CALL to Apuseni

Reflections from Roz 

Arriving in Cluj Napoca from the air you could see arable strips of land, unfenced. They looked like a giant runrig system. Not many hedges or trees there. A lapwing landed alongside us in the airport. Monica and Martin gave us a warm welcome. Driving to Aiud there were groups of sheep, 50 perhaps – staying put in a wee group. That was amazing to me. They were milk sheep, and had a shepherd. That is how they weren’t in the crops. Giant haystacks were everywhere. Even stork nests in the centre of villages built on a special pole.

The next day May 6th we visited the village of Gibrovita, where we were given tremendous hospitality by Monica’s family, her parents Eleonora and Emil and Grandma Silvia. We walked around their yard, meeting the pigs, hens, guinea fowl, rabbits and dog. The sheds were marvels of woodworking skills, just natural to the folk here. There was a mill for grinding the maize for animal feed – most of the animals have some of this. The stacks of wood for different purposes –almost all heating and cooking in Romania is with wood. The bundles of faggots for the bread oven. The leaning hardwood poles everywhere – we didn’t have time to find out what all of them are for. Some for building the haystacks, some for securing the grapevines, for fences. The huge pigs in a shed off the ground, can get out but would much rather lie there and eat. The pig fat and crackling fried with salt is a delicious if shocking delicacy! Emil was very fond of the rabbits, they are sold at Easter. They didn’t want to get out of their hutches either. There is a smoke room in the kitchen, and rabbits are smoked as well as the pig which is killed at Christmas. Some of the pig meat is stored in fat – we saw this and other marvels of bottling in the extensive cellar. Most people in the village make their own wine (no yeast added). The plum wine we had was marvellous. And the green walnut brandy. Everyone has a walnut tree.

Monica and Lonel the herbalist took us up the hill to the pastures, brimming with wildflowers, meeting cows with a herder and lovely butterflies on the way. So much life, so much fertility to go round. Hardly any fences, and nothing serious enough to keep a Highland cow out of anything nor even a Cheviot or a rabbit. (They have their problems of course, including wild boar churning up the land and many other issues.) They said a few times – “there is enough for all the animals”. Hawthorn, dog rose and blackthorn were seeding into the pastures, the Town Hall paying a contractor to remove them but he doesn’t. The land is a mixture of private, state and village ownership with the private land in strips here and there like the runrig system. The family orchard has become derelict – the land was taken into state ownership in communist times and is gradually coming back to the owners. In those days people had to work so many days for thestate farms, usually on a Sunday so they couldn’t go to church. There were wild boar diggings up near the orchard and forest.

Lonel told us about many uses of wild plants – I will record that elsewhere. He is also growing fruit trees for sale locally. We saw loads of anthills – the Apuseni Mountains has them everywhere. Butterflies such as the chalkhill blue lay their eggs in the anthills. The ecological succession was really interesting as the plants colonised – later on I saw a great relationship between human rubbish and anthills – they subsume the rubbish into the anthill!

Into the forest, the taller trees are hornbeam and sessile oak. Perhaps felled and replanted after WW2. Wild cherry, wild pear are there too, with plenty of regeneration. Droppings of boar and roe deer. Golden orioles were calling overhead. Just out of the forest large buzzards – rough-legged? Some forestry is state- and some people-owned. Grandma has some. If they own it people are allowed to cut a certain amount – the forester comes and marks the trees to cut. Grandma has to pay the forestry to do this. If you want more timber you have to ask to cut it and you can also buy it from the state too, at a reasonable price but collect it yourself. Lonel has a trailer.

Orchards full of grapes, beautifully weeded, near wild pig diggings – but only guarded with tightly pulled shiny plastic, a scarecrow and empty beer cans. Grandma Silvia weeded all their own orchard, on a steep slope interplanted with carrots and chickpeas.

The gutters showed the rain falls in torrents – ornate tin lips were nailed onto the roof gutters on the corners. People have their own wells. Monica’s has a car steering wheel to bring the water up. Uncle’s a few doors down has a neat pulley system. Up in the hills often a wee burn was partially captured onto a gutter, and then into a trough for animals or else a cup of a cut up tin can hanging on a convenient tree. Tractor tyres cut in half both ways made great feed troughs or water troughs or diverted water usefully.

We saw the forests, and the stacks of firewood around all the homes and the sawn timber around round Albac. Villagers pay the Foresty Dept to mark the trees to be felled, and they give young couples x cubic metres of wood (not sawn) to build their own house. Tutu was saying there is plenty of land and trees for all, but when we asked the lady looking after the church if she was worried about the trees going she said yes, but what can you do when the only income is from the trees? 

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