.

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Breaking crust

The farmhouse, Momavlis Mitsa

Saturday morning in Argokhi. There is work to be done: water butts to fill; pigs to feed; floors to sweep; tea to brew – but there’s no hurry. I sit on the steps cracking hazelnuts, listening to the sounds passing up and down the lane on the opposite side of the above-head-high metal fence. I hear ducks squawking, the lazy turning of cartwheels, neighbours fussing, the crank of the timber grape press, and the occasional sound of apples falling from the tree. It’s mid-autumn. Every warm day between now and Christmas is worth its weight in gold.

Working on Momavlis Mitsa (Future Earth) farm in Argokhi has ameliorated the discomfort of waiting for visas in Tbilisi. Instead of sitting like ghosts in some disembodying hostel, milking the wifi and kicking stones down Marjainishvili on the way to the Metro, we’re working outdoors, using our lungs and hands to lift things, fix things, bake things, grow things.

Creating new raised beds

Richie and Sam adding rotted compost to the soil

In the garden we’re asked to do things we’d never do at home, in our own garden: pull weeds, hoe earth, turn soil, plant monocultures and raise new beds without mulching them. I bite my lip as Inken, the 18-year-old longterm German volunteer, instructs me on how to break the ‘crust’ that has formed on the surface of the soil due to successive phases of watering and sunshine. We work the hoe forward while simultaneously walking backwards down the aisles. I wonder if I’m disturbing the roots of the small plants, and why there are no bugs or worms in the soil.

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East is east

Not to touch the earth,
Not to see the sun.
Nothing left to do but
Run, run, run.
Let’s run.
Let’s run.
– ‘Not to Touch the Earth’, Jim Morrison –

The dispersing of students after the PDC brought us to the steady conclusion that it was high time to make tracks. With our new recruit, Sam, we packed bags and gathered our strength. Let’s go! “To the East, to meet the Czar…”

The train tracks ate up the miles. Shades of KLF Chillout Album as ambient sounds, lights and the sporadic music of doors opening and closing rippled through the carriage. Lying prone on the grimy floor of the 2nd class carriage. Smudgy faces through compartment windows, cigarette smoke from the toilet. Night tasting like ash and Sal, or was it Dean Moriarty, whispering in my ear… “Nothing behind me, everything ahead of me, as is ever so on the road.” 

With inertia overcome the road became our only goal. East, ever east.

Train-bus-train-bus-bus. In 31 hours we unravelled the 1,200km from Malin to Istanbul. 2 borders in 12 hours.

4am Istanbul. Nothing to do. Dark. A mist of rain. Find bearings. Coffee. Wait for the train station to open. Train tracks under construction. Change of plan. A bus. Otogar. Ankara. Peak hour traffic. Miss our stop. Run. Sweat, sweat… the Dogŭ Express. Made it! “Let this be a lesson to us,” Richie warns, “you always need longer than you think!”

Our third night since leaving Malin, our first bed: 4-berth carriage aboard the Dogŭ Express. Clean sheets and a pillow. Luxury!

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12 Principles of Permaculture

Let’s get things straight. ‘Permaculture’ is not gardening. It’s the conscious design of “landscapes which mimic the patterns and relationships found in nature, while yielding an abundance of food, fibre and energy for provision of local needs” (David Holmgren). In short, it’s a design system for creating human settlements that function in harmony with nature.

Now we’ve got that settled, let’s travel in time to Malin Hermitage, Transylvania: home of Philippe, Adriana, 7 donkeys, two dogs and one cat. You’ve arrived in time for the commencement of the 2012 72-hour residential Permaculture Design Certificate (PDC), taught by Pascale and a motley crew of 7 facilitators (representing 4 different countries).

Malin Hermitage, Romania

Donkeys!!!

19 students are in the process of arriving. You know no-one. You know nothing, only that you’d like to live closer to nature, developing the skills and habits of mind that will help you materialise an abundant, connected and self-reliant future. Maybe you’re a student, an activist, unemployed, a builder, an engineer, a mother, or a grandfather – perhaps you’re none of these. The point is, you’re here to learn. So let’s get started.

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12 PRINCIPLES OF PERMACULTURE

  1. Observe and Interact
    By taking the time to engage with nature we can design solutions that suit our particular situation.
  2. Catch and Store Energy
    By developing systems that collect resources when they are abundant, we can use them in times of need.
  3. Obtain a yield
    Ensure that you are getting truly useful rewards as part of the working you are doing.
  4. Apply Self Regulation and Accept Feedback
    We need to discourage inappropriate activity to ensure that systems can continue to function well. Negative feedback is often slow to emerge.
  5. Use and Value Renewable Resources and Services
    Make the best use of nature’s abundance to reduce our consumptive behavior and dependence on non-renewable resources.
  6. Produce No Waste
    By valuing and making use of all the resources that are available to us, nothing goes to waste.
  7. Design From Patterns to Details
    By stepping back, we can observe patterns in nature and society. These can form the backbone of our designs, with the details filled in as we go.
  8. Integrate Rather Than Segregate
    By putting the right things in the right place, relationships develop between those things and they work together to support each other.
  9. Use Small and Slow Solutions
    Small and slow systems are easier to maintain than big ones, making better use of local resources and produce more sustainable outcomes.
  10. Use and Value Diversity
    Diversity reduces vulnerability to a variety of threats and takes advantage of the unique nature of the environment in which it resides.
  11. Use Edges and Value the Marginal
    The interface between things is where the most interesting events take place. These are often the most valuable, diverse and productive elements in the system.
  12. Creatively Use and Respond to Change
    We can have a positive impact on inevitable change by carefully observing and then intervening at the right time. Continue reading

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Balkan letter to a friend…

Dear Andreas

Transylvania is sweltering! Indian summers are all well and good when Jim Morrison is elegising, but in reality they wear a girl down. It’s borderline 40 degrees and not a drop of rain in sight. I was hoping the ‘murky forests’ you spoke of would be fruiting with wild mushrooms, but it’s not so. Perhaps in a few weeks or a month? Rain is predicted for tomorrow but I remain skeptical. I’m hoping for a cracking Queensland-fashion thunder storm to break the heat and rip its belly out. The leaves on the trees are talking about autumn, but nobody’s listening.

A solid 3 months since rain. The corn crop has withered in the fields and farmers have harvested hay only once, not twice, as they normally do. The hayricks are still standing. They lend the countryside a rustic sculptural elegance. Did you ever read The Worm Forgives the Plough? Don’t suppose there’s much cause for building hayricks in your line of work? But if there were, this would be the first place to look for advice. The apples here are small and tangy, there’s more than you can eat, but where’s the cider?

We passed the Carpathians on the train on wednesday. Splendid. Continue reading

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