Category Archives: Andalucia

Clear Skies, Bright Stars. Advent and Hope for Peace.

Here is a seasonal post inspired by  Dverse Poets and the stars.

We are now back at Navasola and although the stars and the sun do shine very brightly here I will miss being with my daughters this Christmas. It will be our first Christmas outside the UK and our first at Navasola. We were first greeted in Seville with grey and overcast skies; same as in London and other parts of the UK over the past month.Today the sun has come out bright,warm and strong and with the clearer skies the stars too are shining bright in the very dark skies we have here in the Sierra Aracena.  The viburnum tinus berries are metallic and bright. A Sardinian warbler, great tit and jays were gathering food by the house and now and again a butterfly flies by! The vultures also enjoyed the thermals when I was out on a walk with Lotti and Ruth. See post on Autumn for Ruth’s photography and links to her art work. She inspires me to draw!

We are looking forward to finding out more about how Christmas is celebrated here and in particular the Feast of the Kings on the 5th and 6th of January. Here there are processions showing this part of the Nativity story and children get presents.

It is the end of another blogging year and I have been inspired by so many of the links made to Navasola through nature blogs and many others now. I have managed to read some books by Opher Goodwin and in particular Anthropocene Apocalypse and Ebola in the Garden of Eden. Both very good reads and with current concerns about the future of our planet. Opher Goodwin

 

I am also glad to be linked to Dverse poets who have managed to spark some poetic muse in me. The poem below is inspired by poems by Victoria Slotto and Bjorn Rudberg  about the stars. I have also linked to another poet Malcolm Guite and bought his book with poetry for Advent. These have inspired me to write this poem about the stars I saw above Navasola in the summer months.

Stars over Navasola

Above the silhouette of trees appear a clarity of stars
Numinous and numerous I search for one.
The childhood star my father saw I saw.
The Pole star’s perfect North still guiding some.

 

The wizened faces of the chestnut trees with me stare,
Abandoned olive branches touch the sky I seek to name,
With virtual app- titude we see the lights of Vega and Altair,
Bright threesome pulse with Deneb and the flighty swan.

 

An owl sounds out from Navasola East.

The moon still hides behind the hill.

Through the dark of earth and sky, wander many a beast.

Summer sounds and warmth surround me still.

 

 

Now in December’s dark chill drawn days,
Advent’s hope casts doubts on the prophecies of stars.
What and where is that bright star, the magi say?
How much to know, how far to go, to go, how far?

 

 

 

Animal encounters of the not so good kind. The cycle of Life.

Animal encounters at Navasola are few and far between. Much life is out there but usually elusive. A bird alights on a branch nearby and then moves behind some leaves and as if it knows you are watching creeps up the tree mainly out of view. Just enough for us to know it is there. So we were surprised and alarmed by a sudden bang at our kitchen window. It was a beautiful Red Rumped swallow. We were all taken by surprise and thankfully after allowing me to take some photos it recovered and flew off. The fat fly was left dead on the store roof.

The park regulations for windows are strange and large ones are not allowed. We would love more light but maybe it would be difficult for birds flying into the glass by mistake. We will get some bird stickers but that would have made no difference to the Red Rumped swallow on its mad chase of a fat fly. I’m glad the bird was only a little stunned and flew off in good feather.

Red rump swallow on battery shed roof after flying into window chasing fly!
Red rump swallow on shed roof after flying into window chasing fly!

Another encounter was the return of the Wood Mouse and with a vengeance in a large cardboard box I had stored some bed linen in. But not for the mouse! After excavating all the bedding I find the cause of the sounds and bitten bedding. The mouse was trapped at the bottom of this deep box .  We decided to lure it with food and straw in a box but that was the last thing it wanted was to take a rest, go into the little box and then we would have humanely released it back to the wood pile. It jumped high, somersaulted and then bit the bottom of the box ferociously. We need a net but I find a bit of cardboard for a ladder out.  It falls into the box and with a quick action I get a lid on it. We release it into the rock garden where it bounds off. Well, was it a lucky mouse……. Two days later I open the front door to an amazing view of a weasel poised on the rock. I can see its back very clearly and for a while it doesn’t move. As it turns its head I can see a wood mouse in its mouth. Whether it was the same one we shall never know. The weasel turned, looked at me and then slunk off.  We probably don’t need to find a cat! Maybe this was the same weasel I saw some time ago. They can live for a few years and we have plenty of wood mice.

Wood mouse trapped in gigantic cardboard box
Wood mouse trapped in gigantic cardboard box
Woody Wood Mouse
Woody Wood Mouse
Churchyard beetle
Churchyard beetle keeping me awake at night!

If you ever have the fortune to come and stay with us do not be surprised to be woken at night by strange creatures.

I told a previous tale of the bat on my birthday when our friends came to stay and were woken by the bat.

It is also not really advisable to keep windows wide open even if very hot. Bat wings are actually quite noisy as I found out myself one sleepless night. Mice scrabbling has been dealt with too and we try a row of bricks by the door and have been given a humane trap. But the noisiest for its size has been the churchyard beetle. Now to wake me fine but not another friend in the brand new bedroom. There was a scream when the culprit showed itself.

Ladder back snake crushed by car wheel?
Ladder back snake crushed by car

A sad tale was when we discovered the crushed and quite dead ladder snake. It had probably been our friend’s car when leaving. These are the friends who have suffered bat visitations and the beast on the roof that turns tiles over. The noisy night criminal is quick to get away and has as yet not revealed its identity. Even though it was me who had gone out in the dead of night with torch it slipped away. This was just as well as it sounded so loud on the roof.  possibly a beech marten, genet or that darned fox. We did come across a  drowned beech marten once. Someone had stolen the top of a water butt and this creature was inside. Hopefully it is another member of that family banging on our roof.

However, the demise of the ladder snake gave a good banquet to these large ants. I had put this beautiful but dead creature on a rock. The next day the ants were carrying off the skeleton with excellent team work skills.

Snake being cleaned up by ants!
Snake being cleaned up by ants!

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As for the bird life a baby swift is saved from the feral cats of the village. There is a centre just out of Seville which monitors swifts and helps in recuperation. There have been declining numbers of swifts, swallows and house martins and hopefully every little helps.

Watching these swallows swooping down the valley or the great hordes of swifts in one village and the house martins in Cabanas might make me think there is no problem but much more needs to be done to ensure survival of these migratory birds.

Red rump swallow recovering from being stunned and ready to fly off.
Red rump swallow recovering from being stunned and ready to fly off.

A Flutterby of Butterflies. Summer 2015 in the Sierra Aracena.

This year from May to early July has not only been a feast of wild flowers for me to discover and try to identify but also of so many different butterflies. My working walk into my allotment area is bordered with wild scabious which I had decided not to cut back. I was rewarded with being able to walk back and forth through butterflies resting and sometimes arguing over key flowers. It seems to be the wild scabious that they love. With its long stems it bounces up and down as you pass. It also moves gently with the butterflies and the wind and this does not make for easy photographs. A lot have been blurred. After my working walk with the wheelbarrow and scythe I walked up to the Era in the early evening.here we can check on water levels in the deposit and decide whether to pump up more before I start to water. I was flabbergasted by the flutterby of so many more butterflies up there. But then there were so many more flowers. More field scabious, but also pink centuary, and yellow curry plant and many different grasses. The Era had been a levelled out stony threshing area for grain. Possibly used back in the 1920s. We had cleared it several years ago, strimmed and scythed. However, as there were so many flowers on this area last year I decided to do nothing in September. This year I have been rewarded with more flowers and a terrific range of butterflies, albeit with photos all mainly on the scabious. Apart from the swallowtail which seems to like the bushes near the house and the cement left over from the water butt. Hopefully, it will not be a casualty of human so called progress. We hope we are nearly done with any more awful cement mixing and will have a fairly sustainable way of life and comfortable house.   .

The era meadow with house roof
The era above the house. Once used for threshing and now seems to be a butterfly haven.
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Painted Lady on Scabious.
Blog B or wild flowers Scabious and Wall brown or meadow brownEnd of May 2015 Finca flowers 043
Wall or Meadow Brown?
yellow butterfly on era
Clouded Yellow
Larger fritillary on era
Cardinal, large on Scabious!
Large yellow white butterfly
Brimstone on Scabious
yellow butterfly
Probably a clouded yellow as can see the dots!
Swallowtail butterfly
Scarce swallowtail.
small yellow on scabious
Must be our favourite flower. Wild Field Scabious in Southern Spain. Sierra Aracena.

One butterfly missing from the photo shoot is the two tailed pasha . This beautiful butterfly needs the madrono, arbutus unedo, as a place for its eggs. There are plenty of these around the house but maybe this year there have been too many disturbances. There are also many more places for this bewitching butterfly and its peculiar desire for urine. One of my last photos some years ago were of it drinking my dog’s pee. And sorry can’t find that one to add to the collection. However quite pleased with the LUMIX camera and the details. But can’t get hold of the photo editing to crop it and show the eyes and delicate wings yet. Life here in the Sierra is far more comfortable with our solar power but we still haven’t solved our wifi access unless in a bar or the local library. But the library is a cool break as the heat of the summer is rising well into the mid 30s here.

Yellow is the colour of……..Botany studies in yellow

And with thanks to Opher’s World for nominating me for some blogging awards. Check Opher out as there are plenty of references to the great music of the 60s, Dylan, definitely and maybe Donovan! But Opher Goodwin has written some great books and one that he has shown extracts of is about Anthropocene Collapse. I love one of the futures he envisages where we as a species do survive and also keep 50% of the Earth wild. Here’s to some of the wild flowers at Finca Navasola. It’s always amazing where they pop up.

Tolpis
Tolpis and so much sun makes photo difficult. A lot of radiating light.

 

A vipers grass. But the lovely lemon flower Rays often closed again within the bud.
A vipers grass. But the lovely lemon flower rays often closed again within the bud.

Yellow is the colour of these wild flowers in the morning.
Yellow is the colour of the Thapsia, tall and elegant from dawn to dusk.
Yellow is the colour of the many, many daisy and dandelion types.
Yellow is the colour that vibrates so bright
Bringing more than just the sunshine’s light.
Bringing the joy of nature’s alluring fight
For the future, the next day, the next year, not the night.

A poem to capture the variety of flowers seen at Navasola this May and June. I had to start identifying through colour as this seemed easier than botanical keys and I had got stuck with 26,000 within the daisy family. Thankfully, we have various books and our own survey which helps narrow this down. But it is still a challenge as there were about five different kinds in yellow. As I was more confident with a range of other flowers I focused on trying to narrow down the daisy types. As we move into June some of this variety are already turning to seed but there are still more to feed the interest of the range of butterflies about. Another post or poem on those!

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Perforate St John’s Wort
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Thapsia, tall and elegant.
Thapsia, tall and elegant on the verge.
Thapsia, tall and elegant on the verge.
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Leontodon Hispidus I think!
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A wild euphorbia. Yellowish. With wasp with very waspish waist!
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Curry plant and very aromatic
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A lone yellow dahlia facing the bedroom window. At least some things grow well without too much water in my real rock garden.

 

A Wild Welcome Back! All alive and well at Navasola! Or on the Verges of a dilemma. When to cut back ? What is best to help improve biodiversity?

Where to start? We were back at Navasola and nature had begun its takeover. We were greeted with abundance but not of our own making. As I walked around though I was astounded by the variety of wild flowers. Wild poppies, wild irises joined the wild gladioli and all mainly around the overgrown verges of the main tracks. In the rock garden I looked for my additions and was greeted by dahlia and lilies growing up through a mayhem of other plants. The Melissa had grown strong and high too. And I saw a beautiful small purple flower I had not noticed before. This intrigued me till I walked over to the veggie field and there it was in great abundance. The vegetable garden was overgrown to at least waist height with this variety of vetch. There was a slightly squashed trail and I followed it to the fruit patch and where our friend had planted some tomatoes and peppers for us. The following night we ate the habas beans that had survived so at least had some home produce!

Wild roses over my magical path
Wild roses over my magical path
Very vetching!
Very vetching!
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Wild poppy amid grown coriander

Priorities? Well, on with my botany as this was the time to really get to grips with all the extras that were on show. Over the other side of the Finca and up a more chalky hill there were carpets of pink. I had never seen so much of the silene last year. This and more beautiful toadflax. Unfortunately I didn’t take photos of this and when I returned to this South Eastern side a week later there were just a few remains of the pink spread.The weather had been hot and dry and this is the next stage for the Mediterranean flora. Grow well while you can and withdraw to reseed when it is hot and dry. During that week though I had been busy taming my veg patch with a scythe, and then having to tame hay fever which I hadn’t suffered from last year. There were so many amazing sculptures of different kinds of grasses. But there is only so much I can do and post. More on my attempts to identify the daisy and dandelion types and much more in future blogs. It seems the summer is the time to be out and to post about all the natural wonders. Another dilemma. Reading other blogs it is amazing the diversity around the world and so much to say and view at this time.

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Wild iris
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Phlomis
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Olives blossoming
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Pink centaury amidst a meadow of much more.

Navasola has quite a few wild meadows but a lot of the variety of wild flowers does seem to be appearing on the verges of paths and tracks. It was interesting to read an article in The Guardian about advice as to when to cut the public verges by roads in the UK. It seems that this is the last bastion of wild flower variety and good for pollinators. However a recent post by Jeff Ollerton seemed to suggest leaving the cutting to much later than July and August as there are so many pollinators that need those flowers then. And with changes in climate these creatures may need more time too. I have made a decision at the moment to do as little as possible in cutting down. I didn’t cut down the wild flower meadow on the Era last year, it is full of even more flowers now. However I did decide to reopen paths into the veg garden and try and use the vetch for mulching and compost. There are also areas where the grass might need to be kept back because of my allergy to it. I also get red skin if in contact with some forms of grass. Annoying as I want to be out and about. It seems to me that closely observing the interconnection between plants, insects and animal life is key to helping enable biodiversity. Any advice is always welcome and when I have more wifi I will try and explore some of those blogs which have such a wealth of information.

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Daisy family….possibly a mayweed.
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My favourite scarlet but blue pimpernels
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Bladder campion, named on walk with N.
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Small but adds to a very aromatic environment. Pitch.
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Wild and overgrown verges.
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Oat type grass: one of many rising high above.
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Overgrown rock garden but with lily ready to come out.
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Overgrown front garden but lavender, mint and winter jasmine all growing well too!
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Wild gladioli, hop trefoil and a campanula all brightening up the building site!
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Veg patch overgrown but strawberries and raspberries growing strong.
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More common vetch!
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Wild poppy, with flowering coriander and planted flowers behind.

The Journey. From one home to another through France, Basque Country, Extremadura to the Sierra Aracena, Andalucia.

With a long road trip ahead of us and the car laden with stuff to take, including all the wood carving tools given to me because of the sad closure of Heston Woodcarving Club, I was just a little bit anxious that our old car would make it. I was also sad to leave London, and all our family and friends but was also missing our little hidden valley in the South of Spain. Almost 2000km between us. I feel split between two worlds but am fortunate to have that choice.

Travelling through the green of France made me really think France could feed the world. So much agricultural land and such an industry with tractor factories all over the place too! Later I read that France was going to pass a law about waste food in supermarkets. Ironic and sad in a time of food banks for many.We had decided to go on roads without tolls and although a bit slower it was much more interesting and gave me more of an insight into being in France. Hopefully, it was also more fuel efficient and would save at least 100 euros in tolls.
I know Northern France quite well and am always amazed by its peacefulness as we used to take school trips to the World War 1 battlefield sites: Vimy Ridge and Beaumont Hamel, the Canadian sites are both historic and a reminder of a Europe torn and devastated by war, a hundred years ago. We passed to the south of some of these but did pass some graves still immaculately kept in small villages. These places are an important reminder of those who fought and of how now we need to continue to fight for a better world for humans and all species to live in. So many died so young and of a similar age to my 17 and 18 year old A Level students. So we travelled through minor roads near the Somme and even further back in time to Agincourt and finally came to the land of the rich. We stayed at Chateaudun, just south of Chartres. Here is supposed to be the first chateau to be found when coming from Paris to the Loire region, famous for all its chateaux along the river. Holiday homes for the rich. And then the revolution and the French love of Egalite, Fraternite,Liberte and all things French, like good food and wine. On the good food and keeping the French language French, there are some popular eating places such as Macdonalds and Buffalo grill which seem to be doing well as fast food chains, though along with Flunch, a cheap way to self service French dining. We enjoy finding Flunch and can easily even share a meal there!

By the small Loir in Northern France.
By the small Loir in Northern France.
Chateau by Loir, without an e.
Chateau by Loir, without an e.
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Tree lined road of planes near Dax in South West France.
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A not so narrow road but well used by the big trucks avoiding tolls.
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The only way to go in France, by bike!
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The only traffic jam on all the N roads but with a view of the Pyrenees, near Spanish and French border.

The journey through the Basque Country of Spain was beautiful and there are now some amazing roads but the Spanish do charge on these new super highways with major long tunnels through the mountains. The amount of road trucking transport is phenomenal. It is times like this that I do wonder how all this will have to change and hope that by reading Naomi Klein’s book ‘This Changes Everything’ a bit more I can get some insight. It seems to me from the book that there is too much control and investment in the fossil fuels industries which has slowed down the technologies we could all be changing to now. Will these be the giants like the dinosaurs bringing us and other species closer and closer to extinction. Or will it be me, one little ant with a lot of emissions. Could I have been driving a solar powered car? Well, certainly the sun shone most of the way this time!
We then stopped in Salamanca, always worthy of a return visit and always something new to see.mthis time it was the historic Paza Mayor,made all the more interesting by a political demonstration by the new found voice of local people. Ganemos in some way connected to Podemos, the fast growing alternative to the big two party system that has run the show for so long in Spain.

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Near Monfrague national park. Time to look out for vultures.
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Long roads through hot and dry Extremadura.
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The sandy track through the abandoned chestnut fields.
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Inside Navasola and down my magical track!
Wild gladioli outside the gate to Navasola
Wild gladioli outside the gate to Navasola

Finally home in our hidden green valley. And was it green. I had worried more about lack of but had been told it was often raining in April! I had to rejoined ice in the exuberance of the wild things growing or despair as my vegetable area was covered in all types of grasses and vetches.some time will need to be spent finding the beans and fruit bushes. Time will also have to be spent in looking at all the wild flowers. There are so many will keep me busy for months but suspect they will not last into the heat of late June.

The journey without tolls was from Dunkirk to Chateuadun to Dax. (with some help from the AA non toll maps.)Dax to Irun and then we chose the highways to Salamanca,mfinally paying a toll near Burgos of 27 euros. We have done this section without tolls but the new autoroute is quite spectacular.

Wood, wood, burning bright. The poetry of kindling the right flame with the right wood.

We have spent many more months preparing for the cold of Winter  than for the warmth of Spring. Throughout Autumn I collected in some of the logs cut from the chestnuts over the past years. Getting the wood into shelter before the rains came and keeping it dry were major tasks.

Kindling the flame
Kindling the flame
Algarve Feb 2015 143
Stove from China, tank from Czech Republic, radiators from Spain

Meanwhile inside the house the central heating system of

Pollarded old chestnuts supply lots of fallen branches.
Pollarded old chestnuts supply lots of fallen branches.

radiators running off a wood burning stove was being completed.  We knew that we would need wood from our trees for the 3 months of possible frosty nights and temperatures below 10 degrees during the day. Some of  the olives had been pruned about 18 months ago and there was plenty of fallen chestnut.  We estimated we might need 4000 kg of wood to keep us humans warm through a mild winter by some standards. Maybe this is one large tree or several smaller ones. Our Finca of over 200 chestnuts and many other types of trees should allow us to have a sustainable system. Whether trees can really provide a sustainable source of warmth for the human race seems to depend on how well forests are protected and used for this purpose. It seems that quick growing wood and dense forests reduces the biodiversity that a truly mixed forest can offer.

Another source of our heating is butane gas heaters, expensive and quite effective for direct heat and warmth but heavy to carry! The wood burning stove with tank and radiators was part of solving the problem of heating in the winter. Many people we speak too with a lot of experience know that it is a challenge in our area. Our system looks a little complicated with lots of valves and pumps but it has supplied some heat and lovely hot baths BUT it needs a full time wood gatherer and then wood stoker to keep the fire burning!

However we still don’t feel we have managed to achieve an efficient system. We are often given advice on the type of wood we are burning and ensuring it is split. Mixing the woods seems key. I have also been under instruction to read The Wood Burning Stove Handbook and I of course find a poem written by that old codger Anon and with words of wisdom about the art of burning different types of wood.

Beechwood fires are bright and clear
If the logs are kept a year
Chestnuts only good they say
If for long it’s laid away
Birch and fir logs burn too fast
Blaze up fast and do not last
Elmwood burns like a churchyard mould
Even the very flames are cold
Poplar gives a bitter smoke
Fills your eyes and makes you choke
Apple wood will scent your room
With an incense like perfume
Oak and maple if dry and old
Will keep away the winter cold
But ash wood wet and ash wood dry
A king can warm his slippers by!

Wings of a butterfly to wildness of wild boar: Close encounters of the natural kind.

 

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What is it that makes an encounter with a wild animal so fascinating and wonderful. It seems to me like a privilege that you are able to see one and at a safe distance in the case of the more threatening ones! We know there are boar on the Finca. We see evidence of their digging, in particular around the path up to the studio.It is a rocky and grassy path and full of wild flowers such as candytuft in the summer. I also had to go to some expense to have a boar proof fence around my new Huerta or allotment patch for vegetables. Fidel who helps us with the chestnut harvest once asked if he could hunt them. Mr T rang me up and got my most adamant reply NO! So they are quite happy here being destructive with the rocky walls, digging up the earth and making it rough to walk over, clearing pathways through the undergrowth and finding enough to eat. In Spain there is a boar hunting season and we had a man chase a boar though the Finca with his dogs once. I only saw the undergrowth move fast but later a dog with a collar and bell appeared and for a while we were wondering what to do with the dog. There are No hunting signs around the campsite and these are areas where people live and walk so again the most dangerous animal is a man with a gun.

Yesterday as I got out of the car to unlock the gate, about 2 on. Rainy afternoon. I pushed the gate open on one side and looked down towards the crest of a hill dipping down the path. For me it seemed like a great big dog appeared, blackish, about the size of a German shepherd dog. I thought at first it was maybe our friend Rainers’s dog but it looked rather grey around the muzzle .
It turned up onto the path and looked to cross. I realised then it must be a boar. It stopped on the path and turned its head round. For a few moments I was staring at the boar and the boar was staring at me. I must have been very still and the boar was motionless until it turned its head agin and wandered off across the path. Mr T was quite indignant that I hadn’t told him and he got out of the car and went down the path to see if the boar was still nearby. He had never seen one on the Finca but had several years ago taken some pictures of some young ones with one of those night automatic infra red cameras. I think it must have been a male and I have twice in the past almost run over one crossing a main road. This is a reminder to me that they are big but not usually about during the daytime. I might now have to take my walks around the Finca with my Spanish boar stick and thudding the ground with it but of course that might ensure I have no more close wild encounters. Usually these wild ones keep well clear of us if we are not to be prey!

The other close encounter was with a butterfly. It was a beautiful evening with the sun just about to disappear behind the hill to the west of our small boat shaped valley. The shadows of the chestnuts in the Navasola west fields were getting longer but I saw a lump of old broken off chestnut with the sun shining fully on it. It looked like a warm place to sit and soak up the last rays of the sun. Then something fluttered by, surely not, a butterfly in January? As I tried to follow it and perhaps identify it it landed on that piece of old wood. A good spot in the sun for a butterfly to warm its wings before a cold night. I couldn’t move but just stared down at it. It’s wings were large with bright red. It stayed there quite a while. I even thought I might have been able to go back for my camera! The butterfly and I just warming ourselves in the sun. When it finally flew off I went and sat on the wood where the butterfly had warmed its wings. I stayed there until the sun dipped down enjoying a time of quiet reflection on small things and inner delight. Ahh… A red admiral, that had been hibernating over winter and had woken with the warmth of a January sunny day here in Andalucia. My photo is of one taken at the Martin Mere Wetlands centre in Lancashire in the UK. Need to go back to my iPhone in my pocket for those sudden photo opportunities when least expecting a close encounter!