Category Archives: Writing

Autumn back at Navasola

September and October have passed in a flurry of activity, visits to the UK and Ireland have filled the days. But now we are back we can stand and stare as we did this morning. A cat still, poised up on the cork tree was there for a good 10 minutes. We were surprised by its behaviour, its ears, and finally tail when we saw it. This cat was fitting so much of the identification features of a wild cat. Here they are called gato de monte, cat of the mountain. They are similar to domestic cats but the ones we have here that are to some extent feral have quite different faces, colours and markings. We know the local cats but had never seen one like this one.

After remaining in the tree for such a long time it delighted us by descending crossing the new grass and then seemed to pose for photos. We saw its teeth quite clearly, tail and markings. I have also seen what I thought to be a wild cat some months ago, much bigger than our usual moggies round here and with the tail. And a larger version of this one which was quite young. When we first moved here we were told there was a wild cat living near the studio where there are some rocks and caves. We suspect this one is a hybrid but are fascinated to see such a different type of cat and are fairly sure it isn’t just a beautiful tabby on the hunt.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There are a lot of autumnal colours at Navasola at the moment as the leaves of the oaks and fruit trees are well advanced with their colour changes. The chestnuts are the last to bud in May and the last to fall. The chestnuts are not quite ready to be picked yet. We will have that pain and pleasure in about a weeks time.

The weather has been warm and mild until this weekend and the red ladybirdlike beetles are intent on mating perhaps.
But for this bumble bee we think it is near the end of its life and was found struggling to fly. We offered sugar water and a safe place but many bees and bumblebees begin to die off in late Autumn or the Queen is looking to hibernate.

It was good to walk around the finca and enjoy the autumn colours and the sunlight through the trees and the rocks covered in green mosses again.

 

I seem to do well with the fruits that I do not cultivate or irrigate.I enjoyed blackberry picking in September from the wild parts of the finca, that is most of it! The Madrono or Strawbeyy trees always give a good show of colour in autumn with both flowers and fruit apppearing at the same time. The flowers will be next years red berries. The berries are gritty but we have managed jam from them but not found the means to prepare a madrono liquor.The quince goes well with apples and creates a good contrasting taste and also makes good membrillo jam which the Spanish eat with cheese. There’s quite a harvest this year as we have had so much rain and the chestnuts too should be larger than last year.

Wild Autumn Crocus

 

Mushroom foraging is a popular and possibly lucrative activity in these parts. We have found a variety this year as shown in the photos. I am not hurrying to pick or eat these as identification is hard work but we do pick the tall ‘gallipiernas’ as shown in the photo below.

 

 

 

 

 

And to leave you with the cat. Is it or isn’t it a Gato de monte?

The Last Post of Summer

Time to officially say goodbye to summer. All the migratory birds are getting ready for their long journeys. Although this year there were many swifts around the village of Castaño de Robledo we had not seen any bee eaters perched high on branches around the valley of Navasola. Occasionally we would hear some high pitched calls high in the sky but there were no bee eaters ready to pose as in previous summers. Finally, we saw a great host of golden wings, at least 30 or more, above the track by the campsite. I am not sure what a large gathering of
bee-eaters might be called but we had witnessed this before in Portugal. We think it happens as lots of birds gather together, travel together, finding good food sources before their journey back to Africa for the winter. I think an angelic host could be fitting as their wings whirr and flash golden light in the Andalucian blue skies. We wish them safe journeys and look forward to their returns.

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Bee eaters seen on one of our dog walks.

What happens to all the grasshopper, crickets, cicadas at the end of summer? We can still hear them in the trees in the evenings but the noise of their whirring legs against their wing cases seems less intense. Perhaps the summer work is almost over. More young will be ready to develop and hatch out at the end of this winter.

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Close up of large grasshopper, early April.

Does one red rump swallow  a summer make? We saw quite a few swallows in early spring in the Algarve but haven’t seen that many in the villages of the Sierra Aracena this year.

May to June 2015 and House MArtins 046
Red rump swallow recovering from being stunned and ready to fly off.

Here are some House Martin young from a previous year. They seem to be imprinting their surroundings and gathering for their long journey back. This year they arrived late in the Algarve and usually we see them here in late September and October. We are by the sea at the moment waiting for my grand daughter to arrive for her first and possibly last trip as a European citizen. Brexit looms and glooms. Perhaps it is the conjunction of Mars and Saturn so clearly seen last night in the summer sky over the Atlantic that makes me edgy about the future. How much time is being wasted on the politics of arrogance, exclusion and supposed greatness? Meanwhile the planet warns us with temperature rises we can do something about and constant degradation of the natural world and its wild places and inhabitants which we can  prevent, now. Those in power who cannot focus on this agenda fail the younger generation.

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We have had a wonderful summer of beautiful nights out with stars and full blood moons. I wrote a piece based on my first night sleeping at the finca. It was often so dark and remote but we build up fears about the dark rather than celebrate its beauty and in Mediterranean culture its coolness. So much happens here late at night and early morning in the summer. We have had plenty of good music from the early music festival in my previous post to rock, jazz and flamenco. Also in the Sierra there’s has been a feast of art exhibitions, theatre, acrobatic drama and a book festival too. Unfortunately we missed our friends Ruth Koenigsberger and Sol Fernandez Coll. But we managed to hear our local writer Margaret Van Epp speak about her book about the historical stories local people have told her. I have also enjoyed some summer reading and love the short stories of Annika Perry, a  fellow writer and blogger. I am building up the rejections on my novel but I will press on as I think it is an  entertaining and imaginative  approach to understanding the value of biodiversity in the 21 st Century.

In the U.K. we enjoyed the annual Fairport Festival at Cropredy and even danced to Brian Wilson, Al Jardine and their band reliving Pet Sounds and the Beach Boys under a more stormy British sky. The rains decided to come as we camped in middle England. We slept in the van we would use to move house! Here is Olivia helping drive our hired VW transporter full of books and stuff for our new base in the U.K. She seems happy we will be nearby.

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For now I have a terrible desire for a camping van( hybrid, electric, solar powered?) and will also head to the beach with the crowds for this last day of summer. I haven’t been swimming in the sea yet! I keep thinking life will slow down so I can write and blog more but this Grandma business seems to take over!

Seventh Heaven: Poetry and Music Celebrations!

I feel inspired to respond to two 7 th Anniversaries. Seven always seems to be a special number. We have just been to a whole series of Early music concerts in our local village churches. It is the 7 th Galaroza Early Music Course and is attended by music students from all over the world. It has been such a beautiful experience of sounds, with an array of Early instruments and voices. It seems to have truly lifted my spirits and enlivened me.

I then read it is the 7 th Anniversary of Continue reading Seventh Heaven: Poetry and Music Celebrations!

The Temperate House, Kew Gardens. A four generation relationship with botanical biodiversity.

June in the U.K.has been glorious and for most of the time a bit warmer than the Sierra Aracena.It has been a busy time but we managed another trip to the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew. Often the gardens are just referred to as Kew Gardens or nowadays just Kew. However, the botanical part is the most important and Kew is famous for its historical plant  collections from all over the world and for its scientific, herbarium and conservation work.It is also a focus for many courses such as horticulture, botanical studies and art. There are incredible orchid displays in February in the Princess of Wales glasshouse and many other seasonal displays.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And also many famous vintage trees like this Stone Pine.

I grew up near Kew and began visiting with my parents and for a while did a Saturday job there. A job that helped pay for my trip to India, in my younger years, so much to be thankful for! So it was with great delight that I visited with my daughter and we brought my grandaughter Olivia for the first time to see this amazing place.
There are often a lot of activities for youngsters these days and at present there is the Blue Peter Dragon Trail.
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It’s often best to have a focus at Kew, as in previous posts, for frequent visits, membership and courses. Although my younger daughter put the cost of entry into perspective; it’s what people will pay for just one round of drinks! So it’s worth it as Kew has to provide so much more towards its research projects nowadays and to upkeep the famous Victorian glasshouses and the pagoda, which will reopen in July.

All life on Earth has depended and will continue to depend on plants. Kew has developed cutting edge knowledge of plants through past knowledge and current research. There’s more value in that than a round of drinks, surely? But it still seems difficult to get young people to visit or become members.

We headed towards the newly opened and renovated Temperate house. It has taken 5 years to complete and is home to over 10,000 plants, and 1.500 different species, many that are very rare and endangered. David Attenborough, the famous naturalist and broadcaster, opened The Temperate House in May this year. His words reflect on the importance of plants and Kew

Kew does all sorts of thing that nowhere else does….It’s the most important botanical institute in the world and occupies a very special place in the science of botany….. …..We depend for every breath of air we take, every mouthful of food we eat, upon plants. And plants all over the world are in trouble.” David Attenborough

Kew and The Temperate House create safe places to conserve species and have far reaching global projects to help protect plant diversity. Kew students and scientists study medicinal values that different plants have, plant diseases that affect crops we depend on or like such as coffee and cocoa plants.

The Temperate House has had to be replanted with the very rare plants that had to be removed while restoration took place. 200 rare species were grown from seeds collected by the Millenium Seed Bank at Wakehurst Place.( link to previous post) All plantings are now in situ and ready to grow into the dizzy heights of this glasshouse. I remember it being like a tall forest and climbing up the wrought iron staircase to the gallery to be close to the tops of the Temperate plants and trees. It may take a few more years for that but the plants are still stunning and with lots of new information panels and digital links.

 

 

 

 

 

The history of the Temperate House is shown in different ways on information panels and the history of common garden plants like the fuchsia. There has also been a lot of important conservation work on islands such as Madagascar and as shown here St Helena.
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Olivia had a lot of fun and the vast interior of the Temperate House gives a lovely backdrop.

Many of the newly renovated wooden windows were open as the temperature was pretty temperate hot outside. It seems 15,000 panes of glass were replaced, 5,280 litres of paint and 180 km of scaffolding was required. The floor is 4,880 metres squared and 69,000 individual elements were removed to be cleaned, restored or replaced. The Temperate House at Kew is the largest remaining Victorian glasshouse in the world.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We decided not to go into the Tropical glasshouse, The Palm House as it was far too hot outside!  That is best saved for a rainy or wintry visit!  The small Lily house is worth a visit though and only open during the summer. At other times there is a lovely collection of water plants in the Princess of Wales glasshouse.

There are also exhibitions celebrating the 10 th anniversary of the Shirley Sherwood Art Gallery for Botanical Art. I did a short course on botanical illustration ( botanical art) which gave me a lot of insight into observing and appreciating different plants but fear I lack the drawing skills needed! So I then turned to writing my novel on biodiversity and there is a visit to Kew for the bumblebee! I hope my words can create pictures.

 

We weaved our weary way back past the tulip beds from my Spring post. Now all resting. Past the almost familiar chestnut trees, but here tall and unpollarded, and cistus ( cistus albidus) so familiar from our Mediterranean climate, abundant on the finca in May and heads the top of my blog!
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For one new visitor sleepy but not wanting to sleep it was certainly a  weavy  path and full of songs. She loves Brahms Lullaby, it usually does the trick. But we passed a really knobbly mulberry tree so had to add that one in. Here we go round the MULBERRY bush or tree as it is here, on a glorious day in June.

 

With best wishes to all and as ever I hope to get back to more blogging. This, though, is still going to be a busy year as a house move in the U.K. is also imminent. Will do my best to keep following the faithful!

* All facts are from the Kew Magazine, Special Issue to celebrate the restoration of The Temperate House. And as always Kew is dependent on public support for all this ongoing work and conservation projects. http://www.kew.org
www.kew.org

Mayhem in May: Changing weather and other surprises. A sanctuary for snakes!

The May in May. The beautiful hawthorn near the back of our house and its may blossom in the sunshine.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wild peonies after the rain.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The mayhem here in the south of Spain is not just of the political kind as Spanish democracy votes in a new Prime Minister. Here the weather has remained cool, cloudy but with some beautiful sunshine and thunderous storms. May has gone, the month and as yet not the long suffering UK Prime Minister! Our month of May has been full of wild, wet and windy weather but with some glorious moments. Weather forecasters here in Spain seem to blame this on the USA and Canada. Well,it seems there has been a meeting of a cold front and a warm front and that’s blown over to us across the Atlantic!

Don’t cast a clout till May is out, goes the proverb.But June too began with cloudy, thunder threatening, days.With this inclement weather some wild ones arrived seeking shelter near the house. The feral kitten population seems to expand around this time but we rarely see them again. They will not come near and I fear many give up their lives to the foxes, mongoose, and snakes that live or should live outside of our house.

My day in May began with the need to photograph the very green mosses on the rocks and experiment some more with my new camera. I wanted some close ups before the moss dries out and I had become fascinated by these ‘micro forests’ since reading the book ‘The Signature of All Things’. The main character Alma specialises in mosses and ‘discovers’some of the principles of evolution through a detailed study of adaptation. She talks about’moss time’ and the very slow evolutionary changes that take place. However, on reading the book ‘The Emerald planet’ about how plants have changed and adapted to planetary conditions, it seems it took over 40 million years for leaves to come into existence and changes in carbon levels in the atmosphere affected this. Human evolution in comparison to this took minimal time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

So after the sunny morning taking photos of mosses, wild flowers,camelia and lilac,the clouds came and then dramatic storms.

 

It was thunderous and torrential rain. Dramatic change. And then T discovered a 3ft long snake disappearing behind some of my plant pots. We were struggling to identify this and it was very difficult to take a clear photo.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And then another day, a month later, we had more torrential rain and another visitor. I had taken shelter from this downpour inside the house in my sanctuary but on the storeroom side T saw a snake’s tail. We identified this one quite easily.

Ladderback adult snake in house.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Snakes in the South of Spain and Portugal.

We are lucky that there are few venomous snakes here and none with particularly fatal bites. I think more people in this area might be hospitalised for eating the wrong kind of wild mushrooms.

Snakes are a vital part of an ecosystem and like most wild animals would rather escape from us humans but can be dangerous if trapped or threatened in some way. Snakes may have a bad press but we can learn to live near them if we take a few precautions.

We identified the snake in early June as a ladder snake with two distinct stripes. Just visible from my yet another failed attempt to photo a snake. These snakes have markings like a ladder when young. As they become adult and much larger the ladder rungs disappear and leave the two stripes along the length of the snake. Snakes will certainly help control a rodent population. We think there are some bumps  to be seen. Perhaps a swallowed mouse or small rat.

 

 

 

 

 

 

On looking at the snake in May I have begun to think that this was a ladder snake but it looked a bit circular or even zig zag like a viper. Perhaps the rungs are just beginning to disappear on this one. It certainly did not fit any other similar snakes for our area so think this is the answer. We couldn’t see its head either; a triangular shaped head and vertical pupils indicate vipers and therefore poisonous.

Long snake which was hard to identify but think now is a young adult ladderback snake. Just beginning to lose the ladder and to just have the two single stripes.

 

One amazing fact about ladder snakes is that the females stay with their young for a few days. A more sanguine fact is they can be aggressive and bite and these bites can be painful even though not poisonous. Snake bites contain anti coagulants that prevents the blood from clotting and so can take time to heal too.

So what to do with a snake in the house, over 3 feet long, possibly a good rodent killer but with a painful bite if suddenly disturbed. Well, the internet and some helpful advice. We thought about the blanket option of covering over the snake and then gathering it into a bag. I didn’t quite like the idea of the broom to guide it to the door and this was the upper part of the house and no door to the outside! Our ecologist friend sent a note about providing a black bag or box as snakes like dark places. Well, there were plenty of dark spaces behind all the boxes and it had gone under a bag near the pipes. In this area we left one of the natural rocks and built over it. We thought the snake would hide there.

Too much deliberation. When we came to look under the bag by the rock the snake had gone. After some thought we think there may be a natural hole in the rock and the snake has left the house. I did check under the bed that night though.

Here is a good phone photo of another kind of southern Spain and Portugal snake. This was taken by a friend in Cabanas de Tavira. It has distinct markings and is a horse shoe whip snake. Photo opportunities of wild ones are all about good observation, quick thinking and fast shutter speed, and luck with the light!

Horseshoe whip snake photographed by Rosalind Siggs

Most of our days in May have been spent on exploring some local walks suggested by a bird and wildlife guidebook to our part of the Sierra Morena. It has been good walking weather and an abundance of wild flowers. Hopefully I can run some posts on these when I return from another visit to see my grandchild, now trying to stand! She is growing so fast but with all the changes in my life I just about manage a blog post a month. I will try and keep posting and keep up with all your posts too.
 

 

Spring in the Sierra Aracena

On the 30th April in Sweden it is Walpurgis Night and time to celebrate the beginning of Spring for the First of May. Anna’s blog has some interesting insights into this festival and of course her wonderful art work.
https://fargaregardsanna.wordpress.com/2018/04/30/walpurgis-night-valborg/

Even though this April seems to be going on the record for Spain’s coldest since 1974 , here in the south of Spain we have had glimpses of Spring. The variability and size of Spain means that there can be variation in the weather but this year the news is showing snow today in Cantabria and people sunbathing on the Mediterranean coast!

Iberian frog enjoying plentiful water and sunshine.

At Navasola we are lucky to have had so much rainfall after the drought that lasted throughout the summer and into the winter. Spring has brought much needed rain. One Spanish programme seemed to be suggesting that the reservoirs were now back to capacity. And there’s still some more rain due! These photos are from early April and at a friend’s finca on the warmer south facing side of the valley. Signs of butterflies, bees and blossom are always welcome.

The Easter celebrations went smoothly in the town of Aracena and it is amazing the dedication and work that goes into the Holy Week processions. The story of the Passion is brought onto the streets and is both a religious and cultural occasion.

It takes at least 5 x 5 pairs of feet to carry the float. And all around the town too!
And the band keeps playing!

Continue reading Spring in the Sierra Aracena

Women. Change. Creativity. 100 years Ago and Now.

What do women need in order to write, be creative, fulfil their potential? The writer Virginia Woolf claimed it was ‘ A room of one’s own’  and wrote about this in the book with that title. I am back now in my sanctuary room at Navasola and adding a few more finishing touches to my novel. I am struggling a bit with the time needed to fully prepare for self publishing and still trying to be noticed by agents I send the work to. 12 weeks wait now!

Looking at what I have needed in the past I am grateful to those who fought for our right to vote in the UK. I am also grateful to all those who pressed for better working conditions and maternity rights. Without these steps life would be quite different today.

In Manchester we were fortunate to go to some art exhibitions linked to those in the suffragette movement. It is one hundred years since women were given the vote. One very creative artist who painted and drew working women in the North of England gave up her art work to devote all her time to the suffragette cause. A loss for Art ? A gain for all women. Some of her work is below and can be seen in the Manchester Art Gallery.

Sylvia Pankhurst, daughter of Emily Pankhurst, was a trained artist and went on a journey to various places to record the lives of working women in 1907. The Pankhurst family are famous for their leading role in the Votes for women/ suffragette movement. This collection belongs to her granddaughter.

After seeing this collection we thought this would have made a wonderful book and record of the lives of women like our grandmothers. One friend’s mother worked in the potteries. Here the use of lead had terrible effects on health. My granddaughter, Olivia’s great, great Aunt started work at age 14 in the Bolton spinning mills. However, Sylvia Pankhurst was compelled to spend all her time on the Votes for Women campaign and all those women worked tirelessly to create the change needed for our generation.

During my time in the U.K. I have been attending to all the wonderful stuff that we women often have to attend to. Family and friends and looking to the future.

I have enjoyed watching my baby granddaughter go through some amazing changes in the past two months. From beginning to grasp with one hand to coordinating both hands to bring things to her mouth. Getting ready to feed herself?  Rolling one way and getting stuck to rolling both ways and onto stomach and back. Getting ready to move herself along! And lots of sounds as she experiments with her voice.  But the most amazing smiles as she has fun and recognises us.

It seems important to really stand up for the right to a clean and safe environment and to protect our planet and the natural world from further destruction. The young people of this century deserve this and our generation must listen and respond with actions.

Spain and Navasola have been busy too, responding to events. Thankfully a lot of rain in the Sierra has created much green and new running streams at the finca. In Spain,  there have been some amazing marches all over the country for women on International women’s day.

View from my sanctuary room for writing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I can also only salute and give support to the young people of America suffering from the effects of gun crime and their determination to overcome personal tragedy and create a safer society.

Change has happened. Change will happen.

Sometimes as with Sylvia Pankhurst we have to sacrifice our own individual creativity in order to give time to create the changes that are needed. Sometimes we have to harness that creativity to be part of the changes needed.

In love and hope to all who follow my blog or just pass by.