MEETING WITH THE OMBU TREE

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While here on the island of Gozo I have been taking note of and enjoying the trees unfamiliar to me. It is nice and interesting to find out what they are called and then to search on Google information about their uses, growth, country of origin and so on, it keeps me quiet busy at times. Then I will take many photos of all the different attributions, leaves, flowers, seeds, seed hulks, shoots, trunks etc. And of course I like to share this in my blog, my blog is after all a celebration of all the earth so generously has to offer to us and to life itself. And so here goes, I hope you enjoy.


The Ombu tree, or to give it its proper name the Phytolacca dioica L. is an attractive tree. I found it growing in the area of Ghajnsielem along the main road. I was amazed to learn that this tree is actually an evergreen shrub that can become quite old and grow to look like a rather large tree. I became fascinated by the beautiful glossy dark green leaves, looking very healthy and growing very vigorously out of the trunk. Apparently the more you cut it, the more fiercely it grows. Its trunk is a soft spongy wood, the rings are loose and not at all like proper timber rings. It is resistant to fire and drought and this is due to its many trunks which store water very efficiently in its large base. Its sap is poisonous. The Ombu is a South American relative of the pokeweed (P. Americana) It is indigenous to Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay, there it grows easily in the wild, and it is there that it manages to survive on the pampas. Put to good use because of its large canopy it shelters both animals and humans alike, but is especially good for the many cattle and so is of agricultural value.

Being a dioecious plant it produces male and female flowers on separate trees. The flowers are greenish white, little and many on one long spike. The fruit is green and is clustered in a bunch together, I see both flowers and fruits on the tree at this time (November). To date I have not myself seen the seeds but believe that they are brown, small and glossy. I shall be on the look out for them just to find out.
I learnt that extracts of the Ombu have Antifungal potencies which would probably make it interesting to Naturopaths or to pharmaceuticals.
Some of its uses are:
• Fodder – leaves are used as fodder in time of drought.
• Medicine – infusion of leaves has been used as a laxative, but don’t take my word for it please.
• Hot drink – locally the leaves may be used as a hot drink. (I am not planning to try it out myself not being sure of what the result will be).
• Soapy juice – containing salts of lime and potash.
• Shade in regions where other trees won’t grow – in the pampas it is the only tree that will naturally grow and provide shelter.
• Bonsais – something I did not know is that it is an ideal tree to grow as a bonsai, nice to know!
• Dyes – juice extracted from the berries can be used as a source of dyes.
• Berries – apparently the berries are eaten by birds as they are not affected by the toxin as the seeds contained within the berries passes through the bird intact.
I also read that in South Africa Ombu is treated as an invasive plant, possible because it grows so rapidly. Here in Gozo there is more and more emphasis on the growing of indigenous trees and plants, and eradicating to an extent the growth of invasive plants and trees. This is, of course, a tendency all over Europe these days. I am not sure at which time the Ombu tree was introduced in the Maltese islands and why, I wonder if it was introduced because of the high temperatures in the summer months, the drought some years, and the lack of tree cover in general.

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I looked up a bit more on the antifungal activity which extracts of the Ombu can provide. Here is a link to a paper.
The antifungal activity of saponin-rich extracts of phytolacca dioica and of the sapogenins obtained through hydrolysis.
https://www.researchgate.net/publication/45826292_Antifungal_Activity_of_Saponin-rich_Extracts_of_Phytolacca_dioica_and_of_the_Sapogenins_Obtained_through_Hydrolysis
I also read through the following information ‘Oyama Bonsai Kai Ombú “Tree” by Pierre van Rensburg, which I enjoyed and found very interesting.

I hope you enjoyed this little bit of information on the beautiful and interesting Ombu tree which in fact is not a tree at all. I for one will enjoy twice as much when I am passing these trees in the knowledge of all its good uses.
And finally what I would like to know but could not readily find an answer to is whether the water stored inside the Ombu tree’s large trunk can be used in case of water shortage by cattle or people, or is it already juice in which case it is toxic? I would say, it is juice and it is toxic so it cannot be used. If anyone can shed more light on this please do.

FLASHBACK TO SOUTH INDIA

I would like to share some much treasured memories of my travels in South of India with you all.  Somehow being in Gozo reminds me of my time in India, not sure what it is that brings up the memories but there you are. A page out of my travel journal describes a trip that I made by taxi from Tiruvannamalai in Tamil Nadu to Tirupathi in Andhra Pradesh, it was a most interesting and beautiful journey.

We left very early in the morning while it was still dark, this meant that we would be able to watch the sun rise over the landscape.
I was simply glued to the window of the taxi, this was a large comfortable Indian taxi, in front the driver and our friend Ramesh and beside me the friend that I was sharing the journey with.
We travelled fast at first, there were many signs of people, of life starting to happen in the little hamlets which we passed, though I saw far less people than I had seen in Tiruvannamalai the last few weeks because of Deepam Festival.  I saw the sun rise over the farmers already working on the land, early and in the cool of the morning.

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The landscape started to change, the mountains became quite different in shape, edges more sharp and irregular.
The vegetation and the trees became very lush. In the hamlets along the roadside we passed women getting their children ready for school, we saw them carrying colourful plastic water containers on their head. We passed men herding large flocks of goats with silky coats.

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Many of the houses and huts, some of them circular in shape, were made of woven materials, making full use of locally produces building materials, the roofs becoming a bit higher as we got nearer to Andhra Pradesh, but we also passed many of the cement houses, they have flat roofs with railings and stairs leading up to the roof. Roofs are made good use of in India, these houses too were changing in appearance becoming more elaborate in their decorations, often with iron and stone trellises.

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Many farmsteads have chickens running around. These hamlets and roadside villages are centres of commercial activity, shops, teashops, workshops, craft shops were people were working at making the crafts such as basketry.

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Outside the villages and along the road there were also many brick making places where people would be making the bricks and they would all be piled up and then baked either in the sun or in a special system of piling them and firing them.
Lots of basket weaving places near to Vellore also. Vellore is a large town with lots of colourful shrines and temples along the road, their use of colour reminding me of the choice of colour used in Celtic art, very vivid and bright.
It was very hot in the taxi, we were drinking some water to keep going.
There was so much to see along the way. I noticed two high Termite heaps which really impressed me.
The journey now took us into a much more agricultural land, with lots of crops tended along the roadside, crops such as peanuts and rice.

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Wonderful trees also, and banana plantations. In Kanumolapati we came across a very ancient Hindu temple, but the closer we came to Tirupathi the fewer the Hindu temples became, I was now seeing the equally lovely and interesting minarets of the mosques, some of them very beautiful.

In Kadapa town we had a bit to eat at the AP Tourism restaurant which had very good value for money, lovely food and good restroom facilities.
This journey took 12 hours, we stopped off at Agaral about 20km outside Tirupathi at the Park Avenue Hotel Gardens to have some excellent Thai.

All my memories of India are very precious to me.

 

THAT MOMENT WHEN THE SUN RISES

I was waiting patiently early in the morning, the sky had already begun to have a glow but nothing yet had appeared on the horizon, until all of a sudden there was the first glimmer of a sun.  The moment was magic, and I felt my heart fill with happiness, joy and gratitude, there was another day about to start, another day was breaking and in what a glorious way!  What a powerful moment!
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20171018_154801 Another day has started in which to explore, and see the beauty around me, and be intrigued by all the little adventures that this day would bring.

The gray-green leaves of the Olive tree, a beautiful flower, the bright colours of the Luzzu boat.

20171025_180121The view out of the window of my lace making class in Victoria.

20171025_152530The humour seen in this proud dog trotting beside its owner in the funniest way.

20171025_151014And the funniest of all, me taking the wrong bus on my way to Victoria for my lace class and ending up doing a tour of almost the whole island before I got off the bus in Xaghra and taking another bus to town.  I so enjoyed this little detour and could only laugh at my own mistake!

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And when the day is done and a glorious sun is setting, painting beauty for long moments more, then, well then it’s time to happily be grateful again.

EXPLORING VILLAGE LIFE

It is wonderful here in Gozo and we are enjoying life to the full, grateful for blessings. We are here now a week and a half, our second weekend already! The first week or so I was very busy with sourcing shops locally. In doing so I have started to explore the village where we live at this moment, Ghajnsielem. It takes me about 15 to 20 minutes to walk to the shops depending on how often I stop to admire something or to take a photo. At first, and because I went shopping during the closing hours (12 to 4pm) I thought that there were no shops at all except one supermarket on the main road between Mgarr and Victoria. But then I went to the village after four o’clock and discovered a bakery, a hardware store, a green grocer, and a small food shop, also several cafés. The fact is that generally there is nothing advertising that it is a shop, and when the door is closed you cannot see that it is a shop. Here is an example of the hardware store, it is one long narrow room filled with glass jars containing screws and nails and what have you, a delight to go hunting for something you need, and to be sure to find it!
20171014_111451But I’ll tell you a little more about this village.
It has a population of 3000 souls, there are several churches, the main one is in a neo-gothic style, rather impressive and amazing inside. Another older church is much smaller, was built mostly by voluntary labour of the farmers around the area and I fancy this one much more, it has simple architecture, and it has many steps leading up to it.

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This is a photo of one of the squares in the village, I really like this square, people go and sit outside in the evening enjoying each other’s company, it is found in the oldest part of the village. There is a butcher shop in this square and a young woman who grows her own organic vegetables and sells a number of other products like gram flour and sesame seeds and so on… she has told me how to cook rabbit the Maltese way because I ordered some at the butchers, I like to cook at least some of the local dishes.  I’m getting to know some people and finding so many friendly and helpful folks, making me feel at home.
But there are several other squares in this village, all with plenty of benches, important for Ian, but also nice to just sit and take in the atmosphere. Beautiful trees and flowers are also in plentiful supply in these squares.
There is also the huge Band club café where a coffee only costs 50cent. This is sort of the hub of the village where young and old gathers and where the local band holds its practice.

I like to walk through the narrow streets and the squares, there is a special atmosphere and often I find some beautiful features in the vernacular architecture using local limestone. Old doorways are also always a joy to admire and take photos of, they are so picturesque that I always feel I want to paint them, well this time I brought my watercolours and we’ll see how it goes. There is a lot to explore yet around here, I read that remains of a prehistoric temple complex are to be found within the limits of Ghajnsielem, but they have almost been destroyed by road building, but what does remain are two groups of megaliths, they were probably originally part of the same structure, can’t wait to plan a walk out there to go and see what I find.

These are photos of an old washing place, the source of the water is an ancient well and women used to communally do their washing here. The rest of the village would have been built around this area. The above photos are of a reconstruction of the original washing place, a shame that the original one got destroyed but at least the original well is still there and the water is still running! There is a story attached to this well. Long ago when the village was only starting to be formed a local farmer named Anglu Crech used to take his sheep and goats to this spring every single day, and because the sun was so hot he would take shelter under the surrounding trees and say his prayers. Well one day while doing this he saw an apparition of what he thought was Mother Mary who invited him to raise a statue close by and this the farmer, together with his friends, achieved and they would gather there in prayer, and eventually a church was built close by. It’s nice to learn something more about the places we stay, it makes it so interesting, it is the small church I was talking about above.

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This photo is the neo-gothic church, I took it today and include it to show the blue sky and the way the sun shows off the honey coloured limestone which is most commonly used as building stone here and sourced locally. I have not messed around with this photo, the colours are real.
Close by is the library which is so small that I won’t have a problem reading those books that I fancy. I found some there on the history of the village, to my delight. Most of the books are for children and just like at home there was a class of them in there yesterday, all excited about getting their books. I was laughing as one little girl was told she could not take that many books because she had still some out… she went over to the table and found the books, just like what we often came across back home when I was still working in the library, I did not need to know Maltese to understand what was going on!

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Also along the main road between Mgarr and Victoria, are some beautiful trees. It is an alternative route to the village from where we live and even though it is uphill all the way I like it because of the interesting plants and rocks along the way. So shopping is no hardship even without the car and as it is always nice outside the walking is a pleasure.

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This is the view from our balcony, mostly in the day it is almost too warm to sit here, but in the morning and evening it is lovely. At night the view too is great with the lights of Malta and Comino in the distance. The ferries come and go every 45 minutes and there is always plenty of life to observe. There are little fishing boats at the marina, typically Maltese – at the moment they go out fishing for Lampuki, a fish locally used in traditional dishes. This fish migrates past the Maltese islands during the autumn so it is then that you can find it everywhere and it is very popular here.

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One of the Luzzu boats, original Maltese fishing boats, they go out early in the morning or at night to try and get their catch.  We used to see very many of them while staying in Marsaxlokk, Malta.  Very colourful boats, and usually having an eye painted on its bow, said to protect the boat and those in it.

So this is only the beginning of another winter’s stay in Gozo and there will be plenty to discover and learn and write about, it seems that in order to experience a place fully I have to write about it, then it becomes more real for me.  It is always very exciting though and no matter how many times I walk the same road, there is always something new to find and see or experience.  Awesome!  I hope that you all enjoy coming along with me on my journeys.

THE BEAUTY THAT IS GOZO

It is hard to believe that it’s nearly a week ago that we arrived in Gozo again. This time we are staying in a village, Ghajnsielem it is called, which lies on the East coast of Gozo and right at the little harbour of Mgarr which is where the ferries from Malta and Comino arrive, and where many boats of all sizes are anchored in the marina. Our flat is at the outskirts of Ghajnsielem and we overlook this harbour from a height which is very pleasant indeed. I am fascinated with the rock that our building is situated on, a beautiful rock, limestone. On my way to the village centre to fetch some groceries or go to the Post Office or such-like, I walk past lovely limestone buildings, old and new. The traditional, beautiful Maltese/Gozitan balconies can be seen in wood or stone along the way, a pleasure to the eye as always. Then you come to the neo-gothic parish church which rises up toward a blue sky, it’s eye catching! Surrounding the church are a variety of green and tree filled areas and an interesting Band club café where it’s nice to sit outside and observe village life while sipping a nice coffee or a cool drink. This morning I discovered where the library was. People all along the way were greeting me with either a bongu or a good morning! I’m starting to feel quite at home in this village.
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FLINT STONE AND PILGRIMAGE

To say that England has a lot to offer in terms of history, interest, and beauty surely is an understatement. We have been here in Norfolk now for several days, while it is mainly as a family visit, the family has generously shown us around the area, and we took a great, long walk along the salt marshes at Burnham Overy Staithe. How nice to get to see this and get acquainted with a variety of the birds and plants found in this habitat.  I did hear a curlew, nice to hear as in Ireland they are heard less and less.

One of the main noticeable find here though are the what the houses are all built with lots of flint stones on their facades, no even all over the walls of the houses, I had never seen anything like it before and am fascinated. Flint is a very hard stone and those walls much be so strong and well able to endure the winds and weather in those areas. It is great to see locally sourced rock used as a building material. More information about the use of flint in Norfolk can be found here: http://belongathoughton.com/introduction-norfolks-natural-heritage/gallery ids=”13797,13790,13784,13792″ type=”rectangular”]

We took Ian’s grandchild and daughters on a steam train ride from Wells to Walsingham, the ride took us along many different wild shrubs and the berries were plentiful, among them hawthorn and rosehips. The birds will have plenty of food this winter!  The train ride was quaint, lots of time to take in all we saw along the track.

The flowing fields along the railway track were beautiful to watch.  Skies were also very  interesting.

We had cream tea in a teashop at a place which is dedicated to the virgin Mary in memory of her visitation by the angel Gabriel.  A pilgrimage from London to this village goes back a very long way.  There is a well there with waters that are said to cure people.  Mostly the place is very peaceful and beautifully laid out with lovely trees and flower beds.  In mediaval time pilgrimage was very popular but people had to go a long way and the road was often not very safe.  Today many people will visit places like these to get in touch with themselves and meditate on the meaning of their life.

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https://www.walsinghamvillage.org/about/history-of-pilgrimage/

 

LIFE MOVES ALONG

Summer has come to an end. We are not ungrateful, we had a gently warm summer with enough moist to keep land and animal happy, so, looking at some other countries where people endured hardship because of the weather we have every reason to be happy. Today is dark, windy and very wet. It is time for us to go I think and that is what will happen in the week to come, all going well.

Reflecting on the summer months for a moment, for me personally it was wonderful because of all the activities with my daughter and grandchildren, we went for many walks and explored a variety of wonderful gardens around West Cork. At home also spending a peaceful time with Ian and enjoying many long conversations and discussions on everything under the sun, for some of these my sister Josefine was a part and a great input that was. There were the Art Exhibitions and the Art Festival, also the Historical Festival here in Skibbereen, and the Ellen Hutchins Festival in Glengarriff with an amazing walk in the grounds of her estate, all of which I enjoyed to the full. I’m sorry that I had to miss the Literary Festival in Bantry!   I am also very happy because I was able to connect with all of my siblings (8left), this is something that is both important to me and very dear to my heart.

So I leave some images for everyone to enjoy. As I will be travelling in the next week or so I will again miss checking out all blog entries of my lovely friends and followers , but I hope to catch up soon. It has been a bit hectic around here. Meanwhile I would like to thank each and everyone for your encouraging support of my blog. Take care and be blessed.
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Bantry Bay with the Caha mountains in the distance.

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There was a lot of magic in the garden this summer, the sun on a dew drop early in the morning creating diamonds was just one such moments that creates a feeling of wonderment.

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One of the amazingly beautiful paintings of Maurice Henderson, his works of flowers and his blues especially I love.  We attended a celebration of his life recently after he passed during the summer.

And of course there are always lots of wonderful discoveries in and around the garden.

THE NIGHTS ARE DRAWING IN

I cannot believe that yet another week has passed by! Cooler now and the leaves are turning multi-coloured, while some are twirling lazily off the trees, and covering the front garden with a brown rustling carpet of glorious scented autumn!

I’ve been busy over the last few days and I know that I have quite a bit to catch up with – blog entries of friends that I follow, eventually I will get to read all. The reason why I got so busy is that I started an online course with FutureLearn, this time with Trinity College in Dublin. The course is called ‘Achieving Sustainable Development’ and it takes us through four of the 17 UN development goals. As a start we examined goal 16 which aims for the elimination of all violence as a basic for the establishment of sustainable development. Both physical violence, structural violence (embedded in social structures of inequality), and cultural violence (where traditions condone direct or structural violence. So covering the whole area of peacebuilding and peacekeeping. I found this very interesting because I run around (like so many of us)trying to work out how we can help to bring about world peace. The way that this course works is, it gives a video of an interview, in this particular first week different professors were interviewed on conflicts in Kosovo, Sri Lanka, Northern Ireland, and Colombia. Links are provided to other reading material (lots of it), and then we students write our thoughts on what we learnt, there are students from all over the world taking part which of course makes for an interesting dialogue. It is so thought provoking! Tomorrow is week 2 and we will be looking at SDG 3 ‘Challenges to Health’. I’m looking forward to it.

And at the same time it is only another eleven days before we leave to return to Gozo, after a visit to Norfolk to see Ian’s family first. I’m totally packed and organised, all that remains for us to do is see family and friends and that is always a pleasure. Two days ago my daughter, and the children took me to climb a hill overlooking much of the area here, we saw the sea and the patched fields and meadows. It was beautiful – though the climb nearly killed me. I will share some photos with you all.  In a way it is a sort of farewell to the area here – for the time being.
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An ancient stone wall covered in moss, everything was covered in moss, the trees, walls, ground, different types of mosses, very nice and green.
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As we came above the tree level it became quite windy, the kids were running up and down like mountain goats, exploring and discovering creatures and all sort of things growing. Ferns, heathers, mosses, fungi, and they even brought me clear water from a little stream to show how fresh and clean it looked.

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The view was spectacular once we were on top of the hill where a lone cross was keeping watch.

So beautiful.  One thing puzzled me and that is the higher we went to more wet the soil became, I think that the soil is peat as it was pure black in colour.  Walking down was actually harder in a way than climbing up, we were all ready for a nice cup of tea.  Luckily the weather was sunny and quite beautiful really.

After all of that, the cobwebs were out of our hair, that is for sure.