Returning to the property one morning alone, I began a thorough assessment of its physical resources, the plants, the stones, the junk. Every rotten plank and broken brick were an asset to be considered for reuse in the spirit of whatever contadino had carted it there from somewhere else to reuse himself. And every mature tree, vine or herb would save me a a lot of landscaping. Rather than sculpting additively (by hauling things in to plant), I would reclaim the old farm, if we really bought it, by subtractively pruning and clearing--like chipping away marble to find the form hidden within, or chiseling a rough diamond. Except this little gem was green and living and dynamic.
Being mindful of rusty nails, broken glass, and hidden bailing wire traps, I walked the entire property starting at the top cataloging what I could see beneath the smothering rovi (blackberry vines) and vitalva (summer clematis). I found: 93 olive trees, 16 peach trees, 5 walnut trees, 4 cherry trees, countless wild prune trees, 2 big fig trees, 1 umbrella pine, and about 200 grapevines. And I was sure to discover more under the canopy of wild vines when I started clearing.
Working my way down the perimeter of the property where the lower grain field borders a small wood, I was also careful to avoid the ankle-twisting grubbing holes pocking the fields.
When I first heard the threatening grunt-snuffle-snort from under the expansive mat of blackberry bramble on the other side of the property line fence, my heart raced and I backed up, watching the brambles undulate like a giant mole was tunneling under them. Happily it continued tunneling away from me, even after I stepped into a grubbing hole and fell flat on my back, certain what I was hearing was a cinghiale, a wild boar.
My new acquaintance, artist and gardener Sheppard Craige, had told me a story over coffee just 2 days earlier. He was doing 55 miles an hour down a windy Tuscan road when a wild boar sow charged his pickup truck's left front tire. Within a mile the tire was flat, the sidewall punctured by a razor sharp tusk. Cinghiali, wild boars can get to be 700 pounds around here.
Cinghiale are rabbit fast and can rip the femoral artery out of a man's thigh in a heartbeat. Needless to say I gave that part of the property a wide berth.
At the very bottom of the property is the orto or vegetable garden area. Not only is the richest soil there, but that rare and most important resource in our area, a spring. It is a very slow trickle, but constant all year long and shaded by some pretty vinca, willows. The neighboring farmer had recently used the abandoned orto to grow corn and melons, the season's dry stalks stood in rows like so many straw sentries. Threading my way through them toward the stand of cane at the woods end of the orto, I began to fantasize about the great garden of heirloom fruits and vegetables I could grow. The soil was surprisingly moist because of the spring, a good sign.
I was savoring the song of warblers and thrushes and mulling all this over when I heard it again, not 6 feet from where I stood, the snuffling under the brambles. This time it seemed angry. Apparently, we'd both done a big loop and ended in the same place. The brambles undulated again, but toward me this time and fast. Then I saw the fawn-like backs of two boar piglets leaping away.
Knowing the big undulation was a boar sow coming my way, and that thin bit of wire fencing between us couldn't stop it, I turned and bolted face-first into a rattling cornstalk that scared me more than the mountain lion had. Barely controlling my bladder, I felled stalk after stalk before me as I ran to the opposite end of the orto. I never saw the sow, but I'll never forget her sour earthy musk. The only thing I can liken it to is the territory marking scent of tiger urine that raised the hackles on my neck in Sikkim some years earlier....
1st & last images are by David J Slater at DJSPhotography UK.