The Evergreen trees of Navasola and the Evergreen short story anthology.

My story recently published in the anthology Evergreen is partly from within the consciousness of a fir tree grown only for Christmas. But it survives beyond the festive season and connects and inspires a variety of local children until …..The story is called Until We are Ever Green. It contains quite a few ‘untils’!

It is late January and we are finally back at Navasola after dull but changeable temperatures for the UK in the winter. It was a rather frustrating time with so much illness from bad coughs/ colds/ sinus and the worst I have had since leaving the classroom. Here at Navasola it is very cold but the sun is high and bright with andalucian blue skies. We also have our supply of wood from when so many branches of trees came down in the bad storm of 2020.

So thanks to the trees we can keep warm at night when at present the temperatures are falling below zero.

There is also so much green thanks to our own evergreen trees in stark contrast to the denuded old chestnuts. However without the leaves there is much sunshine on the woodland floor. Their leaves will come back later than most in May.

Navasola’s Ever Greens

Olea europaea, Olive Olivo.

The olive trees’ grey green leaves keep dancing in the chilly skies. All the olives need to be picked by end of December but any left will make good food for birds or other animals when fallen to the ground.

Quercus suber, alcornoques, cork oak

The cork oak leaves show different shades of pale grey green. The tree trunks are well insulated and fire resistent. Cork trees can only have their cork cut every 8 years or more.

The Holm oak, encina, Quercus ilex or known as the evergreen oak.

encinas or holm oaks are stretching higher to the sky in their self seeded grove. These are the trees of pasture land or dehesa and can be found across vast swathes of Spain evenly spaced out to provide shade for grazing animals. These trees are also excellent for wood burning too.

The common ivy or Hedera helix dresses up many a trunk and keeps its green even when the frost bites. The Mirbeck oak also hangs onto its glorious display of red orange leaves until the new arrive.

Arbutus unedo, madroño, strawberry tree.

The madroño tree or strawberry tree is very hardy in the frost or heat. And home to the caterpillar of the Two tailed Pasha.

Two tailed pasha hatches in July or August

Wild viburnum tinus does not grow into a tree but can grow very tall around the trees. It is usually in flower by the end of January as the bees wake up. But at the moment it is rather frost bitten with the colder icier winter we are having here.

There are many wild pines too. Mainly Pinus nigra or black pine. These grow very tall very quickly and thrive here on sandy soils. These are different to the cultivated umbrella pines found a bit further south towards Huelva. Stone pine, Pinus pinea.

I think many readers of my blog will enjoy the stories under the theme of Evergreen in this Bridge House Publishing anthology. Apologies that it is only easily available on Amazon but we would love you to read, review and share the stories.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Evergreen-Multiple-ebook/dp/B0BMW5K6GJ/ref=mp_s_a_1_1?crid=2JXZC9KIQI2SY&keywords=evergreen+anthology&qid=1674852585&sprefix=evergreen+anthology%2Caps%2C142&sr=8-1

https://www.bridgehousepublishing.co.uk/

https://debzhobbs-wyatt.co.uk/

Continue reading The Evergreen trees of Navasola and the Evergreen short story anthology.

A Year in Books and Festive Greetings

MY LIFE IN BOOKS IN 2022

At last I have a published short story titled Until We Are Ever Green and it is in a wonderful anthology of short stories titled Evergreen. This is the yearly anthology from Bridge House Publishing and the theme we were given was evergreen. From that point we were free within the word limit to write. There are quite a collection of different stories under this evergreen tree. In the UK you can buy a paperback copy but it is available on Kindle too. I think it will fall into the category ‘UPLIT’ which is uplifting literature.

Evergreen signals on the cover – Life Goes On. There is Renewal. Nature Endures. And some of the titles of the stories are ‘ Adonis Against the Odds’ ‘Watching Cormorants’ ‘Anecdote for the Pine Mother’ ‘Flower Girls’ and many more.

Last year the theme and title was Resolutions and this anthology can be found on Amazon too. Bridge House is an Independent publisher that encourages good quality writing on a variety of issues. For 2023 the theme is ‘Gifted’ and submissions for this can be sent through Submittable on the Bridge House website, usually by the end of February

Book Launch of Short Story Anthology published by Bridge House

Here I am at the launch of Evergreen in London and able to meet up with the publisher Gill James, my mentor for my novel Debz Hobbs Wyatt and other writers like Alison Symes. All are involved in writing different kinds of stories and Café Lit which is a great place to visit for a good short read and worth donating the cost of a coffee and maybe cake for the writers.

As it is time for my monthly blog  I am taking inspiration from Margaret21 who has been to the Pyrenees and is now back in the Pennines. We have similar journeys and she loves to read. We began 2022 on a reading challenge together to complete War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy before there was ever an invasion of the Ukraine. We did both finish reading War and Peace but the tragedy of war still unfolds in the Ukraine. On the personal front it has also been a tough year with losing two good family friends.

https://margaret21.com/

I do not think by Saturday night I will finish my other challenge Crime and Punishment by Doestoyosky. I have only just got to the crime and being inside the murderer’s head is quite heavy going. ( Possibly worse as I am listening on Audible)

With Debz Hobbs Wyatt, author of While No One Was Watching. My mentor for Call of the Wild Valley. We finally meet

Below are some of my books of 2022 and thanks to these other sites for these ideas too.

My 2022 in Books

I began 2022 ‘ While No One Was Watching’ by Debz Hobbs Wyatt. We think the big events are all we need to know  and we can miss the many stories of those caught up in events beyond our control.

My favourite food for the year was one I  could not put down ‘ Sugar and Snails’ by Anne Goodwin and reminded me of the struggles of being young and growing up.

I got lost on google maps trying to find ‘ The House on Schellberg Street’ by Gill James. I needed to go back in time and understand more about those who fled and those who stayed in Nazi Germany and Austria

.

Another journey to navigate when locked in  with Covid in May was to travel with ‘The Wandering Jews’ by Philip Roth who was a journalist in the 1920s and whose homeland was close to all the refugee upheavals of the 2020s.

I wish sometimes I could just stay in one place and be a ‘ Villager’ by Tom Cox. The place somewhere in Dartmoor is given its own voice and century full memories..

We spent many months in our own village or ‘hamlet/ Hamnet by Maggie O Farrell but unlike poor Agnes Hathaway whose knowledge of herbs cannot save her son we get well treated in the Spanish NHS.

There have been some ‘Serious Concerns’ this year by Wendy Cope. With thoughts of those we have lost this year, struggles with the care system while coming to the last page of lifelong stories together.

I would like to raise a toast to The Years by Annie Ernaux for all that we share together in our closely related cultures.

My aim for 2023 will be to consider more deeply ‘ How to be Anti Racist by Ibram X Kendi.

And maybe we will all have the strength to jump ‘ The Hurdles’ by M Thayalan. An old Sri Lankan friend  from our teaching days as now he has a go at publishing in his second tongue, English. So maybe I need to try a bit harder with my Spanish.

Resolutions ? Time to take up a poetic challenge again perhaps for 2023 and return to the ‘Ode Less Travelled’ by Stephen Fry or take up ‘ Guerilla Writing’ by Carl Tighe

If you are interested in other book blogs and having fun with titles there is Margaret’s at https://margaret21.com/

I agree with Margaret about the discovery of my local Marple and Stockport Library. I love to borrow the poetry books and the borrow book gives me kindle and audible. Bookish Beck also has title challenges, book reviews and love of library posts. https://bookishbeck.wordpress.com/2022/12/19/love-your-library-december-2022/

Festive Greetings from the lights, books and traditions in London. With love to all. Keep Safe. Keep Healthy and Enjoy Life’s Offerings.

BOOK LINKS

http://www.thebridgetowncafebooksshop.co.uk/2022/11/evergreen_25.html

https://bridgehousepublishing.co.uk/

https://debzhobbs-wyatt.co.uk/

November in Seville, the Hot, the Cold and the Butterflies

November has been a hard month. It is becoming a mix of dates of friends passing and friend’s birthdays, including my own. Like the seasons the end of the year is approaching and the years go by. But while we are here lets do our best to enjoy and sow seeds for the future.

Butterflies in November in Seville
The Alcazar

I am in Seville for two nights. Our favourite and local city. It is just over an hour away from the Sierra Aracena. Somos turistxs hoy! I am also reading an incredible novel called Sugar and Snails by Anne Goodwin.

Autumn in the Sierra Aracena about an hour from Sevilla but much higher up and colder. Our home.

We are staying in the Hotel Simon, once a casa grande of a rich Seville family, probably shipping or merchant wealth. But from the 1930s became a hotel. Today for a reasonable price you can enjoy its tiled splendours. And just walk out into the centre of Seville and come face to face with the giant Cathedral frontage.

Patio of Hotel Simon

Our walk today!

First past the market selling all kinds of figures for the nativity story of Bethlehem or Belen. This is quite a collection that builds up for people here. Some villages do a ‘living Belen’ as in a village near us called Linares.

Artisan figures and models for the Nativity

We walk up to the university which was the old tobacco factory of the Carmen opera fame. Now you can walk in and possibly through and feel student life all around you.

From the University we cross the road by the main theatre where renovation walk is ongoing and then into the Plaza de Espana park. There is fun with the rowing of boats and serious commitment to women’s rights with the poster display for International Woman’s day.

We watch an attempt at a wedding photo shoot and am glad we asked. We thought she was an Indian bride dressed in the traditional red with all the bead work. No, it was for a Gitano wedding. And of course the romany and Spanish gypsy links are from long ago in the north of India and Pakistan. And listen in to the stamping footwork of flamenco.

Wedding Scenes

From here we walk through the park and have tapas away from the central tourist part. Rested and full of garbanzos, cerveza and ensaladilla we walk through the Plaza de Americas. The archeology museum is closed but the Museo de arte y costumbres is open. We rest with the butterflies and orange lanterna. Painted Ladies. It could be summer. Pigeons abound in one place for food and parakeets squawk about in the trees. Eucalyptus and parakeets and sunshine warmth. We really could be in the southern hemisphere. But the plane trees are changing colour and there is a chill on the shade and at night

We walk back by the river where Seville is ready with an ice rink and fairground for Christmas fun. And a strange glass container for eating churros and chocolate with the Torre de Oro in the background

Saludos from Sevilla with all its history, art, culture and natural beauty built up around the grand river Guadalquivir. From the Moorish power base of the Alcazar and Islamic rule, through the colonial Spanish architecture and build to impress, to the more nuanced post Franco Spain, a modern democracy with rights, values and standards at its heart. Ready hopefully to tackle the next global problem of climate change. Drought is not new to Andalucia and water is a blessing. However, the drought and high temperatures are longer and the water levels lower.

The rivers flowing by Seville and into the Atlantic and the Donana wetlands

There is such beauty on this planet created by human hand and by nature. Let’s enjoy while we can and leave this world safer for those who come next. Lets watch our water consumption and keep the rivers flowing for wildlife too.

Notice in our hotel bathroom. But in the Sierra where the water comes from many village water supplies ran dry this summer.

Time to celebrate too. I am attending the book launch of an anthology of short stories this Saturday in London. Evergreen is the title. ‘Until we are Ever Green’ is my story about a neglected silver fir Christmas tree.

The fir tree section of Kew Gardens

Lets hope The Call of the Wild Valley gets published soon too. It’s on the list!

Mellow Autumnal October vs Too Much Change or Too little

Sometimes we just have to take the long view and if the Outwood ancient rocks could tell us their story it would take millennia. So why at present are we humans missing the point of what is needed to survive? With the next COP coming up and too many domestic issues for our new Prime minister to deal with he cannot go. There are many reasons why life is frustrating here in the UK. But we do not quite have drought like in East Africa or floods as in Pakistan. Farmers who were once self sufficient no longer can be because of extreme weather.

I have not returned to Navasola and still wondering how my September post got ‘lost’. But life has been the same busy here on the personal level. And in both Spain and the UK we still face increasing climate challenges and hope leaders will respond better and cooperate to achieve climate targets. Too many people in other places are suffering from extremes as predicted by scientists and Andalucia is in severe drought.

On a walk through a place called the Outwoods in middle England there are ancient rocks. Once the height of Everest, once volcanic and without any fossils so pre known life forms.

Ancient rocks in the Outwoods near Loughborough, Leicestershire.

Under foot are a range of fungus species and the dampness and smell of a forest floor ready to rest through the winter. It is one of the warmest Octobers with some days rainy and others sunny. I have been close to the beauty of this once forested UK with its temperate island climate on several journeys across the Pennine hills. We did destroy our temperate rain forests but now we must support the last remaining forests around the globe.

All is changing and we can only hope and work towards peaceful and positive resolutions for all life on this amazing Earth and vote for wise leaders who will protect and restore the natural beauty of this earth and our life support system. My prayers are for Brazil and the Amazon at present.

These rocks were here before there were even forests.
Underneath the forest floor is a complex support system. The wood wide web of life.

Falling Fast into Autumn

I am not sure how but this September post seems to have been posted with some likes and comments but now does not show up. This was my attempt using my phone. October has been very much the same as September but included grandkids’ birthdays and some glorious leaf colours.

September too has been a busy month and while I stay in the UK Trevor returns to Navasola. Autumn is blowing in now with a chill and wind factor as I…

Falling Fast into Autumn

Whirlwind August

This August we have been in Spain, Portugal, and then the UK and in various counties, Oxfordshire, Lancashire, Northumberland, Yorkshire. Holiday time for the grandchildren has been busy and also catching up with friends, family and a wedding after those two quiet years.

And so this is a quick post to catch up with myself and with the blog on the last day of August.

Water still flowing at the 12 spring fountains in Fuenteheridos

Finally family can visit but now has to be August because of school holidays. Water is becoming problematic even in our ‘wet’ Sierra. Some villages now have water shortages. The water levels are low and there is no way to pipe water from the reservoir. So Seville gets plenty and no restrictions but many here do not. Fuenteheridos springs still flowing but down in the important wetlands of Doñana so many lagoons are completely dry which is devastating for birdlife there.

Climbing the olive trees

Exploring Navasola and the local villages where each have a municipal pool with good showers and a bar. ‘Encanto’ the film was a bit of a theme. Did this link us to ‘building a house with the help of the village’!

We were also lucky in Portugal to see wild dolphins ‘playing’ off the Algarve coast along the Ria Formosa. A first for me. They stayed awhile and it was as if the whole beach were given a spectacular show. Sorry no pics just in the ‘inner eye’.

There are real dolphins out there

And we loved the gecko in our bathroom.

And it was also so good to have so much open air music; in the local village squares, in Tavira and back in the UK at Cropredy with Fairport Convention. I finally get to use my ticket after a two year wait.


Bee eaters visit Norfolk, build a nest in a sandhole and at least two babes have now fledged.

Courtesy of RSPB webcam

In London German Shepherds ‘parent’ a rescued kitten.

Time for a snooze

I hope August has brought some happiness and holiday time in spite of all the news and for us the problems with drought and wildfires in Europe. It is time for governments to act on climate change issues. Our grandchildren deserve to inherit and enjoy a nature rich world where extremes of climate do not destroy lives.

With best wishes to all and I will catch up soon!

A song for the golondrinas and some of my House Martin Survey, Cabanas de Tavira, Algarve, Portugal 2015 to 2022.

 I began my house martin survey in 2015 and each year try to look around the once welcoming fishing village for signs of their nests. Of course now Cabanas is more of a tourist village by the Ria Formosa and the buildings are less kind for the ledges needed. Once there were more house martins on the ‘frontline’ but now most nests have been deterred or destroyed. In one place above various shops and entrances to the small indoor shopping area there were 35. This year there are about 5.

However behind the Spa shop there is a good stretch and the birds can build their mud nests there and avoid the complaints of a mess as a long platform was put up to protect the ground from the delicacies of house martin poo.

Building next, March 2015 Building nest March 2015
Close up, building nest, March 2015 Close up, building nest, March 2015

 

Cabanas Sunday 008

 The art of building a nest must somehow be passed on between the generations. Proximity to water and mud is important. Each beakful is carefully positioned ready to stick to the next.

House martins seem to like to choose the same spots and just refurbishing a nest site will mean that they can get on with the business of mating and laying the eggs from March.

High winds can delay their arrival and the parents to be will be pretty exhausted by the thousands of miles they have flown across Africa. So having to rebuild from scratch or search for another site delays their ability to breed. However many of the parents will try again for a second brood. If these can fledge and build up reserves before the end of September they might make the long journey back.

From the RSPB and SEO in Spain there are requests to help these birds by keeping nest sites in situ over the winter. Of course it is illegal to destroy any nest that is in use or being built.

This year in Cabanas I found 100 nest sites in the Spring. The school still provides for many under the eaves and also in the older part of town there are more. The town council appears to have an interesting extra wall front behind which there were quite a few.

But all the new builds seem very unfriendly to these Spring visitors. In our ‘beco’ there have always been a small community and the trad design of our flats does provide the ledging. But many are prevented from returning by netting and plastic hanging down. More unsightly than the nests.

Song of a small golondrina or andorinha ( spanish/ portuguese)

Dear humans, please leave our nests alone,

And like you

We do like to be beside this seaside.

The sand and tides turning help us out

With just the right consistency of mud

We build our homes close to the sea

Where we can almost have food for free

So many insects to shout out about

Making us and our young strong

And ready for the long flight back.

High above the many folk below

May sometimes stand and stare

In a kind of wonder at our flight

But know too little of who we are

And why we have to come so far.

From June through July and August the first broods gather on the phone wires as if at school all in a line and getting ready for the flight of their life.

From past reading there is little known about where these birds go back to in Africa and house martins might still be too small for satellite tracking.

We believe they flock together to fly together across the Sahara but we do not know if the parent birds lead the way.

Here’s to the wonderful house martins of Cabanas de Tavira and the joy they bring some of us. I only wish more people would notice these incredible birds and make a stand for their presence here among the tourists.

* We think here in Spain and Portugal that golondrina or andorinha are used for both swallows and house martins. But in Latin – Delichon urbicum

Young house martins gathering in Cabanas de Tavira 2020.

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Thanks too to Katharine Otto for making the first move to try and post by phone. This is my first attempt too. So apologies for not many photos but some recent ones from the phone! And oh, some more added from my library!

More on the survey later in the year. At present we await family for a holiday and have been enjoying nights out in Tavira with the free concerts. The band last night called SAL formed in the pandemic and this is their first year of playing live concerts. It is with great relief to find some of the normality and conviviality back again in our lives.

 

Feeding young in August

Feeding young in August

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High wire young ones in August
High wire young ones in August

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One Swallow does not make a Summer

Thankfully there is still water in the well and the pond. The birds love the pond and all the trees, wild flowers and other plants love that there is water deep within the ground. We have had the highest temperatures on record for June in Spain and also in our area but there are now cooler nights. Seville has faced temperature in the 40s much earlier than normal. Young swifts have been falling out of nests in the heat.

Among the Navasola summer visitors are red-rumped swallows. Can you just detect the red in this strong little bird that survived striking fast onto our window? There are plenty of swifts around the monument of Castano De Robledo and here the temperatures have not reached 40 plus yet. This should have given these young a chance to fly out of an overheated nest. In order to keep these amazing migratory birds off the threatened lists their young must not just survive the early heatwaves here which have forced them out of their nests before they are ready but they must fly thousands of miles within weeks of leaving the nest. Lots of insect food is needed to help grow muscle strength too. And yet again there has been some glyphosate spraying of verges poisoning not just the wild flowers but all the surrounding insects and those that fly into the area.

For the young wolves in the north of Spain there have been raging wildfires in one of the highly populated but endangered wild Iberian wolf regions in the Sierra Culebra. Just the wrong time as the young wolves might not have the ability to move far from their dens to get away from fire and smoke.

And the good news. The European Union has just agreed a robust plan for the restoration of Nature. Biodiversity strategy for 2030 – Environment – environment.ec.europa.eu/strategy/biodiversity-strategy-2030_en

The European Commission’s proposal for a Nature Restoration Law is the first continent-wide, comprehensive law of its kind. It is a key element of the EU Biodiversity Strategy which calls for binding targets to restore degraded ecosystems, in particular those with the most potential to capture and store carbon and to prevent and reduce the impact of natural disasters.

And I have finished War and Peace. An epic and an insight into Tolstoy’s mind and Russian issues in the 19th Century. But has helped me understand a little more about the awful war raging in the Ukraine.

And for the first time in years I have read a book I could not put down. I read Bewilderment by Richard Powers within a day. And was star and earth struck. The book beautifully describes how a scientist searches for life way out in the stars while his son struggles to deal with the knowledge that life on our planet is threatened with extinction. The boy feels the loss of many species that have already gone forever. He draws them and wants to save what we have left. His father creates stories of possible life on faraway planets.

And recovered from Covid. So far no long term effects but was really tired and wiped out.

So the glass is still half full. There is still time to act and save our wonderful world.

An attempt at drawing water with light and shade with wild scabious.

We need lots more swallows to make a summer and a planet full of different life forms to make a better future.

Lets hope these EU actions will lead the way.

With best wishes and blessings from Navasola

No Mow May – No Rules Minister

No Mow May is a campaign to let the grass and wild flowers grow in a more natural way encouraging more biodiversity than a closely cut green lawn. At Navasola the attempt at a green lawn is thwarted as ever by lack of rain but in the UK the green grass is ebullient. I like that word. What does it really mean? Overcome with joy or full of energy.

At least I have an excuse for not having a closely cut green lawn so why did I have a go at trying to mow a path through the long grass to reach the monster chard. More later.

Our little patch in front of the house at Navasola has delighted us this year in being a wild daisy patch. Meanwhile the rest of the finca has gone wild again with bracken and some wild flowers as I had to give up my strimming of paths and mosaic habitat building because of a shoulder injury. Along the verges of the old walking tracks there are many of the familiar wild flowers but along some of the roadways there is the sign of pesticide use with glyphosate. some of the local villages ban the use of pesticides but the roadways are governed by the regional government and changing the rules is harder. However it is incredible what plants fight back but unfortunately the local insects nearby are killed off.

NO RULES MINISTER? ( a play on the favourite TV programme ‘Yes Minister’ of many years ago when government seemed genteel)

It would seem that our current government show little regard for rules or are certainly rule averse. EU law is ready to be put on the ‘Brexit bonfire’ without in many cases adequate replacement. The government likes to show off its new rules but then fails to ensure enforcement in really important areas. Some with catastrophic impacts. So which is the worst rule aversion failure so far?

No, I am not referring to partygate and disregard for the rules set for us all during the pandemic lockdown.

No, I am not referring to all the longstanding rules against putting sewage into our rivers and water companies not needing to bother about the pollution as there is a loophole and the Office for Environmental Protection fails to act too.

I am referring to the government COP26 flagship of creating more Marine Protection Areas. But not protecting these areas by enforcing the actions needed. The rule of law seems easily broken when out at sea. The Guardian and Greenpeace have information about how much of the sea bed is still being destroyed by the fisheries industries in Marine Protection Areas. We know now that the condition of the sea bed like the condition of the soil on land is crucial to the ecology of the sea and for ensuring restocking of fish and other creatures.

We are on the brink of ecological crisis and with a government that says one thing, creates new rules and then appears to turn a blind eye to the actions needed to ensure the rules are followed.

Below are some photos of the Algarve where the Atlantic meets the European shores. We are all connected by the sea. The dunes and coastline here have been protected but we still have to defend against human activity that can destroy the fragile dunes and habitats. These and Donana are part of the EU habitats directives and should be protected fully.

Back to No Mow May and the humble bumble bee.

So I decided to mow just a pathway through the long grass before the end of May. And was promptly attacked by a bumble bee, I think with red on it. It was small and managed to get inside my glasses and sting my nose. It hurt. I should have kept to the rule I had decided upon! Husband was more to the point. I thought you were the friend of bees. The bumblebee probably had a hive under the ground in what had been undisturbed land for the last few months. And I disturbed its hive and so the normally non aggressive bumble bee attacked me. I did read that bumblebees do not have barbs like bees so can live after a sting. And so did I after finding some apple cider vinegar in the cupboard and a dose of anti histamine.

It is worthwhile in the long run keeping to our own rules, setting the bar high and to do what we can to allow the natural world to recover from our human onslaught.

Nature needs Nurture

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