Georgina, now mainly living in Andalucia, Spain. My current journey is to discover more and more about the natural world and to find ways to help protect the amazing biodiversity this planet has. I am also interested in writing novels, poetry and reading about others lives.
I thought about taking the titles of the books that chose their place in the book stack as the concept of a ‘Blind Assassin’ from Margaret Atwood’s title really spoke to me. Blind can often be a metaphor for the inability to see the truth or suffering. We say to ‘turn a blind eye’. Saul was also blinded by the light. Those who really are physically unable to see often develop different ways of perceiving the world around them and may have the inner intuitive sight so many lack. TS Eliot in his poem the Waste Land uses the metaphor of blindness and a land without water to show the spiritual decline and alienation of the human spirit about 100 years ago.
A Poem of War and Peace
The Blind Assassin moves his tanks across the frozen lands.
Are not all assassins blind? Blind to human misery.
Blind to the brutal blows of deadly hands.
And so we all enter into those Dark Nights of the Soul where we cannot see
Where it will all end
Until we find the Kindness of Strangers
Arising from those roots of that other tree.
El Otro Arbol de Guernica. Where bombs rained down
For the first time on the ordinary man, woman and child
Around their tree of democracy.
In fear children sent alone to other lands.
In the hope one day their return will give birth
To A New Earth.
So I will now try and brighten up as the contrast between the news and the nature around me is both stark and ironic. The earth here in our part of Andalucia is responding well to the very many rainy days we have had. We have been blessed with some torrential downpours but not enough so we must all learn to conserve this life-giving resource.
After the cherry blossom comes the apple blossom. And here in April the ‘May’ which is one of the English rural words for the hawthorn flowers is out in full bloom to the delight of the carpenter bees and many others.
April 29th is also a day for me to remember my mother who died 21 years ago now to this day. I did write a poem in 2011 as it was a hard day to reflect as the UK celebrated the wedding of William and Kate and I posted it for Dverse last year at this time.
These books are the ones in the poem which were discussed in my last post. And my reading of War and Peace has got stuck in the war parts as the French army finally retreats but there is a lot of desperation and destruction for both sides. For me Tolstoy very much stands for peace, understands the futility of war and certainly does not glorify war.
The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood
Dark Nights of the Soul by Thomas Moore
The Kindness of Strangers by Kate Adie ( her autobiography as war correspondent for the BBC)
El otro arbol de Guernica by Luis de Castresana ( about being a child refugee sent to UK during Spanish Civil War)
We have definitely had a mad March with all the weather and political changes but the rain is thankfully and finally falling. Let’s also hope for a peaceful and just outcome soon.
As many of you know this area of Andalucia should have a high rainfall in the mountains but there has been a nine month drought and less rainfall in the Autumn time. How the plants and trees survive is a wonder. But under the ground there are vast aquifers and the water table is rising again. We must not overexploit this and I will post further on our community’s local demonstration and the plight of the UNESCO biosphere, the Donana Wetlands.
This March we have seen the plum trees blossom at the beginning and the cherries near the end. Other plants flowering are the wild viburnum and yellow gorse along with the yellow rock rose – Halmium trifolium. And a good variety of birds are now busy. My husbands sharp eyes spotted a small bird of prey from the window. It was neatly poised on a overhanging bare branch of the ivy clad oak. Ahh.. very beautiful but was near the water bath we leave out where there had been a flock of pretty long tailed tits. He has also spotted a mistle or song thrush preening itself in the trees. turdus viscivorus or turdus philomelos. These have become quite rare in the UK and we have not seen many here either so that was welcome,
Below is a beautiful festoon butterfly or l’arlequin in Spanish – Zerynthia rumina. We saw this on the ground and just missed treading on it thanks again to my husbands sharp eyes. He is definitely a bird and small animal spotter. This butterfly is now quite rare in Spain. Its caterpillar feed on the rather dainty dutchman’s pipe or aristolochia pistolachia. A plant quite easily missed but very important for this butterfly’s lifecycle. One of our naturalist friends was very angry once when trying to raise the chrysalis of these butterflies to improve numbers. Just on hatching near her lab there was a lot of gylyphosate spraying where the plants for the eggs ad the caterpillars grow. Hopefully now there is more awareness of the needs of different animals and their ecosystems and use of such pesticides is being phased out.
With March being wet we have spent a lot more time inside and so I have read on with War and Peace and am now halfway through this tome I read all those years ago. There is so much more to understand now and I am always googling the place names to know where everything is. Although when I first read this in the 1970’s the Nuclear Arms Race and Mutually Assured Destruction were key concepts and real threats.
I began re reading this before the invasion of the Ukraine by Russia and will admit was a little bored by the opening with the high society of Moscow and St Petersburg. War and Peace is set during the Napoleonic wars of the early 1800s, just over 200 years ago. As I invest again in the characters and am reminded of some incidents I am more aware this time of the sections about war. For one of the main characters, the idealist Pierre Bezuhov his desire for a universal truth and humanity still shines as he is undermined by fellow freemasons who belong to the order merely for self advancement and not for ideas of universal peace. It is also about War and Love as there is a lot of falling in love and betrayal in the high ranks of Russian society.
But does this book give me insights into the Russian mindset? I think not but it certainly portrays the society of the rich and powerful and the personal and public politics are something Tolstoy does comment on in many different ways. At the moment I am gripped as the Russian army retreats to Moscow and the devastation brought by armies and war affects all of the people in its path. Tolstoy did not like the politics that drove these wars and I feel clearly puts this forward and also shows an understanding of those with no power – the ordinary soldiers and the peasants. The character Pierre has large estates he inherited in the regions around Kiev/Kyiv and his desire is to give freedom to the serfs who work on his land. Tolstoy shows how Pierre’s idealism can be corrupted by those ready to take advantage. It took until the 1860s for this feudal lord and bonded worker/slave/serf to be overcome.
The bitter irony now is the impact of modern warfare on people in the neighbouring Ukraine and who once would have fought as part of the Russian army against Napoleon and Hitler. Tolstoy’s War and Peace is a call for both peace and justice.
Reading for me is a way into other worlds, places, people and I have always enjoyed fiction books about the places I have visited or lived in. In that respect good translations are needed so we can have insights into different ways of being and thinking in this world,
The Blind Assassin followed by The Dark Night of the Soul. These two might speak for themselves but as like so many books on shelves I have not read this Margaret Atwood novel…yet! But have dipped into this psychology book of the suffering mind and soul. El Otro Arbol de Guernica- The Other Tree of Guernica where Hitler ‘practised bombing civilians in the town of Guernica – as a warning of modern firepower from the sky and support for a military coup. After this trial came the Blitz and the new warfare against civilians which tragically continues today.
Kate Adie as a well known journalist and often on the frontline this book does show the compassion of humans often in very difficult circumstances. Tolle’s book has a spiritual consciousness based slant towards the kinder world that we need to work towards within us and without us. Let’s hope that we will come through this madness of March 2022 and really work towards the change needed for peace and prosperity for all life on earth. War and Peace went missing from my shelves and am reading it with kindle but it would be there!
And in order to end with a celebration of the natural world below are 5 books from my shelves that have influenced my writing about nature.
Tarka the Otter was a book I read as a child and did reread while I was writing my novel about the animal world. Williamson was suffering from trauma from WW1 and cared for a wild otter that disappeared one day. In his search for this loss arose the novel about Tarka. Not an easy read but well worth it for understanding the life and trials of otters as they were hunted to extinction in the UK. There is recovery now and even a few beavers.
The Cloud Spotters Guide was given to me by a good friend and it does balance understanding the technical formation of clouds and their names with art and literature. So we were well suited.
Spiritual Ecology is a collection of essays about our relationship with the natural world. Joanna Macey has an article and one of her workshops inspired me to write this blog about nature.
The Genius of Birds was another gift from a friend who read my novel in one of its early drafts. The book takes you into all the latest research on birds and their intelligence and social groupings.
Weeds and Wild flowers by Alice Oswald was a major inspiration for me to write poetry. Ms Peony Broteri is the poem in its first form featured early on this blog and about this time as the wild peonies are just budding and ready to bloom for April and May
The missing book is Wildwood by Roger Deakin and must be on another shelf in the UK or I gave it away. Roger Deakin spans walnut wood for Jaguar cars, the wood sculptor David Nash, the wild origins of apple trees in Kyrgystan and Australian aborigine culture. This book led me to Robert Macfarlane’s writing and in particular Wild Places and the beautiful Lost Words for children and the young at heart.
In difficult days when all seems mad there is much to inspire us and give hope and each little drop of kindness to others will give rise to a more peaceful and just world. Solidarity with all suffering from war and the after effects and all those needing climate justice.
If I had just chosen to write my February post before the invasion of the Ukraine last week I would have written about my peaceful but busy existence on our Navasola woodland. And the coming of Spring with lots of bird activity, a range of butterflies and the rare wild daffodil, the Angel’s tear. I have also embarked on a reading challenge to read or for me re read War and Peace by Tolstoy. As I read it many years ago in my youth it was interesting to revisit and is also giving me some insight into the current crisis and the history of Europe.
One of the reasons I like the blogging world are the different experiences and connections that build up. One longstanding one is with Steve Schwartzman and Portrait of Wildflowers. Botany was the first link and then his incredible knowledge of Spanish and the research he did trying to find the origin of the name of our local village, Fuenteheridos. On the surface it looks like wounds- heridos and fuente, a source of water, spring. Inddeed the village is a source of much water through twelve springs. Steve found the old word ‘feridos’ which is to do with irrigation and taking turns and sharing the water. I am going to share Steve’s recent post as he suggested to show solidarity with the Ukraine. I found this very moving and beautifully written by his father, Jack Schwartzman about leaving his homeland. Lilacs for me were part of my childhood home and they will now also remind me of those who have had to leave their homes because of war and tyrants.
This is the link to the War and Peace 2022 reading Challenge of Rebecca Budd.
The characters and the Russian high culture at the time is as intriguing and involving as I found it when younger. Tolstoy is certainly so skilled at writing and can immerse the reader within these different worlds. However, I have been intrigued by the narration about the battles of the Austrian and Russian Army against Napoleon in 1805. There is an ease of moving between characters and events. I have selected a quote below as Tolstoy shows such insight into truth and integrity. And as we know ‘the first casualty of war is truth.’
“Rostov was an honest young man who would never tell a deliberate lie. He set out with every intention of describing exactly what had occurred, but imperceptibly, unconsciously and inevitably he drifted into falsehood. If he had told the truth to these two, who had heard as many descriptions of cavalry charges as he had, had their own clear idea of what a charge was like and were expecting something similar, either they wouldn’t have believed him, or worse still, they would have assumed it was Rostov’s fault for not managing to do what was normally done by narrators of cavalry charges. He couldn’t just tell them that they’d been trotting forward together when he fell off his horse, sprained his arm and then ran as hard as he could into a wood to get away from a Frenchman. Besides, to tell everything exactly as it happened would have demanded enough self-control to say only what happened and nothing else. To tell the truth is a very difficult thing, and young people are hardly ever capable of it. His listeners were expecting to hear him describe how he had felt himself burning with excitement, stormed the enemy’s square defences, oblivious to everything, hacked his way in, mown men down right, left and centre, tasted blood with his sabre before collapsing from exhaustion, and all the rest. And that’s what he did describe.”
And as we know ‘the first casualty of war is truth.’ It seems also in our 21st Century that peace has also created a culture of lies, mis and dis information and there is a need for truth and integrity. I think Tolstoy gets quite a lot right about his character Rostov but later we do find out that Prince Andrei Bolkonsky appears to see through this fiction that Rostov is compelled to make up.
But I do not think young people today are incapable of telling the truth. Many of the young climate activists are trying to get the adults to understand and take on board the truth about climate change. Today marks another warning about how the climate crisis is going to bring more of the chaos we are already experiencing if we do not act together.
January is a special and busy month with two special birthdays and lots of New Year greetings and meetings to make. It is also 9 years since I began my nature blog as a record of the biodiversity around me and with the hope that this will not disappear. The warning bells have been ringing for a long time now and for most people there is a desire to see the natural world flourish. But the big but is the way so much productivity whether food or goods harms nature through intensive farming, pesticides, mining for our mobiles etc. And then the pollution. Sometimes it all seems overwhelming but with a new year there must be hope. I hope my blog helps celebrate that diversity and in doing so helps us be stronger in our efforts to protect our precious world.
For one special birthday we were sitting on an Algarve beach with a picnic lunch. Coats needed but sunshine and a good breeze. In January there are few tourists on the beach just locals and dogwalkers. On the Manta Rota beach the surf was quite strong and we watched a few sanderlings with their fast moving legs dodging the waves coming in but ready to dig into the sand before the next wave. I wonder what their food is as it was hard to see.
There must also have been an abundance of fish close to the shore.as there was a lot of angling going on with long rods and some catches. We then watched some cormorants flying quite fast along the surface of the ocean dodging the waves. Thankfully we had brought the binoculars and noticed something different to the cormorants. There were flashes of white as these birds turned catching the light. Gannets. We were then rewarded with some very high speed dives dropping into the ocean. The cormorants seemed to be surface divers and the gannets deep divers but both seemed to be more successful with their fishing than the men standing along the shore.
In 2014 I wrote a post about gannets as we visited Bempton Cliffs in the UK. This area and Scotland are the main nesting sites for the European gannets. We also saw some very close by when we visited the Skelligs just off the coast of County Kerry Ireland. These birds have an amazing design to allow them to dive at high speed and protect their brains.
The Algarve and these southern European regions have an amazing diversity of flora and fauna. A little later on we walked around the salt pans between Cabanas and Tavira. The light was failing so I have used other photos but we saw quite a variety as I had seen once when I wrote a poem about all the birds along this coast. I have also put in an extract from that poem as we couldn’t decide what a certain pair of pretty brown birds were. It tied us in knots. Probably Calidris canutus or or knot in winter plumage so not very red. Sorry no photos yet! But we have these from the poem. Bird Biodiversity Poem 0n the Sea Shore
Today we are going to do identification of birds, Birds on the seashore, birds out at sea, Birds whose names meant nothing to me. I must now make a spell and chant out the words.
Kentish plover, Ringed plover, Little ringed plover too, Golden plover, Grey plover, Dotterel make a few, and let’s not confuse Dunlin, Sanderling, with Knot, Green Shank with Red Shank Or take a Stint or two.
That’s just the start of the spell we need to weave, If we go to the seashore, Where there’s a chance to breathe.
Breathe deep and wonder The vast variety of birds. Stand in awe and thunder Storms brewing words
And for me a first – Avocets but I only realised afterwards when studying my poor camera photo which at least zoomed in more than my eyes to show up the differences between avocets and the black legged stilts. And way into the distance was a lone spoonbill.
We are now back in the chestnut woods of the Sierra Aracena and here the diversity of the woodland birds deserves a poem. They are mainly singing away at the moment and the woodpeckers tapping out more holes in old trees. Today I look out from the kitchen window and spot two high in a tree. How do they make such perfectly rounded holes?
We were going to go out to some of the wetland areas to the north of us where the cranes overwinter but this for various reasons might be next November when they should come back. Winter can bring a different diversity of birds.
It would be lovely to hear from you as to what birds you might have seen in January. After all in the UK its been the Great Garden Bird Watch. What about a blog bird watch for January?
The Art exhibition of Ruth Koenigsberger at the Teatro Aracena has just finished this December. We were really fortunate to be in the Sierra for this and we have many memories of times spent with Ruth visiting the Donana Wetlands for bird watching and photography. For those who follow this blog closely Ruth has featured many times with her art and photography. She has also drawn some of the characters and places in my novel and then turned her creative talents to painting birds during these past pandemic years. I intend to show more of her Bird Art and talents in the year to come.
For now I will give you a poem I wrote for Christmas inspired by the paintings below by Ruth Koenisgsberger and the European Crane, (Grus grus). This incredibly large and beautiful bird migrates from the North of Europe to the South during the winter months. We heard a story of a Spanish writer who as a child looked out of his window and saw the cranes calling and flying in the moonlight. Childhood experiences of the beauty of nature can stay with us and inspire us.
A Child’s Christmas in Southern Spain
Stories are told of the olive and dove
While high in the sky in the dawn’s new light
The children look out to the sky above
To spot long necks and great wings in flight.
The Cranes are coming for Christmas
The Cranes are coming for Christmas
Fe Li Ci Da Des
Fe Li Ci Da Des
Na Vi Dad
Great bodies descend to the earthly ground
With wings outstretched they graciously land
Their calls sing out the most heavenly sound
Long legs extend to the beat of a band
The Cranes are marching for Christmas
The Cranes are marching for Peace
Gathered together on the rich wet earth
Their journey long to a climate more mild
In pairs they now dance for a special birth
A gift they bring to each precious child;
The wonder of the wild.
The Cranes are dancing for Christmas
The Cranes are dancing for Love.
Fe Li Ci Da Des
Fe Li Ci Da Des, Na Vi Dad –
Happiness, The Birth of Christ.
Wishing you all a very happy, peaceful and safe Christmas as we continue to live through these anxious times. I also feel inspired to continue in 2022 with more about Ruth’s exhibition, paintings and her flight into the light with such a variety of colours and different techniques inspired by birds and the beautiful nature in the South of Spain.
Here’s to 2022, Hope, Light and our dedication to nurturing nature in all its beauty and diversity.
That old chestnut is very apt for the Sierra Aracena which on the north slopes is full of very old chestnut orchards. Some trees must be over 200 years old. For visitors November is a major attraction because the changing leaves of Autumn are a rare sight in these southern parts of Andalucia. The chestnuts, poplars and fruit trees all add to an intoxicating colour spectacle. There are coachloads of tourists and the plazas of the small white villages are full of people enjoying local food after some walks around the area or just views from a coach tour. However, the local people who historically have some land are busy with the chestnut harvest. Except it is difficult to really make this profitable and each year seems to bring a different problem.
Last year it was a raging storm called ‘ Borrasca Barbara. Due to Covid and the birth of my second granddaughter, Jessica Rose, we were not here to witness the devastation to the old trees. On our return most of the fallen branches had been converted into firewood. I am sure I would have been more upset but friends helped clear the worst of it.
This year the price of chestnuts is very low at 1 euro a kilo so this has not made it worth paying to collect and it is backbreaking to do this all myself. I managed some at the rate of 3 kilos in about 20 minutes!
Then there is the peeling to do. And there is always some advice on the best way to do this, Mine is revealed if you read on!
At Navasola we have many old chestnut trees and each tree can deliver up to 10 kg of chestnuts if there has been plenty of rain in both spring and autumn. My main tasks in November is to prepare and preserve as many chestnuts as I can for my own use. This involves the tedious task of trying to peel off the inner skin. I believe chestnuts do not intend to be eaten by humans. The wild boar and other creatures do not seem to mind and can continue foraging or inhabiting these belligerent nuts for many months. However for humans there is a procedure to follow.
First here is the outer spiny case which is referred to as a hedgehog in Spanish. Gloves and good boots are needed to get the chestnuts out of these if still in them on the ground. Am sure this makes mechanical picking impossible.
Then once picked, beware, these are fresh fruits of the earth which can be infested with a maggot or go mouldy very quickly. I think commercially they are dried but for my own use it is good to keep some in the fridge. This year I was told to then put them in the sunshine in order for the peels to come off more easily.
Ah ha, I sat in the warm sunshine about two weeks ago, not possible now as the chill has set in, and began peeling off the outer layer. Not too bad but the inner thin brown skin which is so bitter was still pretty reluctant. But it was a very meditative and pleasant sun filled serotonin inducing time. I sat for about two hours and had some beautiful whole peeled chestnuts at the end of this. About 20. A labour of love and certainly not profitable. I felt privileged to have the time to experience this but my aching hand that night rebelled. Two years previous to this (as 2020 was lost to this chestnut experience) I developed a chestnut callous on my finger from peeling.
So why do this? Well I feel the chestnuts are a good and sustainable source of protein and make good additions to stews, and chestnut rissoles. And there is this desire to pick them up all glossy and shiny. And roast them.
We hear from some friends in Tenerife that they are enjoying walking down to the plaza and having roast chestnuts and red wine. Mmmm. I must retire to a place in the sun where that is the only way I experience chestnuts.
Well, this year we have discovered the secret to removing the inner brown skin is steaming. After roasting, cover with a cloth to allow the steam to remove the thin skin more easily. Using a steamer was also much quicker than anything I have tried before. Still takes some time but easier!
And the olives this year have been amazing but very high up in the old olive trees which makes collection more difficult. But the olives and the different types and different methods for preserving must be another post.
One of our major issues post Brexit seems to be the changes to our roaming data and use of our mobile Wifi. So until we work out another system I cannot use up too much data. But soon I will catch up with you and all those wonderful photographs on so many amazing nature blogs.
With good wishes to all from Navasola for Thanksgiving time.
( From a Spanish placard at a young person’s climate demonstration in Spain)
As many of you know my blog has been about my own individual nature journey at Navasola, a mixed woodland valley in the Sierra Aracena in southern Spain. This led me to wish to be involved in more action to protect this amazing world of nature and so, sitting in a bar in Spain in 2016, I joined the UK Green Party. I became interested in the way members create policy and later decided to join the Wildlife and Habitats Policy Working Group. This has been another good learning curve on collaboration with others, research and constant evolving of policy framework in line with the philosophical basis of the Green Party and to do our best to create ways forward to protect and regenerate the Natural World. https://policy.greenparty.org.uk/philosophical-basis.html
I decided to begin this ABC summary of what I consider as the main principles that have driven the thinking behind the policy to share with you and I welcome discussion.
A for Abundance. Let’s have a world where there is an abundance of wildlife for its own sake but which we know can delight and lift our own spirits.
With such decline in natural spaces for wildlife we must address this with a desire to have an abundance of habitats to support the regeneration of the natural world. Wouldn’t it be a joy to see more green spaces, more birds and even more insects as so much depends on these tiny creatures. Rivers full of newts, fish, otters and beavers. All places to be 100% nature friendly is the key to solving many aspects of the climate/ecological crisis, inequalities and our own increasing mental health challenges.
B for Biodiversity. Let’s have a world where there remains an incredible variety of plants, insects, and all animals.
Well-functioning ecosystems support a variety of species. Regeneration of ecosystems including more wetlands, woodlands, moorlands, clean rivers and oceans with farming and gardening that supports wildlife will help all species, including homo sapiens, adapt and be more resilient to the effects of climate changes. From increasing the vast variety of native wild plants and trees to our coast and ocean beds being full of the variety of life that is possible when not over exploited or polluted. Regenerative farming and fishing are key to preventing more nature depletion.
C for Connectivity. Let’s have a world where wildlife can expand into more and more places and we can connect with nature.
Recognising that nature knows no borders and needs more space we must ensure good connectivity through a Nature Regeneration Network. This should help the need for wild species to expand. Where do all the young birds go when new territories and resources are needed? Nature needs space and knows no borders. We all need access to nature and to understand more about our interdependence.
D for Dedication. Let’s show the willingness to achieve a world rich in nature for all future generations human and otherwise.
To achieve nature rich environments our species must now dedicate all of our actions to this aim. All land use must consider how to improve outcomes for nature on that land. Not elsewhere. All business and public institutions must address the effect of their activities not only on carbon emissions but also on nature depletion. Not just local but all supply chains throughout the world.
Our dedication to regeneration of nature will be to accept a legal framework for the Rights of Nature to exist, persist and evolve. And nationally and internationally support the introduction of Ecocide as a crime against humanity and nature. How much longer can we accept the polluter just pays as in the recent vote in parliament re the constant over flow of sewage into our rivers? We need a better legal framework to truly protect the natural world into the future.
E for Enjoy a world abundant in diverse Ecosystems with Equality of access and opportunities.
The full policy and background research paper will be available on the Green Party website in the near future. In the magazine Green World- Jonathan Elmer, Green Party spokesperson for the Natural World wrote about the significance of the policy.
‘It represents a fundamental shift in emphasis, a movement away from traditional site-based conservation to systematic regeneration of nature.
A recent report from the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee concluded that since 1970, there has been a 68 per cent decrease in the population sizes of mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles, and fish across the globe, and in the UK, 15 per cent of species are threatened with extinction. It also noted that of the G7 countries, the UK has the lowest level of biodiversity remaining.’
It is time to act to ensure enough is done to regenerate nature not just in the UK but all over the world. We now need to find practical ways to bring these policy principles into action.
Let’s also hope that COP 26 will be a turning point for global co-operation although constant vigilance and action will continue to be needed for the protection of our living Earth and all species on it.
September is one of my favourite months now I no longer have to return to the classroom. This September in the UK has been a mix of sun and some showers but has given us an ‘Indian Summer’. At Navasola it is always pleasant as the August heat begins to drop and there are more opportunities for long walks and on September 8th the local villages all have processions for the Romeria to the Pena where La Reina De Los Angeles has a small chapel and the famous Spanish renaissance man, Arias Montano had his hermitage.
So why coddiwomple? Well, I have just been to Dorset where some years ago, thanks to DVERSE poets there was a prompt to use unusual words and I was on my way to Dorset and wrote a poem with this word! If you coddiwomple you travel in a purposeful manner but in a vague direction. I think that year my friend who lives in Dorset and I just drove around the country lanes with no care as to where. Everywhere has some interest, some history, the rolling hills of Thomas Hardy or odd place names like Piddle or Tolpuddle where there the beginnings of the labour Unions took seed because of the tragedy of the Tolpuddle Martyrs. We coddiwompled around this historic house and gardens below and I wwill have to add the name later.
But Coddiwompling is hard to do when walking about the countryside. Is there not a fear of getting lost in the woods. I actually did once, in the woods with my trusty golden retriever not far from Thomas Hardy’s cottage. It was a bit scary.
However, a favourite place for us to coddiwomple is the beautiful city of Lisbon. We love to wander there and discover old streets, new squares, and some of the wanderings of Fernando Pessoa, the very famous Portuguese writer and poet. And once we flew from Lisbon to the Azores and coddiwompled by car around the island. It was really small enough not to miss anything except the tops of volcanic mountains because of the clouds.
So this is a coddiwomple blog. There is a purpose but there’s a lot of wandering and an odd collection of photos from the past. One of my favourite coddiwompling places is Kew Gardens in London as my membership card helps and you feel free to just wander whatever the season unlike the tourists. And the purpose? Joy but also supporting the work of Kew with botanic gardens all around the world.
Let us know where you like to coddiwomple. Perhaps it is a place you can wander and wonder with a purpose but without any care. I love hearing from you all so it would be good to know your favourite coddiwompling place.
Why blog? I find for me this August many words run through my head but then disappear as I face the empty page. So I take some time to read other posts. I feel caught between the ‘Silent Sunday’ posts and the ‘ Wordless Wednesdays’. I gather some inspiration from Annika Perry writing about Sally J Cronin’s publications. There is such a supportive network of writers and Sally’s Smorgasbjord is worth savouring for the sheer variety it presents. I wander around Opher’s World and find his books rocking and rolling away to the sounds of Roy Harper and others. We also share some thoughts on the state of our nation and how current events are affecting us. Another nature blog reflects on the dilemma of mosquitos and flies. There is the side of nature that most certainly wants our blood and so how do we naturalists cope with a desire to destroy when we want to save nature from destruction. Thank you fellow bloggers for your insights and keeping me going.
Today I spent the day gardening or as with many of my posts clearing the undesirable elements. Bracken in Spain and here it is the nettles that sting me and are taking up too much space. If they had only kept to behind the little fir tree and not stung me as they reached out to conquer the grass patch. Nettles are so important for butterflies and I am sure many will lay their eggs on these plants too. This year there was a tremendous range of moths. Some beautiful brimstones died together as a pair trapped within the house. Hopefully they had laid their eggs but not on the nettles I cleared today. ( Not all!)
As I garden I feel guilt and understand how privileged my life has been. No, certainly no silver spoon and I have worked hard and never liked to associate the word privilege with working folk. But my thoughts turn to those suffering in Afghanistan and my memories of being in Kabul. An Afghani woman of my age would have lived through too many war torn years and false promises but their stories often show so much dignity and resilience.
In 1974 I was a young woman on the overland trail to India. I had worked and earnt the money to go but I knew I was privileged to be able to travel in this way. Although I valued travelling and experiencing different cultures I was unaware of many aspects of the history and politics. It was only a few years later when I returned to India to live and study there that I learnt so much more.
One of my hopes was that within my lifetime Afghanistan would achieve stability and become a more peaceful place where women could be safe and prosper with education, work and contribute to helping their country. The challenges ahead with the pandemic and climate change need this.
When we first arrived in Afghanistan across the border from Iran, not too far from the holy city of Mashad we asked for the train station. I can still hear the voice ‘ There are no trains in Afghanistan.’ My memory fails me on how we got from the border to Herat but we didn’t have to walk and we did have a pleasant time in Herat. We were able to walk around the outskirts of the Blue Mosque and admire the tile art. Our next challenge was getting the local bus to Kabul. It was too long and not advisable to try the northern route so we travelled via Kandahar. The bus was full of not only people but chickens and goats. Although crowded it was a fascinating journey as people and animals got on and off.
In Kabul the bazaar area was where all the tourist hotels were. We wanted to travel to Bamian and see the giant buddhas and I am sure our Lonely Planet guide recommended this. It was early November and getting very cold. We were warned that if we went to Bamian and it snowed we might have to stay the winter there as the passes become inaccesible. We decided against this and spent the next few days wandering around Kabul.
I do not remembering seeing many women except those in beautiful blue burqas. This was strange to me then. In Turkey women did not wear headscarves as ordered by Attaturk who was trying to modernise the country. In Syria and Iran women would wear headscarves and we only saw black burqas in the holy city of Mashad.
My travelling friend was an animal lover and had rescued a horse in the UK. For some reason we visited the zoo on one of our outings but all I can remember were two sorry looking Afghan hounds we wanted to rescue. I wonder now if they were from the time of the royal family and the rule of the King. Afghanistan had become a republic but from what I now know governance was poor and there had been severe droughts in some areas.
Well, this is really a shaggy dog story. not a political and historical sortie into what has kept going so wrong in Afghanistan. On our return to our room my friend spotted a puppy. We had a major argument about this.
‘ We can’t travel with a dog, What about….its food? Rabies? Snoopy and Dogs not Allowed ‘
My dog owning knowledge and reasoning was to no avail. She was determined. It was cute but many people seeing us with the dog would comment on how big it would get. And it still needed rabies papers to get across the border into Pakistan. So with all papers in order from an Afghani vet we travelled on quickly with this male puppy. Or so we thought until the Delhi vet informed us of mistaken gender identification. Kab from Kabul was a girl. He also told us an expression ‘The dog is our Atman.’ ‘ The dog is our soul.’
Kab visited many places in Pakistan and India and that is a story I began some years ago from the point of view of the dog but never finished it.
As for getting too big, she didn’t and was more a sheepdog size. Looking at one of the recent pictures of Pen Farthing and the dogs he has rescued in Kabul there was one that looked like Kab but different colours. Although like a Tibetan mastiff I think these are a Himalayan type sheepdog so considerably smaller.
I hope Pen Farthing’s Afghan staff can continue their work and that more people can be trained in animal welfare. We sometimes overlook the importance of this but in rural societies access to good health care for the animals can make the difference. Travelling with a dog gave us an insight into the provision of veterinary health care in India.
‘ The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated’ Mahatma Gandhi
I think now the greatness of a nation and its moral progress will be judged by how the climate and ecological crisis is managed and human rights with equality of opportunity are supported around the whole world.
In solidarity with the people and animals of Afghanistan.
My art classes with Ruth have been a wonderful opportunity to work under the guidance of a friend who is an artist I admire and such a good teacher. We are a small group and although I missed 8 months by being in the UK I was welcomed back in. The previous post shows two of my attempts at reflections. I find myself so absorbed and mindful while trying to draw or paint. And so much is about light and shade with different tones. I find it useful for my writing too as contrasts and perspective are needed. We went to Alajar in the photos below to attempt some perspective with great views.
So where have I got to with the novel I keep hinting about and have shown some of Ruth’s illustrations in poems from last years blog. Well, the problem has been perspective. I wrote an animal story with a journey narrative which imagined some animals common in this area, the Sierra Aracena having to go on an extraordinary quest to find new ways to adapt and survive. I wanted this to be very true to the nature of wild animals and reflect on the amazing biodiversity around us. But I did not want talking animals and this story was not for younger children. I thought 9 to 99 would be the readership. Well, that was a big mistake with publishers these days. It’s now focused on being Young Adult/Crossover.
My next big mistake was perspective. I went for 3rd person Omniscient as I suppose I am a reader of novels from long ago. With some editorial input I began to change the perspective to be from the point of view of each of the animals on the journey. Not easy as there are four; a rather timid weasel and a determined black kite journey together. They must find the strikingly handsome bee-eater who has no mate so decides to fly north with the rather regal buff tailed bumble bee who is struggling with the rising temperatures in the wild valley of a southern European Sierra.
The novel follows their experiences, the variety of animals they meet and the dangers they face. But there was a suggestion I also bring in a human story and so there is another perspective now. A young woman in her late teens who also has many challenges to face. However she regains her strength from the knowledge of nature she learnt from her grandmother.
The next hurdle I hit as a writer was this emphasis on SHOW do not TELL. The idea is to be filmic and show like a camera each scene and the emotions. I was able to do this more in the animal narrative as I tended to be descriptive but I found it harder with the human character. However, the point is this technique is supposed to be better at involving the reader and creating empathy with the characters. My main aim is to create feelings of empathy for wild nature.
I am encouraged by some experts in the publishing arena; one who said she would follow Comadrito, the tiny weasel. So here is a short excerpt from the opening…….
A shadow crossed over the rock. Comadrito’s tail twitched and he was alerted to being fully in the present. The warmth of the rock soothed his paws. This was where he was supposed to wait. Ears heard birds but then all went quiet. He should move, but he felt safe with his paws stuck to the old rock.
Comadrito’s whiskers sensed dangerous movements in the air. His instincts told him to withdraw into the abandoned rabbit burrow. Another shadow passed over the old hollow tree. His camouflage on the rock was of deep brown on green and grey. Within a whisker tingling it was too late. Great claws gripped around his slender body. The firmness of the boulder under his paws became the emptiness of air.
Comadrito’s eyes could not take in his sudden change of view. He was being lifted high into the spaces of the sky where the birds flew. His point of view was changing and his eyes struggled to focus—the world below him grew smaller until the great trees looked like small bushes. He was used to close contact with the undergrowth. He was used to the glossy, smooth leaves of low-growing trees and bushes that would brush against his coat, and the madroño tree with its strawberry red berries and white flowers on overhanging branches, glinting and dazzling his eyes against the brightness of a deep blue sky.
A BIG thank you for reading and any thoughts on this and the process of writing a novel are welcome. This has been taking up so much of my writing time but there is now the possibility of an Independent publishing house so I am hoping my nature saga or odyssey might finally take flight!
Opher’s World and in particular his book Ebola in the Garden of Eden
Annika Perry and all her writing advice and her wonderful short stories
Smorgasbord for all the work they do supporting writers
Dverse Poets for helping my poetic instincts
And all you other bloggers who keep following me closely. It inspires me to write and share so much and I love to read all your different journeys.