I sit at this picnic-table and observe abundance.
It's remarkable for the drying herbs, ceiling of grape vines and scenery of apple, cherry and mulberry trees. And inside are the remnants of the lunch we had of potato-rice-scallion casserole, sautéed tofu, home-made bread, home-made sour cherry cake and home-grown sun-flower seeds. Ahhh… No wonder we all wanted a nap after lunch.
And then topped that off with a swim in the second largest lake in Bulgaria, located in Gorsko Kosovo, in the middle of nowhere.
What an adventure, you might comment! Yep!
And just how did I end up here, you might ask? Heck if I know!
It started with a simple request the morning after the Permaculture course ended. I was a bit frustrated that we were told we were “off” (no work) that Friday as well as the entire week-end. I needed an alternative to boredom.
So when my two Canadian friends said there were accompanying their Bulgarian friend on a weekend adventure to parts unknown I simply asked if there might be room for me. “Yes, of course. But we are then driving on to Austria. Somehow you’ll have to get back to Shipka by yourself.”
I took the chance. And two hours later, winding up the road over Shipka Pass (where the Russians and Bulgarians fought off the Turks and gained their freedom), and gliding down into the valley below, getting a bit lost as the GPS cut out. …. Finally ending at this unique place – Ecovillage Joy. (See stork nest in background.) None of us knew what we were in for or had any expectations other than that we were promised room and board for 25 leva ($12). My friends were living in a community in Austria and were curious about this intentional community . Me? I had no idea why I was there! Just along for the ride…
Albert and Ivan
Flowers are wafting their odors, bees are buzzing and inside the kitchen Albert is trying out the guitar. He and Ivan, twenty year olds workers from the city, had quite an adventure getting here. As Ivan tells it, he got sick of the city and his job and the “money-values.” They had 6 days of food, water and money plus a leaky tent. They bicycled for five days up and down mountains, getting lost, fighting off jackals at night and arrived just before their supplies ran out. A life-changing hero’s quest, I suspect. And here they are, playing didgeridoo, extolling the value of veganism and deconstructing a community member’s purchased falling-down house brick by brick for $12 a week plus room and board. It works for everyone. Eventually they will learn how to build a house as the bricks are sorted, arranged and reconstructed. The co-founder Hristo complains that the kids these days don’t even know how to put a screw in straight but I suspect these young men will learn. And though they claim they will live here FOREVER! no matter what their parents say, I also suspect they will leave and carry sweet memories of fruit, drying herbs and competence with them.
I needed a video recorder yesterday as we followed Hristo on the tour. He started the monologue off with some negative statement about, “It is so difficult. Everyone thinks it is easy. But we work all the time…” Yet over the next couple of hours a twinkle of humor shown through. For example, to go to the gardens he asked if we wanted to walk or to ride the horses. He was serious! No saddles, 2 horses, 5 of us …. But he would have made it happen—he loves horses that much!
As the story evolved, he told us that that at age 3 he asked his mother for a horse. By the age of 20 he realized he would have to buy one himself. He left out decades of history but here he is with partner Janet from Cyprus, with lovely buildings of wood and stone … and abundance. Apparently few others live here, volunteers come and go and the occasional 20 year old Ivan and Albert. Lessons the’ve learned? People need a “buy-in”, a sense of ownership and privacy. Simple communal living didn’t work for them! And not too many volunteers! “They eat a lot and sit around playing the guitar!”
He gives us lots of pithy advice and I wish I’d written it down. One I remember. “If you want to build a house, first you have to be able to build a chicken coop. But before you build a chicken coop you have to be able to build an out-house.” So, start small.
And he is from a village that taught him about how to plant a tree—related to how to build an out- house. Dig a pit. Use it as a toilet for a year. Move down the row and build another pit, etc… Put a sapling in the first pit. Then the next through the years. Finally you can look down a row and see trees of different heights and at the end, an outhouse.
Gudrun and Arno
A German couple is thinking of buying a house here and be part of the community, maybe. There are lots of legalities re. the purchase. Could do it the Bulgarian way – kind of dicey. Or the German way—takes longer but safer. “Why here?” I ask. “The land, the community or the hope of one, and the water.” The water, I wonder?
And after swimming in the lake I understand. It is vast, it is abundant, it provides very cheap water year round for irritation. Apparently the first community Janet founded had a great mountain view – very spiritual – but no water or fertile land. The trees died. Now they are here with apparently all they need (with capital influx from on-going income from Cyprus.) But really, most of the food is home-grown. We witness the cow milking, egg gathering and vegetable gathering. The 12 year old son chopping “his”potatoes—"I grew them, I wash them, I chop them. I cook them!”
Today has been “the herb day” traditionally in Bulgaria.
Coupled with the new moon, the herbs will be extra potent and we have thoroughly enjoyed wandering the fields to gather them.
Last night was amazing, a new moon.
Last night felt like some sort of ceremony. (Too dark for pictures.) Solstice a week late? Janet played Indian flute and sang Sanskrit mantras to Shiva. Hristo played his Bulgarian drum (large and loud because shepards needed to reach each other on mountain tops). The boys played digeredoo and drums. What an odd-ball assortment we made! I had to laugh! Myself, the wanderer. Janet and Hristo the settlers. Catherine and Cisco from Canada on their way to Sweden and having a baby. Vishra from Bulgaria, Austria, and then who knows where. Gudrun and Arno from Germany. The boys. A Bulgarian PhD Entemologist studying “True Bugs” in Sofia… Under the moon. Singing of love or nature or togetherness or just life.
And my return to Shipka?
There’s no need to figure out a bus schedule. Gudrun and Arno are dropping me off on their way back! And we’ll be stopping in Gabravo for a coffee with the translator who will help with their home purchase. (Apparently Gabravo is well known for its humor and has a house of humor and satire that promotes the comic arts. See if you laugh… HTTPS:// en.me.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gabrovo_humor) “The world lasts because it laughs.”
I was just along for the ride. But what have I learned from this weekend?
That’s it’s possible to live differently. Their formula works for them. The rest of us will find our own way that stresses living in tune with nature, growing much of our own food, sharing resources with neighbors... and coming together with other “odd-balls” to sing under a new moon.