Smoke and mist: the winter clear-up

Sunday, December 8, 2019, 17:29

Smoke rises from the village of Esmorigo as people clear up after the harvest.

The year is almost over and the land in the Minho is being cleared of the detritus of last year's harvest. Whippy strands of grape vine, bereft of leaves, are being swept into piles and set alight. This evening, in the hamlet of Esmorigo, I counted seven spires of smoke coming from fields and gardens. Most of the time, the air being still, the smoke rose straight to the sky, looking like sacrifices made by Abel. In this picture, one or two fires seem to have been set by Cain!

To see more of my thoughts as I walked past Calheiros and Esmorigo, click here.

There are times, when looking out of my window at the smoke billowing over the valley, that I think that the Portuguese are only happy when they are burning things. Of course this is nonsense, since they are acutely conscious of the devastation and death caused by wild fires across the peninsula and yet in autumn and winter country folk are constantly building bonfires.

A tends her bonfire in the hamlet of Esmorigo

Given that Portugal has just welcomed the climate activist, Greta Thunberg, after her long crossing of the Atlantic in a catamaran; and that the Secretary general of the United Nations, the former Portuguese Prime Minister, António Guterres, has said that the globe is at a 'crucial crossroads' and that 'millions around the world, including many young people', are asking world leaders to do more; it seems that Portugal needs to think how much carbon it must be adding to the atmosphere – not to mention particulates dangerous to health – when they set fire to the unwanted leftovers of cultivation.

"So what do you expect them to do?" I hear you cry.

Well, maybe the government should ban the practice. After all, when I was a child in England, the end of harvest was marked by lines of flickering red across the fields as farmers burnt wheat stubble. That no longer happens.

Of course, smallholders can't afford to buy wood shredders. Their margins are already small or, in many cases, non-existent as they are only growing produce for their own use. Yet few growers these days make their own wine. They gather the grapes and deliver them to the co-operative, which pays for the fruit and makes the wine. So what about a compost co-operative? Farmers could deliver the prunings of their vines and have them shredded and composted ready to be bought in bags as lovely friable humus to enrich their gardens the following year.

Wouldn't that burnish Portugal's credentials as a climate change warrior?

Oh, and before anyone thinks of writing in to question my climate change credentials; yes, I am a hypocrite. I am aware that I add to global warming by flying to and from Portugal but what to do? We can't all travel like Greta and to be honest I don't want to: a bucket on deck for a lavatory anyone? Must we then stop travelling? I suppose that is an option but even Greta, in her speech in Lisbon, was looking forward to travelling.

Maybe the French could think of reinstating car transporting trains to Hendaye on the French/Spanish border and Spain could install more charging points for electric cars. Then I could begin to do 'the right thing' and be less of a hypocrite.

Do you have any good ideas for saving humanity? I say 'saving humanity' instead of 'saving the planet' as most people do since the planet will get on just fine without us if we become extinct. It is humanity that is at risk of going up in smoke like a Portuguese bonfire. (If you are Portuguese, please feel free to write in your own language. You don't have to write in English. Lembre-se: o que é importante não é a língua mas a contribuição.)


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