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Blog On The Way

Fanfest 2013

For the past few years (I think 5, though I am not sure) there has been a summer event called FanFest in a place called Rosia Montana (~130km from Cluj Napoca). Rosia Montana is an area rich with gold and has attracted the attentions of greedy corporations who together with corrupted & ignorant Romanian governance have been working relentlessly to start mining operations that would have destructive consequences not just for Rosia Montana but the entire western area of Transylvania. I don’t know enough about the details of this long battle but my values put me on the side of nature.

A few weeks ago the organizers of FanFest invited to me come to the event and represent Cutia Taranului at a debate on social activism. I am a bit wary of such events since travelling, camping, festivaling and what not … are not in my nature. After a few days of consideration and a kind promise by the organizers that they would arrange accommodations (a place to sleep and food to eat) for me I opted to go.

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Shortly after that I realized that if I am already there why not make the most of it? So it look like I will be quite busy at Rosia Montana:

  • I will be participating in the social activism debate.
  • I will be giving two “introduction to Yoga” workshops (Friday & Saturday).
  • I will be giving a workshop on how to build a 16 brick rocket stove and through it introducing the core concepts of rocket-stoves.

So I look forward to seeing you there, and if you are a reader of this blog please do come and say hello.

 

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Blog On The Way Uncategorized

Sheep Milking

After the spring sale of the young sheep the rest are grazing all around the place. They have a fenced roundup area which has to be moved periodically so that the ground does not get overcome with their urine and manure (just the right amount means it will flourish like crazy next year) … and they moved it right next to our place so one evening I went out to see their milking … it’s done twice a day 6am and 6pm. First the sheep are brough into the fenced area:

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The guy carrying the stick is the shepherd (Choban in Romanian). He seems slightly drunk most of the day and very drunk at other parts of the day. This is what he does. He gets paid per season (essentially a year, though he typically has the winter months “off”) per head.

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There are still a few suckling youngsters in the herd:P1060419

The milking process is efficiently executed using a smaller separate enclosure. They try to herd into it only those sheep that need to be milked though a few others slip in too and skipped (it is important not to miss any of those that do need to be milked). Ricky always gets very excited when sheep are herded and always wants in on the action … though not always useful:

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Once all the sheep-to-be-milked have been collected into the separate fenced area it is closed offP1060425

And then their only way out is through the milking station which stands between them and “freedom”P1060426

Hand are washed (the two guys on the right are the owners of the herd and the one on the left is the shepherd)P1060428

And the sheep start flowing through. Notice that the shepherd  is taking his time … he will start after the other two and his milking pot will be filled when the other two are only half full … he’s the professional in the groupP1060430

You have to be alert, the sheep are happy to just run through to their freedom without being milked. They are usually caught by the tale or a hind legP1060432

And milked. There’s isn’t much milk in a sheep … they milk ~130 sheep and will have a yield of about 40-50 liters total … these are grass-and-weeds-fed-only animals. I asked but my Romanian is not good enough to receive an explanation of the purpose of the cup hanging in the milking pot.P1060434

On the other side of the wall the sheep are so crowded that they are practially lined up to pass through

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Though there is a guy with a stick to prod and remind them and keep them packed against the two-passages. He can be (too!) fierce.

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And all three are in full-milking modeP1060441

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And slowly the herd flows from the smaller enclosure to the larger one (which is wide open … yet the sheep stay inside).P1060449

Clean shoes are awaiting their ownerP1060451

Knees are used to keep keen sheep from passing through before they are invited in.P1060453

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Beer is VERY big in Romanian villages … almost everybody drinks .. alotP1060459

But when you are the guy with the stick … you have to stay on the job otherwiseP1060460

When the milking pots are filled the process is paused and the milk is transferred into large (25 liter) aluminum containers

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And the guy with the stick gets “busy” as fewer sheep are left:

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And this happens twice a day

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Hands are washed   P1060477

The pots are also washed and the milky-water is given to the dogs who happily make it disappear really fastP1060479

Some males showing off malesP1060480

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The “structure” in the background is the “hut” in which the shepherd lives.P1060487

And this his dinner:P1060490

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Some of the milk goes to personal consumption (including ours) and the rest is sold (via collection trucks) to one of the large national dairy-producers. There are other flocks whos milk is processed into cheese products. The milk containers fit perfectly into the trunk of an old Dacia … as if its trunk was designed FOR the milk containers. The Dacia needs to push-(as in by people)-started

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Unlike horses and carriages (true 4×4) which for the most part start very reliably P1060495

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Blog Inspiration On The Way

From Drill bits to Scythes

For many years I watched my father struggle as he drilled holes into concrete walls (you know, for hanging stuff around the house and what not). He would work very hard, put a lot of force into it, needed someone (sometimes me) to hold up the ladder so he could push into the wall. And when I grew up and began drilling my own holes in concrete walls I did the same. One day, as I was browsing the drill bits in a DIY store I came across some Bosch bits which were much more expensive than the cheaper bits. I purchased one and the next time I drilled into concrete I was blown away … the quality drill bit took on a lot of the work I was doing. Good tools are not cheap and good tools are … well … good … or at least much better than cheap junk tools. I’ve applied that lesson many times since.

Fast forward many years … we move out to Bhudeva. We find an old scythe (worn blade) in the barn and decide to buy a second one with a newer, hopefully better blade. In our shopping we found two kinds of blades: cheap and really cheap. We decided to splurge and went with the cheap. It looked nice but it really wasn’t impressive nor pleasant to work with.

Fortunately, during our first year I was gifted with an opportunity to watch a guy who really knew how to work with a scythe. He did it really well, elegantly, efficiently, with correct effort (he could go on and on). I picked up some stuff from watching him and from an occassional tip he was able to communicate to me. Though a scythe may seem like an obvious tool to use … most people use it bluntly (hacking away). He didn’t, he danced with it … I think it was a meditative experience for him.

But no matter how much I practiced I couldn’t seem to find my way into this dance. I got better … but something wasn’t working out. Then a few months ago I came across some information on scythe’s and eventually wrote this post about it. As I did so I found an Austrian company FUX that produces Scythes and has been doing so for hundreds of years (the same company!) – hand forged to this day. I emailed the company to ask if they had representation in Romania and they replied with two contacts. Liviu (who has been really helpful interfacing on my behalf with the Romanian speaking world around me) spoke to them and indeed they had FUX scythes. We ordered one and it has been here at Bhudeva for a couple of weeks.

During this time a couple of (local) people who saw the blade asked me if I was looking to create back problems for myself. They couldn’t understand why in this day and age of power tools (small and large) I would want to invest in a back-breaking scythe (all the way from Austria). So …

I purchased a snath (a long wooden handle onto which the blade is attached) and a binding ring in the village market. Today I finally got around to setting it up. The snath was properly sized to my height. The scythe blade was installed at a correct angle …  and I went swinging away … and I was immediately blown away. The blade flowed through the grass and weeds smoothly and with ease. It seemed like the grass was surrendering to the might of the blade and falling on its own, before the blade even reached it. What a pleasure to use.

When I finished playing around with it I wanted to wipe it clean and it slipped from my grip. I sent out a hand to catch the blade … mistake. In a fraction of a second it peeled a small patch of skin from one of my fingers. Later in the evening I also found that as I was playing around with the scythe it seamlessly cut through a power cord that runs through our yard (delivering power to the workshop). I found out because the same cable powers the electric fence that protects our chickens and ducks … and the fence wasn’t working.

It’s an amazing blade, so different from the cheap stuff that is so abundantly available. Thought I wouldn’t (for now?) want to cut down acres of grass with it, I do look forward to working and finding my groove with it. What a difference a good tool makes.

I was (again, as with the axes) disappointed that we couldn’t find a decent Romanian made scythe. I doubt there is a country on this planet where there is a higher scythe-per-capita ratio. Yet only junk is readily available here – no wonder people think it is back-breaking work! So now I have a Finnish axe and an Austrian scythe, both from companies who have been making them for hundreds of years. There should be Romanian companies who make axes & scythes (and many other such things). Everywhere I look I see so many opportunities to create meaningful things here in Romania 🙂

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Blog On The Way

Sunset on a Stormy Day

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Blog On The Way

Maramures in the 1960’s

A unique view into traditional Romanian village life with honorable mentions of:

  • hemp: grown and processed by hand for clothing.
  • financial wisdom: a commons approach to land
  • wooden wheels … wow!
  • wood-planks: the fluidity with which a log is transferred (by two men and a very long saw) into planks
  • gypsies: with a disctinct role in Romanian society suitable for their nomadic lifestyle

… and two more things:

  • 50 years later, things in Romania haven’t changed too much. Though I haven’t visited Mara Mures (which is still supposed to be a distinct area in today’s Romania) the general aura of the film rings true with what I see around me.
  • The cold, supposedly scientific/objective/documentary viewpoint from which the film was produced offers a glimpse into another (very different) society far away from Romania.

Two clips totalling ~20 minutes:

On a personal note: a few months ago I learned that if my name (Ronen) was translated (from Hebrew) into Romanian … it would be … Radu!

Thank you Craig from Bucharest Life for bringing this to my attention.

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Blog On The Way Weather Reports

March 2013 Snow

Yesterday morning we went outside to move the electric fencing and the flock. It isn’t too long a task and yet by the time we finished temperatures dropped noticeably and wind set in. Later in the evening the sharp-biting cold seemed to disappear and shortly after that … snow appeared. It came in silence, we only noticed it when we opened the door to see if Ricky wants to come inside … and there were flakes falling from the sky and a thin white cover already established on the ground.

This morning we found a wintery landscape with 8-10cm of fresh soft snow. Bhudeva is once again covered in white:

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… and the forecast tells us that a warm 17-18c weekend is expected … climate has become unstable and extreme … now … not 20 or 50 years from now.

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Blog Growing Food On The Way Water

Water Walk

Yesterday we went for a walk around the valley in which Bhudeva is located (into which we envision Bhudeva expanding). It was a cool and sunny day. We walked around the first two-thirds of the ridge surrounding the valley but gave up on the final third because cold air was blowing into our faces and we are both recuperating from slight illness.

Every time we go on such a walk we see more, the valley reveals itself to us.

The north-facing slopes are in better ecological shape, or at least in a lesser state of deterioration. They are partially forested, though the forests are not smartly planted nor properly maintained. The slopes are softer and in some areas there are terraces. It has some very old fruit trees with good yields (given enough rain).

The south-facing slopes are well on their way to desertification. Above the keyline they are for the most part bare, steep (much more than the north facing slopes) and collapsing. At and beneath the keyline there are plenty of beautiful locations for additional houses for people who will join us in the future.

However the feature that most struck us in the poor south-facing slopes was the intricate and interconnected array of gullies. Though they are a product of erosion they are also naturally built water reservoirs. It is as if the land itself has taken measures and is slowly preparing to take in more water to heal itself. We could see substantial water storage laid out in beautiful, naturally dug shapes throughout the landscapes. Relatively small damns dispersed throughout the landscape may make a huge impact on the landscape. These formations also traverse the slopes traveling in soft paths from top to bottom.

We’ve been told that a stream once ran down into our property (on the eroded north facing slope). We could see a potential for two such streams and are very much looking forward to performing earthworks that may yet bring them back to life.

We also realized that the valley offers endless niches of diverse microclimates that are like a playground for generations to come. For traditional farming this place is uninviting … it is very hard (in many places impossible) to work in open, plowed, monocultured fields. However for us it has endless possibilities and potential. This is what makes it ours (even the parts we do not yet own) … we  see it.

The walk invited me to continue my own process and practice of surrender. To realize that we have already taken a huge step. We are here. There is still so much to do … endless work actually. There are still questions on how we’ll be able to do it … still many unknowns. But … we are here.

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Blog On The Way

Bhudeva Tour 2012

In what may become a tradition, we are happy to once again, as another year of activity comes to an end and we move into a kind of winter hibernation, post some images from Bhudeva to remember, appreciate and share some of the new things we’ve been gifted with. In this post we will highlight the changes and additions so if you want to get a fuller picture you may wish to have a look at the 2011 tour.

We’ll start this tour just outside the house. A few days ago we were gifted with a relatively warm and pleasant day and Andreea embraced it and headed outside to butcher some of our roosters (inspired by this lovely woman). We had 9, way too many for our flock (we need 1 or 2 at most), we butchered 5 and will cull 2 more in the spring once we see how the remaining 4 behave and choose which 2 to leave. As usual, I did the slaughtering and Andreea did the butchering:

Which brings us into the hall/kitchen where you can see some of the chicken breasts being prepared for dinner. On the left you can see that we have really taken to hanging things to make better use of the space.

We also added some more stuff around the sink. A backboard right above the sink with a small shelf for sink-stuff and a top shelf with … yes … more hanging … this time for the pans.

I also built a second second door. The first second door is for the warm months – it has netting to keep out flies and friends. For the winter I built a door that has 5cm of foam insulation to keep the kitchen/hall from freezing. It’s still a cooler space (unless we allow some heat to pass to it from the new rocket stove in the living room …. see below) – but so far it has been much more pleasant then last year.

In the bedroom we added a headboard (the shape is inspired by a drawing Andreea made) and two small shelf-thingys on either side of the bed.

We fixed our first rocket stove replacing its metal top with bricks. We moved one of the large book-shelves from the living room to the bedroom.

In the living room the sofa was extended to fill the corner (and can be rearranged to form a double bed). Andreea added her touch by sewing pillow covers for the pillows.

We also replaced the old metal stove that was in the room (and we avoided using it due to its terrible performance = needs tons of wood to heat and keep the room warm) and built another rocket stove.

The rocket stove burning in the background is an audio experience (you don’t see a fire burning) … it’s a sound we have learned to love … however I never get tired of peeking inside and watching the remarkable quality of fire burning sideways.

So now we can (and do) spend days in the living room (last year we spent most of the winter in the bedroom), which warms up very fast (and stays warm)  … AND due to a tip from friends, we had an opportunity to purchase a good desktop computer from a company that was closing and selling its equipment, together with an office desk and drawers … and we added a chair … and we now have a decent work-station in the living room. I did not dream this would be possible, even when we decided to purchase the computer, we did so assuming there may not be space for it right now … until we moved one of the bookshelves to the bedroom – and here I am writing this post at it 🙂

Andreea begged me to let her bring Ricky indoors during the cold winter nights (and sometimes days) … she is a small dog and unlike Indy, she doesn’t have much body mass to deal with the cold.

I eventually caved and agreed to arrange a corner for her in the entrance hall/kitchen. And now, she has a very nice corner and the living room right next to the rocket stove … and whenever we open the front door and she feels like it (even if the sun is shining and its warm outside) … she waltzes in and takes a nap. I am ok with it because she knows her place and doesn’t travel around the house … though I am looking forward to the spring and her moving back outside.

The bathroom hasn’t changed much, except for a small electric boiler which we added. It provides us with 10 liters of hot water whenever we need it. We love it … it has been a huge upgrade to our quality of life. We can brush our teeth in the morning without heaving to heat water in the kettle AND we can wash our faces to … and doing the dishes doesn’t hurt at all anymore 🙂

Our pantry is once again filled with foods that will nourish us in the winter and through most of the spring until fresh foods grow once again.

This pile includes sacks of potatoes, carrots, beets, nuts, a few apples and some pumpkins:

A big project outdoors was our Sepp Holzer style Hugelkultur raised garden beds. They didn’t do well because of the drought. After harvesting what was there to harvest we cleaned and mulched them (covered them with straw) and they are now covered with an additional blanket of snow … and hopefully precious topsoil and biological  life is growing there right now … so that by next winter we will have good soil and enough water to survive the dry summer months.

We started implementing a mobile chicken grazing system this year. A mobile electric fence and a mobile chicken shelter (red-roofed thing in the image below) will enable us to move the chickens around different plots of land so that they continue to enjoy fresh green food and do not destroy one limited space.

I finally got around to completing our humanure hacienda. This was my first roof-build project, I learned a lot from it (though some of the learning is still in the form of questions) … and I am happy with how it turned out. I still have plans to put in rainwater collection into a barrel so that I don’t have to carry water to it. We have hay in the middle chamber. The left chamber has been resting since late March 2011 … which means that next spring we will have our first batch of home-made fertilizer. The right chamber is built up quite well and come spring we will complete a first full cycle – we’ll empty the left chamber of fertilizer, close off the right chamber and it will begin its year of rest. This is a sign that time is indeed passing with us here 🙂

We purchased 12 cubic meters of firewood this year. We were both kind of overwhelmed when it arrived and thrilled that I managed to make my way through it (chainsaw, chopping, moving, storing …). Most of is cut up and stacked and is slowly drying. We will only be using part of it this year. The rest should last us another 3 or 4 years (yey rocket stoves).

The solar dryers (which I really should write more about … so stay tuned) are still outside, we intended to stow them away for winter, but that hasn’t happened yet (they should be OK outside too). A couple of weeks ago they had about a foot of snow on top of them.

The bee-hives also seem fine (the snow cover they already had on their roofs also melted away). We haven’t checked the bees recently. We checked before winter arrived and they seemed to have an ample supply of honey (we didn’t take any). We will probably peak in once or twice more (on nice sunny days) to see how they are doing.

Last year was very intense. We had just a few months to prepare for winter and we had no experience with … pretty much everything. It was a tight race. The weather was on our side and let us work right up to Christmas (the first snows arrived after Christmas). This year was still a lot of work but less of a race. There was space to take our time, to enjoy the work, to explore, to pick and choose … things needed doing but there was much less urgency.

Last winter was not as restful as we had hoped it would be. We had quite a few problems (water system froze, car froze, chainsaw died, house almost burned down …). This year winter arrived much earlier (by mid-December we witnessed snow that we only experienced in late January last year) and it seems we are much readier (the water system has been insulated, we have a charger for the car to keep the battery from losing its charge in the freezing temperatures … and snow chains …) … so it looks like we will have definitely have a period of rest … which will hopefully lead us into one of the softest years of our life together … as next spring we plan to embark on a leisurely year of playing around in the garden, continuing to develop Cutia Taranului, planning our new house … and enjoying the passage of time 🙂

 

 

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Blog On The Way

How to Move from City to Village?

We are meeting more and more people, couples, families who are interested in a kind of way of life we have chosen: living closer to nature, reducing dependency on money, experiencing community, eating healthy, etc. One of the recurring worries and questions is about money … how to make money in a village life? They are used to being dependent on money to create their life and they know that money is hard to come by in Romanian village life. It is a horrible question because it seems like a dead end and is an energy drain.

We didn’t ask this question, we came here riding on wings of faith riding on currents of surrender. We were gifted by difficult life experiences that taught and trained in the arts of faith and surrender. But that isn’t very practical advice. I don’t believe that hardship is the only way to motivate transition. So I reflected on our life here, where amongst other things money has appeared … a new kind of money, a healthy and sustainable money, and in retrospect I noticed two things.

The first is that we are pursuing our passions. We are no longer trying to make money to pursue our passions. We are bypassing money altogether and going directly where we want to go. In terms of money we may have come here (kind of) empty handed but in terms of passions and skills we came here filled with riches. This wasn’t because of some grand master plan that we can take credit for. This was a continuation of a long and ongoing journey of discovery that ultimately helped us fade out of one existence and fade into another.

However that too is a precious gift and not necessarily available to everyone. Which brings me to my second observation. Instead of asking how to make money I suggest reflecting on another more interesting question: What do I have and can bring with me to contribute to village life? This morning in reading Charles Eisenstein’s Sacred Economics I found this very thought:

“In times of social turmoil, I can’t imagine anything more dangerous than possessing a few hundred ounces of gold. Really the only security is to be found in community: the gratitude, connections, and support of the people around you.

Resisting or postponing the collapse will only make it worse. Finding new ways to grow the economy will only consume what is left of our wealth. Let us stop resisting the revolution in human beingness. If we want to outlast the multiple crises unfolding today, let us not seek to survive them. That is the mind-set of separation; that is resistance, a clinging to a dying past. Instead, let us shift our perspective toward reunion and think in terms of what we can give. What can we each contribute to a more beautiful world? That is our only responsibility and our only security.”

I came here dis-believing in people. I wanted to life on our own, insulated and isolated from people. That was my past experience holding me down. Fortunately, life got the better of me. From shortly after we arrived life keeps bringing us together with people who are like-hearted and like-minded. I now believe that security and sustainability can only achieved through grounded community.

My advice is that if you want to move out to village life in Romania, leave behind your isolated-city-money-survival mentality. Instead focus on what you can bring with you to contribute to village life. That question, at least, has potential for constructive expansion … it may nurture you and shine light on parts of you that have been ignored and in the shadows for too long. Going towards something is better then running from something.

 

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Blog On The Way

Rex

Last night Rex died.

We took him in 5 months ago. Our neighbors wanted to get rid of him and tied him to a post outside their yard next to the “road” in the hope that someone will take him in. Mind you, this is a road that sees at most a few horse-carriages a day and everyone here has more dogs then they need. We found him there and I suggested that we take him home and so it was. Until we took him in he lived most of his life tied in the same place – through hot summers and cold winters. He was also beaten quite a bit – so he was kind of messed up to start with. He was a very energetic dog and because he was tied he was also very excited. It took careful attention on my part to keep him focused and to walk him properly to his new home.

He took to us fairly well and we quickly became home (even though his previous home was 200 meters away). I enjoyed him. He had precise responses. Though he was very energetic he was also very gentle. At his most excited he could jump at me but touch me ever so lightly (unlike Indy who can topple me if I am not ready for her weight). However in the first days he was here, he and Andreea collided. The result was numerous bone-deep punctures in Andreea’s arm and our first visit to an emergency room in Romania.

That was when the seeds of the end were planted. Rex also became vicious once towards Andreea’s father who was visiting with us and he put on an unpleasant display of aggression towards Andreea a few weeks later. Both times I arrived in time to gain control over him. In reflecting on this second incident it occurred to me that Rex attacked Andreea for me … I was feeeling resentment toward Andreea at the time … and as I was processing those emotions, Rex seemed to act on them.

I came close once to being attacked by Rex when I was holding a stick to keep him away – he was used to getting hit with a stick (while he was tied and helpless to run away or attack) … so I learned that a stick pointed at him is not an option with him (a stick held in my hand, planted in the ground did work).

He needed clear and sharp leadership. I was very demanding towards him and he responded well. When I had to raise my voice to get his clear attention he would either run to his box (a temporary rain-shelter we setup for him when we brought him over) and sit down in it, or he would sprawl down in front of me in complete surrender (which was at times amusing, given how hard he was trying to contain his excitement). Andreea wasn’t able to provide him the clarity he needed.

The result was that Rex dominated Andreea. She was afraid to go outside. She would only go outside with me or if I first tied Rex down (which only made him more excited). When we both realized and clearly communicated to each other the intensity of the situation I suggested that we put him down. We did not have the tools to create a more balanced existence and it is not right that Andreea be fearful at home.

Andreea had a hard time with my suggestion, even though she agreed with it. She pondered it for a few days and then decided she wanted to try castrating Rex to see if that would moderate his behavior. She found a veterinarian in a nearby village  that could come and with my help do the castration. Scheduling didn’t work out and that was delayed.

Meanwhile, another complication appeared. The same neighbors who wanted to get rid of Rex have another dog, Beethoven. He is treated pretty much the same as Rex was. He grew up to be a large and strong dog. During the last couple of months, whenever he got loose he would come looking for Rex and attack him. Rex met him with his own viciousness but was never the instigator. It was always Beethoven attacking Rex. The village veterinarian recently came by to vaccinate the dogs against Rabies. He told us that Rex’s behavior had improved drastically … that Rex was the dog he most feared when doing his rounds in the past (and there are plenty of larger and mean-spirited dogs in our area). I managed to very carefully separate between Rex and Beethoven a few times. It was an unpleasant task and it frustrated me that I had to collect other people’s mss.

Yesterday our neighbors slaughtered their pig. In the evening they invited us to join them so that Andreea could enjoy some of the freshly cooked meat. As always, all three dogs joines us for the short walk … and actually led the way. As we headed down we encountered Rex and Beethoven at it again. It was cold, dark and I was tired of this and decided to let them resolve the situation on their own.

This time Rex didn’t survive the attack. This morning Levente came by and told us that he saw Rex’s corpse next to our neighbor’s gate. Andreea felt his death (without knowing clearly that was what she was feeling) while we were there last night. She suspected something was wrong when he didn’t appear this morning. He was probably already dead when we left our neighbors last night. We probably passed just a few meters from him on our way home but didn’t see him in the dark (it was even colder and darker and we were focused on getting home).

Andreea has met his death with sadness and gratitude. She thanked Rex for understanding the situation and for bringing it to a resolution. She feels free again … a huge relief for her and a return to a more natural order of things for Bhudeva.

The ground is already frozen solid and it is nearly impossible to bury him. Rex’s body was also already frozen solid. Levente (on his way home) tied a noose around him and dragged him off to an open hill where the foxes will have a feast on his remains.

I am reminded of the words of the Indian chief in the closing pages of Lila. Rex was a good dog.