If there is one undeniable, relentless, certainty about Galician life, it is that the grass will never stop growing. Sure, it slows down a little in the heat of the summer, and the occasional cold snap in the winter may curtail the daily millimetres of growth, but as sure as day turns into night the Galician meadow is a relentless thing.
When you peruse potential properties on the various estate agents’ sites, the appeal of thousands of square metres of land is way too much temptation for someone born and brought up in towns. This is especially the case for those of us whose first house had no garden, whose second was a strip of metre wide concrete between the house and the road, and whose third was a couple of postage stamp sized sod-covered clay-soiled areas where your low-price lawn mower required the turning circle of a London taxi.
We therefore gave little thought to the 7,000m2 of finca that was attached to our buildings, except ‘great’. We never thought about the effort it keeping the grass mown, the potential fire risk when it dried to a tinderbox in the summer, or the potential for ‘denuncias’ and associated fines from the local authority for being negligent in the land’s maintenance.
Between buying the house and moving to Galicia it wasn’t too bad. We weren’t living here to see the unrelenting advance, we usually visited in the summer when there was a slight abatement as the sun and heat took its toll, and we were fortunate to have Carlos’s donkey as ‘muncher in chief’ turning the good grass into manure.
It was only when we renovated the barn, and asked Carlos to vacate his donkey from the premises, that the problem became abundantly noticeable.
We’ve since tried horses and donkeys and for a couple of years we had a neighbour from the next village who came along twice a year and cut the grass for winter hay for his cattle. But for the last couple of years we’ve not been able to entice any livestock grass-cutters, and the pasture has grown out control much to our embarrassment and our neighbours disgust.
While I could strim the areas immediately around the house and under the fruit trees, this would take five or six hours of blood, sweat and tears and it was like painting the proverbial fourth bridge. The problem was the open pasture and we had to resort to a twice-yearly phone call to a local farmer who would bring his ‘Heath Robinson’ industrial strimmer, four massive heavy-gauge chain flails attached to a rapidly rotating wheel under a wooden bed on wheels, which he towed backwards and forwards across the land, obliterating everything in its path and throwing the occasional large stone metres into the air. Depending on his mood, and I think the temperature, we were charged anything between €60 and €100 for the pleasure of his noisy, and somewhat perilous, company for a couple of hours.
But this year is different. This year we’ve got cows. We’d noticed the same five bovines moving around the village from pasture to pasture and made enquiries. The owner lives a few kilometres away and was happy to add our finca into his rotation. He erected an electric fence and a couple of weeks ago they arrived, much to the chagrin of Kit the Kat who hates any other animals on the land except of course the birds, mice, rats, moles and lizards which entertain her for a while before turning into a quick, between meals, snack.
I never realised how quickly five cows can munch their way through 7,000m2 of thigh high grass, or how much devastation they can do to the now heavily pockmarked meadow. They’ve moved on now, there was nothing left for them to eat, but they will be back once nature has taken its course and the now heavily fertilised grass has grown back to eating height.