Black Kites over a Gate into the Underworld (an archived February 2021) at La Janda

~ a private track leads into the Puerto del Infierno

Last Saturday was a perfect one in which to be alive and ‘free’ in a wonderful Al-Andalus.

In the new moon of February, at the birth of the Ox Year, our first flock of migrant raptors crossed over ‘our farm’. Their line stitched for a few moments into a sky of immaculate blue. Moments out of time. Experience that might define being. Specifically being here, in the open countryside of Andalucia.

Two hours after solar noon air movement was slight. A gently rising ocean breeze ensured the mood of nature was not quite still. A chain of dots appears over a hill out of the south. A line of Black Kites. Eighty four in number? They flapped steadily northwards. Progressing without the slightest sideways deviation. They troop on past my favourite springtime vantage point.

I had been attempting to sit quietly, as if engaged with nothing. Meditation. Secreted I hope among gnarled and twisted wild olive trees on a hillock. A little eminence well-grazed by chestnut cows. This knoll marks the narrowest point in our hidden valley. There’s a presence here. It overlooks an ancient track. A Roman cobble way leading to a “Gate into the Underworld”.

A deep and formerly less secret place. A narrow cleft in tumbling limestone cliffs. A gap that’s only five oxen wide. The track leads into the forbidding and forbidden low sierras that lie to the east of our rental house. It’s beyond my “Checkpoint Covie”, beyond the boundary fence of this cortijo. Into the land of the landed oligarchs.

A cortijo by the way is the word for an Andalusian farmstead.

Respect – Paneolus mushroom – a sentry near the gate

I heard last week on the grapevine that a few small groups of Black Kites had been observed passing north, at Tarifa, across the nearby Strait of Gibraltar. Nevertheless the eighty odd who passed through my field of view were my very first of the spring. And so Adrenalin!

Big migrating birds these are. They are what you might call serious biodiversity. Life on the move, truly wild and truly free. Big inspirational birds and very welcome. Dart-shaped at a distance, black chevrons in the sky. They are scavenger predators and bound for sun-filled summers, scouring the backwaters of broad brown waterways, countries that form the core of the old “EEC.”Their flight line here was well-spaced and in the absence of a following wind the plodding kites took fully ten minutes to pass my position.

Last Saturday was, in human sense, the highpoint of the past eight days. Whole days previous were marked down by wind and rain, great grey cloudscapes rolling out of the west. Admittedly there were some days that were punctuated by a recuperative period of a few sunny hours. Precious few though. A little time during which one might venture out and in relative comfort look for fine wild companions for this humdrum human life.

Butterflies, are a good example. And they have already taken a battering this year. Saturday could barely produce five species, and very few individuals of each. Only the robustly faithful Green-striped Whites could muster a show of over half a dozen individuals.

Romulea bulbocodium on a crannied rock near the gate

Nevertheless the bees and wasps, the Aculeate hymenoptera, despite being in low number, were very noticeable; largely by virtue of their loud and utterly vital buzzyness. These delightful and dedicated labourers of early spring include a species of hairy Asphodel solitary bee. Hard working mothers were a feature on this sunny knoll last Saturday.

Also spotted was a single ‘white tailed bumblebee’, a working sister. Most likely she was from our colony in the mouse hole, under the ‘hedgerow’ of dead prickly pear cacti, secreted near to our own abode.

But my friends, that was all on Saturday. A truly delightful day that ended perfectly. For after sunset it remained calm and warm. The air was still. Filled with the sound of churring mole crickets and the deep and mournful lowing of our Retinta bull, a big boy he is, branded “501”. He was noisily staking his claim to the biggest and best pasture, the one that all but surrounds our farmstead.

Saturday was the lull, the lull before the storm – the latest one of many storms this winter. Overnight into Sunday the great east wind got up, here called the ‘Levante’. It blew and blew for all of Sunday. So we were more or less confined to the cottage.

Now, at the start of the working week we’re in a climate change lockdown. Hidden away in the hills near Tarifa. Because the great Levante is giving this corner of Europe a proper battering. Blowing a consistent seven, often gusting over Beaufort eight. A nine yesterday temporarily knocked out the electric power. And in that silence pontificating fact-checkers, the thought police of the MSM on WiFi roads, thankfully were kept at bay, if not permanently snuffed out or banned.

Now it’s a Monday and Elsie is forced to struggle with the power. Teaching kids in the Land of Zoom. And so I sit here, in the living room, swaddled in six layers of wool and cotton. I needed an electric heater earlier, one that pulses with an artificial orange glow. It looks like gaseous lucozade. But it keeps the draught and chills from cutting right through my back. Give me shelter!

Sheltering in a similar fashion, from the stark spring light of this great dry storm, are a couple of adult Moorish Geckos. On their first proper outing of the year. Brief forays across the whitewash, before pattering back into crannied places in their walls. There they are relatively safe from the claws of one recently arrived, feral yet undeniably handsome, Siamese tom. Safe in a tumble of big-stones, if not quite of bouldered walls. The self same walls that delineate our little rented corner of the ruins.

Oases within oases these ruins are. Naturally fertile, and unsprayed. Tiny bustling remnants of what nowadays is an almost deserted ghost land. Nevertheless it’s land that I pray will soon become organic once again.

a corner of the courtyard

Like the fine old lands of earlier times in Al-Andalus. The lands all about here in this Cortijo of the Vale near the Gate to the Underworld. Hidden away in a Tarifa province. Of Spain.

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