I tramped through the mountains of Montsant, Catalonia, Spain. Its highest point is La Roca Corbatera at 1,163m. The whole region has been classified as a national park of 10,000ha, and is strewn with areas designated for climbing and hiking. Here, settlements are minimal and many lay abandoned. It seems that the toil of time has not availed the residents a sense of dependency.
The wild rugged terrain was the former home of hermits for centuries, still the ruins of former establishments remain impressive to the reminiscing tourist alike. This hinterland of the Costa Daurada is home to some of the most spectacular scenery in the whole of Spain, if only for the red, rocky escarpments that send one crouching at its perimeter edge. Even I cannot look over these precipices; the
fear of gusty winds is every ramblers nightmare. With names like the Three Jurors, and the Bishop and the Skull, it certainly does sound like an ascetic paradise. Occasionally one spots a memorial to a lost friend or family member, cemented in stone at a point where maybe that person died. If people could chose where they would like to die then maybe these magnificent heights where birds of prey climb could seem appropriate. Birds, masters of the air, throwing up anthropomorphic images of freedom and independency, sore through the skyscape.
On the odd occasion I meditate upon that position, to put myself in a bird’s body and leap off the edge. The landscape below is now a map engrossed into my whole vision. What a unique human experience it must be for skydivers to plummet the verticality of space. Is there a sense of timelessness during those moments when the whole landscape, devoid of locale, of place, becomes an eternal image engraved in the mind? Falling a great distance could only make oneself aware of themselves, the personal, the relation of the infinite to the finite.
Thus one can understand the hermit, the seclusion of space, the creation of place, in which devoid of cultural baggage allows a deep centredness. The attachment of nature is itself the detachment of self. For here one only cultivates the wild, the land too rugged for the prolonged inventions of humanity. Even the architectural space of ruined churches and homesteads could not prevail. Rather the craggy cave or the overhanging boulder, both shaped by timeless actions, form the eyries of Bonelli’s eagle, the golden eagle, the short-toed eagle,
the sparrow hawk, the peregrine falcon, the eagle owl, the kestrel, swallow or dipper. The sky is their backdrop, the prey their azimuth. In one fatalistic swoop the macrocosm becomes the microcosm as the great earthscape condenses into a single species; maybe a southern smooth snake, a weasel, badger or fox. Even a barbel, a Southwest-European nase or a chub. How the hermit replicates this action, a returning to the source; perceiving the macrocosm and microcosm as a single moment is a journey I explore numerous times.
I describe here not just my mythological landscape, but the landscape I have inherited and live in during the winter period. Leaving the city life behind one might expect to have a radical change of mood. But in my personal case I believe this is not so, as I have cultivated the indigene within me since past 20 years. I am defined by Maslow’s concept of self-actualisation – if I have an idea it is natural and requires its fulfilling. London life is only bearable because, like a true indigene, I have found my niche in it.
This required moving away from the dependency of the rat race and constructing my own lifestyle. In doing so I have created a sense of community around me through my projects, and a network of important people. Having a wild area of relatively untouched railway embankment behind my house to work in reinforces the indigene within me. For me then, self-actualisation is about fulfilling one’s genetic heritage, and to link the both homes I removed about a tonne of rock from Catalonia and made a drystone wall in London.
The photos show the main areas of my concern and those I frequently visit. Along the top row is Can Masdeu, a mansion squat that now is one of the leading permaculture projects in Catalonia. As a former lepre colony the extensive gardens still have irrigation systems in place and are just now in the process of implementing a forest garden. They can be located in the outskirts of Barcelona. For more information see Can Masdeu here. Next along is our gaff along the coast. The polytunnel has since come on with woven bamboo used for the sides to prevent wind damage. As you can see we occasionally get snow. Then Charlie's place Sigetí with his donkey and eco buildings. As a succesful market garden and veg box scheme he is a model for others to follow in. Lastly, the images of Montsant with Richard Wade's permaculture at Arbolí. These last two projects I extensively refer to in my books. Richard runs apprenticeship schemes and teaches in Italian, Spanish, Catalan and English. See his website Permacultura Montsant here.