Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Dead Hens and Chestnuts

No, it´s not all gloom and doom.
Yes, it has been gray and wet around here. We´ve had to light the fire and chop wood, and yes the boys had to shut down the wonderful cavey Restaurane El Castillo on weekdays.
We got sick, (we got better) and Paddy´s hurt his back (but not too bad). Most of the albergues are closed, and the pilgrims just walk right past Moratinos without stopping. When Paddy went out to water and feed this morning, one of the hens was dead.
But are we sad?
No, we are not sad. Not too sad, anyway.  
Once the morning fog burned off, the sky turned a spectacular cloudless blue. All the tractors are out planting seeds that will soon turn the ground green, right through til spring. The farmers wave as they rattle and roar past us.
One of them is a new farmer, one of Manolo´s many nephews. He doesn´t usually live here, but times are tough in the city for young men, and Manolo is past retirement age. He could use some help, and the fields he tends belong to his entire, vast family. It´s only right the young ones step up. And this young one smiles as he swings himself into the tractor-cab and fires up the engine.
Maybe he will stay.  
I told you how the line of great cypresses behind the Beehive House were chainsawed down. I still don´t know why they did that, but there´s no help for it now. Unless. Unless I go and get just as many young trees, and plant them around the town to make up for the loss.
Today I planted a chestnut sapling in the Plaza Mayor. I don´t know if it will survive, as the hole I planted it in is still choked with the remains of the tree that stood there before. If the root goes straight down, It will do just fine. I dug out all the dirt I could, and following time-honored superstition, I spat into the bottom of the hole. I put the body of the expired hen down there, too. And then I put the root-ball down, and water, and dirt from here and sand from there and new dirt from the flower bed alongside, and some rocks to weigh it down when the wind starts to blow. 
Someday maybe this skinny tree will tower over the plaza, offering shade in the summer and nuts in the fall. Its branches will touch the branches of the olive tree we planted last year -- the wind bent it over last winter, but it´s thriving now.
I love to plant trees. I have more trees to plant here, one of them is pretty special.
It´s a tree for Philip Wren. Wren was a Methodist minister from Liverpool, and a kindly character -- he stayed at Peaceable at least once that I remember, and explained to me how an insulin pump works to treat Type 1 diabetes. The disease had forced him into early retirement, which he intended to spend, much as he could, out hiking round the caminos of Spain. Phil made some good friends out there. And in early May this year, in the pilgrim albergue in Logroño, the diabetes quietly put an end to him.

I said I would plant a tree here in his memory, and his many friends are coming out of the woodwork, waving 20-pound notes. I´ve commissioned a stonecutter to make a little memorial plaque to put at the base of his tree. I am now scouting out just where to plant the thing, where passing pilgrims can spot it, but a combine won´t clip it off and its roots won´t be in miry clay or sinking sand or private property. It keeps me busy, it makes me happy to do something harmless and good.

Wren is gone, the hen is gone, the great cypresses are gone, and summer is over.  But I don´t have to be too sad.  Endings are as natural and beginnings, they say.

I am still here. I do not always handle sadness as well as I could, but I suffer from clinical depression -- It´s been a part of my life since I was a child. It is not pleasant, but it is natural, it is cyclical. Like a chicken, it comes and scratches around for a while, it usually lays a few eggs, and eventually it goes away. Sometimes it leaves behind some good fertilizer for some new living thing to use.
Anyone who plants trees believes there´s a future.
Especially if you throw in a chicken. 


Anonymous said...

Lovely piece, Rebekah. I have found out that I get a good dose of blues with the approach of Winter, the loss of light, that whole seasonal affective disorder thing. But I agree wholeheartedly with you, that the sadness isn't tragic. Tragedy is the Phillipines, tragic is senseless loss of life, etc., even more tragic is a life unfelt at the depths.
Your piece illustrated that experience in a completely personal way, different from mine. Thanks so much for having the chutzpah to write about it so well.

Matt O'Gara said...

Lovely Reb.

Heidi L said...

Beautifully written. I'm glad you plant trees.