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The Sacred Sierra by Jason Webster


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From the cover - "Jason Webster had lived in Spain for fifteen years when he and his partner Salud, a flamenco dancer, tired of their city life and decided to buy a crumbling farmhouse clinging to the side of a steep valley in the eastern province of Castellon. He knew nothing about farming but with the help from local farmers and a twelfth century book on gardening he set about recreating his dream."

 

The book tells the story of their first year on the mountain and how they cleared the land and planted oak trees to encourage truffles, planted and maintained almond and olive trees, introduced bee hives and re built the farmhouse. Webster has a way of making you feel part of his life. As if you're sat around the camp fire and he's telling you all about the past and the future all rolled into one. 

 

American by birth, he lived in Germany and England before he studied Arabic and Islamic history at Oxford. In the book he talks about how in Arabic the words are grouped around a tri-literal consonantal root. In his wanderings around his mountain he found a 'hermit' living a makeshift life on the top of the mountain. Time and again he would visit Faustino and listen to the stories he would tell. Searching through his Arabic dictionary one night he found the following

 

RaWiYa - to drink, be irrigated, tell a story

RiWaYa - a tale, story, novel

RiWa'i - a writer, storyteller

RaYYan - well-irrigated, lush, verdant

taRWiYa - reflection, consideration

 

It reminded him of a couple of days before when Faustino had said telling local stories was a way of watering and irrigating the dry and endangered land. 

 

Webster introduces each chapter with one of these local stories and weaves understanding of the land and the people throughout the book. As we move to a diluted cross fertilised assimilated cultural amalgamation the recording of, remembering and celebrating of the old stories will become more and more important. Through his interaction with the locals on the mountain and his harvesting of their stories he not only irrigates the land of his mountain but spreads the seeds far and wide.  

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