forest fresh

These days I am picking my breakfast.

It seems like this happened overnight, and maybe in nature these things really do. It was just last week that I was with Joao picking what we hoped were ripe wild blackberries, wincing at their tartness. Now I stroll down and find sweet satisfaction at every bush, sometimes between morning and evening the quantities will have seemingly doubled. If I stop and get carried away on a particularly bountiful branch I'll often look down the path and see that the dog is doing the very same thing, like me she zeroes in right for the plumpest darkest berries leaving the still red ones to ripen.

Back in Finland I spent many a pleasant afternoon foraging raspberries, freezing them for the winter, making jams, cakes, and tarts. These days it's a more selfish affair, but as far as I can tell we are not yet at peak harvest time in Portugal. Maybe by then someone will feel more generous, I will likely be gone already.

With the raspberries it was always the nettles acting as nature's deterrent for foraging, growing right along with them, almost indecipherably so. Here it's the blackberries' own silva, the forever expanding and menacing thorns on endlessly extending branches from cartoon nightmares snagging your clothes or worse yet your skin.

Yesterday afternoon I took on the cathartic task of clearing by hand a set of hidden stairs leading from the main house to the solar panels on top of the tool shed. Armed with proper gloves and hedge clippers, I took immense satisfaction in for once having the upper hand with these bastards of the plant world. What do you know, as I cleared it slowly, branch by branch, I discovered one of the sweetest, ripest bunches yet of wild blackberries hiding underneath. Just rewards, if you ask me. And of course I shared them with Ishtar.


when in portugal

If you turn left at the bottom of the hill you walk just a short ways before hitting a patch of dirt road completely submerged in brown, opaque water that smells like a cow pasture. Beyond that: paradise. One of the few truly shaded extended pathways; wild, jungly, running along the river stream, and under the aqueduct. It's often my after lunch walk of choice with the dog on a hot day, if I can manage to stomach that murk. The cork trucks passing by have made it even more difficult but after two scorchingly hot days in a row I decided again to give it a go in hopes it had dried a bit. Not two steps in I sank one foot in almost to my knees, sandal ripped off, literally submerged in the warmest and worst feeling. The next step I took was with the other foot with the same results. Ishtar has meanwhile bounded effortlessly past, I stuck my hands in, retrieved my shoes, proceeded barefoot, squishing and reeking. My plan was to find a nearby path into the fresh stream water, rinse off and regroup. Not five minutes later, Ishtar hears something. She begins growling and barking, hair on her back standing on end. Alas, one of men of the cork, a taker, is walking along the path alone, axe and ladder in hand, very obviously afraid of dogs, even more obviously stunned by the appearance of yours truly. We exchanged something only equivalent to grunts and sounds, I manage to re-leash the dog, the taker has backed himself halfway up the hill adjacent to the path, we manage a polite "boa tarde!" as I am dragging this ferocious seeming pitbull out of harm's way, barefoot over sharp rocks and thorny silva. We walked a short bit but eventually turned back, I realized the obviousness of still having to traverse this cesspool again even if I managed to clean myself off, so I just went for round two into that abyss, no better than the first. We continued along further, me still sans shoes, finally reaching what I now call The Boar Stream, I cleaned my feet, legs, and arms, dislodged the thorns, and leaned back on the rocks while Ishtar continued her now three days long attempt to conquest a submerged tree limb. Soon enough we'd be interrupted again, a different Taker, no less surprised, slightly more amused. We re-leashed again, another "boa tarde!", and wandered back to the house to clean myself off with the garden hose. Another afternoon in Portugal.



the takers

It's time to harvest the cork around here, a fascinating process of which I am admittedly no expert. The basic facts I understand center around the incredible regenerative abilities of these noble trees. You will drive anywhere here and see one after another stripped on the bottom, seemingly de-pantsed, but ready to grow again. There will usually be a number spray painted, in our case a 2, indicating the harvest year. Twelve years after that, these men will be back. And men they are. Axe slung over one arm, small ladder in the other hand, their notable dress seemingly from olden times, in the context of modern Portugal their reclined lunches in the shade looking like something rustled up by the local theater troupe for the benefit of tourists. They, known as "the takers" in Portuguese, are in fact a dying breed. Their trade, however needed, is now antiquated, more often than not will not be passed down to the generation to follow.

From tree to tree, by foot or by truck, a test whack with the axe before perfectly and precisely making a line around its circumference, no interior flesh nicked or marred. Done all by hand. Remove it like a jacket, ideally in one piece, sometimes two. Pile it in the truck, cart it off, dry it out, cash it in. The land owners profit and they get a cut. Year after year, so on and so forth, one of Portugal's remaining unique agricultural products since joining the EU. As truly beautiful as it is potentially obsolete.


better at the beach

Two weeks passed before we thought about taking a day off. Actually, we thought about it a lot, but plans were consistently thwarted. This, as we have all learned, is par for the course in a semi-democratic household of many. Nevertheless Monday rolled around, we did yoga, confirmed we could steal away, packed a picnic basket, and headed for the beach. I didn't know until just before we'd arrived that Odeceixe was the planned destination and I could not have been happier. Site of so many sunny afternoons with the beautiful ladies I now call friends from my week in Tipi Valley. As seems to always be the case in this country, serendipity led me to run into my surf instructors just moments after I got out of the car. From there, pure bliss. The tide was high and we set up our towels and blankets as close to the waves as I have ever thought to. I was both energized and relaxed in a state of pure happiness; it really is that easy. Now the real question: how can I build my real life next to the sea?


desperate times

If necessity is the mother of invention, in this case it was a hot day in the country with nary a ride to the beach. After lunch I let Ishtar frolic for a good while in the nearby stream before heading up to the main house and announcing to the Brazilians that it was time to get weird. It was time, once and for all, to jump into the canal. The canal is basically this part of the Alentejo's water source, originating at a dam and going on for kilometers and kilometers past this property, through tunnels, over aqueducts, and along the hillsides. I'd scoped this adventure out to some extent, I at least knew where the final exit ladder was located before the point if no return. We walked along the usual path I take the dog on before deciding to just jump in from the top of the tunnel Tiê deemed "too dark and too long" to climb in prior to. Yet again, what would otherwise be a bad idea elsewhere seems like a good one in Portugal - the answer is always yes! We all jumped in, first Tiê, then Gabi and I. And risk paid off. Perfectly cool water on a sweltering Saturday, floating along with the current, laughing and watching the countryside go by. It seemed to go on forever. We got out at the ladder and walked all the way back barefoot across rocks and thorns for our clothing. Tomorrow's strategy: two pairs of shoes, one at each end, and to bravely tackle the dark, long tunnel.

the deep end club

I feel so overwhelmed with gratitude when a day comes along to remind me that it really is the simplest of things that bring me the greatest of joys. In this case, great company, an outdoor adventure, a swim in a natural body of water, delicious and fresh local food, the sun shining bright. What more do I ever need?

Two dear friends who I have mentioned before, the Other David and his wife Filipa, had a farm property purchase go through back when I was here in May. It's been described to me and I have seen pictures, but a trip there was still on our to-do list. On a day that began with its usual chores, the stars finally aligned in the afternoon such that we three plus Joao and his dog all piled in the jeep and were able at last to steal away.

The house itself is the stuff of dreams. A truly unusual hippy enclave; nestled in the hillside, surrounded by cacti and trees. Its design inspired by a boat, built in traditional Portuguese style, plucked straight from my fantasies of southern Californian living. It's currently in the rawest of states, abandoned and scrapped, bats its only tenants. But the possibility and the potential are obvious. When David initially went to look at the property he and the realtor both discovered an entire camping setup at the base of the property. We all walked down the path, with a machete and a sense of adventure and commitment to make It through. Our legs and feet and elbows scraped by the thorns of the silva and otherwise, but it was so worth it. Past a wooden platform for dining al fresco, a swimming hole with its own dock and wooden stairs, eating wild blackberries along the way. We crawled through a passageway and a stone bridge, over a fence and then back over again, climbing up up up until we reached a truly beautiful outdoor kitchen carved into a ruin and a set of outdoor showers and toilets, all created to accommodate campers past and future. It's obvious that love and design sense were poured into these structures; nature has taken over but they remain confidently intact.

We scrabbled back, down and up again to the house, locking up, dreaming of herb gardens and loft beds and fires in chilly evenings. From there, a drive to Pego das Pias, a beautiful tributary entrance point off the Mira river. The hot and sticky day plus our miniature expedition made this all the sweeter as the golden hour settled in. Joao in his birthday suit running up the rocks and David eventually following, both of them jumping off, showing off. Filipa and I eventually persuaded, taking longer at the top, the highest point I've ever jumped from but ultimately the answer will always be YES in Portugal it seems. And I felt so happy.

Joao knows this area so well, he grew up near here and has an obvious connection and inclination towards all things having to do with nature. He took us further down by memory, weaving through rocks and waterways, all of us climbing and laughing in bare feet and bathing suits, sometimes singing songs we all now know from the shaman, more often than not blown away by the beauty of our surroundings, of the complex simplicity of nature.

It was within that fairy forest that our next plan was hatched: head to a tiny fishing village that Joao likes to have delicious and cheap local seafood. It required some doing, I'd already missed dinner back at the house, I returned, walked the dog, they picked up their son, Joao dropped off his dog. I continued to make myself scarce until I was whisked off again. Back in the jeep we drove some kilometers reaching Azenha do Mar. A beach view and an otherwise nondescript establishment where I ended up having one of the best meals of my entire life. Arroz de mariscos, garlicky steamed clams, huge crabs, buttered Portuguese bread, olives, red wine. During dinner they asked me if I was moving to Portugal and at that moment I was seriously considering it.

We ended the evening by candle light at David and Filipa's, the four of us still telling stories, listening to music, making the perfect day last. I finally fell asleep happily on their couch, a deep sleep I desperately needed. I woke up to their tiny son's footsteps and his breakfast spoon, we all drove together the short distance back here in time for me to stroll in, unleash the dog, resume my routine. In the end, my overnight absence was completely undetected by my farm family. A secret best day just for me.




wind down

If you follow along here with any regularity you will have noticed once again that I have fallen a bit silent. Head in the clouds, that's my biggest excuse. I'd like to tell myself it's as strategic as trying to soak up every last second of my time here in Portugal but in reality it was not so calculated. Just less of an inclination than ever to turn on my wifi; days pass as they do and here we are. For the record my iPhone also came into contact with some salt water, momentarily (or so I hope) compromising its charging abilities and therefore further limiting my access to the outside world. Then there were also the mornings and nights without internet here at the main house. So be it. I went on a walk with Ishtar instead.

And the days have been productive in the meantime. The usual weeding watering walking tiny repair routine. Also cleaning out a previously unrecognizable tool shed such that we actually have a work space and are suddenly spending much more time there. Jigsaws, electric sanders, wood burners all revealing themselves to me, literally, and in the sense they finally have space to be used. Small projects, signage, key holders, and the what not....little pieces of me left behind. The Lost American.

Ten more days.


blue heaven

I have been holding onto a deep desire to complete the blue refresh around the windows of the temple for months now, the same treatment I gave the windows of the big house prior to the shaman's visit in May. It takes some doing: newly cooked whitewash, new pigment, the perfect blend, the surfaces shaded. If any of the above go wrong, it's going to look terrible. And terrible is not an option.

Finally, FINALLY, it all came together yesterday. David and I mixed it all slowly and then did a tiny patch test just before Clara rang the bell for lunch. I returned to the bucket roughly an hour later, ladder in hand, about to give it a stir but first went to extract what I think is a leaf blown in by the wind. Nope. It's a lizard. A suicidal lizard. I can only imagine he must have felt as dazzled as I do by this perfect shade of blue. Curiosity drew him close only to overtake and without warning.... a beautiful blue death.

Our friend Joao happened to arrive right around then, looking happier than hell I might add. He's been particularly inspired since the shaman came, he said, he was in fact bringing a trash bin he'd fashioned out of cork the night before as a gift to David and Ju. I thought he might appreciate this poor blue soul I'd just discovered. He sure did, and among other things he said it might be my spirit animal. "But it's dead?!" I said and he very calmly replies "...but death is positive, ok?" as if this were the most obvious thing in the world.

I have to admit there is something so heartbreakingly beautiful about this creature, not only just his death, but now the aftermath. I laid him on a piece of cardboard where he currently lies, in one of the tiny, freshly painted blue windows. No one seems to mind, and no one seems to know what else to do with him. So for now: may he rest in eternal blue peace.

brave heart

Within hours if posting the previous Ode to Ishtar one of the crazier things in my thirtysome years of life happened to occur with her.

There we were, taking our usual after-dinner forest stroll, turning right at the bottom of the hill, walking through the eucalyptus, Ishtar running ahead, me meandering behind. A left at the first stream, passing by the old abandoned farmhouse, through the clearing, back into the trees. Then comes another crossroads, one of many, this time a muddier, deeper stream to the left or an uphill diversion on the right. My inclination is the latter but she clearly smells something and starts running in the opposite direction. She plows into the water, I call her name. She turns towards me before we both hear the distinct sound of movement through the rocks and water. My first thought is human (the creepiest scenario to be sure), I froze before taking a few steps forward to peek around the silva bushes, and there before me, in the middle of the stream, stands the biggest wild boar ever to walk the earth (or so it seemed). Nary a second could have passed before Ishtar lept neck deep into the water and the most surreal and elongated battle of beast vs. beast I could ever imagining witnessing began. They fought, they plowed, they butted, they bit. One would retreat the other would chase and attack again. All the while I am screaming for this dog, imagining myself carrying her bloodied 26 kilos home in my arms and/or my own bloody mass laid to rest in the wild thistle. My mind boggled at the duration of this territorial affront. I was yelling but I was surprisingly calm, partially out of bewilderment of the situation, partially out of fascination? With one final head butt from boar to pitbull, there was a squeal and she was submerged again, possibly injured, it was obvious who had won. The boar then scrambled off for good, Ishtar came back to me soaked and shaking, back hair standing on end. I leashed her and took her up the original left hand hook, not only to look her over (one neck wound, one butt scrape, otherwise fine) but to also give this demonic beast time to amble back towards whence he came.

Uhm what....?

I recounted this drama to David as soon as I got back and his mind was also blown. There has been rumor of boars but not yet a sighting. He asked "and was she ok?", meaning the boar not the dog, and I said of course and a look of obvious disappointment may or may not have washed over his face. I insisted Ishtar was brave and tough but David was not convinced.

Later, in the kitchen, I was describing this event to Clara. Our carpenter walks in, the story is translated, and almost immediately he literally runs out (?!) of the room. He returns moments later and hands me what turns out to be a carved wooden heart with an arrow going through it, the tip of which is painted a deep bloody red, still wet, or as he put it as he clutched his chest, "still fresh". He told Clara to tell me that it's a heart to remind me that I was brave with the boar too, but also that he made it that afternoon for me to look at and always remember the carpenter by. At that moment I had a hard time deciding which of the evening's events I found crazier.

I since remain without words, Ishtar remains on edge, and the brave heart now remains on my windowsill.

Another evening in the country.

happiness could be so easy

Given that my days as of late are filled with familiar and - let's face it - boring (however enjoyable) tasks I continue to have little of novelty to report. There is also the current juggle I am in the midst of performing regarding airfares and visas and logistics and the like; all seeming to consume my brain just as much as it does the hours of my day. Zzzzz.....

But meanwhile: Ishtar. My recent morning noon and night. People came and people went and I have willingly adopted the task of sole caregiver. Walking routines, food routines, medicinal routines. I am both reminded of how much work it is to have a dog but also how much I miss it.

Our long walks truly give me so much space and time to consider all of the boring all of the above. Our suddenly symbiotic relationship share, our moods reflecting back to eachother, good, bad, energized, not. Deciding together which path to take, when to turn back. Her sitting her huge body in my indian-style lap in the forest, her taking a secret nap with me in my little house when I needed it and her company most. These walks can take on an almost meditative quality, so much so I am at this point almost avoiding adding other people to the equation should they happen to offer.

My first thing in the morning, my last thing at night. This crazy bruised and battered pitbull mix. What a gift.

awake from a dream

I've said some variation of this before and now I will say it again: life really is beautiful.

Full of light, love, happiness, and choreographed coincidence.

What a magical mystical full moon weekend we just experienced in the hills of Portugal. So much of it cannot be relayed or easily explained but here I am on the other side and I am generally just feeling part of the connectedness of life, seeing nature as its most beautiful, saying all the things that will lead you to think I have truly jumped off the deep end.


lights out

And what do you know, the electricity to Nubia's School (also known as Nadia's Tiny House) got run over by the weed wacker. David assured me it can be fixed as he literally handed me a solar powered lamp. Off grid, off the charts. There really are worse things.

character study

He came and he went.

David told me that his father was in town and described him as his Little Sadam. The physical description was accurate. Heavy gray mustache; superior air. He probably came up just past my shoulder. I was warned he did little ore than sit quietly and smoke, my initial memories are only of him ambling back and forth from afar, either by the mandala or the bread oven where he cooked his meat. On his final day he, like the mornings before, relaxed shirtless on the patio, smoking and watching the world go by. We exchanged a too-early-to-be-awake "Bom dia....". I didn't see him again until the afternoon when I happened to pass his way. As he is known to to do, he offered me a nip of whatever he was drinking, this time with some English attached. "Very good, no?" And then a hefty refill. Later Adrian would report him offering "wine or beer" and instead of letting him decide simply mixed the two. He ate his peanuts, finished his pack. Soon he would appear behind me in the kitchen, tiny plastic bag in hand - his luggage? Suddenly a wave of English: "Goodbye! See you again! See you tomorrow! I go, I see you! Tomorrow is a better day, VERY nice day, very very good....I can feel this..." He's clutching one of my hands, then another, then the classic Portuguese double kiss goodbye that in this moment I would dare describe as passionate. I barely had time to utter my reply and he was out the door.

I relayed this all to the delight of Clara and Adrian, and eventually David, all the while snacking on his leftover peanuts. Minutes later I would glance into his vacant room and discover this man's botanical installation. Every bottle of mini Super Bock, including the one Clara and I had shared days before, had been repurposed as a vase to house a fresh cut of some herb, branch of eucalyptus, or similar. He, for whatever reason, felt compelled to offer a toilet paper holder a personal spin using an old jug and a huge sprig of Rosemary shoved in the center. And that was it. And I am now completely charmed by this man.

All the rooms needed to be cleaned so I took every last one of his bottles down to my house. I did my best to replicate his vision and, I have to say, it makes the place. Now I wake up each morning and they're the first things I see. A bit of greenery, their sweet smells. Memories of a mysterious man that I never even knew.




I offer you, without fanfare or surprise, another view of the beach. I have been drifting as of late, perhaps obvious in my absence of daily posts. The days are passing and I am having trouble accounting for them. Wake up, breakfast. Help the tomatoes, eat lunch. Sweep something, tidy something, weed something, paint something. Swim in the pool. Set the table, dinner, a walk. Back to my little house, back to sleep. Blurry dreams, awake again.

This is not a complaint. I love it here. But my previously formed, complete thoughts feel as though they are shrouded in a fog. Is it my resistance to acknowledge the countdown upon me? The threat of "reality" looming so close? My total and complete familiarity and comfort level here? I cannot say.

And so we go to the beach one morning. We talk, we read, we sleep, we watch. Its peaceful with Clara and I savor these moments. I don't feel entitled to them at all, but they're there for me to take. So I take them. And I keep wondering and wandering. And then another day passes. Coming and going like the sea.

woman's best friend

Like so many farm dogs before her, Ishtar, our little Phoenix resurrected, has become a favorite faithful farm friend and companion. I have resumed my habit if walking in the evening, most often along the canal so that Ishtar can join me leash free. She'll run ahead, turn around, wait for me, run again; chasing anything: rocks, pine cones, peanut shells. Her lopsided ears, her pitifully bare stomach. Scared of the churning water at the end of the covered aqueduct, if I sit there for awhile she will pace and peer over the ledge nervously before butting her head into my legs, pressing the full weight of her ever-fattening body against me.

There are so many people these days, I am retreating to only the greatest of friends and the purest of company. She has a certain air about her that expresses pure gratitude to be alive, to be back here, to be walking along the canal. I wonder if she can tell how much I can relate.



This morning I woke up bathed in sunlight and happiness. I've returned at last to my hidden homestead in the hills, back to David and Ju and Clara and Adrian and Filipa and the other David.

My reunion here was beautiful. David was almost on time to the bus stop, a quick dark beer for us each while we quickly filled in the gaps of me in France and he on the farm as well as his latest conspiracy theory and scheme. Back at the house, the day was in full swing. There are three extra people helping out these weeks, the table is full. David's father is also around, keeping watch, smoking cigarettes, grilling goat in the bread oven, offering me nips of his honey flavored moonshine (!). Good ol Jiva has abandoned his guard position in the wake of Ishtar (long thought to be dead) making a miraculous, if not battle-wounded, return. All is in bloom, the squashes and pumpkins overtaking all. The Terrace (née the Saloon) is almost fully constructed. And my dwelling for the coming month? None other than Nubia's School, functioning electricity and all. I have carried this dream for months and it's finally a reality. It's cozy, tiny, and drafty but in a good way. The first night was a bit raucous what with a door that wouldn't latch and the resulting slamming that removed all possibility for deep sleep. But it's coming along, a replacement latch added, windows you can almost see through, elbow grease readily extended.

I've already written brief correspondence back to the real world and to friends I've met along the way to the tune of my needing to re-adjust, re-acclimate, re-devise the routines here now that I'm back. But it's so good here, it always has been. Patience, as always, will be required but suffice to say: it's so nice to be home.