Sometimes we plant seedlings that will bear fruit or flowers in a few short months.
Sometimes we plant trees.
On Friday, we signed the papers on our new home.
A little granite house on the edge of the hill, looking out on to the mountains. They’re still snow-covered, at this time of year; we gathered with friends to toast in the new land, as wind whipped clouds across the sky and rain came sideways through the windows. Our windows. Our sky.
It’s been almost 4 years since we first made the leap to Portugal, feeling a pull to build a life here. We planned to find our feet for 6 months or so and then look for a bit of land to buy, a ruin to do up. A year, at the most, I reckoned.
Only, it took longer than that. As other immigrants fell in love with the hills, swooped in and snapped up dream homes in a flash, we floundered, prevaricated and second guessed ourselves. We wanted a rambling 10 hectare wilderness with the barest footprint of a long abandoned house. No we didn’t. We wanted a little square of steep terrace with a rambling cave of interconnected rooms. Scrap that, this place has a scattering of shepherds huts that would make the most perfect boutique retreat hotel one day…
Future after future unfurled in technicolour, and none of them felt quite right.
So we waited. Grew roots, started to learn the language, to get our ducks in a row when it came to residency permits and tax paying.
I’d been convinced we’d find a house and then start our family but as months, then years passed, I began to wonder if we’d ever manage to agree on a property we both liked.
And so we hoarded our nest egg, and kept going with the rest of our lives. Had a baby, in a temporary rental home in the middle of our village, made friends, kept looking.
In the end, the place we found wasn’t one that popped up on an estate agent’s website or via one of our local contacts.
Instead, we spied it ourselves, in tantalising glimpses from the winding mountain road.
“There’s a house there, I’m sure” Nick would say, and yet the next time we drove up it didn’t seem to be visible. Vanished, like a fairy mirage. But it was there, half hidden by trees, tucked into the hill. A little stone building, not lived in for decades, sloppily rendered in white concrete, red tile roof, neat terraces of mown grass and pruned fruit trees.
A perfect, family-sized homestead. No for sale sign. Definitely not abandoned. And yet, we felt a tug.
So one day, Nick pulled off the road and walked down the track, and in his best google-translated portuguese wrote as polite a note as he could muster. It said, essentially, we are a couple looking for a quinta, and we like this one. Any chance you might want to sell it?
In Autumn 2016, we pinned the note to the door and waited.
In November, we had a phone call to say that the owner of the quinta was very sick. Now was not a good time to talk.
In January, we rang back. The owner had died and yes, the family might be interested in selling, though they were nervous. He had loved the place, lived there as a child, and they were anxious to honour that. And so, the saga began.
Twists and turns. Emotions and doubts. Paperwork and negotiations.
It took much longer than we expected, and yet somehow it was the perfect amount of time. The patience I resist in almost every area of my life had space to open up. People would ask us how the house buying was going and we’d smile and all our eyes and say “slowly”, but the truth is it was taking exactly as long as it needed to.
Many, many conversations with these good people, who had never really thought about selling the farm, and yet lived too far away to tend it. They felt a pull too, towards us. Some unseen force had drawn us together.
At times I asked myself what I would do if it fell through, what my Plan B was, but there never was any Plan B. The fire took the rest of what we had and left us with only this one path, clear as day. I knew the land would be ours, all in good time, and it was.
When we finally completed the sale, we laughed and cried. All of us.
We felt the good, solid weight of a big decision, well made.
When I founded The Seasoned Year I had a similar feeling. It was what I needed to do. And although at times I’ve fantasised about an online empire, a small army of seasonally living fans (charged up in Spring, languorous in summer, trailing off in Autumn…), my life is just like yours: full. Rich. Woven together with love and responsibility and commitment to all kinds of causes, the sorts of things you can’t weigh up against each other, not ever.
So this project unfolds in its own time. I don’t look at my baby and wish he was a ten year old any more that I look at this blog and wish it was a thousand-page long treatise. After all, I wouldn’t really know what to do with either of those far-off outcomes.
Instead I’m finding my way, fumbling through. Glacially slowly in internet terms; pretty speedy by the reckoning of the average oak tree.
I’m starting to realise that the really good things in life (marriage, trees, oxtail stew) have one thing in common. They take much longer than you think they will. And they’re uncommonly worth it in the end.