Januar 2021

Dear friends,

Let me excuse myself first of all that this is more a News Letter about me than about Puyuelo. I have been alone for almost a month now here, so there is not much else to write about than myself, center and orbit of the Puyuelian universe for a while.

In a way, life has been tough. This hill is no longer the swimming-pants-and-sun-block paradise it used to be a couple of months ago. When the sun is gone, temperatures drop well below zero, and on the Northern slopes it hasn’t stopped freezing for days now. On the Sunday before Christmas, I woke up in 20 centimeters of snow. Ever since the water pipes have been frozen, I am back to fetching water every day and showering in the river (Every 3 days on average, which I’m sure is still a lot more than my smelly co-inhabitants of Puyuelo in their civilized hideouts). Yes, to you, inhabitants of Puyuelo, remember how I nearly cried out of pure exhaustion when we installed the water in August? How I said something about archetypes and the strongest guy and breaking down, and how you guys have laughed about that for months? Sweet revenge lures behind the corner of January and February, just a couple of blocks down the road of the communicating barrels of my resistance and your relaxation. The prospect of your shivering, re-urbanised, white asses on the frozen banks of the river has kept me warm at night!

Apart from romantic nostalgia to our beginning days, I also feel my body growing healthier by the day. That is, except for the hand and the knee and elbow I hurt one of the billion times I slipped in ice, mud, icy mud or muddy ice. As soon as the sun’s out I am in T Shirt, enjoying every minute I get. All in all it is pretty special to spend so much time outside in winter, a time I usually hide behind bricks and glass, while nature becomes beautiful in a very different way. A more delicate, exposed, silent way. One of bare branches and frozen waterfalls and white peaks in a purple-orange morning coat. And if there is one thing you get abundantly here apart from the harsh weather it is sun. Finally I understand why the Spanish so easily fall into existential depressions under the eternally gray dome of the Northern sky. Nature acquires a fragile purity on a sunny winter day, as if all trees and living beings are immensely grateful for every minute of warmth and light we get.

I often think about Orwell’s ‘Ode to Catalunya’ which I recently read, where he recounts his experiences in the trenches in Barbastro (50 kilometers South of Puyuelo) during the Spanish Civil War. Orwell spent eight months in those trenches, removing his clothes only once in that whole rat-infested, hungry and muddy period. So when the going gets though, I light the stove, read a couple of pages in ‘Ode to Catalunya’, lean back in the sofa, my feet in a hot water tub, and feel the deep relaxation and uterus-like joy that overpowers me lately when I only see something like a central heating system looming in the distance.

The animals, and especially our dog Ara, turn out to be great company now that I am alone. I admit that I looked down on so-called dog people in the past. I considered the dozens of pictures and videos they made of their dogs stupid, their love and admiration for such a dependent animal exaggerated, until a dog chose me instead of the other way around. Ara has everything I would be horrified of in a girlfriend. She sticks to me all day and night, is pretty much incapable of having a good time without my guidance and never speaks up to me but does exactly what I say (yes that is something I’m not looking for!). And yet we love each other in the simple and straightforward ways of creatures that do not share any languages but the invisible ones. Since I am in a confessional mood anyway, yes, we do cuddle every morning for 5, ok 10 minutes, and yes I share even the few cookies I have here with her, every time determined not to do so, until her big, brown, please-can’t-you-see-how-innocent-I-am-eyes shatter my will and I give her the other half.

What I am most grateful for is that she taught me to walk again. Every day we head to the forest for at least an hour, and when I see her sheer joy and curiosity for the smells and sounds of the forest, I cannot help but take over part of that view again. It is the eyes of a child, the wonder for the world and the wild I possessed as a boy, and I still do, the only problem being that I am usually too caught up in my grown-up-business to notice. And so we have spent hours walking the paths around Puyuelo. She runs off, comes back to greet me, and as such usually covers at least two to three times the distance I do without the slightest sign of exhaustion. Thanks to Ara, I have connected a lot of places that were still blank spots on my map, parts of the forest where the old paths are overgrown, but where the conscious observer still finds loads of traces of the many centuries humans have lived and died here. Honestly, if you would see the amount of pictures I have taken of her so far, I’d run the risk you’d take this News Letter a lot less serious.

When it comes to the solitude, that has had its ups and downs. For the first two weeks I had an absolutely great time. Contrary to what I thought, the days turned out to be too short for everything I wanted to do. Working, walking, reading, writing, the household; days flew by, the sun was out most of the time and I was the king of the hill. But with all the writing and the lonely thinking, I opened the dark and damp depths of my unconsciousness, and when the first snowflakes fell I went down with them into a less happy mood. For a couple of days I suffered, and I realized that what I usually do is looking for company, so that the voices of others cover up what’s going on inside. Since that turned out to be quite problematic, with the nearest neighbor David 20 minutes away (although we met up quite often and get along very well), I had a deep look in the mirror and resurfaced feeling better than before. I don’t want to fall into preaching, but up till now the solitude has proved its beneficial effects on inspiration, creativity and self-reflection. And solitude is of course a different thing than loneliness, a feeling that generally overwhelms me more often when I am in the city, surrounded by hundreds of people that don’t know each other and go about their own business. I know my colegas return in spring, a spring I will welcome with the same joy as the forest surrounding me.

All that said, I’d like to let everybody who was here this summer (and especially Felix, Moritz and James) know how many times I thank you guys. All that makes life possible here under these circumstances would have been impossible alone in such a short time. Moritz; every time it hits me how well this room is designed, Felix; any time I still eat something from the garden, James; any time I close the door you made airtight. Aly, every time I open one of your delicious jars of conserved food. And so on, and so on. I will be happy when we are reunited after we all had our time alone.

Puyuelo is hibernating. I feel how everything lays dormant for a while, just like we do, to explode with a second burst of energy as soon as spring approaches. Next winter we will look back on this winter as we look back on our first days here, pondering the good old Steinbeck quote we had hanging on the ceiling of our first, primitive basecamp:

“They landed with no money, no equipment, no tools, no credit, and particularly with no knowledge of the new country and no technique for using it. I don’t know whether it was a divine stupidity or a great faith that let them do it.”

John Steinbeck

A big hug, and all the best to all of you,

Our Valley, seen from the Nabaín (1796m)

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