It is a verdant place, surrounded by trees that hide it from those who drive along the road. I parked my car and there he was, his blue eyes bright in a tanned face, not from by the beach but from hours working in the open air, during this almost two-month internship that he loved. Working the land is what my son wants to do for a living, and he has been preparing for that in the last few years. He has dreamed of a piece of land he might call his own, and now he has it.
He extends his hand to help me down the slope and I see the clearing; on one side the brook, something precious in every piece of land, meaning he will have all the water he needs; at the bottom, the ruins of a small house – who knows, he might rebuild it – and on the other trees, some tall and luxuriant, others smaller, all in different shades of green that look like a painting. The sun is shining, the sky is blue – it is a place where you feel at peace with the world. I love it.
As he shows me around, explaining that he has to finish cleaning the land of all debris (plastic bags and tubes of long ago, dead reeds…), he tells me about his plans. He will grow biological vegetables and sell them directly to customers, creating a whole experience for them. I listen carefully, remembering a friend who once, as a kind of joke, did some numerology on us and told me Afonso had an entrepreneurial spirit and would develop his own business. At the time I believed my friend, but it was all very much in the future – now it’s right in front of me, and I know my son has got what it takes; resilience, hard work, passion for what he is doing and, most of all, he is following a dream. No man or woman can live without dreaming; dreams are what push us forward and inspire us when all seems dark around us. I remember well that dark January day, the eve of his operation, when he suddenly called me. I saw him turn from a despondent mood – quite understandable in someone who’s undergoing an operation the following day – to one of enthusiasm when he announced, “Mom, I have won the tender for the piece of land. It is mine for the next seven years!”
I could barely speak, as no moment could be a better one to receive such good news! He needed a ray of hope in his life, and it came to him and even in his hospital bed, with the splint on his operated leg that would make his life so uncomfortable during the following six weeks, the fact that this piece of land was waiting for him always gave him hope, something to look forward to, the fulfilment of an old dream. During the hard months that followed, with all the complications and his second operation, this small light ahead of him made him believe that nightmare would pass, and all would be well again. And guided him through the darkest of days, into the shining sun.
Three of his friends arrive – everybody wants to see his piece of land – and he explains it all, how the land has belonged to the municipality for years, how it has not been exploited for a long time, how they recently decided to open this tender to young farmers, the incentives for biological farming that he intends to make the most of… I marvel at his knowledge – is this my son who only a few years ago was a rebel teenager who didn’t want to study? I now see a man, focused, capable, knowledgeable, sure of his convictions, of his ideas. A man living his dream but at the same time with his feet firmly on the ground, a man who has thought this over and over again, who has studied every possibility, every chance. A man who is taking his life in his hands and preparing his future.
We all stop before a beautiful, huge, old tree and I ask what it is. One of his friends, a renewable energy engineer, says it’s a chestnut tree. I joke and ask Afonso if it is so. After all, this is his field of expertise, not his friend’s. He’s not sure, so he checks it with an App – someone says it’s the Shazam of trees. The answer comes in a second – it’s a maple tree. We marvel at its size, and I wonder how old it is. No one knows, and it’s not really important. Afonso is already busy with cleaning the land; his father is cutting tree branches with a chainsaw and his friends and I prepare to leave.
As I come up the slope, I look back to the majestic maple tree in the distance. Its leaves are a deep green, in contrast with the smaller trees surrounding it, in a silvery shade. Nature is the greatest painter of all, I remind myself for the thousandth time. This piece of land has a magic, happy feeling around it. I believe my son will treat it lovingly, and in return it will be generous to him. Who knows, maybe some forest creatures of days past still live under the shadows of the maple tree, and they will look kindly on this boy, this man who loves nature so much that he wants to live his life in the open, working the land, while respecting its rhythm and balance. If they do exist, I hope they cherish and protect him, and help him make his dream come true.