This is an olive farm among olive farms in the very region that produces more olive oil than anywhere else in the world. As a matter of fact, much of that ‘Italian’ virgin oil comes from here although there are brands that are shy to share that information.
For most of the year the olive trees are the iconic scenery, dotted lines across the bald straw coloured hillsides, left to their own devices. From now through to January they are the centre of attention.
During one of our over the fence evening conversations Fernando suggested I should start pruning my trees which looked like thick shrubs. He came across and demonstrated and made it look easy. When he handed me the clippers I found it was hard to know which shoot started where and I struggled to cut through them, even with two hands on the clippers. Cut off anything that grows vertically, he says. That’s how you end up with an open space at the centre that lets in light and heat over the winter. I now know I have around 400 trees, and that some of them are easier to get up than down from. I’m handy with a saw, my hands have changed shape – fat paddles – and are covered in callouses; my ring will be on for life.
The trees are looking quite good. When I go past a neglected olivar, my sawing and clipping hand gives a twitch. It could be a new career path.
On the 20th of October, two weeks ahead of schedule because of the spring drought, the conveyor belts at Nuestra Señora del Rosario olive press co-operativa began rolling. Farmers began showing up in their pick-ups to tip sacks of olives through the grates and now the place smells of squashed olives again. This year, the former owner of the farm has the right to harvest the olives because he tended them up until May. So I don’t come here to sell but to buy. The co-operativa has a store selling shovel handles, chicken wire, and cement mix, as well as cheese, water, and washing-up liquid. I used to buy clothes, now I come here for new overalls.
Fernando and his cousin Fernando are in his fields above me bashing the trees with sticks, knocking olives into the nets spread out below. In the fields below, Arturo and his family are doing the same. With the tock tock tock of wood from all directions it sounds like a jousting tournament. Not that I’ve been to a jousting tournament. Anyway, jousting, goat bells, cockerels, birds wildly animated after the rain and barking dogs is what I hear as I sit here alone.