Tuesday, July 7, 2015

This weekend in the Czech mountains. I always feel like I learn something when I'm up there.

We spent the weekend up at Pavla's parents in Nova Ves v Horach, a village about 2 hours north of Prague, near the German border. There was a heat wave in the capital. It was all anybody talked about in the city. The heat the heat. I thought I might stay in the city though. I thought I might work on some paintings, write some blog posts. But it doesn't really make sense to stay in the city like you normally would when you have the chance to go out to the country. So we decided to get away for the weekend. Up there at least you can sit under a tree or cool your feet in their Koi pond.

It's easy to forget what the majority of the world looks like when you live in a city. Glass buildings that stand immense and glistening in the city lay on their sides in the country, become shimmering lakes and ponds. Asphalt roads that criss-crossed the heart of your every day slough off their black skin and slither between trees as barely trodden paths. There are very few bright colors out there. Everything seems to blend together. The sky is blue but not very. The fields are yellow but it's a soft yellow. Very little stands out, unless by contrast. A black butterfly hanging upside down on a white clove of garlic. The stars at night.

There are many chores to do up there. We try to help when we can be of help. For the most part, her parents know what needs to be done and how to do it. But as they get older they're more open to help.

It doesn't rain quite enough up there, so just getting their garden watered sufficiently is a production. They set out plastic buckets and barrels to gather as much rain water as possible and there's a rusty old bathtub beneath a rain gutter that catches whatever water comes off the roof, but it's not enough. Her father also takes a 20 gallon plastic jug by wheelbarrow once or twice a day to fill with rainwater that comes out of a runoff spout from the hills around. I've done this before. The grass around the spout is as high as your chin. To get at the water you have kneel down and fill a small bucket and hand it off to the next person to pour it through an old metal strainer into the big jug. Crouched down there out of the sun, waiting for the bucket to fill, it's another world, an entire ecosystem in front of your face. Snails with white shells the size of your pinky nail climb weightlessly up single stems of grass in front of you. Out of nowhere little black squirming grains of rice are swimming in your bucket. Flies of a different sort are picking at your legs. Horse-flies I believe they're called. Mosquitoes with tails an inch long buzz around your face and eyes. You imagine just what else is living in the dense thicket around you. If I had to survive here, you think for a second, I couldn't. I'd drink the water, I'd get sick, the temperature would drop, I'd freeze. End of story. But these creatures, with brains the size of grains of sand, would be fine. They'd out nature me.

The main thing I come away with being up there helping with the garden is how hard it is to actually grow your own food. It's lovely to be able to reach up and pluck off a piece of fruit from a tree and eat it. But a lot comes with that. Every step of the way, something's threatening your food source out here. There are worms in the apple trees, caterpillars laying eggs in the cabbage patch, and birds with a nose for when your cherries are ripe. I never really thought about what it takes to protect something to the point where you can eat it. But basically, if you want an apple, you have to insert yourself between the worms and birds and the bugs and the deer that come out of the woods at night in order to preserve it until the time comes when you can eat it. I watch the way her father does it. To preserve their cherry tree, he rings the trunk with adhesive so ants don't eat away at the leaves. He sprays the tree with pesticides when the fruit is near sweetening to keep the bees from biting. Using a homemade ladder, he hangs tin cans from the branches to scare off the birds (and keeps a bb gun handy if that doesn't do the trick). Once the fruit ripens, he'll pick what he can. What's left will rot. But for the tree to bloom as fruitfully the next season, even the rotten fruit must be picked off. On a tree that's two stories high, by homemade ladder, just imagine.

For me sometimes I question why they still grow their own fruits and vegetables, given their age, given how much time and energy it takes, given the chance that if it's a particularly dry year a tree might not produce at all. Both her parents have decent pensions from working their whole lives in the coal mining industry. They don't live exclusively off the land. Some things they buy at a normal supermarket. From what Pavla's told me, the garden used to be a lot bigger. It used to wrap around the house. Now it takes up half of one side.

I think some of it is they need to work. They need to feel like they're accomplishing something. It's ingrained in them. I understand that. They've worked the land in some capacity their whole lives. I'm not sure of their reasons for doing it, but I'm glad they do. There's something special to the harvest time. I've seen it. When a fruit tree blooms, neighbors and relatives are invited over. Everybody is welcome to the fruit. There is more than enough for everybody, and if it's not enjoyed it'll just go bad. It's a reason for people to come together. I think there's probably a lot of satisfaction in that. I know there is.


  1. If you currently do not sign your works of art, you may want to consider doing that. And you may want to consider inserting a copyright on your written posts. Just a thought. Very good writing about the Czech countryside. Keep it up.

  2. If you have the option, a few photos of the area would be nice. Just a thought.