The natural environment is, for most Asturians, a set of deeply felt dichotomies. The mountain and the sea, the field and the forest, the upper and the lower.
Asturias is defined, geographically and psychologically, by its mountains. The Cordillera Cantábrica divides Asturias from Castilla to the south. Indeed, this range, running parallel to the Bay of Biscay divides the entire north of Spain from the rest of the country. Galicia, Asturias, Cantaria, and the Basque Country all lie north of this range. The mountains create what has become called "Green Spain" north of the ridge - an area of heavy cyclonic rainfall and temperate oceanic climate, and the dry central plateau (la maseta) with a harsher, continental climate with greater annual temperature variations.
It is impossible to describe an environment in solely dispassionate terms - how we talk about what we talk about reveals how we feel about the thing we talk about. And so it is with Asturians and el monte - the mountains that make up 80% or more of the surface of the region. The general typology of Asturian land is a division between la vega and el monte.
Vega is land that is cultivable, desirable, accessible, or relatively flat. It denotes valley bottoms if they are wide or any flat to rolling land of high quality. It is a relative term, denoting in eastern Asturias, where some villages lack flatland altogether, the cultivable though not necessarily arable land that terracing has reclaimed from steep slopes.
Subdivisions of la vega depend on how they are used, and here we pass from the natural environment to the built environment:
- Tierra / Güerta - Field or plowland for large crops
- Huerto / Güertu - Garden
- Prau - Fenced pasture
- Pasto - Open (often communal) pasture
- Puerto - Open pasture in the high reaches of the mountain; literally the mountain pass
El monte is everything that is not la vega. It is the unimproved land that has either never been la vega, or has fallen into disuse. Exposed rock fields, mixed forest, scrub brush, all of this is el monte. La Viesca is the name for the particular type of mixed forest full of underbrush and brambles that sprouts up on el monte. El monte is where you go to cut firewood, where jabalí live, and where
Separate from the unimproved scrubland of la viesca, el bosque is a forest someone has taken an interest in or is managing. It is a general term, and may be dedicated to specific types of trees, or a mixture of the useful types together.
Specific terms for types of wooded plots useful to the villager include:
- Castañéu - a chestnut forest
- Hayedo - a beechwood forest
- Robléu - an oak forest
Asturias is bounded on the north by seaside cliffs offering few harbors
- Indeed, some geologists argue that the Cantabrican range and the Pyrenees are a single chain of mountains. See for instance: AGINDUA, 2007ko abenduaren 12koa, Nekazaritza, Arrantza eta Elikadura sailburuarena, "Euskal Okela" edo "Carne de Vacuno del País Vasco" adierazpen geografiko babestuaren baldintza agiria aldatzeko eskabidearen aldeko ebazpena ematekoa.
- Fernandez, Renate Lellep. A Simple Matter of Salt: An Ethnography of Nutritional Deficiency in Spain. University of California Press, 2018. http://ark.cdlib.org/ark:/13030/ft2d5nb1b2/.
- Fernandez, Renate Lellep. A Simple Matter of Salt: An Ethnography of Nutritional Deficiency in Spain. 1st ed., University of California Press, 2018. Open WorldCat, http://ark.cdlib.org/ark:/13030/ft2d5nb1b2/.