Monday, 29 November 2010

.....and so it begins

We have about 3-4inches of snow but the temperatures have
plummeted from +5C last week to -17C this week. At least
my garden plants have a snow blanket
"And so it begins" is something I wrote on my blog back in May 09 when I had a sense of a change of season and I sense a change again. The last time I wasn't sure what that meant but it rolled in a very busy schedule for me, one that saw me take on two courses at once as I finished one course and started another with weddings and summer work in the fields and gardens followed by more course work, after all that I am quite looking forward to a rest. This time I am still not sure but I have a sense of how the season of winter is upon us but in someways it is a relief. The dull wet days of autumn are not particularly nice and the ground and the roads turn to quagmires but much work needs to be done in harvesting the last of the veg that you can, protecting trees from the frost, particularly the young ones, protecting trees from deer and generally just making sure that locks are oiled before they freeze up solid. Then the snow begins and the temperatures drop and there is not a lot you can do about it apart from wait it out and see what emerges. Will it be a little or a lot? Will the roads be navigable or will it require a snow plough? How cold will it get? Well we had snow, probably around 4inches (10cm) so not a lot but enough to provide a protective layer for my plants, and the temperature dropped rapidly from the 5C (41F) last week to -18C (0F) this morning, oh but the beauty of it all. There is a lot of frost on top of the snow and yesterday the snow glistened like diamonds in the sun, but not just the small diamonds but huge mega carat diamonds. So this is it! Winter is here! It's cold, it cannot be taken lightly but you know, it's not that bad really, it is so beautiful. I love winter as you can tell because most of the poems I write are about winter  I wrote one early this year and posted it and you can read it here and that talks about the fierce beauty of winter which inspires me so much.

Hopefully our vines are all snug in there
This wet autumn means trying to keep things dry but this is becoming a bit more of a challenge these days with biodegradable plastic bags. Once upon a time we could put clothes etc into the bags, and believe me we never just threw them out, but now a plastic carrier bag from the local supermarket is no good after 6 months they all start to disintegrate into lots of little pieces - biodegradable they maybe but useless for keeping things dry or dust free - now what do we use? Cotton re-usuable bags are not much use to keep things dry and I guess we need to re-invent the wax bag or whatever they used in days gone by, must do some investigation.

These were presented to us by our
English group because we make them
Been a funny old week with its contrasts of ups and downs. One of the ups was being invited by our English group to eat with them. We were treated to Latvian traditional dishes like pickled cabbage, now don't pull a face, it is actually really nice, this was served with meat pieces on bones (hard to describe and a bit fiddly but nice meat), some mince wrapped up in breadcrumbs, cheese and apricots along with some boiled potatoes with dill - there has to be dill somewhere this is Latvia. We also had a dessert of semolina (creamed wheat) whisked with cranberries and sugar and served cold with milk, very delicious. We started off with a drink of bouillon, which seems odd to me but tasty along with some little pastries filled with meat and we did finish with a nice cup of tea - trained them well!

Someone who shall remain nameless, but it wasn't me, left
the greenhouse doors open when it was -10C outside
I think it killed my experiment of how long plants would
last in the polytunnel
While we were chatting one of the ladies announced she was off to work in Guernsey that evening to join quite a few from their tiny village. In total there are 11 people working abroad, okay that doesn't sound like a lot but it is a tiny village where the main employer is probably the children's home itself and it also possibly represents 11 families who have a family member missing, often a mum or a dad will go and work abroad while the children stay at home with the other parent or even with grandparents. It is not uncommon in Latvia for both parents to go away and leave older children at home as in our apartment block, or one of the parents be away for a month near Christmas as they work during the busy period of the year while they get the chance. So when you see Latvians working nearby say "labdien" (pronounced lab-dee-en and means good day) from me and think of their families they have had to leave to come and earn some money.

It is still being worked on and should have the roof on next
week. Not much fun though in these temperatures, but
nothing new there if you look up our saga with the
The down this week was finding out that our Latvian driving licences does not entitle us to drive a tractor, unlike our old British licences. It took a lot of internet searching to try and find out what we were and were not entitled to drive, I mean when is a tractor not a tractor, when its a tractor unit of course, in other words a truck. Confused! So were we. You can see what the traffic department writes here and for a good half hour, I read and re-read the paragraphs but couldn't make sense of it, until the penny dropped. The site was written in American English, not British English as you would expect of a fellow European member site and in America a lorry can be referred to as a tractor and trailer - confused me no end while I was in America until I worked it out and confused me yet again while trying to make sense of the Latvian traffic departments website.

Frozen waterfalls from the top pond to
the middle pond
This morning we were in school, no not to learn Latvian again unfortunately, but Ian was talking about his past career in the hospital labs and a little of his hospital work now. Not sure how much they really understood as it was all done in English and there was just one question - "what are you doing in Latvia?". How do you explain that one easily? It such a long story with many twists and turns but we say two things in essence, we have been coming here for a long time and we love it here in Latvia. The director came to sit in at one point and she then invited us for a chat in her office. She explained that once the school had 500 children but now there are 270, the village is dying as the youngsters slip away and don't return. She is passionate about keeping the village alive and knows how important the school is for that and we saw a common purpose in her aims and the things I am studying and what we would like to see happen here. We agreed that students do need to get out of the village at some time in order to enrich their experiences but the village also needs to be able to attract them back or attract others in to keep some vitality and life in the village, a problem they share with the Scottish Highlands and Islands and one of the reasons for studying with a Scottish Institute, even if it is online. I think there maybe more to come with that connection when we get back from our trip.

Ice-skating anyone. Not much point in ice fishing on this
pond but we did spot the first ice-fisherman after only 5
days of freezing temperatures.
This devastating article on the future of Latvia made me want to cry and echoes the pain the director feels as she sees the slow death of a place she loves. One thing that infuriates me more than anything else is that the churches are not helping, they funnel the brightest and best into mission work, leaving the economy floundering, when it needs fresh creative thinking to re-order the work places. I think the thinking is that Jesus is coming back soon so why bother and the market place is for the devil anyway, well I am sorry I don't agree. The Earth is the Lord's and everything in it, including the market place and if the devil has the upper hand in that, it is because Christians have let him and it is about time we started putting our faith into action and creating initiatives that correct some of the in balances of this dangerous pursuit of happiness to the detriment of the planet that the Lord has made. There that's better! Got that off my chest!

A snowy scene but not as bad as last year yet.
Talking of the economy though and creating alternatives to the dreadful system of pursuit of profit above all else, regardless of the planet we are trashing and the people who suffer under the system, it was interesting to hear that there are people out there who believe that we do not have to do business this way, there are alternatives and Peter Day on World Business took a look at what people had to say. I nearly dropped off my chair at this podcast, to hear that those with alternative views are actually being taken seriously. Changes do need to be made and we may as well get on and get used to it, rather than trying to cling to a way of life that does not satisfy anyway. One that slowly kills the joy and buries it in the oblivion of drink or drugs or retail therapy. We have never had it so good with our wonderful houses, with central heating (even if ours for some reason seems to be running so cold - must find out why), the double glazing that keeps out the rather cool temperatures we are having and the machines to do our work and yet we have never been so miserable either. It costs the planet in resources and brings us comforts in return but not happiness, there has to be another way.

Frosty is so pretty with its delicate patterns don't you think?
Trust as I have mentioned before is a major issue here in Latvia and to overcome this transparency is needed but for goodness sake, how can Latvia be expected to improve their transparency when bankers are getting away with not disclosing how much they are paid? Or we have to rely on the likes of Wikileaks to get to know what is going on in Governments. Interestingly enough though the releasing information is not necessarily the answer, as Mark Easton points out on his blog the recent release of information from the UK Government doesn't necessarily help accountability, it is transparent as it means the information is there but you have to look hard to see the wood for the trees so to speak. Too much information presented in an unhelpful format means someone has to sit for hours and trawl through the figures in order to even begin to make sense of it. In fact as one of my course books points out, the best way to discourage reading of a report done for the sole purpose of it having to be done and no one really wants it released is to set it in an unfriendly format, use lots of jargon and bury the key points (Research Skills Policy for Policy and Development edited by Alan Thomas and Giles Mohan), not that they advocate that but it was an example of what can be done to a report. So what we need is clear, easily obtained information and something I hope to do with my visits to the forestry department, to be able to produce a leaflet that shows who does what, and where to go for what information. It's a start anyway.


karen said...

definitely bring those Yaktrax!!!

Joanna said...

We made it to Bedford and pleased we didn't try to head to Sheffield. Didn't pack the Yaktrax in the end, I hope I don't rue the decision.