Monday, 31 August 2009

Digging in

Well I finally made it! This is my 100th post and to be honest it feels a bit of a cheat as some of them were a week of extra blogs with a positive theme and one or two posts saying I was going to be late posting, not quite my normal weekly posts at all. Still I am quite amazed that I got there and some folks kindly read it and send me comments. So thank you for those who have stuck with me.

One of the issues I have wrestled with over the time is what do I write in these blogs and what do I leave out? What stories cannot be told because this is a public arena? Sometimes it would not be fair on those involved to go into detail, and by the time you leave out most of the identifying details the story to be told doesn't really amount to much. That is not to say that I have hundreds of amazing stories to tell of our time here that I haven't been sharing but there have been times that I would like to say something but can't.
It is so easy these days to blog about something but it is also just as easy to "blab" instead. To "blab" is to mention something that should have been kept confidential or maybe not broadcast to the whole world. We don't have to let it all hang out but how do we balance that with transparency and openness? Well I haven't got all the answers but if you have any then I would love to hear your thoughts.

The signs of autumn are appearing already here in Latvia, the leaves are turning and the storks have flown (apart from the odd one we see occasionally), the Latvians are lighting their smokey bonfires and Ian is starting to complain about the lack of heat in the sunshine but as for me I love this time of year. I love the coolness of the breeze, not that this year has been particularly hot but I love the smells that accompany the breeze at this time of year. I also love the richness and the depth of colour as the leaves turn and the fruit ripens. It is the time of the year when hot cups of steaming tea are even more welcome, along with hot toast and blackberry crumble. Only problem is that there are no blackberries here - I don't understand it at all and neither do they have elderberries but there is still a richness and a variety in the landscape and I have started to do a photographic record of the vegetation on the land so we know what diversity we do have. Of course this time of the year is not the best time, I should have started a month earlier but better late than never. Most of the plants we found as we wandered about we have seen before but there were some surprises like a small apple tree that we hadn't noticed before, no idea how it got there but it will be staying that is for sure.

One thing that was reinforced this week is that digging deep in this land does not come without risks, digging deep in this land risks uncovering the conflicts of the past lying just below the surface, a potential explosion to the unwary. That is the reality of this land called Latvia, where conflicts have waged back and forth leaving its mark upon the land and its people and just below the surface in many places lies real unexploded ordnance. A good friend of ours has been out with a metal detector on the land and found evidence of bomb craters which have at least exploded sometime in the past and the possibility of mortar bombs laid like landmines in one area which have not. Now we have to map the land and pinpoint the possible dangers and then call in the experts to deal with it. So what lessons can we draw from this? That the land of Latvia we are seeking to dig into is not without its dangers and caution and wariness needs to be employed so we do not inadvertantly dig up a conflict we cannot deal with, and be prepared to call in reinforcements when necessary, tread lightly on the land in the meantime.

Talking of digging, Ian has this last week finally finished digging the entire vegetable plot by hand. There is a little tail end of a piece but that is mainly for fruit bushes and the like so we hadn't really planned on digging that over so much. It does seem significant that the week after he finishes is the week when we expect the tractor to arrive, he has closed one chapter to open another bigger chapter. I guess the one thing I have noticed in the digging process is the greater connection Ian has got with the land, the digging has become a labour of love, and just as in a labour of love it has had its frustrations, it has had times when you don't feel like trying but in the end you persevere. Does having a feel and a love for the land mean that you love people less? I don't think so but it gives you more of an appreciation for the interconnectedness of it all. Like I said earlier the conflicts of this land are not just marked on the land but also in the people, as we see the evidence of the bombs that have fallen and exploded, the solitary gas mask on the ground, the ammunition and weapons abandoned it all speaks of a horror that few of us today would know, then after all that to be abandoned as a people to the tyranny of the Soviet system, so much is written in the hearts of those around. The hopes of democracy and the cruelness of the crisis are further marks upon hearts here. This winter will be a tough winter for many and I just pray that the other countries of this European Union will have outstretched arms to welcome the Latvians as they search for work, and outstretched hands to give what aid will be necessary.

Well as I contemplate the winter ahead I can draw encouragement from a great quote from my course which I have paraphrased a little "For anyone devising a scheme of their own making, things are not set in stone, and when we started coming up against brick walls we actually found we could rearrange them" Roy Tylden Wright, Laggan Forest Trust, brilliant! So positive, so if you are facing a brick wall right now, rearrange the bricks! Laggan Forest Trust set about buying their own forest rather than let it fall into private hands so that the community could benefit from the amenities and any jobs produced, it has been a long process but they were forerunners for other schemes to take back forests for local use in Scotland.

Land and who owns is and runs it, is in the news again this week. There are big dilemmas to face when buying land in a foreign country or even leasing it, for us it is on a small scale but for some they are seeking control of huge tracts of land. The problem is that at the end of the day, huge mega fields divest the countryside of its biodiversity, it is not stewarding the land it is raping it. As someone who is leasing a piece of land in an ex-Soviet country I am aware that I am in a similar position but we don't intend to take huge swathes of land and turn them into mega fields, there has to be a better way to do this, there has to be a way of managing the land that doesn't rape it but works with it, the way God intended it to be and hopefully he will guide us as we listen to him and others as the best way to do that.

(Photographs: 1.The little apple tree we found, 2. seed head, 3. denuded tomatoes - many of the leaves had blight, 4. unidentified -at the moment anyway- plant, 5. pumpkin, 6. wild boar helping with the digging on the land, 7. Ian with the pile of weeds from his two summers of digging, 8. the finished digging, 9. a rather large marrow and 10. the ever so tall sweetcorn)


  1. Well done Joanna - 100 posts. Wey hey!

    Loved reading your ideas about land. I reckon that we are keepers of the land for the next generations. Perhaps this dreadful recession is encouragong us all to connect again with the land before it's too late.

  2. Thank you. When I set out on this blog I wasn't sure I would be able to keep it up.

    I am sure we would change a lot of what we do if we realised we are keepers of the land. I don't think it is important whether it is for our children or for others to follow.

    I do hope your right about the recession reconnecting us to the land. The people of Latvia love the land but were beginning to lose touch with it, maybe they will discover new ways of moving forward and not following the western material ways.


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