We had one of the few snowfalls of this winter come down on our town (Medias, RO) today, starting at about 4 pm. By 6 pm or so, it had begun to settle on the ground, which is when I took a walk through the town’s old center to capture some photographs.
A cold front is projected to move in, so we’ll have negative (Celsius) temperatures (both highs and lows) for the next several days, which I hope means that the snow will stick around.
That incoming cold front meant that the air was quite chilly, unusually so for a snowfall, and the tips of my fingers did not thank me for not wearing gloves.
It was quite peaceful in the town, with very few people walking around. We are certainly living through strange times…
On the bright side, I am using a beast of a camera these days: it’s an Olympus E-M1X, their top of the line, their “swan song”, which they put out before selling their camera division to Japan Industrial Partners. I have it on loan for a couple of weeks, along with a remarkable lens, the M.Zuiko 25mm f1.2 Pro. That’s the combo I used for these images, and what a combo! Even wide open at f1.2 it’s incredibly sharp, and it focuses so quickly, even in very low light. It is a joy to use and it is a testament, in more ways than one, to the kind of work Olympus could put out when they were still making cameras.
We were treated to a second spring snowfall a few days ago. I love snowfalls in the spring. A cold wave can be unwelcome after spring has set in, but you know it’s not going to last, and if a snowfall is in the works, then it’s going to be a fun day: a short celebration of winter buffered by warm fronts at either ends, with lovely snowflakes to boot.
The first one happened right at the spring end of February, on the 27th to be exact, and I had so much fun taking photos of it at home and in a forest near Magarei (Pelisor), that I wished there might be a second one this spring. Come the 31st of March, there it was, practically begging to be enjoyed and photographed, so I was off to do just that. I stopped at one of our favorite hiking spots in that same forest and spent a bit of time taking in the scenery and photographing it to my heart’s content. I was, of course, on my way to do a bit of work at one of the monuments in the care of our NGO, the Saxon Pfarrhaus and Kirchenburg in Magarei. It’s seldom that I go out just to hike or just to shoot photos; I’m typically on my way to, or on my way back from, my various projects.
I also shot a little video, which I present to you here. It’s quite likely that most of you are staying at home during these new and weird times of ours, so I hope you enjoy the video and the photos! I have the good fortune of being able to travel through the beautiful countryside of Transylvania almost every day, as I go to work on our projects. Please understand I’m not rubbing this in your face, it just is what it is. This is where we chose to live and work and being in and around nature is one of those benefits, while people who choose to live and work in large cities reap other benefits (which may or may not be enjoyed or even wanted just now as they #stayhome till they’re sick of it).
We were driving back from Meschen a couple of days ago when I saw these beautiful cloud formations where the light was breaking through the thick cover and creating these beautiful effects that resemble light pouring through cathedral windows. I suspect the reverse is true, which is to say that cathedral architects were inspired by this natural phenomenon when they designed buildings where the light comes in like this at certain times of the day. Enjoy the photos!
What follows here is a subjective, ideal scenario for my native region of the world, so if it doesn’t sit well with you, read this first sentence again.
I was born in a Saxon town in Transilvania called Medwesch. Its name in Romanian is Mediaș and in German, it’s Mediasch. However, its name originates from the Hungarian word “meggy” which means “sour cherry”. It’s entirely possible that the Medias region was known for its sour cherry trees. (Its name is spelled Medgyes in Hungarian). It recently celebrated its 750th anniversary, having been first mentioned in written documents on the 3rd of June, 1267.
Quick aside: as it turns out, I am half-Hungarian and I have sour cherry trees in our courtyard and garden. I love sour cherries and we make sour cherry liquor and sour cherry jam every autumn. Some of the trees here at home are almost as old as I am (over four decades) and one of them is possibly even older. This post has to do in large part with trees — not just sour cherry trees though.
My city is even older than its 750 documented years. Archeological findings in the area point to settlements that go back to the middle Neolithic period, certainly long before the Romans conquered what was previously known as Dacia and called its most beautiful region Transilvania, which means “through the forest” or “beyond the forest”. And here’s where we get to the crux of this post. Those neolithic people got to experience Transilvania in its most bountiful days, with old growth forests that stretched as far as the eye could see, with rivers and streams overflowing with pure water, with fertile fields set among rolling hills and mountains filled to the brim with precious metals and salt (which was more expensive than gold at certain times in history). That was an unpolluted, wild Transilvania with few settlements and long distances between them — the kind of world that made you seek and cherish human connections instead of being overwhelmed by overpopulation and left searching for quiet and solitude.
While some of the things that once were can’t be restored (such as the many, many thousands of tons of precious metals taken from our mountains), it is my dream that we roll back some of the damage that humans have done to this beautiful place and we restore some of the conditions that existed before there were too many of us around and we started messing about irresponsibly.
Here’s where the trees come in (the ones I mentioned a couple of paragraphs back). I’d like to see a massive reforestation effort take place in Transilvania, one where every available piece of land that’s not being used for agriculture is peppered with fast-growth and slow-growth trees. It should even be mandated that groupings of trees be planted in fields used for agriculture, for example one rectangular spot of 4m x 60m on every hectare of land, at a minimum.
I’d like to see common sense and clearly enforced measures in place when it comes to felling trees. What is clear is that we need wood for construction materials and for firewood, but what is also abundantly clear is that Romania has been cutting a great deal of wood illegally (about two thirds of the wood being cut in Romania per annum is cut illegally), so that needs to stop, even if it means armed forces will patrol the forests and shoot tree thieves on sight, be they regular people or employees of corporations.
Massive reforestation efforts, coupled with proper measures to check and control tree felling, would go a long way toward restoring Transilvania’s historic forests. And no tree cutting of any sort should be allowed in certain old-growth forests. We need to restore some semblance of the wild Transilvania in ancient woodlands and allow those old trees to stick around for a few hundred years more. Trees are more majestic and have more dignity in them than most people I see on a daily basis, yet dimwits with chainsaws think nothing of felling them illegally. I think that cruel sentiment should be mirrored back to them, and that’s why I am in favor of armed forces patrolling forests and shooting offenders on sight, without due process.
Together with the reforestation efforts, I’d like to see massive cleanups take place along all of the roadways in Transilvania. I’d like to see video cameras that work with mobile SIM cards and recharge from mini solar panels, mounted in hidden locations along the roads, and those people dumping construction debris or other garbage along the roads, identified, fined very serious amounts of money, and forced to clean up their own messes.
Furthermore, I’d like to see river and stream cleanups take place everywhere, with dredging where necessary to get the garbage and overgrown vegetation out and to restore proper water flow. We should have people in charge of the waters who are constantly maintaining the shorelines and keeping our waters clean. The harvesting of sand from the riverbeds should be done responsibly and only in select areas, after consultation with committees of geologists and archeologists, because the way it’s being done now absolutely destroys the riverbeds and the flow of the rivers.
When it comes to agriculture, I’d like to see more sensible, organic agriculture that employs crop rotations and allows certain plots of land to rest every seven years or so. I’m fed up with the ridiculous amounts of fertilizers and pesticides being dumped on our lands every year — much more than the recommended dosage from the manufacturer is sadly the norm when it comes to peasant farmers here. I’d like to see grazing lands used properly, by rotating the sheep and the goats and the cows so they don’t overgraze. The size of one’s herd or flock ought to be determined by the size of the land available to it, not by the projected year-end revenues, pumped up by extra tens or hundreds of head of cattle that have overgrazed the land and have needed extra hay to be trucked in from who-knows-where in order to support their feeding needs.
How about all the garbage left behind by the herders and shepherds every year? The hills are practically strewn with plastic bags and bottles of all kinds, and no one holds them accountable for it. How about the excessive use of communal water to feed thirsty crops in dry years, to the point where a village’s water supply runs dry and the water levels in people’s wells go down to the bedrock? That’s thoroughly irresponsible and heavy fines ought to be in place for those who water their crops excessively.
If you’re a regular reader, then you know my opinion on overpopulation already, but I think I’ll write about my thoughts on the ideal population density in the towns, cities and the countryside in a later post.
For now, I’d like you to close your eyes, like I do every once in a while, and try to imagine a Transilvania full of tall forests every which way you look, where cool breezes sway the tops of these beautiful trees and cool down the valleys below, where happy little streams that started as springs deep in the forests, flow unobstructed toward the bigger rivers, alongside scenic country roads that are clean and well-maintained. Should you drive on those roads, you’ll enter a village or a town every once in a while, places where people are productive and work the land or work in the crafts or run a shop or a business, or perhaps tend herds of cows and sheep, but everyone sees to their work and to their household and makes a solid contribution to their community and society. That’s what I’d like to see in my Transilvania.
And it starts with the trees. We need to get the trees growing back in the forests.
These are photographs taken at a recent evening party held by Christian Rummel at his place in Reichesdorf (Richis) here in Transilvania. Christian worked his way up from apprentice to craftsman and journeyman and is now a master carpenter working out of Reichesdorf. He is in demand all over Southern Transilvania.
He was one of the instructors who led the recent restoration workshop at our Kirchenburg (fortified castle-church) in Magarei (Pelișor), which we are restoring through our non-profit NGO, Asociatia P.A.T.R.U. This particular workshop focused on the reconstruction of the staircase to the clock tower using medieval methods and tools. I’ll have photos from that workshop posted to our NGO’s website in a few days.
In one of the photos, you’ll be able to see an old Saxon who is the guide and caretaker of the Kirchenburg in Richis, and whom we met 10 years ago, when we first visited that church. I’ll let you compare the photos from the two posts and discover him among the people by the fire.
There’s a forest near the village of Pelișor (where we’re restoring the fortified church and parochial house through our NGO) that we love to visit. It’s the same forest where I took these other photos. It’s a welcoming place with lovely trees, mostly oak and beech, where we can walk undisturbed or sit down and take in the fresh air and the sights and sounds of nature. We visit whenever we can. These photos were taken this spring during one such outing. Enjoy!