A few weeks ago, after spending an afternoon getting scratched up by brambles and cursing heavily at baling wire getting wrapped around my brush-cutter, my wife and I stood back and looked with no little satisfaction at the small plot of land that we had rescued from under the encroachment of thorns and other unwanted species. It had been a tiny piece of vineyard once upon a time, but the vines were too far gone to be saved, and so we wanted to get it cleared and tilled in time to plant berries for the summer.
Vineyards in these hills were traditionally designed with a lattice system of wire to hold up the grapes, rather than the more common straight rows that you see in Tuscany or Napa. Being a territory of great difficulty and demanding hard work for little return, you tried to exploit every inch of arable land that you could. The baling wires were thus intertwined above your head and you worked stooped over underneath them. The entire structure was held up by poles made from chestnut trees.
These chestnut poles are some of the hardiest things around, and legend says that it you cut them during the waxing moon, they will never rot. I don’t know about never, but for sure they are amazingly resistant, because 90% of the poles on this piece of land – a good thirty-something of them – were in great shape, ready to be put to their next use. We carefully stacked them aside.
A couple of days later, driving past the land, I got a lousy surprise. The poles were gone, stolen out from under our noses. Remember, this land is steep as hell, and so to steal 30 chestnut poles means a minimum of six trips up and down a slippery, improvised trail. So it was no accident … someone had spied them and carted them off. It was a terrible feeling, not for their value, which is practically nothing, but for the pure cowardice of someone to steal recycled agricultural material just because it isn’t under lock and key. As one of the local women, a farmer all her life, told me on hearing this story, “Che bastardo!”
Since I couldn’t put up a fence around it, the best I could think of was to pull a couple of huge pine logs I haven’t gotten around to chopping yet in front of the access road so as to slow down anyone planning on entering the land without permission. I didn’t like doing it … I believe in the goodness of man … but I had to at least let the thief know that I was aware of what he was doing.
The next time I drove by, I was greeted by another amazing sight. No, the poles had not miraculously returned. A man had seen my pine log construction and figured out that it would be just perfect for an improvised lift for his Ape (see photo above). And so he had pushed it over so that it was leaning against the logs at an angle, supported on the other side with a smaller log, and he was working away on its transmission without a care in the world. I was glad I had been able to help out.