By Madeleine Forbes
The wheel of the year turns, and the land is made over once again. Lit up by the full moon, then drenched in darkness as it wanes. Tides pull in and out; beaches shrink and grow; the seasons turn. As spring arrived this year, we signed papers that marked the completion of the purchase of a farm.
I began to contemplate the thrilling potential of a new project. To imagine how things were just about to change.
It’s been a long time getting here, requiring leaps of faith of varying degrees. Like building a remote business from scratch. Or relocating to a country where neither my husband or I spoke the language. Navigating bureaucracy, tax laws, the mundane business of day-to-day life. Occasional crises (wildfires, the arrival of our first child). And the three-year long hunt for a place we could afford, one that met our criteria (big but not too big, wild but not too wild, and so forth). Just over a year after we found it, it became ours.
A little granite cottage perched on the edge of two-and-a-half acres of terraced farmland. Olive trees, cherries, figs, and grape vines. Like the first page of a new notebook, it was almost intimidating in its possibility.
I think of all the home makeover shows I’ve watched, feeling myself stepping effortlessly into the role of excited-new-homeowner-with-big-dreams. Doodle sketches in the pages of my notebooks. Tearing out images of pretty tiles and quaint terraces. We start Pinterest boards and I find myself sidetracked by clothing brands. This new house will require a new version of me, too. One who wears floaty dresses and spends a lot of time in wheat fields at sunset (there are no wheat fields here, and too many brambles for floaty dresses, and yet I cannot stop looking).
Sometimes I feel the same way at the brink of a new season. Winter-me feels so lethargic and pallid. I cannot wait to shed her when the blossom appears.
By midsummer, I am tired of sweaty, clammy, summer-me, who craves cold beer all the time and stays up way too late.
Make me over! Replace me with cardigan-wearing autumn-me, who will read all the books I never get around to while sipping hot tea and listening to the rain.
In the movies, makeovers happen in montages, and involve exactly this kind of transformation. Like those homebuilding TV shows. Rip out a wall, shake down your hair, and everything is different. The reality, we all know, is much harder and more difficult.
Building a house, it turns out, takes a lot of time. Like pregnancy, it happens in stages, and there’s a lot of discomfort that goes with it. There is a lot of unglamorous, unsexy stuff going on behind the scenes to create the big shifts that make us say “Wow”.
I think of the tireless work of activists and lawyers and change-makers working for social justice, in between the headlines and the marches.
I think of the mothers getting by on not much sleep, day in, day out, the endless meal-cooking and house-cleaning and carpooling, that gets us to the graduation photo.
Change is a process that takes a long time. That mostly happens day-by-day, minute by minute, choice by choice.
Often, it’s not actually the big dramatic change that marks the biggest transformation. Moving to another country was a big shift, sure — but it wasn’t the ferry ride or the long drive that really shifted. It was the first time I managed to do a grocery shop without needing to stop and look up a phrase. It was registering with the local doctor; completing the paperwork that meant my kid could get the shots he needed. Tiny, daily, incremental changes that meant I’d put down roots.
As I grow older, I am more and more fascinated by these long processes. I watch the seasons turn, the way the land wakes up slowly from the winter, stretches into summer. The apples that will be ready in a few months’ time have swelled on the tips of the branches as the days lengthened.
I begin to think in timescales of decades. Raising a child. Building a farm. Learning a language. These are the projects that will define my life, and they will take slow decades of daily practice, and they cannot be rushed. Our ancestors knew about these long journeys, these quests to a fulfillment that is deeper and richer because of what it takes to get there. The old heroes set out from their homes for journeys of half a lifetime, and as the world sped up, we have forgotten that.
Some of us are remembering it, now.
And so I consider myself a student of the land, the hills. I make it my practice to watch the seasons change, and to remind myself that the big makeovers take time. This house is one which will evolve as our family does, year on steady year. Like me, it is changing all the time, day by day, if I pay attention to it. The way one season slowly blurs into the next. The way we’re never really finished.
Madeleine Forbes is a writer living off-grid in the hills of central Portugal. As an immigrant and former city-dweller, she started The Seasoned Year as a space to share her journey into the landscape, and help others deepen their connection to seasonal cycles. You can sign up for free Letters from the Land and follow Madeleine’s blog via her website; or follow her on Instagram and Facebook.