Sunday, November 1, 2015

“Mighty oaks from little acorns grow”: ON LEGACY IN THE UMBRIAN COUNTRYSIDE

As a woman of what the French like to call “un certain âge,” (68 to be precise), I find myself thinking a lot about legacy. A few days ago, in the garden of a Farnese palace, two topiaries in the shape of an acorn (“ghianda”) caught my eye—a living piece of the Farnese legacy.  Now “ghianda” is not a word that comes up every day, but yesterday while we were harvesting our olives, it came up again, this time not from my dictionary, but from a neighbor who was helping us with our fourth harvest from the baby trees we planted here in Umbria. Four hundred kilos of olives later, while packing up, she noticed the many acorns in our driveway and started collecting them “for the pigs.” I had often wondered if those acorns had a use, and should not have been surprised to learn that Mamma Natura does not fritter away an opportunity. Who knew that I had on my own property something that a growing pig would consider a delicious treat? That’s when the quote about mighty oaks and little acorns popped into my head.

On our olive harvest day, the concept of legacy also hit home on a more personal level. After generations of indentured servitude to the Duke who used to own our valley, the family of our farmer neighbors inherited an enormous parcel of gorgeous land. This year they once again gave us the benefit of their experience with harvesting olives. We hope that the 50 trees we planted six years ago will be part of our legacy, but what about their own 400 trees, animals and crops? Of the original 11 children in their family, only two are currently working the land, and they are not getting any younger. The two brothers have both had health problems in recent years. What will happen to their land when they are no longer able to work it? Each brother has only one child: one unmarried daughter still living at home who works in an insurance office; the other, a mother of two, also works in an office.

But back to the present. It was a glorious day for an olive harvest, with just us, the two brothers, and the adorable wife of one of them all working together. I enjoyed bonding with this spunky little lady whom I had only met once before when she came to lead home their entire flock of sheep that had wandered into my back yard. That day, as she took command of the animals with her raised staff and bonnet, she reminded me of a very sturdy Little Bo Beep. At our olive harvest, she impressed me with her expertise in laying out the nets, and her work ethic. She would pick up any wayward olives that ended up on the ground instead of in the baskets, saying, “ I don’t like any of them to go to waste, whether they are my own, or not.”

We are always learning from these wise, generous neighbors. In another example of legacy, she pointed out a snakeskin that had been left behind by a viper who I am happy to say did not make an appearance. Unlike my husband and I who face the task of divesting and downsizing from our large American home, Signore or Signora Viper probably did not have to agonize over leaving that old skin behind. 

Here in Umbria, we are constantly learning how much we have to learn. 

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