K is for Kale and the enraged mouse


Water drops on cabbage leaves...

I was in my veggie plot when Villager C walked by with his donkey. The usual scowl on his face was missing. I wondered if it had something to do with the weather and that he too had noticed there was a possibility of spring arriving.He greeted me when he saw me followed by Que fas? what are you doing?  Questions like these are normal. It’s part of village life. If he hadn’t shouted his Que fas?, I’d have asked him Adonde vas? where are you going?

I’d been sowing in the veggie plot. I told him so. “You’ve planted coellas yet?” I hadn’t.

Coellas are a type of Galego kale which grows remarkably tall, the first leaves are normally fed to the animals, the leaves afterwards are quite delicious in cocido, a dish with boiled meat and potatoes. I had already planted some coellas earlier this year but nowhere near enough. I had sowed some but they hadn’t come out very well. “Not planted them yet, will need to go and buy some in town.” It was a polite way of asking him if he had any. “Oh no, don’t go buying any,” he said, smiling, “I’ve got lots left. We planted some yesterday, but we had too many.”

I followed him and his donkey to his piece of land about a hundred meters from my house, the newly planted cabbages still lying limp in the ploughed soil. It would take them a week or so to settle. In a ditch on my left were the unplanted cabbages on a heap, wilted, but I knew that didn’t matter. I’ve replanted days after they had been taken out of the earth and they still rooted. “Take them all.” C said. I asked him if he was sure. He laughed.

They were heavy, I more or less estimated 60 of them and they were big, around 70 cm length or so.  I planted a few in the veggieplot nearest to my house, having to dig deep.  Plant them too shallow and they’ll topple over with the slightest bit of wind, I learnt the hard way the first year.

The rest I took to the other plot down at the bottom of the village.

Like Eskimos have different names for snow, villagers have different words for kale. When the plants are mature they are referred to as Berzas, but when they are small, coellas. This caused some confusion for me in the beginning. The word coello also means rabbit, hence when a villager asked me if I was in need of any female rabbits for planting I got slightly worried. Perhaps this was some kind of cruel animal harming type of tradition I had not been made aware of before. It got to the point of fawlty towers style frustration when I tried to explain to a villager once that rabbits had been in my patch of kale, not to mention the time when someone actually offered me rabbits and I thought they meant kale.

When I arrived at the other plot I began digging a large ditch, first scraping away the long grass and weeds which luckily hadn’t rooted that much yet.

It was when I had started on the second ditch that I saw something moving about 3 metres from me. A frog, I thought at first, but then I realised it was a young vole, or a mouse, I wasn’t sure. But I was worried for a moment I might have injured it.

That would mean I’d have to kill it and I hate killing.

When I picked it up to inspect it, it became enraged. It wasn’t just angry, it was one truly pissed off little rodent throwing all kinds of rodent obscenities at me and I laughed and apologised. It was young, it wasn’t injured, I checked for a nest nearby but couldn’t see it.

I stroked his little head until he was calm again. I thought how only a few years ago I’d have considered taking him home and keep him as a pet. I thought how much a person can change in a relatively short time. How much living here had changed me, or rather, had changed my perspective on life.  How what I would have considered good only relatively recently, trying to domesticate a  wild mouse,  I’d now considered dubious,  verging on the arrogant even, this need for interfering in the life of a mouse who’d never had to depend on a human being.

So I let him go. He raged a bit more and then he disappeared into the grass.

I picked up my hoe  and continued digging and I thought how  planting these coellas was domestication of nature too and that my thoughts were one of a hypocrite, that drawing a line in my thoughts would be difficult. Culture dependent maybe. After all, Indians consider digging the earth scraping the skin away from their mothers.

I was sure of one thing though. These coellas eventually would grow into wonderful big berzas and the dew drops would look magical on them.

If the vole I had just let loose and his extended family wouldn’t eat them first, that was.