In the Spring when water levels are high, the northern shores of Lake Skadar are huge areas of flooded field and woodland and difficult to explore. To the north is the southern edge of the Podgorica plain and, together with the airport, a patchwork of towns, villages and farmland. The eastern shore is Albanian territory. I have spent most time along the southern shore of the Lake between Rijeka Crnojevića and Ostros. Here, farming occurs between lake and mountain in the small areas of flat ground and adjacent hills, where narrow terraces rise up the gradients like ladders. Villages are small, most are a dozen or so houses and surrounding plots together with church or mosque.
The farmed land has long ago been carved, cut and burnt from the wash of woodland. Less intensively managed pasture fields away from the villages are encroached by scrub and hence cleared at this time; there are many patches of black burnt ground and ash circles of recent bonfires. Firewood is the only fuel and it is collected from the nearby forest by men with ponies or mules that carry the cut lengths from the depths of the wood along freshly cut paths to the lorry.
House at the top end of Godinje within a wooded landscape.
The village of Boljevići between lake and mountain.
The machine of choice is the rotavator, which is worked like a mini-tractor and, on the road, ridden on and used to pull trailers, but its primary role is to break up the winter fallow. From memories of a market garden long ago, these are big brutes to handle, pulling themselves along and bucking hard over stones and ungiving ground, but then I was only perhaps 12 at the time. The long, steel-handled beasts appear pliant enough in the hands of farmers here who prepare a perfectly flat and neatly patterned tilth.
A patchwork of fields in the village of Martići.
In the fine weather of the past days, fields are being rotavated for long hours and in the cool evening, seeds sown by hand. The roles are somewhat divided; pruning, ploughing and manure spreading by the men and the sowing led by the women although husband and wife are often together. Onion sets have been planted out and a range of vegetable seeds sown. Some work is done on planks of wood so as not to compress the fine soil. The regular dib marks in the earth are, I think, freshly planted potatoes. One trio of ladies worked with backs full bent, each like the Van Gogh ‘Peasant Woman Planting Potatoes’ except without the clogs, amid much animated conversation. Vines and fruit trees have been pruned and the vines neatly tied to the lines of wire held by stout posts, most of wood but some of concrete, and the ground between rotavated or the grass cut.
Vineyard along the road from Boljevići.
The result is a patchwork of brown, turned earth within small fields alongside vineyards and pastures hedged in thorn and with neat, round haystacks with long-pointed hats fenced in the corner. On the shores of Lake Skadar there are a few olive groves but these are much less common than on the coast. All villages have a long line of bee-hives in one or more fields. The ‘Vina Rakiha Med’ signs ensure a seasonal income from passing tourists.
Haystack and fence near Livari.
The villages are entirely self-sufficient but only through much hard work from when the snows clear to the harvest. Most appear occupied by the older generation with many young people going to college and the city for a different life. All villages have vacant and crumbling houses, albeit with some new building, including one or two enormous, new country villas. For how long these villages will continue to prosper is not clear.
Old house and driftwood shed at Rijeka Crnojevića.
The blackthorn winter arrived a week or so ago and the willow is emerging as a soft green shade. Also coming into leaf is the bramble, clematis and honeysuckle. The transformed villages are a pretty sight in the bright evening light.
The village of Godinje on 2nd and 22nd March; from plain winter brown to spring white and green.
The nature of the farming means that wildlife, most noticeably birds, butterflies, bees, and wildflowers are plentiful in the villages. Everywhere there are scolding jays and blackbirds, flocks of house sparrows, and goldfinches, and pairs of great and blue tits, cirl buntings, black redstarts, chaffinch and hawfinches. Most are confiding but hawfinch should be renamed the ‘Scarlet Pimpernel’ because every one is that damned elusive. Although their ticking calls are easily heard from afar, it is difficult to see the bird making the call and then one or the pair is off with a big loud flash of white wing bar and white-flagged tail.
Confiding pair of cirl bunting and elusive hawfinch.
Typical black redstart and freshly emerged swallowtail (Papilio machaon) butterfly.
The hedgerows are filled with red dead-nettle (Lamium purpureum), clumps of spotted dead-nettle (Lamium maculatum), speedwell (Veronica chamaedrys), I think dove’s-foot cranesbill (Geranium molle) and recently milkwort (Polygala vulgaris). The fallows fields are alive with red dead-nettle and it appears to be an important nectar source for bees and butterflies.
Hummingbird hawk moth (Macroglossum stellatarum) and swallowtail on red dead-nettle.