In 2010 Wapke Feenstra explored the Limburg landscape by following the movements of land-based products.
20 MAY – BICHTERWEERD, DILSEN STOKKEM AND ZUID-WILLEMSVAART – FREIGHT
In the Zuid-Willemsvaart 120 tonnes of quarry fines – forty truckloads – are being loaded onto the Lena. Three trucks drive to and fro, dumping the sand on the barge. Skipper Ab Wemmenhove checks that the load is evenly distributed. The sanding machine buzzes in the background as son Lennard removes rust from the deck. As soon as the vessel is full, the hatches are closed to prevent sand from flying about. Bargee's wife Mini gets ready to steer. On the way, the deck and hatches are rinsed and scrubbed. As the Lena has been loaded at the maximum draught for the Zuid-Willemsvaart, Mini is steering cautiously. Around midnight the family moors north of the lock at Born. That’s just over 3 miles from Bichterweerd, as the crow flies, where the boulders from the Maas were crushed.
21 MAY – THE LENA – SAILING
It’s six in the morning. The heavy diesel engine starts up. Ab will steer for the first few hours and then take turns with his wife and son. They are moving steadily north, via the River Maas and the Maas Channel. Whitsun holiday-makers are already lounging on the banks. The landscape drifts by. Lennard is to go ashore in the afternoon; he has to play in a football match and may even be top scorer this weekend. After leaving the Maas-Waal Channel the Lena enters the River Waal. The current is stronger there, but there is very little shipping. ‘There’s not a lot of freight,’ Ab says. ‘And when there is, prices are low.’ He feels the backlash of the economic crisis, but his father taught him that ‘ships are meant to sail’. New loads are negotiated by phone in the cabin. Together, they are allowed to sail 14 hours a day. That calls for good calculating skills, but they arrive at the Prinses Irene lock on time and moor alongside the Delta from Dordrecht.
22 MAY – THE LENA - ON THE WAY TO LAGE WEIDE
Back in the cabin at six a.m. They press on with their journey. It’s all in a day’s work for Ab. Mini takes his breakfast upstairs and they reach Utrecht during the morning. The barge sports a nostalgic red coat of arms for the city of Utrecht. Ab hails from Utrecht, but the family has lived in Werkendam for years. The children were educated at De Merwede, a protestant reformist boarding school, and live ashore. Around noon, the Lena arrives in Lage Weide at the site of Pouw, suppliers to the building trade. The site is quiet and deserted. They don't work at Whitsun.
25 MAY – LAGE WEIDE – UNLOADING
Today, Pouw is a hive of activity. Trucks drive to and fro, endless conveyor belts take away waste for recycling, loading bins scoop up materials, and a yellow crane unloads on the quay. Ten o’clock comes and it’s the Lena’s turn. Unloading takes much less time than loading. Five hours to load compared with about two and a half to unload. The yellow crane never stops. It changes operators four times. A transporter takes the quarry fines to blue silos for storage. They will be used for covering motorways. Ab and Mini are happy that they don't have to clean the hold this time. Pouw’s bobcat does it very thoroughly for them and, in any case, this type of sand is very pure.
26 MAY - SONNISHEIDE – HERD GOES TO THE MOORS
At seven in the morning the first sheep saunter out of the pen. They hesitate, run a bit, wait for the rest and then dash off to the moors like a big cloud of dust. Johan Schouteden closes the electric fence, a white tape. The fence is due for a check today: the tape must be taut. With his border collie in the back of the pick-up, he drives through escape routes and narrow paved roads marked with skull-and-crossbones signs. The moors are a military training ground and live ammunition is used here. The sheep are used to it, but the farmer isn’t allowed on the heathland after nine.
26 MAY - SONNISHEIDE – HERD RETURNS TO THE PEN
It has been pouring, but by half past seven the rain has stopped. Toon Schouteden, Johan's son, brings in the herd. As soon as the sheep spot the dog, patches of white come to life on the heathland. After a few minutes they form a compact herd that grows steadily in size. Hundreds of sheep gather in front of the fencing. No cloud of dust this time, just running sheep trying to avoid the puddles. Once they are all in the pen, the noise is deafening as lambs look for their mothers and mothers call their lambs. ‘They always find each other’, Toon says. Slowly, the noise dies down. Lambs drinks and ewes nibble at the hay.
27 MAY – WATERSCHEI - GEOLOGY ON THE SPOIL HEAP
Geology is an unfathomable science. Fortunately, Michiel Dusar is here again. He talks about all those millions of years as if they are nothing. The history of the coal is told by fragments at the foot of the spoil heap. A layer of sand in the coal is the legacy of a flood that occurred here more than 300 million years ago. I have drawn a timeline and I’m now filling it in, so I’m slowly getting used to talking about millions. We drop by the Kattevennen Education Centre to look at the Stone Path. Stones lined up in chronological order.
27 MAY- BORGLOON – FRESHWATER QUARTZITE
In the orchard at Borgloon Koen Martens leads us past a piece of freshwater quartzite. He found it when he was working the soil in the orchard. This quartzite is about a hundred million years old. It lies on a layer of loam that landed and accumulated here 20,000 years ago. I had never heard before that loam can be carried by air. Michiel Dusar breaks the quartzite and puts a manageable piece under his arm. That will go the Geological Survey of Belgium in Brussels.
28 MAY – WATERSCHEI SPOIL HEAP – NATURE RAMBLE
Luc Vanoppen organises rambles, during which he identifies plants. He does the same on the spoil heap. ‘This is one of the few places where biodiversity is still increasing,’ he explains. In the nineties, a chemical layer with "spoil heap seeds" was spread here, much to the annoyance of the naturalists, as it disturbed the natural growth of the flora. Nevertheless, Luc sees new plants every year. Today: lamb's lettuce! So this is a ramble that pays off. On the way back he meets another naturalist, who specialises in butterflies and insects.