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!
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.
This post is for my daughter Theodora. I cannot be with her on her birthday but can send this beautiful flower and a butterfly photo from Southern Spain. So far the sun has shone and the red admiral came out of its hideaway and posed for us. I also bought this gazania to brighten up the rock garden and on looking up its name found it was named after Theodorus Gaza, in the 15 th Century.( On Wikipedia, and he translated Theophrastus on plants)
On one of those pregnant impulses I had decided to name my baby after the Saints day she or he would be born on. Luckily she decided against Jan 6 th and Epiphany and came on the day of St Theodosius. And are those days so long ago that we didn’t know or need to know the gender. So Theo sounded like a great idea at the time! But I was pushed to make it more feminine.
For the past two years I have missed her birthday as I had never been able to see the celebrations in Spain for the feast of the Kings. ( Joy of being a teacher and the Return to School) It all happens on the eve of Jan 6 th. Last year a friend came to stay and we visited the ‘big’ one in Higuera de la Sierra. More in last year’s post. Los Reyes Magos in the Sierra Aracena. Feast of the Kings Processions.
This year we went to Linares on the south side of the Sierra Aracena. Here they create scenes from the nativity story in their houses and gardens. Linares is a special village with cobblestone art work on the ground in front of many of the houses. This event is also very special and different from the processions.
I loved seeing inside some of the houses and also small stores, naves where animals would and still might be kept. It was very reminiscent of the closeness of village life over the centuries and miles to Bethlehem. Most of all I loved being able to see into the gardens and orchards. I am a little jealous because they can grow oranges on that side of the Sierra and we have to cope with chestnuts!
After this it was back to see our village procession. Although there may be many tourists here for the Los Reyes processions it is truly a local event. All the children of a village receive presents from the Three Wise Kings. First there is the procession led by the star. She must be the one who gets cold! She is followed by a variety of floats with different scenes, some biblical, some original. These may vary each year. The richness of the scenes shown really tell so many aspects of the Nativity. The final three floats are for the three wise kings who bring gifts. Balls and sweets were thrown to the crowds watching and following.The irony of the sweets were ‘love bites’ made in Hyderabad, India, where we lived some years ago. Just for trade wars, there were also some made in Córdoba, Spain.
Here in our village it was charming and very much all the local people involved with small tractors pulling brightly decorated carts.
One thing that stood out were the smiles on everyone’s faces: children and adults.
Wishing Theo and everyone who reads my blog a very happy and peaceful 2017. And in 2018 and future years Theo, Josie, family and friends can visit the Sierra to see the wise men, women and children who create this event.
A week of changes. Changing places and changing weather.
Just before leaving Navasola I wandered into my huerta or vegetable garden. I wanted to check on the plants. I am hoping that I have created enough paths and cut back grasses and vetch to keep it all more under control. Last year when I returned in May I posted about my ‘Wild Welcome Back’. I was overwhelmed with neck high grass,vetch and then hay fever.
Maybe this time I had a wild farewell.
There were rustling sounds from within the abandoned olive grove. I stood very still and listened. I thought it might have been some noisy blackbirds. It often is! To my surprise a large female boar made her way into the field. Although there was a ‘boar proof fence’ between us to protect the huerta, I didn’t want to see it tested. I stood very still. Females are said to have a reputation. Following her were three slightly smaller wild boar. Then one by one, a group of stripy baby boar trotted in. No camera, no phone, just me and the boar family.
I stood still and watched them move around grazing and looking like large dogs. The youngsters climbed up over some rocks. I just kept still, not daring to move and too far from the gate.Then the large female saw me. She came forward a little and but decided to turn away and run off, with the young ones following. It was quite a sight. Reading up a bit more I discovered that these groups are matriarchal and called sounders.They consist of the very young and slightly older females.It is far more common that boar will run away but it seems they may move towards you a little as their eyesight is so poor and they are curious. Most injuries to humans from boar are during a hunt and with the males turning to defend themselves if cornered.
After this event we were off to Portugal for my flight. I had a quick check on the house martins I am trying to survey. There are not so many on the frontline this year but these small birds were working hard with the mud to build over netting put up to prevent them. I had been disappointed to see this attempt to deter them in a local street.They certainly wouldn’t have bothered anyone in that location and it now looks quite unsightly. It also might mean the nests are less secure for the young. The birds are undeterred and determined to build in places they must remember. Those whose nests had not been destroyed have had a head start. I think they have got young and these might manage two broods.
In Dorset we had snow and hail, lots of birds and a vole. The bullfinch is a regular visitor at my friend’s bird feeders, along with a nuthatch and some pheasants. After the snow a kestrel came by but the birds had disappeared into the nearby hedgerow.
Back in London I was shown the video of the baby robins nesting in the ivy by the house and at least two are now alive and well, feeding in the garden. My daughter has fallen in love with feeding the birds and they seem to reward her. I was also updated with the slow motion function on the latest phones. Mine is too out of date but it was lovely to see they had captured the garden Robin flying! Sorry no video as I have to update WordPress and pay money to upload a video! Will think on’t!
Now I am in the north of the U.K. and enjoying my other daughter’s young pet bunnies. These bunnies seem to want to blog with me!
To be close to the animal world seems important. My wilder world of Navasola is still without pets and the wild ones choose their moments. Mice in the middle of the night and a mongoose went up through my rock garden one evening. The wild ones like to be invisible and secretive but it is good to know they are out there.Not in the house! Four mice have been ‘humanely’ removed to at least 1 km away!
I am off to stay with a friend in Rhodes so hope to keep up with blogging about the flora and fauna there soon. I may not be on wifi much but hope to catch up with everyone’s blogs again soon too.
The first flowers and blossoms for early Spring have been the wild grape hyacinth and celandine. However, the wild Viburnum Tinus has been breaking into bud from January. The Teuchrium too and the simple gorse seem to keep a few flowers through the winter months and this seems to help the white tailed bumble bees. These two plants have been flowering for a long time but are full of their blossoms now.
The mimosa was planted by a previous owner and is incredibly invasive. Very pretty in March but its roots come up everywhere near the house and created quite a jungle. I am concerned about trying to keep the native flora here as it is so pretty and well adapted to the climate. I really do not need to think about planting a garden even though I try and the frost seems to harm many plants. I am still finding my way with the climate here. We are a microclimate and lemon trees cannot grow here but will be fine about 6 miles away. I have lost quite a few plants to the February frosts. But the wild ones stay strong.
Now the semi wild plum blossoms are fading and the cherry is coming out. I think the Buff tailed bumblebees are now getting ready and taking advantage of the tree blossoms. In the chestnut orchards the wild peonies are beginning to bud, along with Solomons Seal and the dreaded bracken. There are also signs of many other wild flowers and hopefully the wild foxglove. More on these later.
Up the east side of the valley is the yellow hillside. Here a different kind of gorse or broom is prevalent; arrow or genista sagittalis and is the first to flower in Spring followed by the Spanish broom. The common gorse isn’t found here and this hill becomes hot and dry in the summer and has a different flora to the valley and west side.
The blog ‘ Culture of Awareness‘ gave me a link to a plant identification app of Western Europe developed in France. Plant net. This has helped with some common flowers and a beautiful yellow Early Star of Bethlehem by the rocks at the front of the house.
As I often say the birds are so wild here and it is difficult to photo them but we were very lucky to have a visiting flock of bullfinches. Near Ruth’s house are the golden Orioles , high up in the poplars. Too difficult to capture, yet! A little nearer to the house she managed a shot of a pretty warbler. These are quite common here. Many warblers have recently arrived from Africa although the chiff chaff might be resident. We have also heard the bee eaters high above with their high notes. Oh and of course the collection of Ravens which inspired my poem and many of the commoyn woodland birds. Blue, Great,long tailed and crested tits, robins, wrens, nuthatches, blackcaps, redstarts, goldcrests and a range of warblers. All fly around the old oak and cork nearby but they never stay long in one place! All are too busy to pose for a photo. Spring is here and so is the contrast of warm sunny days and heavy April showers.
It has been good to have a friend to stay and we have had a busy week. However, one of the main attractions was to see the processions for the Feast of the Kings in Higuera. This procession is said to be the second biggest in Spain. This fact came from a glossy book about all the cabalgata processions in the Sierra Aracena. Each village had their own procession and timing and the Higuera one was the last. Photographs are thanks to Madeleine with her Fuji camera. By chance in the morning we stumbled across the preparation of the floats for the main town Aracena’s procession. It was interesting to see how much work and time was involved and the workshop was near the emporium Mercedes ( a real Aladdin’s cave for the home) .
Here we were very specifically told that the rain which was just beginning would stop at 6 in the evening. God must have been very willing and indeed the downpours came to an end just after 6.
We were able to see our local one in Fuenteheridos, which was lovely and very community based with children on the floats. It started from the local school and ended at the church. We were showered with sweets and footballs. There seems to be a tradition for a float with a windmill. I wonder why?
Onto Higuera, with some good parking advice from a friend in the village, we were able to dive into one of the local museums about the distilling of liquor. There was still time for a free offering of the local chestnut liquor. This warmed us up because now the night was very cold and starry. Orion seemed to be doing a break dance position over the small town of Higuera.
We now realised why this was the second biggest procession in Spain. Gone were the small tractors pulling the beautifully decorated floats and young people of Fuenteheridos. Gone were the bigger tractors and more stylised floats of Aracena. Here in Higuera were the juggernauts of engines with their long trailers. All of the areas big lorries were probably here tonight. And their trailers all dressed up very realistically with scenes from the bible story surrounding the birth of Christ and the the three wise men or kings as the Spanish tells us. Los Reyes Magos. Here we were lucky to see the Guiding Star getting into position. There was a real baby for Jesus, Several brass bands. Fireworks at the start. There was such a stillness in the tableaux as many familiar scenes passed by and some unfamiliar. There was no hiding the horror of Herod and the slaughter of innocent new born babies.
And the cold! How did they all keep so still in the cold January night? My iphone photo of the Angel’s feet is my own symbolic gesture to the devotion and effort which goes into this night. And then the sweets! In the villages the local children are also given presents from the community later on towards the end of the procession.
All through the Sierra Aracena in each of each village or towns there is a distinct tradition for celebrating the arrival of the Three Wise Kings. Here no camel was in sight! The other floats showed scenes based on the Holy Land with goats, wells and sheep. Real ones and all quite still! I am so pleased I have finally been in Spain for Christmas and this time. Have usually had to go back to work by the 5th and 6th of January! I’d certainly recommend it and to wrap up warm. And if you want to be involved don’t offer to be an angel with bare feet!
Christmas time in Spain has been a mix of weather but mainly warm. Warm enough to sit out on Christmas Day for lunch and have sun hats as our party hats. We began the eating of food on the sunny side of the valley at another Finca. We had decided with friends on a form of pot luck Christmas dinner but kept it to Vegetarian. C created a delicious Nigel Slater recipe and roasted veggies. R made a superb eco soup with a touch of my not so favourite veg, beetroot. But I have to say it is very tasty in soups. My offering was a blue cheese and broccoli quiche and mushroom sherry sauce. Recipes later? We were then able to walk through the lovely countryside back to Navasola for the ‘postres’. This included Ts version of sherry trifle. We were very full and quite stuffed! George Monbiot has recently written about how reducing meat production could radically reduce carbon emissions. Need also to now think about waist reduction!
Being with these friends I was also shown another botanical wonder that grows wild at Navasola. I may have partly ignored it but it is a stranger plant than it looks. It can be quite festive with its red berries, a little stiff and slightly prickly. This is Butcher’s broom and N was able to show me how the leaves aren’t leaves but stalks. And on the stalks there are very small flowers. And then there are the bright red berries. This needs to go into my attempt of creating an ethnobotanical garden as it is also known for its medicinal properties. The roots have been used for over 2000 years for circulation problems. Now with current knowledge of the chemistry of plants it does contain substances which are good for improving blood flow in the arteries and veins. And yes the stiff leaf looking stalks were used by butchers to clean up their boards and floors!
As for the bumblebees. These again were a moving target which after the sherry I was unable to photo clearly. However, I am amazed to see these little creatures among the flowering Rosemary bushes at two of my friends’ fincas. At present these are white tailed bumblebees and at least half a dozen of them. I walked out to try and phot some at Navasola but could not find any. At the moment I do not have flowering Rosemary. I tried around the ivy but it’s flowering seems to be over and I could not find many pollinators about. Now and again a butterfly, possibly a peacock, and possibly some solitary bees.
We moved to the Algarve for New Year and had some superb sea views to help us enjoy a New Year’s Eve or Old night’s Eve, Noche Viejo with friends and local fireworks. In the morning along with the gulls there were possibly swallows and house martins flying. More investigation needed to find out if this is an early return of these migratory birds. I am trying to survey the house martins in Cabanas de Tavira. It is worrying that there is still a decline in the populations of migratory birds.
Butchers broom has been in use over 2000 years ago. Many of these migratory birds fly over 2000 miles and have been doing for thousands of years. We are now in the year 2000 and 16. Let’s hope we can ensure that these wonders of the natural world are well known about and in abundance for the future. Let’s hope it’s a more positive year for the planet.
Happy New Year too to all you amazing bloggers. Here’s to more sharing of our news and views.
I am so pleased I have the opportunity to share the photography and links to art work of my friend and neighbour Ruth. Her photographs come from walking around the countryside with her dog, the lovely Lotti. ( featured in previous posts and a surrogate dog for me at present!) When I can I walk with her and breathe in the beauty of the changing seasons we have here. I have also shown her garden with all the poppies in my previous post and haiku to Liberty, Love and Light. The link is to her art work at the Artagora Galeria Virtual Ruth Koenigsberger. I love the way she can capture both colour and light. For me there is a deep link to nature in her work and a spiritual light within her creative art. Try the link on her name and walk round a virtual art gallery too! There are castano trees, ancient chestnuts from the Sierra and the Caldera in La Palma but also some imaginative interpretations of our world from the inner eye of an artist.
I miss all my friends in the Sierra Aracena as I have to be in the UK for a short while. Many there live a peaceful lifestyle that can bring them close to the natural world through organic gardening, permaculture, spiritual practices, yoga and of course the creative arts. It is almost a year since I wrote Bats on my Birthday and have found blogging useful to warm up my writing muscles. I hope to write more stories and poems to help us come closer to this wonderful and diverse world of nature.
For this week I want to highlight the need to care for the living systems on the planet. There are so many people who want to rise above the atrocities in Paris and send a message that we must change the way we live in this world or the living planet will suffer and not be able to give us and all other creatures the habitats and food sources we need to thrive.
As I cannot walk on the Climate Change March on the eve of the talks in Paris I will try some virtual walks like this one in the Sierra Aracena. Let’s hold the Climate Change talks in the light and where possible petition and campaign for the change our planet needs.
Saying goodbye to an old and faithful friend was hard but the decision had been in the making as the expense of owning, insuring and maintaining 3 old motor cars did not add up. Living in the countryside we are dependent on a car working so that we can get into the nearby market town of Aracena. With work on the house more or less our job at present we also have to go into the builders merchants and other DIY stores for this and that. It is true that we could get most provisions from the village and we have at times done that. It is a one kilometre walk and would need to be done early in the morning in the heat we are having now. The last few days the car had been cleared and was probably feeling more looked after than ever with no general clutter. However it was given a couple of final jobs to do. One was clearing all the metal fencing and rusty barrels from my Huerta. For this we packed the car with as much of the fencing and metal scaps as we could and drove off to find the escombrera or dump. We had been told that it was up the road from the supermarket about a kilometre. We were then lucky to see the sign but then found ourselves on a long, dusty and rutted track. We were relieved when we saw a small lorry coming down and also that it was Manolo of the builders we had had last year, Garcia Romero de Oso. We spoke with him and he looked at the back of our car and said it was a bit further on but wait as there was a big lorry coming. And indeed one did. Am not sure what all the builders make of us as we try to do so much ourself. And when will we finally finish. Similar to when we finally bought the house maybe there will be smoke signals over Aracena. We carried on along this dusty track,mast some real farming of animals with major sheds and at one point a beautiful view down the valley towards Aracena and a view of the castle. The old car valiantly made its way along until we found the top of a hill with lots of rubble. This was no recycling dump known to me, but this was where landfill really happens. We looked around but could not find any area for metals. There was some rubble with metal piled up so we ended up leaving it there. Still no one in sight. The car bravely returned along the bumpy track with its engine getting a little hot in the 30 degrees heat. But not quite its last On Friday morning with the car all clear we headed for the Desguace. The car was finally going ‘bajo’ or under. It seems to the Underworld rather than the high heavens for cars. I drove the other car. As we drove in I had expected to see compacted bricks of metal cars but instead there was a large parking area and office for parts and beyond a high fence and gates, the old cars were on trailers, stacked up almost 10 by 10. Is this what it is like in limbo and without limbs. All the cars were tyreless, and a little torn apart, probably even more with their vital organs taken first. The reception area was staffed by a pretty spanish lady amid a majority of mechanico men. She had to send out an intercom message to the man responsible as she was not sure about our forms. At this point we wondered if the car had been saved but no its demise was near. With a bit more discussion and stamping it was all agreed; a paltry 50 euros, but we were not keen to bargain, and we kept the battery, we departed in one old green car, leaving our old white one to its recycled fate. Have tried to capture the information about how much of each car is recycled by the desguace branch of Melli. Big car dealers in the town. For the love of the motor car we had a wake in Aracena with tinto verano and cerveza sin and I researched the Internet on how much progress was being made with solar cars. Cars the sacred cow of the West and now the East. But it seems China has started to produce solar charging cars. And about time too. From Naomi Klein’s research for her book it seems to me now that the western world is hanging on to fossil fuels when it is no longer necessary. She reports how companies like Shell have divested from renewable research and development and as we all know headed out to get more oil from the Arctic. Have the Chinese regained an ancient wisdom through suffering Dickensian pollution from dear old carbon? I think I could afford one of their solar cars. It would be ideal for our life here in the country and not keep costing the Earth. It is also much needed in rural economies like ours that seem so dependent now on the motor car. Without vehicles the economy of this region would grind to a halt. The building vans, trucks, delivery vehicles, market town services, pharmacies, tourism, car repair garages and sales; so much now depending on the combustion engine and not the donkey cart. In the past many people here lived a very poor life: Subsisting off the land and with a lot of inequality. Now in Spain there is still the effects of the crisis and youth unemployment and a lot of campaigning against the Austerity economics and policies in place. How will ordinary folk be affected if the power needed to drive the economies we know isn’t replaced with renewables? How long can we all afford to live off fossil fuels ? And if we do how much infrastructure breakdown will happen because of climate extremes and disasters? How will the Spanish pueblo survive? Can we put into action NOW all that we can do to keep our planet a safe place for all creatures. For the love of the planet let’s move on from the motor car. Roll on Solar and maybe save a little fossil fuel for the classic cars to have a summer outing. ( Coming in another post : the classic cars and motorbike of the Sierra Aracena Classic car society )
i arrived back a week later than planned and to the same kind of cold and rainy weather but
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.
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.
I can see Autumn will be a busy time as the chestnuts need to be collected and wood too for the winter. The gallipierni or apagador of the macropiolete family was edible. It found its way to the frying pan and we survived. But the very rose shaped red mushrooms, possibly from Russula family , like all rather red ones are best avoided. Lots of smaller mushrooms and these possibly are hallucinogenic and hard on the stomach!
Back to work now for the final chestnuts of the season on a glorious sunny November day.