My story recently published in the anthology Evergreen is partly from within the consciousness of a fir tree grown only for Christmas. But it survives beyond the festive season and connects and inspires a variety of local children until …..The story is called Until We are Ever Green. It contains quite a few ‘untils’!
It is late January and we are finally back at Navasola after dull but changeable temperatures for the UK in the winter. It was a rather frustrating time with so much illness from bad coughs/ colds/ sinus and the worst I have had since leaving the classroom. Here at Navasola it is very cold but the sun is high and bright with andalucian blue skies. We also have our supply of wood from when so many branches of trees came down in the bad storm of 2020.
So thanks to the trees we can keep warm at night when at present the temperatures are falling below zero.
There is also so much green thanks to our own evergreen trees in stark contrast to the denuded old chestnuts. However without the leaves there is much sunshine on the woodland floor. Their leaves will come back later than most in May.
Navasola’s Ever Greens
Olea europaea, Olive Olivo.
The olive trees’ grey green leaves keep dancing in the chilly skies. All the olives need to be picked by end of December but any left will make good food for birds or other animals when fallen to the ground.
Quercus suber, alcornoques, cork oak
The cork oak leaves show different shades of pale grey green. The tree trunks are well insulated and fire resistent. Cork trees can only have their cork cut every 8 years or more.
The Holm oak, encina, Quercus ilex or known as the evergreen oak.
encinas or holm oaks are stretching higher to the sky in their self seeded grove. These are the trees of pasture land or dehesa and can be found across vast swathes of Spain evenly spaced out to provide shade for grazing animals. These trees are also excellent for wood burning too.
The common ivy or Hedera helix dresses up many a trunk and keeps its green even when the frost bites. The Mirbeck oak also hangs onto its glorious display of red orange leaves until the new arrive.
Arbutus unedo, madroño, strawberry tree.
The madroño tree or strawberry tree is very hardy in the frost or heat. And home to the caterpillar of the Two tailed Pasha.
Wild viburnum tinus does not grow into a tree but can grow very tall around the trees. It is usually in flower by the end of January as the bees wake up. But at the moment it is rather frost bitten with the colder icier winter we are having here.
There are many wild pines too. Mainly Pinus nigra or black pine. These grow very tall very quickly and thrive here on sandy soils. These are different to the cultivated umbrella pines found a bit further south towards Huelva. Stone pine, Pinus pinea.
I think many readers of my blog will enjoy the stories under the theme of Evergreen in this Bridge House Publishing anthology. Apologies that it is only easily available on Amazon but we would love you to read, review and share the stories.
November has been a hard month. It is becoming a mix of dates of friends passing and friend’s birthdays, including my own. Like the seasons the end of the year is approaching and the years go by. But while we are here lets do our best to enjoy and sow seeds for the future.
I am in Seville for two nights. Our favourite and local city. It is just over an hour away from the Sierra Aracena. Somos turistxs hoy! I am also reading an incredible novel called Sugar and Snails by Anne Goodwin.
We are staying in the Hotel Simon, once a casa grande of a rich Seville family, probably shipping or merchant wealth. But from the 1930s became a hotel. Today for a reasonable price you can enjoy its tiled splendours. And just walk out into the centre of Seville and come face to face with the giant Cathedral frontage.
Our walk today!
First past the market selling all kinds of figures for the nativity story of Bethlehem or Belen. This is quite a collection that builds up for people here. Some villages do a ‘living Belen’ as in a village near us called Linares.
We walk up to the university which was the old tobacco factory of the Carmen opera fame. Now you can walk in and possibly through and feel student life all around you.
From the University we cross the road by the main theatre where renovation walk is ongoing and then into the Plaza de Espana park. There is fun with the rowing of boats and serious commitment to women’s rights with the poster display for International Woman’s day.
We watch an attempt at a wedding photo shoot and am glad we asked. We thought she was an Indian bride dressed in the traditional red with all the bead work. No, it was for a Gitano wedding. And of course the romany and Spanish gypsy links are from long ago in the north of India and Pakistan. And listen in to the stamping footwork of flamenco.
From here we walk through the park and have tapas away from the central tourist part. Rested and full of garbanzos, cerveza and ensaladilla we walk through the Plaza de Americas. The archeology museum is closed but the Museo de arte y costumbres is open. We rest with the butterflies and orange lanterna. Painted Ladies. It could be summer. Pigeons abound in one place for food and parakeets squawk about in the trees. Eucalyptus and parakeets and sunshine warmth. We really could be in the southern hemisphere. But the plane trees are changing colour and there is a chill on the shade and at night
We walk back by the river where Seville is ready with an ice rink and fairground for Christmas fun. And a strange glass container for eating churros and chocolate with the Torre de Oro in the background
Saludos from Sevilla with all its history, art, culture and natural beauty built up around the grand river Guadalquivir. From the Moorish power base of the Alcazar and Islamic rule, through the colonial Spanish architecture and build to impress, to the more nuanced post Franco Spain, a modern democracy with rights, values and standards at its heart. Ready hopefully to tackle the next global problem of climate change. Drought is not new to Andalucia and water is a blessing. However, the drought and high temperatures are longer and the water levels lower.
There is such beauty on this planet created by human hand and by nature. Let’s enjoy while we can and leave this world safer for those who come next. Lets watch our water consumption and keep the rivers flowing for wildlife too.
Time to celebrate too. I am attending the book launch of an anthology of short stories this Saturday in London. Evergreen is the title. ‘Until we are Ever Green’ is my story about a neglected silver fir Christmas tree.
Lets hope The Call of the Wild Valley gets published soon too. It’s on the list!
We have definitely had a mad March with all the weather and political changes but the rain is thankfully and finally falling. Let’s also hope for a peaceful and just outcome soon.
As many of you know this area of Andalucia should have a high rainfall in the mountains but there has been a nine month drought and less rainfall in the Autumn time. How the plants and trees survive is a wonder. But under the ground there are vast aquifers and the water table is rising again. We must not overexploit this and I will post further on our community’s local demonstration and the plight of the UNESCO biosphere, the Donana Wetlands.
This March we have seen the plum trees blossom at the beginning and the cherries near the end. Other plants flowering are the wild viburnum and yellow gorse along with the yellow rock rose – Halmium trifolium. And a good variety of birds are now busy. My husbands sharp eyes spotted a small bird of prey from the window. It was neatly poised on a overhanging bare branch of the ivy clad oak. Ahh.. very beautiful but was near the water bath we leave out where there had been a flock of pretty long tailed tits. He has also spotted a mistle or song thrush preening itself in the trees. turdus viscivorus or turdus philomelos. These have become quite rare in the UK and we have not seen many here either so that was welcome,
Below is a beautiful festoon butterfly or l’arlequin in Spanish – Zerynthia rumina. We saw this on the ground and just missed treading on it thanks again to my husbands sharp eyes. He is definitely a bird and small animal spotter. This butterfly is now quite rare in Spain. Its caterpillar feed on the rather dainty dutchman’s pipe or aristolochia pistolachia. A plant quite easily missed but very important for this butterfly’s lifecycle. One of our naturalist friends was very angry once when trying to raise the chrysalis of these butterflies to improve numbers. Just on hatching near her lab there was a lot of gylyphosate spraying where the plants for the eggs ad the caterpillars grow. Hopefully now there is more awareness of the needs of different animals and their ecosystems and use of such pesticides is being phased out.
With March being wet we have spent a lot more time inside and so I have read on with War and Peace and am now halfway through this tome I read all those years ago. There is so much more to understand now and I am always googling the place names to know where everything is. Although when I first read this in the 1970’s the Nuclear Arms Race and Mutually Assured Destruction were key concepts and real threats.
I began re reading this before the invasion of the Ukraine by Russia and will admit was a little bored by the opening with the high society of Moscow and St Petersburg. War and Peace is set during the Napoleonic wars of the early 1800s, just over 200 years ago. As I invest again in the characters and am reminded of some incidents I am more aware this time of the sections about war. For one of the main characters, the idealist Pierre Bezuhov his desire for a universal truth and humanity still shines as he is undermined by fellow freemasons who belong to the order merely for self advancement and not for ideas of universal peace. It is also about War and Love as there is a lot of falling in love and betrayal in the high ranks of Russian society.
But does this book give me insights into the Russian mindset? I think not but it certainly portrays the society of the rich and powerful and the personal and public politics are something Tolstoy does comment on in many different ways. At the moment I am gripped as the Russian army retreats to Moscow and the devastation brought by armies and war affects all of the people in its path. Tolstoy did not like the politics that drove these wars and I feel clearly puts this forward and also shows an understanding of those with no power – the ordinary soldiers and the peasants. The character Pierre has large estates he inherited in the regions around Kiev/Kyiv and his desire is to give freedom to the serfs who work on his land. Tolstoy shows how Pierre’s idealism can be corrupted by those ready to take advantage. It took until the 1860s for this feudal lord and bonded worker/slave/serf to be overcome.
The bitter irony now is the impact of modern warfare on people in the neighbouring Ukraine and who once would have fought as part of the Russian army against Napoleon and Hitler. Tolstoy’s War and Peace is a call for both peace and justice.
Reading for me is a way into other worlds, places, people and I have always enjoyed fiction books about the places I have visited or lived in. In that respect good translations are needed so we can have insights into different ways of being and thinking in this world,
The Blind Assassin followed by The Dark Night of the Soul. These two might speak for themselves but as like so many books on shelves I have not read this Margaret Atwood novel…yet! But have dipped into this psychology book of the suffering mind and soul. El Otro Arbol de Guernica- The Other Tree of Guernica where Hitler ‘practised bombing civilians in the town of Guernica – as a warning of modern firepower from the sky and support for a military coup. After this trial came the Blitz and the new warfare against civilians which tragically continues today.
Kate Adie as a well known journalist and often on the frontline this book does show the compassion of humans often in very difficult circumstances. Tolle’s book has a spiritual consciousness based slant towards the kinder world that we need to work towards within us and without us. Let’s hope that we will come through this madness of March 2022 and really work towards the change needed for peace and prosperity for all life on earth. War and Peace went missing from my shelves and am reading it with kindle but it would be there!
And in order to end with a celebration of the natural world below are 5 books from my shelves that have influenced my writing about nature.
Tarka the Otter was a book I read as a child and did reread while I was writing my novel about the animal world. Williamson was suffering from trauma from WW1 and cared for a wild otter that disappeared one day. In his search for this loss arose the novel about Tarka. Not an easy read but well worth it for understanding the life and trials of otters as they were hunted to extinction in the UK. There is recovery now and even a few beavers.
The Cloud Spotters Guide was given to me by a good friend and it does balance understanding the technical formation of clouds and their names with art and literature. So we were well suited.
Spiritual Ecology is a collection of essays about our relationship with the natural world. Joanna Macey has an article and one of her workshops inspired me to write this blog about nature.
The Genius of Birds was another gift from a friend who read my novel in one of its early drafts. The book takes you into all the latest research on birds and their intelligence and social groupings.
Weeds and Wild flowers by Alice Oswald was a major inspiration for me to write poetry. Ms Peony Broteri is the poem in its first form featured early on this blog and about this time as the wild peonies are just budding and ready to bloom for April and May
The missing book is Wildwood by Roger Deakin and must be on another shelf in the UK or I gave it away. Roger Deakin spans walnut wood for Jaguar cars, the wood sculptor David Nash, the wild origins of apple trees in Kyrgystan and Australian aborigine culture. This book led me to Robert Macfarlane’s writing and in particular Wild Places and the beautiful Lost Words for children and the young at heart.
In difficult days when all seems mad there is much to inspire us and give hope and each little drop of kindness to others will give rise to a more peaceful and just world. Solidarity with all suffering from war and the after effects and all those needing climate justice.
( From a Spanish placard at a young person’s climate demonstration in Spain)
As many of you know my blog has been about my own individual nature journey at Navasola, a mixed woodland valley in the Sierra Aracena in southern Spain. This led me to wish to be involved in more action to protect this amazing world of nature and so, sitting in a bar in Spain in 2016, I joined the UK Green Party. I became interested in the way members create policy and later decided to join the Wildlife and Habitats Policy Working Group. This has been another good learning curve on collaboration with others, research and constant evolving of policy framework in line with the philosophical basis of the Green Party and to do our best to create ways forward to protect and regenerate the Natural World. https://policy.greenparty.org.uk/philosophical-basis.html
I decided to begin this ABC summary of what I consider as the main principles that have driven the thinking behind the policy to share with you and I welcome discussion.
A for Abundance. Let’s have a world where there is an abundance of wildlife for its own sake but which we know can delight and lift our own spirits.
With such decline in natural spaces for wildlife we must address this with a desire to have an abundance of habitats to support the regeneration of the natural world. Wouldn’t it be a joy to see more green spaces, more birds and even more insects as so much depends on these tiny creatures. Rivers full of newts, fish, otters and beavers. All places to be 100% nature friendly is the key to solving many aspects of the climate/ecological crisis, inequalities and our own increasing mental health challenges.
B for Biodiversity. Let’s have a world where there remains an incredible variety of plants, insects, and all animals.
Well-functioning ecosystems support a variety of species. Regeneration of ecosystems including more wetlands, woodlands, moorlands, clean rivers and oceans with farming and gardening that supports wildlife will help all species, including homo sapiens, adapt and be more resilient to the effects of climate changes. From increasing the vast variety of native wild plants and trees to our coast and ocean beds being full of the variety of life that is possible when not over exploited or polluted. Regenerative farming and fishing are key to preventing more nature depletion.
C for Connectivity. Let’s have a world where wildlife can expand into more and more places and we can connect with nature.
Recognising that nature knows no borders and needs more space we must ensure good connectivity through a Nature Regeneration Network. This should help the need for wild species to expand. Where do all the young birds go when new territories and resources are needed? Nature needs space and knows no borders. We all need access to nature and to understand more about our interdependence.
D for Dedication. Let’s show the willingness to achieve a world rich in nature for all future generations human and otherwise.
To achieve nature rich environments our species must now dedicate all of our actions to this aim. All land use must consider how to improve outcomes for nature on that land. Not elsewhere. All business and public institutions must address the effect of their activities not only on carbon emissions but also on nature depletion. Not just local but all supply chains throughout the world.
Our dedication to regeneration of nature will be to accept a legal framework for the Rights of Nature to exist, persist and evolve. And nationally and internationally support the introduction of Ecocide as a crime against humanity and nature. How much longer can we accept the polluter just pays as in the recent vote in parliament re the constant over flow of sewage into our rivers? We need a better legal framework to truly protect the natural world into the future.
E for Enjoy a world abundant in diverse Ecosystems with Equality of access and opportunities.
The full policy and background research paper will be available on the Green Party website in the near future. In the magazine Green World- Jonathan Elmer, Green Party spokesperson for the Natural World wrote about the significance of the policy.
‘It represents a fundamental shift in emphasis, a movement away from traditional site-based conservation to systematic regeneration of nature.
A recent report from the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee concluded that since 1970, there has been a 68 per cent decrease in the population sizes of mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles, and fish across the globe, and in the UK, 15 per cent of species are threatened with extinction. It also noted that of the G7 countries, the UK has the lowest level of biodiversity remaining.’
It is time to act to ensure enough is done to regenerate nature not just in the UK but all over the world. We now need to find practical ways to bring these policy principles into action.
Let’s also hope that COP 26 will be a turning point for global co-operation although constant vigilance and action will continue to be needed for the protection of our living Earth and all species on it.
I hope the baby bird that hitched a ride in our favourite car is glad to be back in the woodland at our finca. In my dash to the village before shops shut at two pm I did not think to check to see whether I was transporting animals. On arriving at the village, locking the door and then thinking a bird was trying to get in the car I suddenly realised this fledgling robin was actually inside! I couldn’t release it so far from its territory so I drove all the way back . While the baby robin checked the mirrors I managed to be the obliging chauffeur and open the door for it. I hope it is glad to be back in our finca woodland and the parents have found it. For those loyal readers of my blog they may remember the different animals that visit us and the odd ones that like to take a car ride to the village with us.
Well, we are glad to be back too. It seems a long time but almost no time too. A year lost in many ways but significant with a death and a birth and a lot of reflection and writing work. All was well with the house and the land was enjoying growth spurts from all the rain. Our faithful car got us back from Portugal and gently pushed up the boughs of the young oak that was arching low over the track.
Thankfully the house and garden had been well looked after through the drought of last summer to the heavy frosts of January. We even had some garden flowers to greet us and a plethora of wild ones. The storm called Barbara the Borrasca had brought down some of the very old branches of the chestnuts but no trees fell. A lot of work had been done since then and we had some fantastic looking wood piles. Many of the chestnuts here in this region are ‘millenarios’ and are also protected. But it was the worst storm many around these parts had ever witnessed and there was a lot of damage to trees.
So we have been busy through the month of June with strimming back a bit, sorting out the irrigation and some post Brexit formalities and residency cards to be updated. The most difficult will be over driving licences as we may now have to take the Spanish driving test. Small mercies the multiple choice theory can be in both languages and is tricky and certainly tests reading ability. Another challenge is all the grass pollen, olive pollen and chestnut flowers. Mask wearing is a bonus I had never thought of before for when I work outside!
This year I could see a lot of the tiny olive flowers so I am hoping for lots of olives in the Autumn. This has also been a bumper year for plums and we even have a good crop of apples on a tree that never produce much. All of this is without any of our work. The actual vegetable garden was laid to rest but the trees with perhaps a really cold spell and then lots of rain have responded well. The trip to the village was for’ vinagre y azucar’ for chutney and jam making. And the vinagre was shelved with the vino. I searched and then had to ask.
This time of year it is good to see the swifts establishing their nests and future generations over the village of Castano de Robledo. Here there are the common swifts but fortunately more common are the rare Pallid swifts. There may also be rock thrushes and crag martins. The church that was never finished provides good homes and the even the older church. These homes were saved for the swifts by a sharp ecologist living in the village who found out that all of the bird holes were to be concreted up because the pigeons were causing so much damage. His knowledge helped inform the local town hall and the pigeon sized holes were made into swift sized ones. The swift community here is thriving and wonderful to watch and with the extra sunset views which are so beautiful from this spot in the village.
As for other animal life. We had a visiting cat again that we fed and it returned a favour by killing a young lizard on the porch and not even hungry enough to eat it. These cats know how to get round us humans and we respond and often give them unfair advantage over wild animals. This cat is very similar to the one that turned up last year. There is no castration control here or inclination to. These siamese crosses do like human company unlike the previous much more feral cats that have passed by. Wildlife would be helped and cats if there could be more concern over cat numbers and welfare.
And at last I am back with my art group which Ruth Koenigsberger whose art work I often show leads. There’s a lot of catching up to do. I was more busy with poetry while editing the novel last year and a publisher is looking at the first part now.
So with the art topic being water and reflections I will leave you with our visit to El Puente del Charco not far from here. This time it was peaceful but the last time we went we were graced by the presence of a Spanish stag party. It was a pre nuptial and very friendly as we were offered jamon and beer but lots of loud music too. It is good to be surrounded by the Sierra Aracena and the spirit of the Spanish people here.
Here’s hoping everyone can get back to some normal contact and visits to be with friends and family. With love from us all here at Navasola.
It is 7 years from when I first started this blog, January 2014 and as it is the last day of January I am looking back and wondering how to go forward.
7 years ago I gave the blog the catch line ‘nature needs nurture’. I was both amazed by my new experiences of living in the Sierra Aracena in Southern Spain and dismayed by how much was being lost. My wonderful discoveries of the vast biodiversity of Mediterranean regions kept me busy with key wild flower books and local bird books. My eyes and mind felt opened with a sense of wonder at this incredible range of life.
I have tried to record my experiences with photography and words. I found being ‘just botanical’ didn’t seem to attract a readership. I hope I have managed to add in the personal as it has been a personal journey for me but I have not always added in the nitty gritty of daily life and relationships and the strain when you live at a distance from family. These Covid times certainly emphasised that and the dilemma of no easy and quick return to be with family.
The growing understanding of how our natural world is at such a dangerous point has made me think and read more about climate and economic factors. One of my interests because of living in a rural community has been the delicate balance between how we farm and the possibility to be environmentally kind. There is much more discussion and action for those who own land to become stewards for nature. However, at our farm or finca we do not have to worry about finances in the same way as younger people and those without a supplementary income. There is no money in really farming our chestnuts, although we try and collect them each year. It is a back breaking task and not possible for just me. With paid help and about 200 chestnut trees we have never earnt more than 300 or so euros. It is true we could diversify and also be more self sufficient and would be so if younger. How do we go forward with our woodland home while under the shadow of no longer being European citizens, health and virus issues and climate changes.
In 2020 Borrassca Barbara arrived as one of the strongest storms in years. The ancient chestnuts had branches torn from them all over the area. This also affected the chestnut harvest and many did not get any income from their chestnuts in a year where it would have been so welcome. There is a lot of ‘healing’ work to be done with the trees but also the longer and hotter droughts affect the size of the chestnuts too. My plan is to have a mosaic of different areas to help with the biodiversity of plants and pollinators and in the hope this will help the birds too. Our pond has also kept enough water in it over the long summer months but we have at times topped it up from our underground water.
Our enjoyment of our woodland finca and the area is in the wild flora and fauna and I hope to go forward with more writing about this and being involved in more local conservation issues. The wildfires nearby brought this home to many people in our area. Eucalyptus and other pine plantations spread fires more quickly than native cork and holm oak forests.
Looking abroad now there is so much more scope for hope especially if the Biden administration can manage the climate crisis well. Unfortunately I hope that they will also handle all the ‘denial’ and misinformation with careful skill. I think I wrote when Trump came into power that the way we look after our planet should be a cross political party effort. I have closely followed American sites like Eco Watch and seen the many environmental protections for both wildlife and human societies stripped away . Well, with shamans entering the heart of democracy and ‘using’ the antlers of a dead beast I hope that many more may see into the heart of our existential crisis; a disconnect with nature and a disconnect with how we perceive what is right action in the 21st century.
7 years on and there seems to be a growing movement to protect the world we live in. I hope that we will be able to put the restoration of nature, wild and biodiverse places at the centre of all our actions. We have to hold our democratic governments to account as they are the best we have and they must act in the interests of future planet worth living on for all.
In David Attenborough’s recent book ‘ A Life on Our Planet’ he presents his witness statement to the importance of biodiversity as the heart of maintaining stable climactic conditions. Restoring nature and conserving biodiversity to create optimum conditions can help mitigate effects of climate change.
He uses some facts at the beginning of each year he remembers
1960 World population 3 billion, Carbon in atmosphere 315 parts per million, Remaining wilderness 62 per cent
2020 World population 7.8 billion, Carbon 415 parts per million, Remaining wilderness 35 per cent
One point about biodiversity importance Attenborough noted was how whales create the conditions for an abundance of sea life. There is a delicate balance that we started destroying very early on in our economies of free enterprise. His book is full of the warning signs which were apparent from the 1960s and the repeated failures to act. But Attenborough has a two visions for the future, one where there will be a poor outcome for all species, including ourselves and another where we may just turn the tide and will be able to maintain a planet with a more stable climate conducive to all life. Restoring nature is at the heart of this.
January 2020 ( I celebrated biodiversity with my photos so not all taken in January!)
And for 2021
Snow arrives as a first in all of our 8 years of living at Navasola
Below is about the importance of woodland in Spain for both economic activity and biodiversity.
Summary – In Spain the woodland coverage is the third largest in Europe with 18 million of hectares and sheltering over 6oo different species.
En España, la superficie forestal (es decir, lo que estrictamente no es agrícola ni urbano) ocupa 26,28 millones de hectáreas, lo que supone el 52 % del territorio nacional. Su superficie arbolada aumenta con una tasa anual de 2,19 %. Después de Suecia y Finlandia, España es el tercer país de Europa con mayor superficie forestal arbolada (en torno a 18 millones de hectáreas).
Según el avance del Informe de la situación de los bosques y el sector forestal en España (ISFE 2017), en nuestro país apenas existen bosques primarios (no intervenidos) debido a actividad humana sobre el territorio durante siglos.
En cuanto a las especies que nos encontramos, el 55,5 % de la superficie forestal arbolada está ocupada por especies de frondosas, el 37 % por especies de coníferas y el 7,5 % restante está ocupado por masas mixtas.
Los bosques y otras formaciones vegetales en España constituyen un importante hábitat para la biodiversidad, ocupando el 68 % de la superficie terrestre protegida y albergando 615 especies silvestres bajo el régimen de protección especial (40,2 % de ellas son aves y 27,6 % son especies de flora).
I hope everyone is coping with our current surge of infections and very bleak January weather. And a big thank you to all who have followed me so loyally and with so many comments and interactions over the years. I think I will continue in some form and we still hope to have good enough health to live at Navasola for a few more years.
At the turning of 2019 to 2020 there was hope. For so many it has been a life changing year and with challenges for all of us. January 2020 was a milestone as my younger daughter turned 30 and celebrated in style with many friends. She was one of the lucky ones of her 1990 compatriots. Then in March, all changed and she was sent her shielding letter. In many ways she has been isolating since but with the good fortune of her wonderful partner and their dogs.
I was going to write a post about pre lockdown at Navasola. We had two very full months with our visit to the wetlands of Doñana and walks around our local villages.
My plan was to post on each of the villages of the Sierra Aracena. It was soon too eerie to do that and no walking outside was allowed under the very strict Spanish lockdown. I was fortunate to have acres to work in and clear new paths like a wild bison and and to have an indoor sanctuary for writing.
I was also ready to post about the art classes our friend Ruth Koenigsberger started for her friends. We were first learning about how to use light and shade. We went and sat by the marble rocks of a disused quarry. There were some worrying news items but at the time in Andalucia there were few cases and all seemed contained. Then it seemed sudden as we were all put into ‘confinamiento’. The photos are from the post I never posted at the time! We have been fortunate that Ruth has continued to share her skills with us and her latest paintings.
I worried about family in the UK. My older daughter was pregnant and a nurse. We talked and agreed how many close family and friends had health issues that made them more vulnerable to this virus. She came through a more anxious pregnancy than in normal times. We were blessed with a beautiful baby girl in October.
From March to May we followed from a distance a very personal and difficult encounter with this virus. My close friend’s husband became ill. At first perhaps, it was like a flu and shingles but it changed to terrible difficulty in breathing. He did not want to go into hospital but was encouraged to by all, including my older daughter who knew him well. We were relieved he was in the best place. He was helped with oxygen for his breathing and he never really lost consciousness but his lungs were severely damaged. Two weeks after his 70 th birthday on VE Day he passed from this life. This leaves that unfathomable loss of a close partner and soul mate for my friend but his work as a writer and academic, his astute wry understandings, friendship and warm hospitality are a loss to us all.
I found myself with very ‘tight’ finances and some loss of income. I reluctantly cancelled some charity giving. But in April I responded to the London Marathon Charities appeal. So instead of running 26 miles I decided to write 26 poems for Nature and fundraiser for the birds whose songs brought a lot of joy to folk in lockdown. I have been fortunate to have many fellow bloggers, friends and family contribute to this. I will keep the link open a bit longer as ever in hope of more contributions to the much needed restoration of our natural world. This challenge certainly kept me blogging and writing poetry when I was not fully minded to write much.
Ruth allowed me to use some of her paintings which also inspired poems. Nick and Trevor also gave much information on many of the plants and creatures around us in the Sierra.
As the year ends we can look back and we do miss seeing and being in close contact with all our friends. Perhaps we have made more phone calls and zoomed but we do look forward to hugs, bear hugs and lots of real reunions. Thank you all who follow me in the virtual world and for all your inspiring posts, photographs and creativity.
I have spent a long time trawling through photos and trying to save those on Whats App. I also looked at drafts on my blog and was surprised by many I forgot to post or it was well past the post it date. The memorial writing below comes from a draft post in 2015. It was about our Quaker wedding and the different perspectives on the Quaker ideas of Light, God and Love. I also listened to Maharishi Mahesh Yogi speak about light and love being increased within us when we expand our conscious mind by transcending in meditation. I was thinking about a more philosophical blog at the time and then started on writing a novel.
One close friend was absent from our wedding. She was a devout catholic who died from leukaemia within a week of her 60 th birthday. This was on her memorial card and I love the way it makes the connections between light and love. In a very divided and wounded world we hope to find ways to restoring health for all life through love and understanding our complex world. Enlightening ourselves. Or as Quakers say ‘holding each other in the light’.
My plan was to finish my poetry challenge by October 4th when the cancelled London marathon is run in a limited way. But plans can often go astray particularly when babies decide it is their time to be born. We welcome to our family the tiny Jessica Rose. And for my next two poems I will honour her with a stork and rose poem! That will leave me three more to go, which are almost ready. I apologise too for the link to my fundraising page as without me knowing it had a time limit. Thank you to all those who have contributed or tried. I will put a final link when I have finished the 26 poems to Birdlife International and explain the work they do.
A Haiku for Jessica Rose
Stork’s beak with small sprog
Or sprig of eglantine rose.
Brings Spring to Autumn
There are wild roses at Navaselva and they delicately entwine themselves up some of the young trees. Often they grow on the edge of a tree line looking for light. The eglantine rose for me of Shakespearean fame, Rosa rubiginosa, or the dog rose, Rosa canina find places to flourish on our finca and have effective thorny defences. Rosa canina was known for possibly curing dog bites. There may be other types too and I will now need to investigate next Spring. It seems there are many roses by many different names and types of leaves to distinguish their species. Perhaps the wild rose can be symbolic of the need for women to be both tough and tender as highlighted by Maya Angelou. Certainly pregnancy and birth can be tough times and then the tenderness of love for a new human and the need to protect.
As for storks I have to be honest I have not seen them near our woodland. But there are some that nest in the local villages. And further along the road to Portugal there are many storks that nest on the pylons and the trees by the river. When we visit the Doñana wetlands in January there are 100s of storks nesting in trees and plentiful supplies of food in the marshy borders and rice fields along the Guadalquivir river.
It seems that the legends about stork have ancient history from Egyptian and Greek times, although there seems to be some confusion over whether the spiritual birds of birth and rebirth, carrying souls were cranes, herons or storks. Another interesting stork legend was the association with oregano, a well-known healing herb with antibiotic qualities that storks were seen with in their beaks. Oregano grows abundantly at Navaselva and I swear by its healing properties. I use it for my gums and for any sign of a sore throat. However, the stork in the haiku has a sprig of a wild rose in its large beak!
The main stork legend grew in Northern Europe when storks arrived in Spring and were seen as signs of hope and family fidelity. Hans Christian Andersen’s story ‘The Storks’ consolidated the tradition we love to keep of the stork bringing the baby.
I have adapted a poem I wrote some years ago about storks based on Yeats ‘The Wild Swans of Coole’ into my 26 word format.
This drawing of the stork comes from an art class with my friend the artist Ruth Konigsberger whose paintings and drawings often accompany these poems. The classes began before lockdown and have started up again and bring us all a joy as she is not just a wonderful artist but a very skilled teacher. Our focus was parallel perspective and dark and shade.
It is the equinox, the official end of long summer days. It is thought that this rather than any change of temperature is the way the migrating birds know they must leave for Africa’s warmth and food. The swifts usually go in August but house martins often have a second brood and will leave as late as September. The bee-eaters gather together too around this time. At Navasola there have been storms so perhaps some are still waiting to go. Here are two poems to two of Navasola’s summer visitors. One who has become a character in my novel and this drawing of him by my artist friend Ruth. His name is Abe Apio and he flies north in a quest to find a cooler place for a Navaselva buff-tailed bumblebee.
Abe Apio the bee-eater of my dreams.
Abe Apio you never leave me
Your brightness stirs my words
As your story moves me to write
Of your struggle to save
Not just bees.
You Can Not Keep a Swallow in a Zoo
This child delights in her own toy zoo,
A gorilla and tiger stalking through
A mat of savannah tufted strands.
A plastic fence surrounds a zebra.
A lion lies down with a flamingo.
The sun beats through a round bay window
Of a neat corner house with stained glass
Swallows at the front door and on the wall.
All this made the warmth of summer kind
In a chilly northern seaside town.
And this child did not know
What she knows now.
You can not keep a swallow in a zoo.
Now she counts the swallows as so few fly by.
The ones with red rump feathers preened
Prefer these southern lands with barns,
And ruins of long ago times,
Where with martins and swifts.
Built nests under old tiled roofs.
With holes and a rural disregard
For cleanliness that bleaches bare all life.
We thought some swallows might adorn our porch
But one hit a window and took a time
To fly again high enough to see
The windows of heaven
Where the ark is waiting.
Each poem conforms to my challenge to write 26 poems for the 26 miles of the London marathon which was not run this year and many charities have lost vital funds. A poem will either have 26 words and be haiku inspired or 26 lines. Each poem will be about different species found around Navasola.
My charity is the Royal Society for Protection of Birds and their links with Birdlife International. Please help them help the birds that know no borders. Much work has gone on to protect habitats and raise awareness of the importance of birds to the balance of nature. The decline in bird numbers and in particular swallows is worrying.
Greetings to all and to Dverse Poets on their 8th anniversary. Am linking this to open link night with Mish; https://dversepoets.com/ And really pleased to find Earthweal and their challenges with a nature focus; https://earthweal.com/
Life coming out of lockdown in Spain has been interesting and busy in many ways as we can now decide to go out more and visit friends and family. Some normality but also it is very strange and strained too. We hope all is going well for so many of you in many different places.
There has also been more work to do on the finca as we finally been able to have help from others. There have been some blessings in our retreat from society but sadness too as we are personally touched by loss and at another loss as we watch and read too much incompetent managing of a health crisis.
.This poem on my 26 poem challenge is structured around my form of 26 lines, 12 for the tree and 12 for the butterfly and two finishing lines to comment on both. It is based on our experience of having to cut back some trees from the house and knowledge of butterfly habitats and the plants and trees they need.
The Madroño Tree and the Two Tail Pasha
Arbutus Unedo, Strawberry tree, Madroño
Today is trim time for trees
But not scissor light snips
More motor power and deep cuts
Ear muffs on for heavy chain whirs
If you could only keep your fine fans
Of branches away from our earth tiled roof
I would not feel the hurt of habitat loss
The screams of the leaves as they dash
Against the cool cement white rendered walls
The birds will not be pleased
Nor the butterfly that some call
The foxy emperor or Pasha.
Two Tail Pasha, Charaxes jasius, El Baja or Cuatro Colas. ( 4 tails!)
Here you must lay your eggs
To hatch into the worm with two horns.
How do you know this tree is best?
You do not need a nest
To carefully care as each of yours
Must hatch alone. Make its own munch
Through tough leaves.
Tough lives taken at the point of a beak
Or hang cocooned for days
Till horns transform, two tails of wings emerge.
So bright, so fair, move me to gasp
At change so rare.
From dark places, burst leaves, break wings.
Reach out for life, lived briefly, in the light.
As for the ongoing climate crisis my poetry challenge is to help conservation charities restore nature and prevent biodiversity loss. We must have more trees and wild places. It will help us too.
I know there are a lot of struggling charities at the moment but if you can support my efforts I and theRSPB/BirdLife International would be grateful. I am halfway through now and every little helps me write more!