Tag Archives: Writing

The Last Post of Summer

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

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Bee eaters seen on one of our dog walks.

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

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Close up of large grasshopper, early April.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

View from my sanctuary room for writing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

Change has happened. Change will happen.

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

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

Olivia and the Olive Trees of Navasola

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


 

 

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The growth of Olive flowers by J Oteros on wikipedia

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

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

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

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

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

 

100 Days almost of Blogger’s block!

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

Compassion for self, others, nation, world, planet.

Compassion for self, others, nation, world, planet.
I have spent the past 2 weeks travelling around the UK, visiting friends and family. It has not been easy. I have shared in personal tragedy and loss of a loved one, struggles to survive health and economic difficulties. I have also listened to comments and thoughts on the state of our nation after the referendum result to leave the EU. The last weekend I went on a Quaker conference about compassion. The outcome of that has made me think about the nature of compassion, in my own life and in our society and how to harness compassion and kindness for all life on this planet.

Reflection of Woodbrooke in lake
Reflection of Woodbrooke in lake

At Woodbrooke Quaker Centre we were privileged to stay in a room where Gandhi once stayed. Non- violent actions against injustice are part of his legacy. One of our speakers was Lama Yeshe Losal Rinpoche, abbot of the Scottish Tibetan monastery. http://www.samyeling.org/ As a Tibetan he spoke of how he left Tibet and became a refugee. He spoke with an understanding of the joy that can be present in our lives and how his first experiences of the Western world surprised him. We seemed to have forgotten how to experience a deep but essential part of our nature. At the monastery there are opportunities for people to recover from addictions and depression. Lama Yeshe did not intellectualise about compassion. He spoke from a deep place within him where there is compassion for all living things.
Qamar Bhatti Khan gave a lively talk about his own experiences in the Handsworth riots, the aftermath and his role in community cohesion. Michael Barnes gave a lecture on work and studies he has been involved in with Inter Faith dialogues. He compared writings from ancient Buddhist scripture and Augustin. He also touched on work by Joanna Macy. This interested me because it was at a Joanna Macy workshop organised by Transition Ealing that inspired me to start this blog!
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Hannah Gilbert gave an illustrated talk where aspects of compassion in new approaches to therapy and mindfulness techniques were explored. Her father Paul Gilbert has researched and written about how our brain works and how developing compassion can support well being, recovery from trauma, depression. http://compassionatemind.co.uk/about-us
There was also time to talk with a range of people and concerns were often raised about the referendum, challenges of Brexit and the political fall out. My previous post shows my concern about environmental issues. However, I also feel the need to understand the depth of feeling and reaction that led to the vote to Leave the EU. It has seemed like a dividing line has been drawn and many are taking up entrenched positions. Much seems to have been based on fear and mistrust on both sides.
I have begun to feel my anger and frustration over the referendum diminish and by being here I find I can try to understand why people voted to Leave. Am I able to be more compassionate and less argumentative about this?
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Since then we have also had The Chilcott report. From this and I read an article about how the human mind does entrench itself in a certain position and even evidence based thinking does not help resolve this but rather the person begins to reframe the evidence. The article showed how Tony Blair has kept doing this. The danger is that the more powerful we are the more likely we are to do this. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-36744911 A bbc magazine article titled ‘\how we cover our ears to the facts’

I am also aware of all the recent gun tragedies in the USA and the potential to cause division between people. Obama returned early from his State visit to Spain.He seemed to wish to invoke calm and compassion for all who have lost lives. He also seems to understand evidence, facts and take action based on that. Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela have both inspired succesfull movements to counter great inequality through non violence, reconciliation and compassionate thinking.

I want to end on a sad but hopeful point. A young girl disappeared and her body eventually found along a canal area that I know well in West London. In fact I had been walking with my friend along that route and down to the Thames. The friend had been on the Joanna Macy workshop with me and had encouraged me to blog about nature. It is a lovely and natural place and as we walked on a Sunday busy with cyclists and other walkers. But it can be lonely. Alice Gross lived near here and her body was finally found along the canal.
Her story had been ‘used’ or reframed by the Leave campaign. Her parents felt the need to show her attitudes and ideas through a very thoughtful essay she had had to write in school about the pros and cons of being EU. There is a tragic irony on her comments about criminals crossing borders but she has a very non racist stance. She saw criminals as criminals from whatever country they came from and as human beings .
The black box thinking that has helped to improve aviation safety needs to be a part of all tragic incidences. It helps all learn and improve so that mistakes are not repeated. I am reminded of the Soham murders too. The murderer there was not of another country but another county and the police had failed to link up information across. The parents of Alice in their loss have shown courage and concern . The court inquiry stated that there needs to be an improvement in background checks across countries. It is this procedure that might have saved her life from a man from Latvia who had murdered before.
If I was teaching I am sure I would have asked students to write an essay on the advantages and disadvantages of being in the EU, using reliable sources. I was very moved to read part of the essay of Alice Gross that her parents felt the need to share with the Guardian.
I hope showing some of the extract does not infringe any copyright but shows the careful reflection of a young person. https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2016/jul/11/revealed-alice-gross-argued-against-banning-foreign-criminals-before-her
“It reflects on the good of our country, not only showing the strength and stability of our nation but the trust and cooperation we have to make our world successful, which in turn earns the respect of others,” she says. “Although there are some disadvantages that result in our country having slightly less power over its citizens, but what is power over loyalty and alliance amongst a civilised and peaceful union?
Over 70% of young people voted remain. Perhaps the thoughts expressed by Alice Gross show the concerns of a younger generation with a desire for cooperation, interdependence and non racist approaches to other human beings. A desire to connect, reconnect and be compassionate to all life. Many young people demonstrated their expression of frustration with the vote and their support for their fellow Europeans in a peaceful and non violent way.
We now look forward to some leadership from the conservative party. I hope there will be more compassionate conservatism as Theresa May pledges to address the inequalities that have clearly been shown to exist in our very divided United Kingdom. Maybe the Labour party will have compassion for each other and take a strong role in the new or old road that the country is taking.
Compassion needs courage, a different way of thinking and feeling.It is possibly more than kindness and caring but begins there.
Here are some compassion focus groups that I have encountered at different stages of my life.
The Samaritans. ( And the bible story of the Good Samaritan)
Compassion in World Farming ( A charity started in the 1970s to campaign to end the suffering of farm animals)
Listening with Compassion ( Listening without judgement, from Lew Epstein and Trusting You are Loved)
Compassionate mindfulness ( Paul Gilbert and compassionatemind.org)
Buddhism has no absolutes but if there is to be one it would have to be compassion ( The Dalai Lama)
Joanna Macy workshops on creating compassion for ourselves, others, and the planet.
The hallmarks of a bodhisattva: compassion and insight into the interconnectedness of all beings
http://www.joannamacy.net/

My thoughts are with the people of Nice and perhaps the outpourings help and remind us of how interconnected we are.

Skies over Cropredy, Oxfordshire, UK.
Skies over Cropredy, Oxfordshire, UK.

Other sources
matthewsyed.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/BBT-sampler.pdf
1.
Black Box. Thinking. The Surprising Truth About Success. (and why some people never learn from their mistakes). MATTHEW SYED. JOHN MURRAY.

Misstery Bird, Missing binoculars, Missing Birds. How many birds will we miss?

My first ventures at bird photography with the LUMIX was more successful than the dear old iPhone. It was also quite good to zoom in on birds to identify them as our binoculars have gone walkabout. In this photo I was trying to identify a large looking  egret but missed seeing the other two. It was only later, on the computer, I spotted the two other birds.

Photo of egret but includes a mystery bird camoflaged on the shore; largish with possibly long beak; curlew? and small wader paddling. Perhaps the zoom on the camera is better than the binoculars we have left in London!
Photo of Little Egret  but includes a mystery bird camoflaged on the shore; largish with possibly long beak; curlew? and small wader paddling!
Ringed plover
Ringed plover little, Charadrius dubius

I never thought how important binoculars would be some years ago when I tried using them and couldn’t focus at first. But the distinct colours and antics of birds became so vivid that now I feel lost without them. I remember the little brown bird in my garden, a dunnock,with its tawny golden streaked feathers.

Grey plover in adult winter plumage. Pluvialis squatarola.
Grey plover in adult winter plumage. Pluvialis squatarola.arden.
Another curlew on a sand bank
Another curlew on a sand bank, numenius arquata

In 2010 we walked along this stretch of the Ria Formosa by Cabanas Fort. This is a sandy dune habitat and a protected place for conservation of a range of habitats and seabirds. My eyes were opened to the variety of birds and trying to look for the leg or beak colours. This was another eye opener to the amazing range of birds I had never really thought about before.

But the curlew had always been a part of my imagination. A book read long ago in childhood described the haunting cry of the curlew. Now we need to listen to their plaintive cries and protect their habitats. Maybe the mystery bird is a curlew?  But could it be a whimbrel, a godwit or one of those green or red shanks… .? It was far too far  away to see and when I saw the photo it was also well camouflaged on the shoreline.  A bird to haunt me!

Now for the missing binoculars, not just one but two pairs. Is this what happens travelling between UK, Spain and Portugal? Unfortunately am still looking and having to use the camera to zoom in and capture a little bird.

More of a concern than the binoculars are the decline in bird numbers. How many different birds will we miss if we have never known the amazing variety that there are?    Just for starters…. Kentish plover, Ringed plover, Little ringed plover, Golden plover, Grey plover, Dotterel and let’s not confuse Dunlin, Sanderling and Knot or take a Stint or two.

Maybe they all deserve a poem or a shipping forecast with their amazing names.