As Much of the Universe

This morning, I’m thinking about Fernando Pessoa (or Alberto Caeiro?)’s The Keeper of Sheep, VII:

From my village I see as much of the universe as can be seen
from the earth,
And so my village is as large as any town,
For I am the size of what I see
And not the size of my height…

In the cities life is smaller
Than here in my house on top of this hill.
The big buildings of cities lock up the view,
They hide the horizon, pulling our gaze far away from the
open sky.
They make us small, for they take away all the vastness our
eyes can see,

And they make us poor, for our only wealth is seeing.

I went up the monte twice yesterday, once in the morning with Alqo to stretch our legs, and again in the afternoon before sunset with both Patricia and Alqo. Toward the top, there is a fork in the path. We’ve always turned right, which leads us a little bit further, past a grove of oak, and ultimately to the winding road we live on, further down the monte.

Instead, we turned left. With my new eyeglasses, I can see much clearer (my prescription doubled since the last time I changed them, which was far too long ago). And the view that awaited us when we reached the actual top was spectacular.

We could see the other forest path that we take often, that leads past an isolated goat farm with two very protective dogs, past the heavily-shaded area where Alqo ran off to chase a deer a few days ago after sunset and left us a little distraught and searching for him in the dark for what felt like an eternity, and towards another village, A Aira Vella (pop. 6) that we walked to, meeting only an older woman and three dogs. We could see the rain in the distance and a section the autovía. Some of the trees are turning a faint yellow and brown, adding to the autumnal feeling.

I remembered Pessoa and specifically The Keeper of Sheep, how I was able to share him with a fellow Peace Corps friend, how his translated poetry found me at the time I needed him, how I used read him on the veranda in my small village in Sierra Leone, and our short life in an apartment in downtown Cologne; the constricted vision, and how my walks with Alqo were confined to a city block.

All of it was written in some sense, necessary to have this moment of pure gratitude up there of where we are now, what we do, and who we aspire to be.

I’ll hold on to this feeling for the day.

Entre as Pedras

One of the best things about living where we do is the lush flora, with trails and paths everywhere along and protruding from the riverbank. We can explore our surroundings on foot, without the need of a car to reach a trailhead.

A few days we took Alqo to a wide open space. Unofficially designated as the dog park of the town, there weren’t others dogs for him to play with. It had rained the whole day before and we weren’t ready to head up the monte to cloister ourselves up by our heater, so we started down a path following the river. It turned in to a 6 kilometer out-and-back, leaving town behind, crossing the river, and heading deeper into the forest.

These paths bring back so many memories of Sierra Leone. The foot paths from my village in Loko country led to smaller settlements, passing upland farms, palm plantations, sacred bush for gbangbaní ceremonies, and irrigated swamps for rice farms. The human interaction with the physical environment was minimal but symbiotic. You could see palms with a small plastic container hanging from the tree collecting palm wine, or a bundle of sticks with thread and a lock, signifying some type of swear that a moriman had constructed, for a price, to protect the property or harvest of another. While there are no fetishes, we could see the land was cared for in a wild way. There were mossy stones organized as small walls or boundaries, and small plastic water bottles hanging from young castaños (we’re still unclear what function they serve).

We saw a lot of quartz on the walk too. Even up on the monte the cloudy white rock is everywhere.

Despite the cold and rain, I’ve been outside every day. It’s quite a change from living in Cologne, and it’s much appreciated. Nature is close, and I feel it.

Day One: Oropesa

Today, it started. I’m enamored with the potential to explore anywhere we want to go without needing to find a dog-friendly budget hostel with a kitchen once we arrive. There is a little setup make the bed inside, but it beats setting up a tent and air mattress by a country mile.

We got off to a late start. Itching to start traveling with Holly but not ready to head to Cologne and confront a proper German winter, we decided to head south in search of some sun, Islamic history, and good hiking trails. Our first big destination is Sevilla, the capital of Andalusia. But we’ll take our time, sin prisa.

About ninety minutes west of Villanueva de la Cañada, our home base for the last three months, stands a hilltop town named Oropesa with a castle built by the Moors over some Roman construction. Oropesa is small but reminded me of Trujillo and Toledo, two cities with similar architecture that pop up among the pleasant but somewhat monotonous countryside.

The weather was sunny and warm, unlike the last few days outside Madrid. We stopped to walk around the castle to stretch our legs and those of our dog companion. Not much happens on a Friday afternoon in any town in Spain so we quickly strolled the plaza and hit the road.

We read a Jacobin article aloud about meeting our needs and realizing our highest potential in a ecosocialist society:

We need to find ways to live luxuriously but also lightly, aesthetically rather than ascetically. Instead of an endless cycle of working and shopping, life in a low-carbon socialist future would be oriented around activities that make life beautiful and fulfilling but require less-intensive resource consumption: reading books, teaching, learning, making music, seeing shows, dancing, playing sports, going to the park, hiking, spending time with one another.

After, I thought about a few things:

  1. Latin America was a political, social, and spiritual catalyst. I want to write more about it, but leaving Mauritania was therapeutic in some way, though I hold it dear in my heart. It’s where I met my wife and took my shahāda. But we both needed time away from teaching obligations to think more deeply about the world and our place in it.
  2. I’m grateful to have a partner who is as curious and progressive about life as I am. Being able to encourage and build on each other’s ideas and projects is something special. Daily practices like reducing our plastic use, shopping and eating at local establishments to future plans on how to raise a kid in these times. Alhamdulillāh.

Crossing into Extremadura, we settled for the night near a merendero outside a small village surrounded by lightly-wooded pastures.

Arriving just before dusk, we made a simple salad while we listened to the cowbells and our dog tried to be brave and explore our campground unsupervised. The night sky perfect for stargazing with a hot chocolate.

Tomorrow we plan to visit Monfragüe National Park. The weekend and sunny forecast for tomorrow means we probably won’t be the only ones.