Two and a half years ago Cat and her partner Sam met for the first time and shortly after moved to a tiny village in the Portuguese mountains. They try to grow our own food, make their own medicine and craft things. They’ve also grown a tiny human meanwhile, and raise her in close relation to the earth and the rhythms of seasons. We had a chat to Cat and asked her some questions about family life…
Dear Cat, tell us about who you are and what you do.
I was born and raised in a small town surrounded by golden fields – my favorite childhood memories are roaming the fields by bicycle and creating magical realms amongst the cork trees together with my best friend. I switched that place for the capital at the age of eighteen to study Fine Arts. But Nature’s call was so loud – one month after finishing my studies I moved out into the woods to this small village with Sam, whom I had just met while sleeping over in Brussels! The last couple years here have been magical. We’ve created a slow life, a very simple one. We never have a lot of money to call our own, but we live in abundance in many ways. We garden, build, study plants, keep chickens, make things with our hands, host volunteers, parent. With the help of Sam’s father, we’ve just opened a guest house an hour away from us and are hoping this will help us live with more support.
How did you arrive at your beautiful home in central Portugal?
That was very fortunate – and simple! Both of us wanted to live in the wild, or as wild as it could get. My father’s parents lived in a tiny village in the mountains their whole lives, until both deceased some years ago. We used to come here as a family when I was younger, so I always kept this place close to my heart… Lately, when I made the decision to leave the city, it was the obvious place to go. It was free, beautiful, and carried a deep rooted respect for my ancestors. Sam was absolutely pleased with the idea too. With the years passing, the village has become semi-abandoned. There are only twenty very old persons living here! When we first arrived, we settled in my grandparents’ house, inside the village. It felt…unfamiliar. The house itself is quite small, but is full of little rooms. The floorings are old and breaking down. It’s too close to the road that crosses the village. After all, it wasn’t quite exactly the place we wanted to create our home in. My grandparents had several little pieces of land around the village. The largest of them is kind of inside the village, but spreads to the outskirts of it. While doing the recognition of it, suddenly there it was. A tiny stone house in such a good state. It was the place where they stored their corn, their oxen, and later their potatoes, which is how I remembered it – the potato house! We went in. It was empty, had a cracked door and an old plank of wood covering the window. On the ground floor was a mix of old agricultural tools, rotten wood, a rusty bike and so much straw. We looked at each other and said “This is the place”. The thing that captivated us about it was the possibility of starting something from zero (not in a house that done by someone else and “complete”, with electricity and running water, and not really chosen by us). And here, the proximity to the land! Stepping out of the door means stepping in the garden. All the straw on the ground floor became our very first compost!
Would you tell us a story about your house and your life in it?
Our house has so many stories we’ll probably never know! At times, we’re afraid of having more than five people in the room, but then remember our old neighbour’s stories about having twenty people sitting round on that wooden floor threshing corn. That chestnut beam has certainly lived a lot! Sometime ago I found an old signature in one of the stones. We’re adding more story to this house every day. With every modification we do – building a sleeping loft, connecting both floors with stairs, adding that beautiful door with a round window, insulating the roof… – the memory of the house grows. And giving birth in it! What a powerful way of connecting to a place!
You try to live quite autonomously and independently. Why did you choose this lifestyle and how do you live it?
For us, this way of life is not only an attempt to connect to with Nature, the seasons and the very roots of Life itself, but also a political act in a way. It means trying to break from big groups that control food, energy and mass-production objects. We’re still far from being self-sufficient and often doubt if that’s even a realistic goal… But the path we’ve walked so far has opened us doors to independence, as you say, that now seem so normal to us we barely think about them. The idea of buying food for the week, for example, is something we couldn’t get used to again – I’ve tried and I completely fail at it! For us, every meal starts with a walk through the garden looking for fresh produce. After that, we come up with a recipe idea based on what we have. We also forage for local wild plants and fruits and incorporate them in our diet. We make our own olive oil from our olives and collect eggs from our chickens. We make our own alcoholic drinks and rely on local plants for medicine. We have a compost toilet and produce our own solar energy. I’ve recently started knitting and feel so happy about it! I foresee a future full of clumsy sweaters and socks for everyone. We still buy a lot of things, though! But wish to become more and more autonomous with time.
When you do decide to buy something, what do you pay attention to?
Although we seldom buy new things, when we do we look for good quality and durability. Our life involves a lot of forest walks, kneeling in the garden and getting dirty. Of course we can buy something cheap and repeat it five times over because of its poor quality. But for the same price of it all, we can afford something good, hopefully made by an artisan friend or small fair businesses – and, this way, help people just like us, not a big faceless company.
Describe a typical day in your family’s life.
Our days differ a lot depending on the season, which is something I love… This fall, our first with a child, has been very gentle. We wake up quite early, at sunrise or a bit before – Jade has this rhythm, ah! We start a fire in the woodstove and one of us prepares breakfast, which is moving out of the kitchen and upwards on to the stove in the room as the weather gets colder. Sam has been having long forest walks in the morning with Jade and our dog, and I like to enjoy these moments to work on my knitting or have some chores done. She will normally have a nap before midday, when we like to work a bit in the garden or in any other work around the house. We have lunch at noon, outside if the weather allows. In the afternoon I love getting the chickens out in the field while I play in the grass with Jade, who loves to go after them, or let her roam freely while I read or knit. We harvest for mushrooms or fruits or do some more gardening. We have dinner early, at sunset, after which we light another fire and do something calm inside. Sam has been reading German books to Jade and she loves it. This means she falls asleep to them! We also enjoy watching a film at the end of the day if there’s enough power left. We’ve recently watched Captain Fantastic and it was amazing! During the last months, we’ve also spent a good deal of time in the guest house, preparing everything for this moment when it’s finally official and ready to rent out.
Was motherhood what you expected it to be and did you adapt to motherhood easily when your daughter was born?
I couldn’t know what to expect from motherhood, to be honest, but Jade just fitted so gently in our life. We were kind of happy, during those first months, that there were no other mothers around. It made us feel more free to make our own decisions regarding baby care, without having to deal with others’ advices and opinions. We were able to do almost everything intuitively, which was a blessing!
What were the best moments in your Mama life?
They don’t cease to happen. Every smile, every laugh, every little thing she communicates to me or points at. Every minute of baby wearing while gardening or walking in the forest. The way she tries to cuddle the cat or kiss the chickens and all the unripe vegetables she plucks from the plants… These are all together on top of the list!
What’s the most difficult thing about being a mother?
Well… What started as a blessing during newborn haze became a curse. Living so isolated has worked quite good until now, but we start understanding that, with having a single child, arrives the need to some kind of new interactions that come only with the feeling of a close-knit community. So the most difficult part of parenting is feeling lonely at times, not able to relate to others parents, change ideas nor share activities such as doing tasks together or childcaring. We don’t really relate to the old people living in the village. This is why, at this point, we are willing to give up our forest and what we’re created here if we find a piece of land closer to like-minded families.
What do you wish for the future? And for your daughter’s future?
Oh, the dreams! I wish to live in a wild looking piece of land surrounded by forest in a round house. I wish to have friends and families within a bike-trip distance and work together to trade our products and do market days. I also wish more children, if we find a better place or a slightly larger house (Still haven’t decided if we want one or three, but three has been seeming quite inviting!) Most of all we wish Jade to grow in close connection to the Earth, to give value to its bounties and respect her roots. To know plants, animals and how to do manual work. We want her to feel happy, loved, confident and surrounded by a strong community and we believe that, having this, she will be a happy person with whichever path she chooses later on.
Thank you so much for all these glimpses into your life dear Cat! We wish you and your beautiful little family all the best!
If you’d like to see more of Cat’s life, you should follow her on Instagram.
And if you’re planning a trip to Portugal, go and stay at their beautiful guest house!