Category Archives: Writing

Reservoir Dogs. Water, wells and walkies.

To own a dog is both a privilege and a responsibility. Walks are essential. To live in the countryside, close to nature, with an abundance of trees is both a joy and a worry. Water is essential for all living things. Here in the Sierra we took a trip to the reservoir or embalse in Spanish. It is a large lake with a dam. The water is a clear deep blue under the bright blues of an Andalusian sky. We walked around the shore and enjoyed the warmth, the rocks and the beauty of water, rippling gently in a slight breeze.

In the summer of 2016 I swam in the reservoir with my daughter. The water level was at is normal shoreline. In 2017 we have not had any usual downpours of rain for which this area is well known and gives it its green and wide range of trees. The water level was very low, perhaps 2 metres and we walked over the dry rocks where we had swam.


It has been a busy few weeks back, with the chestnut harvest in full swing in our area. One of the main comments is the size of chestnuts are smaller than usual due to little water. These trees need a reasonable amount of water and are not found on the hotter and drier south side of the Sierra. To me it seems amazing how the chestnuts and all the other trees seem to cope with the lack of rainfall. It has only been the cherries that have looked wilted. Their roots must penetrate deep and draw out water from sources underground. Our well on the finca is called a manantiel, meaning a possible spring coming into the rocks. It is not a very deep well and there are some stairs that go down too. This makes it easy to adjust and check the water pump. We have had to do that twice this Autumn as the water levels have gone below the pump. We must now use our water supply very carefully. Lets pray for the rain to come soon. A raindance might be lively but also perhaps we should take action in whatever ways we can to mitigate the effects of our species on this planet.

While looking after Lotte my friend Ruth’s tibetan terrier we walked down to the well and I took photographs of the changing colours of leaves in the late afternoon sun. She’s used to this as a Ruth is an artist and photographer. So there were lots of stops and starts in the walk.

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Hawthorn berries
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Arbutus Unedo berries.
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Quince or membrillo

The Sierra Aracena is well known for its Autumn Fall colours and is quite unique in the south for this. It is the most popular time to visit and coaches come on tours too. In Southern Spain this variety of colour from many trees is rare. Because here we usually have very high rainfall and a variety of deciduous trees.

I have been busy with produce too and making chestnut rissoles, membrillo from the quinces and madrono jam from the rather gritty but bright red fruits of  Arbutus Unedo, the strawberry tree. For this month of November I have taken on the challenge of eating vegan food. I thought cutting the dairy would be hard but have got used to my tea, light black with lemon and ginger. AI love to eat a lot of fresh vegetables and rice it has not been too hard. Perhaps a recipe post is needed at the end of the month?

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Lentiscus leaves
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Chestnut leaves

Abrazos, hugs from us all in Spain and thank you all for all the lovely comment on the arrival of my first grandchild, Olivia Jane. I am having a go at planting some olive seeds courtesy of you tube!

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Olivia and the Olive Trees of Navasola

I am back at Navasola and involved in the chestnut harvest and looking for any olives I can find that have not fallen. So I will post about the wonders of the Mediterranean olive tree and my first granddaughter Olivia. Thank you for all the kind comments on my previous post as we awaited the birth and particularly Eliza Waters for the interesting expression about birth ‘ may it unfold with ease! Well, as with most births there is some drama but it was with ‘relative ease’ that Olivia Jane arrived into this world. The name Olivia was chosen by her father and the name Jane is a family name. Unknown to this little Olivia the name seems to derive from Italian and Oliva after the significance of olive trees in Mediterranean and biblical culture. However, it seems to be William Shakespeare who made a slight addition of the ‘i’ to create the character Olivia in 12 th Night.
So here at Navasola I have plenty of olive trees for Olivia to one day get to know. I’ve included a photo from Wikipedia to show the development of the flowers. These can be so small and easily missed. On my botanical illustration course I drew some olives from a photo but could not remember ever seeing the flowers. As that was when I was working I thought I just missed the season they bloomed. I am also aware that I am missing some of the small changes as Olivia grows but thanks to video and Skype I can follow the progress of a small human too!

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View from era to house, through olive grove of 21 trees

The beauty of the olive tree may be in its evergreen silvery grey dancing leaves, its light bark and of course its fruit, the bitter olive that the birds still peck at in Autumn. Olive cultivation is very old but seems to have originated from the region around Italy. We are not sure how this bitter fruit was first discovered to be so useful as there are certain processes needed to remove the bitter phenols in it. However, with crushing the bitter phenols break down. Therichness of the oil became sacred and well known for its healthiness and healing properties. The Olive branch has become a symbol of peace, purity and wisdom in ancient times used in wreaths to recognise achievements. 

I decided to plant an olive seed or two for Olivia but on looking this up encountered a few surprising facts about cultivated Olive trees. It seems to be that by just planting  a seed it will only produce a wild olive. This will produce smaller fruit.  Cultivated Olives are engendered mainly through grafting. This might explain why I do not find many new olive trees growing on the finca unlike the productivity of the chestnut seeds. These and plums seem to grow up anywhere possible!

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Black olives high in tree against Andalusian blue sky
However, the Olive is a long lived tree and it’s roots can withstand fires and will send out sucklings. Here at Navasola the trees have become too tall to harvest commercially but I will set out today to see what olives I can find for our own use. It has been such a dry, long hot summer and this has affected the size of the chestnuts and seems to have dried out a lot of olives. Many have fallen to the ground early and in a wizened state. But there are some and I will finally do a count of the olive trees, mostly situated on rocky slopes, where they can survive with much less water than the chestnuts. How much less is not yet known. I hope we can help all learn to be more resilient to climate changes and its effect on our own landscape, flora and flora here and globally help prevent more rises in temperature.  This has been our hottest and driest year yet.

With thanks to all my readers and followers and I hope to have more of a routine set up to write to and follow all your posts in the coming year.

Below, the growth of Olivia Jane, week by week. From newborn to 4 weeks and many subtle  changes. And the growth of flowers on an Olive tree!


 

 

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The growth of Olive flowers by J Oteros on wikipedia

Changing seasons:Changing times. At the Crossroads! 

A summer of sunflowers. Stopping at a crossroads with sunflowers stretching out in all directions. I pause on our long journey back home south to finca Navasola to get a good shot. Last year I missed the opportunity to take photos of sunflower fields and by September all the bright faces had gone. Carpe Diem or Sieze the Day, especially for photos! Here we were in the middle of rural France after a short break to see Monet’s Garden and my cousin. It seems like the only holiday we’ve had this year but let’s not be ungracious as living at Navasola is a joy, if at times hard work.

I will try and post on Monet’s garden and other gardens soon but the busy schedule of 2017 is coming to fruition with an Autumn birth. We hope soon to meet my first grandchild  and I have been back and forth, north and south, throughout the past few months helping with all the changing of houses and stuff that seems to arise around pregnancy and birth. Changing times for us all as the seasons change and we wait for the birth.

Colour schemes in one part of Monet’s Garden.
I have also been busy with my novel with lots of careful revisions and editing. I’ve finally taken courage, thanks to a blogging friend, Sarah at Wildfomelody,  who has read some of the novel and told me to have the courage of my characters and so I have sent off the first few chapters to one literary agent. This felt like a big step alongside the fear of rejection. I have several more agents I have researched and will now need to be persistent in following this through. It’s 4 weeks and I have had no response but this is supposed to be the norm. It would be good to have even an automated acknowledgement though. I feel inclined to now try the next agent that I think might be interested in my writing.

One blogger has a good description of writing a novel as giving birth. Unfortunately,  it reminded me too of the incredible work of the strongest muscle, the uterus as it builds up to that final push. Thankfully that’s not my role as an expectant grandmother and I’m not sure I wish to relate to the pain involved in childbirth to the process of writing. Does much good writing have to emerge from painful experiences or be painful?

I replied to James Clark http://jamesclarkthenextiteration.wordpress.com/ that I thought my creative writing has been more like my attempts to dig away at a vegetable garden than childbirth. It’s also taken me longer than 9 months, two years in fact, but I suppose like the gardening I haven’t been able mentally to work away at it full time. It has had growth spurts and then some resting periods but hopefully I have strengthened the roots and pruned away at some rather straggly bits. Sometimes I wonder why I bother with the garden or the writing but I love doing both even when the heat and flies drive me crazy.

As so far there has been no response from the first agent  I need to keep up the water pressure or try a different fertiliser so I can reach out further and hope the novel will take root in some literary agent’s rather full garden and be able to bloom into a publication. This seems to be the way in the UK now as most credible publishers only accept submissions through agents.

I wonder as with the sunflowers that the land of publishing tends to be one of monoculture for mass audiences. Monoculture in farming tends to restrict biodiversity. Does this approach with publishing stifle our creativity and diversity of ideas? Should we carry on regardless of the ‘market’ ? Or how do we get our product to the market?

Blogging seems to create a supportive network but my understanding from other bloggers is that this will not fully get your vegetable or flowers onto many tables! As with my garden I will try different places, different seeds, and keep on with the joy of growing! I have more writing ideas that I wish to develop now and want to move on to the next project. I enjoyed the research and the seeds of ideas and  design of the whole garden of the novel coming together. Some areas were bright and full of breezes others more shady but the novel flowed and I have the momentum for more journeys for my characters.

Certainly,  the wild flowers of Navasola have great resilience to the changing seasons. So I too will need that resilience so that my novel can meet the outside world. Maybe the creative process is not just about birth but about the nurturing needed for a human child to pass through many stages of growth before blossoming into maturity.


Thanks to all who read and follow. I appreciate all the likes and comments. I am now off Northward, like my characters, and hoping for a not too difficult birth for my daughter and partner and a happy healthy baby for them to grow with!

 

Festivals in the Sierra Aracena: The Romeria of La Reina de Los Angeles

It’s the 8th of September and the day of my favourite festival in the Sierra. Its full of horses, mules, donkeys and a wonderful mix of devotion and conviviality. Today is the day where each of the surrounding villages pay homage to the Patron Saint of the Sierra Aracena, La Reina de los Angeles whose hermitage is at the Pena de Arias Montano. This is a beauty spot on a rocky outcrop overlooking the village of Alajar. It is also full of history and the extraordinary story of Arias Montano, a highly learned man of the Renaissance times.

Although in 1970 this Romeria was given a very public and national status it is truly a very local event. At least nine of the surrounding villages go on a pilgrimage to the hermitage and this includes Seville. All travel on foot, horseback or the lucky ones in a carriage. The Virgin Mary of each local village church is taken by bullocks in beautifully adorned carts. These are paraded in front of the Queen of the Angels at the hermitage. She too is then taken out of her seclusion and shown the beauty of the views.

If you live in or close to one of the villages such as Fuenteheridos and Castano de Robledo this is also the time to meet up with neighbours and share good food and drink. After the religious devotions there is time for picnic and chats. It is a balancing act of cultural traditions, religious devotion and neighbourliness which also seems to honour the natural beauty of the area and rural lives, past and present.

For many it is time to get out the wonderful flamenco dresses, ride your horse, sing songs and enjoy a day out. For me I relish being here as it was the one festival I always had to miss as the school term had begun. I was always given a running commentary about the horses. Perhaps one day I’ll finally get back on a horse and ride up over those hills to the Pena. I might need a little assistance too!

 

Our Wild and Wonderful World

The human world seems to be distracting me from blogging. But I have been out and about at Navasola and also able to try photographs with a friend’s lumix camera. It was quite disturbing at first as all I wanted was an ordinary still photo and it was set on 4K! It’s been quite a learning curve and I have also been busy in my veg plot trying to create some beds which will retain moisture. I am trying out Hugel Kultur as I have lots of wood and have laid down branches at the base. More on that another time.

April and May have seen Navasola full of wild flowers so here is a glimpse of that glory as the heat from Saharan Africa has already reached us and the Spring flowers have given way to the more drought and heat resistant scabious and mulleins.

First the peonies. There were the most I’ve seen on the Finca this year. It was hard to photograph the overall effect  so there are some close ups with the new lumix camera.

Some of my favourites here in Spring are the tassel hyacinths, palmate anemone, celandine and the knapweed.

But there’s always the Spanish broom and Spanish lavender or French unless you are in Spain! Photo angle courtesy of Steve Schwartzman’s very informative blog for photography tips and botany.

I also had difficulty cultivating one of the vegetable beds. It was full of poppies and a first for me. I couldn’t then remove these beauties! Dig up the ground and they will come!

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We have had had plenty of birds around too but it is our water bath that is the draw not any food we put out! One day red rumped swallows checked out our new porch but didn’t return. Another day the sky was full of vultures. There must have been over 30 gathering and some flew so low over us you could hear the wing beats.

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Greetings to all those bloggers out there who follow me. I have been keeping an eye on your posts but needed to get back in gear. A new blogger and follower from a place I lived in 30 odd years ago sparked me to return to share. Landscaping Nature from Hyderabad in South India. I have got further with my novel about the wild world  and hope the blog can also help inspire us with nature and it’s diverse wonders.

Photos taken with Panasonic LUMIX FZ300

100 Days almost of Blogger’s block!

April is here in Navasola and the warblers have arrived and in full song. There seems to have been so much happening that I have lost the routine of blogging but have often taken photos and thought of posts I could write! So here are some images of my nature journey at Navasola and nearby over the past three months. There have been other journeys and certainly there is a lot to think about in the world today and particularly for the environmental health of the planet we and so many other species depend on. But for now this is about the beauty of nature and perhaps this is a way for me to do some ‘warm up’ writing Continue reading 100 Days almost of Blogger’s block!