Rooftops and chainsaws are two things that need to be taken extremely seriously.
I knew that at the start of this week, but I’m aware of it even more at the end…courtesy of two near-misses.
I could blame them on distraction caused by a head spinning with thoughts and plans about water treatment, heating backup plans and interior layouts as we embark upon our building project.
But really it all comes down to stupidity and a lack of respect for danger.
After the “I don’t expect to make 40” years in Afghanistan, and various ambushes and wars in Iraq and across Africa, I think have now come to terms with my mortality.
If someone asked me to, I would probably head back to a front line in a heartbeat, but I don’t miss the madness and the risks…which I think is healthy.
It was a big step – and admission – to make the decision a few years ago to stop doing my dramatic party-trick TJ Hooker rolls because of a bad back…an acknowledgement that I am indeed getting old.
But every time I’ve climbed scaffolding or hauled myself onto the roof I’ve thought about the stories of people falling off – stories that don’t end well.
And so it was with great caution that I climbed onto the guesthouse roof to repair a couple of cracked tiles and clean off the lichen and mould with the power washer as part of our big spring clean.
Shoes with poor grip, wet lichen and gravity are not a good mix at the apex of the roof.
It was a comedy slapstick slip and would probably have made a great gif, had it not been for my acceleration down the roof towards the fast-approaching edge.
Mountaineering as a teenager I had once slipped on a glacier with a full pack and narrowly avoided sliding into a deep ice lake by spreading my arms and legs to increase friction (and eventually being saved by a narrow strip of exposed rock).
Ana was inside the house cleaning the walls and heard the fairy elephant on the roof create more broken tiles than he was intending to repair and rushed out to see me employing the same technique to come to a halt just before the roof edge.
No more harm done than wounded pride, more tile repairs and scuffed fingertips which annoyingly stop my phone from recognising me again – but it’s a good regular reminder to respect danger.
It was a similar story with the chainsaw: over-caution giving way to over-confidence and the illusion that a sharp, spinning, spiky chain wouldn’t cut my leg off in a matter of seconds.
And then came the burning desire to cut down bigger and bigger trees. Like some kind of addiction, saplings just weren’t enough for me anymore. I had to play with the big boys.
Speaking of addiction, I think we managed to wean Garf off his opiates just in time – at least I think our horse/dog is hounding us for scratches and treats rather than heroin.
His cut paw has almost healed and his knee surgery aftercare is now heading into the rehabilitation phase – he appreciates all the kind words and wishes from last week.
Anyhow, I somehow managed to topple a big tree pretty much on top of myself while the chainsaw was running.
Yes, I know you have to cut a little wedge in the direction you want the tree to fall, and then carefully cut from the other side.
The fantastic Lionel Nobre, who is currently cutting our forest down for firewood, taught me how to do that and then nonchalantly lean a massive tree to fall in exactly the right spot.
But it’s just not that easy…especially when you start to get cocky.
The pride has taken a beating this week, but thankfully everything is still connected and I’ve learned to treat dangerous domestic scenarios with a renewed level of respect.
I’ve also re-discovered graph paper and it’s really helping translate ideas into concrete plans.
I mean, image how complicated this would be if I hadn’t been able to represent it both geographically and schematically in this easy-to-follow way?
The current obsession is water: getting it, keeping it, heating it and treating it – on the way in and on the way out.
Our current situation is unsustainable – the Berkey filter was doing a great job purifying our rainwater until the southern winds brought rain with fine Saharan sand the other week, and now it keeps blocking the filter.
We shall once again have to go to fetch the water (‘til the day that we are old) and until we get enough rain to flush all the sand from the roof.
But the bigger issue is providing water for the new build.
It’s the kind of off the grid 3D chess I need to ponder at length – preferably not while doing something dangerous.
we have slightly salty bore hole water which needs to be treated by reverse osmosis before reaching our new guests.
reverse osmosis and pumping use power…which has to be provided by our solar power system…and half the water treated is lost
but we need less of that if we collect and keep rooftop rainwater which we mix into the system
we have a reed-bed plan for treating toilet water on site…but don’t want the run-off reaching the lake
and wouldn’t it be great to recycle the shower water?
oh, and then there’s the water heating solution for when there’s no sunshine
I’m not going to bore you (as well as everyone else I have spoken to this week), but suffice to say plans are starting to take shape.
I really have to thank the inspiring Doug McGray who founded the Pop-Up Magazine in the US (check it out) and spoke to our JSK fellowship at Stanford.
A writer for the New Yorker who founded a company, he advised us that business is just like journalism: you do the research, carry out the interviews, but rather than writing it up, you implement it.
And I suppose my job as a foreign correspondent has always been to take complex ideas and different angles on a topic and then translate it into something understandable.
I will refer you back to the graph paper.
Maybe journalism isn’t a completely insane foundation for developing a guest lodge after all?
As we contemplated this question, and pondered the insanity of how much we are trying to do with something we know so little about, we had a spirit-lifting new arrival in Vale das Estrelas: a nightingale.
His symphony of trills, lilts, whistles and calls cut through the perfect silence of the valley this week.
And yes, it is a he – a common nightingale (according to the app), but nothing common about his amazing calls. I even recorded them – have a listen.
A beautiful moment amid the madness which we’re taking as a sign of encouragement.
PS loved the nightingale. Awesome 😀
Hi Alastair- really enjoying your journey. I wondered what you were up to as no longer seeing you on tv. You have done amazing things since living on Burn Road. I lived at No 3 - parents Edna and Alan Jeffrey - have good memories of time there. Take care.