Category Archives: Writing

January 2015:Signs of Spring and Autumn in Winter Back at Finca Navasola

From the frosty hollow up through my magical path to the front entrance. Cold today!
From the frosty hollow up through my magical path to the front entrance. Cold today!

i arrived back a week later than planned and to the same kind of cold and rainy weather but

Half a daisy Jan 2015
Half a daisy Jan 2015

when the sun shone everything brightened up with a luminosity only to be found in Andalucia, land of light. I didn’t expect to see flowers and the landscape indeed looked wintry. But this is contrasted by the dancing brilliance of the leaves in the olive groves as you look up the rocky hillside. On my first walk around I did find quite a lot of Viburnum Tinus in part bloom. This wild shrub is abundant here and part of the natural flora along with the Madrono ( Arbutus Unedo) and Lentiscus. The viburnum was the first photo on my blog last January with its dark metallic berries in the rain! That was thanks to the iPhone and this year I am trying a lumix bridge camera but it requires more effort in uploading and I do not always walk around with a slightly heavier item!  With not being on constant wifi it is also difficult to get the right connections but I will keep trying.

 

Viburnum Tinus January 2015
Viburnum Tinus January 2015

 

 

Yellow marguerites in rock garden, January 2015.
Yellow marguerites in rock garden, January 2015.

I also didn’t expect to see many flowers in the garden but there was a solitary anemone and some of the winter flowering marguerites in bloom. These are a welcome yellow in the winter and found planted in the nearby town of Aracena, along with all the oranges on the trees. Although we are only a few miles away we have more ground frost so it is not really possible for oranges and my hibiscus did look the worst for wear so I dug it up and brought it inside. However, there were a few wild flowers in bloom besides the viburnum. Up by the water deposit, a wild daisy with half the petals missing! On the sunny studio side some of the yellow rock rose was attempting to flower( Halimium atriplifolium) and also some celandine and some small vetch in my self seeding plot in the rock garden.

Just before my magical path goes up the hill from the frosty hollow in the photo you can walk down to the old huerta ( a Spanish name for vegetable plot, market garden area) This is where we have dug our new wildlife pond and there are some Mirbeck Oaks. There are at least 5 different kinds of oaks on the Finca but these are particularly striking in the sun in the winter as they don’t seem to lose their leaves but the colours change into those autumn brown and reds. This part of the Finca; Navasola East,North is where I used to see rabbits but haven’t for a long time. The beech marten also turned up here but sadly for his demise as he was drowned in a water butt which some passing person had stolen the lid off in our absence.

Mirbeck oaks
Mirbeck oaks

Festive fun and fears from snowy, sunny, Sheffield. And Happy New YEAR to new year babies and to us all!

imageAfter Christmas in Manchester with my daughter and friends we set off to cross the Pennines to visit friends in Sheffield. There was no sign of snow in Manchester but as we approached the edge of the city we could see snow on the hills. This short but high journey across the spine of England is one I have the utmost respect for. For England these are high hills( yes, I know) and attract harsh weather conditions. Maybe this is our only experience of isolation although not far from several major northern cities. There are several high road passes and these can be closed in bad weather. Many years ago I traveled across the motorway pass with an American friend in her great big jeep. As to why an enormous American jeep broke down on one of the most remote parts of any English motorway when the snow was setting in for the night, I have no answers for. However, this is why I have a respect for wild places where humans shouldn’t be in the snow, or a fear! We were  finally rescued by the local police and taken away from the vehicle. Some may think little ‘ole’ England hasn’t any really high mountains and usually has mild weather. But some of the moorlands can be quite dangerous when the weather takes a turn for the worse. This can happen very quickly and walkers need to beware and take care too.

We headed up and over the Woodhead Pass in steady but slow moving traffic. It was very heavy with fog and there were few good views until we got to the Sheffield side and then there was snow and sun galore over the hills. I hadn’t seen snow like that for a while.
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In Sheffield most of the roads were well gritted except the suburban side roads. These were probably the most treacherous with compacted ice. But we had arrived in good time, with the sun shining. So what do you do with a two and half year old. Out we went into the pristine snow of the garden and made footprints and then a snow cat. No, not a snow man, the snow was too soft and attention spans for both  of us quite short. Instead we built a snow cat and collected twigs for whiskers.
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The following day, in brilliant sunshine we headed out along well gritted country roads and into the Loxley Valley. The village of Bradfield and the reservoirs looked stunning in the snow.  I love to come out of Sheffield into the hills as once I lived and taught in this once great city of steel. ( En route we had passed Stocksbridge and saw the sign TATA, now the steel industry that is left is owned by  the mighty industrialists of India) The head teacher knew that many of our students never had or took the opportunity of a bus ride into the country and so each year the whole school would be taken out for a sponsored walk around the Ladybower reservoir.  The beginnings of environmental education.

We walked around the  Bradfield village green. covered with snow men, not cats, and also saw the orange bicycle sculptures. These were left over from the Tour De France….EE by gum, Yorkshire section. The hills round here were supposed to have been the steepest for the cyclists. I know this well, as once years ago…. my dear Ford diesel Escort got stuck going up one of the hills. This really is not a dig at American cars.  Maybe I should have had a bicycle instead!  Or maybe I need to get on my bike now and work off festive food and carbon foot prints. A resolution for the new year…..

Hoping we all have a prosperous and more sustainable 2015 and so all the new generation, one born today on New Year’s Day, can enjoy the wonders of this planet. Congratulations to the parents, grandparents and Great Grand Mama of the Manchester new year new born babe!

BAT BIRTHDAYS

A BAT COMES TO STAY

First let’s dispel a few bat myths then on with my tale.
Bats are blind or might bump into you
NO. Bats use echolocation – a sort of radar – to find their way around.
They can “see” much better than any person! This is amazing technology .
Myth: Bats attack people
NO. Most bats are gentle animals and would much rather get out of a person’s way than to attack him or her. All wild animals may defend if trapped or injured BUT most wild animals keep well away from humans.

Myth: Bats are pests
Wrong. Bats help control pests!
A single bat can snap up over 600 mosquitoes in one hour, as well as other little pests! So welcome bats and please eat any of the insects that might want to bite me.
Some species of bats even take part in the life cycle of plants by pollinating them. Bats play important roles in ecosystems.

Bats are vampires
Misleading. The majority of bats are insect eaters and do not suck blood.
The few that do are small and only suck from small animals.

A Year in the Life of a Bat – Bat Conservation Trust
http://www.bats.org.uk/pages/a_year_in_the_life_of_a_bat.html
Bats spend most of the winter hibernating. These pages can help us understand bats better.

A Bat for my Birthday.
There had been noises in the night and with some trepidation I picked up the handy solar lamp and went to investigate. I have got used to noise of many different kinds out here in the countryside. However, usually outside the house. Wind, rain, engine rumblings in the distance, owls. But the house, now, inside, is much quieter and so much better insulated so that only the most severe weather might wake me. In the un quaint old house it would be large bangs, bumps and rattling along the corrugated iron and loosely fitting tiles of the roof. Sometimes there would be such a hefty thump you would think an elephant had landed. Maybe an owl out catching small mammals, a fox or the more elusive beech marten of which there had been evidence of its latrine under the old roof tiles.

Now we were watertight, fully insulated on the roof and the walls with modern methods for keeping heat in and out. But there is always something that wants to be in the house. The spiders have woven their way back with some flies and other insects that bite in the night. And of course there have been some rustlings of mice but not for a while.

The sound that woke me made me think of mice rustling but as I went down the stairs and into the middle level the noise was not mousy but whirring. Suddenly a bat whirred by me in the ray of the lamp. I jumped a little with the sudden movement but was more relieved that the sound had come from a bat rather than a rat. I did go back to sleep.

Two nights later our guests arrived and as we had hurriedly moved into the lower level to give them the best accommodation and then were so busy with the final parts of the plumbing system being completed we forgot about the bat.

As our guests were going to bed I suddenly remembered and thought best to warn them and reassure that there might be a bat. Our friends are made of strong stuff and didn’t think it a problem.

On the morning of my birthday I was regaled with tales of the bat in the night and as the day went on the bat seemed to get bigger and bigger. They had heard noises and then put a torch on and had a very clear view of the bat crawling up the wall. And then disappearing on a ledge by the wooden beams of the roof. We were also worried about how the bat got in and could get out. If it was trapped surely it would starve.

To celebrate my … birthday we had decided to eat out at lunchtime and drove out to a bar by the reservoir. But things were not going well. First, the bright sunshine had turned to grey. Second, the chef had not arrived. Thirdly, we ordered coffee and waited and waited. And even waited after an explanation about the coffee machine. When the coffee arrived…it was barely warm. A cold coffee experience over which we thought we should leave but as it was a long drive up out of the valley we stayed. Next it was cold chips and then…

Finally, one piece of undercooked fish. Things were not going well for a birthday meal. Tensions and irritability were high. Patience had worn thin. Then a surprise turn of fortune.

Within several exchanges of conversation with the people running the bar the mood changed. We had been offered some hot, spicy and milky tea( Pakistani tea from Granada!) and as we talked with the proprietor we found a lot of interesting topics to discuss. He was a graduate in Environmental Science and very knowledgable about the flora and fauna of the local area. He and some others had had a contract to run the lakeside cafe along with some environmentally friendly projects. They were now having to give it up. So it was a difficult time for their project which at its heart had an environmental focus. He was also a guide and did walks on ecology, identification of mushrooms, flowers etc. He was telling us about the hares he had seen near our Finca. We had found a fellow enthusiast. He was also helpful about the bat visitation. For its size it was probably a noctule. In the area there are eight different species and all endangered. The bat had probably found one of the yet to be covered vents and was seeking a place to hibernate. We had inadvertently built a bat house as it had probably nestled down into the insulated area between the inner and outer wall. It would probably hibernate and in April or when warmer would wake and find a few insects.
If we let it out now it could die of cold.
Our visitors were ready with camera that night. I said they were made of strong stuff. But the bat did not put in an appearance and was probably safely snuggled up in the warmth of the insulation panels. And had chosen well as we are unlikely to disturb it and if it wakes early there should be a few insects and later a way out into the warmth of Spring. The bedroom has been referred several times as the ‘upper house’ or the belfry. Guests who wish to stay at Navasola need to be nature lovers.

A fertile feeling: Ms Peoni Broteri getting ready for rebirth!

Our wild child Ms Peony Broteri is now settling down for the winter with hopefully tubers deep down by the chestnut tree roots and the seeds hidden away. Have been told the seeds can take two years to birth into another wild and seductive Ms Peony.

Wild peony forest January/February
Wild peony forest
January/February
The first Peony bloom in Navasola East, by an old chestnut, attracting insects.
The first Peony bloom in Navasola East, by an old chestnut, attracting insects.
Ms Peony chatterbox
Ms Peony chatterbox in  Autumn
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October

Last of the summer flowers: And summer’s lease hath all too short a date.

Final farewell fotos of flowers  on the finca.  August 2014. Summer is passing…….

In August in Spain the weather is usually too hot and dry in the summer. The flowers start to fade and all seems rather dried out. Some flowers resist the parched conditions but most decide to allow their seeds to finish developing and be ready to disperse. This helps survival of the species  through a long dry summer. Deep roots keep the trees and other bushes in business.

Sonnet 18 by William Shakespeare and a different interpretation based on the natural world.

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?

Thou art more lovely and more temperate,

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Hoary Mullein
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Candytuft
Knautia  - small blue/ purple
Knautia – small blue/ purple

Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May

And summer’s lease hath all too short a date;

And sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines, ( the very hot sun as in Spain?)

And often is his gold complexion dimmed; ( English weather with clouds in the summer!)

And every fair from fair oft times declines,

By chance or by nature’s unchanging course untrimmed;

But thy eternal summer shall not fade,

Nor lose possession of that fair thou owest;

Nor shall Death brag thou wander’st in his shade,

When in eternal lines to time thou growest:

So long as men breathe or eyes can see,

So long lives this and this gives life to thee.

Silene
Silene

Shakespeare’s sonnet reflects the transience of beauty with the beauty of summer. But nature like the focus of his sonnet has an everlasting and ever changing beauty, beyond the flower! This is my  interpretation of a sonnet often thought to be about love. Maybe it can be about the intricate workings of nature that go beyond the transient beauty of a flower or a young man or woman! When we understand the true beauty of a person or of nature we can truly appreciate the deeper aspects of love, life and the natural world. Or was Shakespeare just trying to immortalise himself or his’dark lad..y’ love  with words?  His words offer such richness and are open to interpretation and appreciation through the ages and to different cultures.
I think I have found another angle on this sonnet and an admiration for what goes on beyond our sight within the seeds creating the changing seasons.

Firsts………..Pop goes the weasel, half a pound of strawberry jam for half a pound of plum and who murdered the tomato.

The past week has been a week of firsts. It was the first time I saw a weasel in the wild. He or she  was very close to my feet and I must have startled the poor creature into stopping still as it was madly chasing a lizard for lunch. Lucky for the lizard, my feet helped it get away, that time. For a few seconds the weasel was absolutely still and I could see its face and most of body clearly. Full identification is unclear as I did not see its tail, which I am told if it had been a stoat would have had a black tip to it. It was very small and about a year ago Josie, Theo and I had visited the British Wildlife Centre and been intrigued by the weasels running fast around wire tunnels. It seemed very similar to those.

The next first was ….. Sorry, I have never made jam  before. It is plum time in the Sierra Aracena. We have found some plums on the Finca and picked some but a few days later ……..all gone.We think some badgers or the wild boar as the birds only peck at them. Perhaps they have learnt to bash against the tree. Friends also have many plums and I was given a large box of juicy yellow plums so I have experimented with pickling some, drying some in the sun, and jam. The plum jam recipe that worked was easy and just seemed to be throwing the same amounts of plum and sugar into a pan and stirring and waiting and stirring and waiting… However the taste of this jam has met with approval and we have done an exchange for a jar of strawberry! My next batch will not be so easy to exchange as I went a bit mad on the ginger.

The final first was to eat my first ripe homegrown tomato. With all the building work and the need to prepare an allotment patch in this wild and overgrown place I feel pleased that my friend’s tomato plants are now beginning to show fruit. I am also hopeful about the seeds from Lidl supermarket’s butternut squash. After a lot of earth clearing and moving. I also moved some of the wild bugloss which did try to hurt me with its stinging hairs in exchange for being given another place. There is at the moment a lot of it on the Finca. Is this part of the wild bison work that might be needed in the wild?  Pictures of the small garden by house and the Huerta, vegetable garden I am preparing in one of the chestnut fields. And of course the tomato.

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Inspired by Keats,gardens, and a poetry workshop by Daljit Nagra

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The peony poem in one of my previous posts inspired me to try out a poetry workshop at Keats’ House during the Keats’ festival. I was also interested to find out that the poet Daljit Nagra was to take over as poet in residence there and was leading this workshop on how to write an ode. I have followed from a distance Daljit Nagra’s progress from an aspiring English teacher in a school I worked at to an inspiring poet and much quoted now from many GCSE anthologies. He is a truly modern British poet and very innovative not just with ideas but also language.

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We attempted a Sapphic ode and this meant we had to be concise and focus on a tight structure. This was to be the slightly longer length of 11 syllables to 3 lines and the fourth line with five. Instead of a more traditional 10 syllable the 11 suggests a more ‘falling’ tragic tone.  We were introduced to terms used for poetic structure but the focus of this ode was to address a person with a sense of absence, loss, time passing.  As an example we were shown a modern ode written with this structure and the example was very moving but also was inspired by a poet I was introduced to when I stayed in Karachi in 1984. Faiz Ahmed Faiz.
We had to go and sit in the garden of Keats house and had about 25 minutes to write a Sapphic style ode! My mind was filled with so many memories of Chris Abbas and her garden in Karachi. It had lovely trees and flowers but also a little white dog, a parrot and a turkey she had been given for Christmas and had kept rather than ate. The dog inspired my Jabbu Jabbu stories. His name was Jabbu and he was a cheeky miniature Samoyed type dog. Chris was a trained artist from the Slade school and she had met her husband, Ghulam Abbas, an Urdu short story writer, in London. They had had three daughters and lived in Karachi but sadly she had recently been widowed. She had invited us to stay with her while I was volunteering to help children learn to read. She had many inspiring artistic ways of helping children draw and trace letters.

All of theses memories were flooding into my mind and I had to cut out so much in order to write an ode to her but the parallel of sitting in an English garden and enjoying time with her in her Karachi garden seemed to be the focus. I was able to feel I finished an ode and reading it out later at the workshop it seemed to work. Now as I reflect on it and have more time to count the syllables accurately I am not so sure! I also feel I want to slightly change the structure by adding just a few more lines! Writing seems to be such a difficult art as there are many ways to express ideas but it needs to feel right or fitting.
The poem isn’t quite ready yet but is an ode to her and her inspiring and diverse garden. In the blog are some pictures of Keat’s house and garden and it is here that he wrote some of his most famous poems in his very short life. The window view is from his upstairs study.

 

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