still point, world turning

Notes from the drylands, summer 2017

Day in, day out … the summer blistered relentlessly on, temperatures often in the 40Cs.

You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.

Jack London

It’s hard to go after anything with a club (especially inspiration) when one is wielding a variety of gardening implements and suffering from melted brain syndrome. No inspiration, no club, no blog. Now, early October, it is supposed to be autumn. The days are much shorter and somewhat cooler but it is still hot, hovering around the low 30Cs. The light is softer, there are more hours in which one can click the shutter, and it is finally possible to explore dirt roads leading out-of-town on evening walks – dusty roads, dusty sheep, dusty olive trees, dusty fields, dusty vineyards. Hoopoes and magpies abound, no doubt dusty too.


One of the things that I have discovered is that after these extremes, anything under 40C feels very comfortable. Everything is indeed relative. And there is now space to pick up the club because I have set aside the other implements.

Change is not a matter of belief. It is as inevitable as evolution. The question is not whether changes will happen or not. Change can happen at any time, anywhere, it is happening now.

Ai Weiwei

But first, a few notes from the drylands over the long hot summer of my growing discontent …

I walk to the farm as the sun comes up behind me and the moon goes down in front of me. Cockerels announce the dawn, sheep bells tinkle, bats flit, some vicious-sounding dogs hurl themselves at gates and fences as I go by. I send them telepathic love and peace and carry on walking. One morning a badger slinks across the path. Another morning a dark shape in the dust becomes a small owl – we look at each other for a moment before he/she flies away into the lightening sky.



Okra in the sunrise. The greenhouses/poly tunnels were built by the previous owners to cultivate snails for the table. That project was abandoned – I doubt that any consideration had been given to the unbearable heat generated under that plastic. What is the smell of a zillion dead snails? There are snail shells all over the farm, good calcium for the soil, but all I can think of is the desperation of those gastropods as they made their ill-fated break for the border, out from under the plastic.


The plantador is a planter or dibble or dibber – a small pointed implement for making holes in soil for planting seedlings, bulbs, etc.

One week I dibbled 2,400 times to plant 1,200 leek seedlings. I used the dibber 1,200 times to make holes on either side of the irrigation pipes, at the regular points along the pipes from where the water drips. Then I did it another 1,200 times after I had put horse manure in/around each hole, to push the manure into the holes. Then I encountered all these holes for the 3rd time, planting the seedlings. It took me from 6.30 a.m. until 1.00 p.m., with a 15 minute sandwich break around 9.30. A deeply satisfying task, despite the heat. Beetroot (red and yellow), turnips (white and purple), lettuce, tatsoi, rainbow chard (red and yellow) are all planted the same way: plantadora meditation, the sound of the plastic biting into the dampened soil – in, twist, out, in, twist, out …

I know that I would never be able to do this work if I did not have a yoga and a meditation practice.

Below, the leeks two weeks later.



This is a radish, the size of a turnip – a rogue radish amongst much smaller black-skinned radishes



In all of this busy-ness and physical challenge alarm bells soon start to sound. An open day was scheduled for the end of summer to show clients and friends the progress taking place at the farm and to introduce them to the practice of permaculture. I thought this would be a difficult, if not impossible, task as, at the moment, the farm is just producing organic vegetables and has not yet implemented very much (if any) in the way of permaculture principles. Things are just ticking over whilst waiting for the EU funding (of which there is no sign) for the big UNESCO-affiliated project. There is no sign of UNESCO either. The open day was cancelled. Or rather, ‘postponed until the spring’.

I am confused on a daily basis by the fact that there is no proper compost heap. Surplus vegetables are collected by a neighbour for his sheep – why is this potential ‘black gold’/compost leaving the farm? When I finally receive a reply to my question I’m told that it requires too much work (work??), that it needs shade (sorely lacking on the farm but not an impossibility) and water. Water is a constant source of concern, as eight thousand litres a day are going to the vegetables, but a compost heap does not need much. Also, recycling seems to be an erratic practice. This irks me because I am a veteran recycler. And in permaculture everything is re-used and recycled.

Before very long things start to become uncomfortable with the management – I use that word loosely because, in fact, there is no management. It takes me a while to realise that, whereas I worked so happily with these people before as a volunteer and was treated as an equal and a trusted member of a team, I am now, as an employee, being bullied. I don’t have good bully radar, it seems. I’m slow to put the two and the two together to get the four. I work harder and faster but nothing is good enough, especially when it comes to quality control of the produce, which I find impossible to understand because it changes from day to day. This is all very confusing for me because I can think on my feet, am generally efficient even under pressure (one of my closest friends calls me ‘teflon-coated’ because of my organisational skills), and can work at speed.

So – WTF?? The bully is young, ambitious, insecure, and absolutely has to be in control. She makes rules and then does not respect them herself.

I am extremely grateful that I have one (very disgruntled) co-worker who can give me reality checks. I don’t see him very much because his job is to deliver the organic vegetable boxes but he gives me a ride to the farm two days a week. Something fundamental has changed between the situation at the old (small, well established, green, pretty, abundant, completely permacultured) farm and this one – twice the size, hotter, dryer, and started from scratch a year ago. This feels like desolation row. I miss the interaction with the other volunteers, mostly millenials with interesting ways of seeing the world. Instead of being part of a team I work mostly entirely alone. This is turning out to be not at all fun. My co-worker points out to me that the management make mistakes and then blame us for them. I think about this and realise it to be true.

As long hot day melts into long hot day I am becoming more and more disgruntled. This is not what I had in mind. I am happy to do the hard labour (in fact, I enjoy it) but some recognition for it would not go amiss. I had planned to use the labour and my involvement in the development of the project as the field work for a Masters in Agroecology, hopefully intertwining my understanding of homeopathy and permaculture as two sides of the same coin/holistic practice. However, it is becoming clear that my forty years of organic gardening experience and ten years of permaculture practice are surplus to requirement here.

One Friday I am pushed just a little too far. The following Monday I walk to the farm and hand in my resignation. I think the bully knew she’d gone too far because she didn’t seem too surprised but her partner was clearly shocked. I like him, he’s a kind and sensitive person, but he’s bullied too.

Soon after this I talk to a friend who tells me that she had just resigned from one of her English-teaching posts for exactly the same reasons – young management with no skills whatsoever, rude, bullying, hopelessly disorganised, don’t follow their own rules and take no responsibility for their own mistakes. I feel immensely reassured.

It takes me a while to find the club and then I realise that it fits just as comfortably in the hand as the plantadora did.

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3 thoughts on “Notes from the drylands, summer 2017

  1. Diane

    Having walked alongside you – albeit virtually – throughout that very hard journey, I am so glad that you have shared the story, which will, I feel sure, resonate for many people. Bullies are everywhere and, as your story shows, they are no respecters of age, experience or knowledge – quite the reverse, in fact. Facing them down often takes more courage than we think we have but what a good feeling it is to take one’s power back.

    May new and more welcoming doors open for you before too long.


  2. Hanni Allan

    the contrasts are amazing….the harshness of the climate and environment…..the soft, gentle beautifully coloured vegetables; hard toiling on ground level and the quietude of growth below the soil; ignorance and wisdom on other levels, ego and letting go. March on soldieresse……or soldierienne xx leave no turd unstoned as my dad Roy would say xxDD

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