A bright, crisp day, the temperature around 16º but feeling slightly less because of a gentle but persistent wind. I decided to take Tara to walk around Bijauca, some 10kms away from home. It’s a beautiful area and since we hadn’t been to walk there for a few months the first day of the year seemed like a good time to visit.
Bijauca is an outlying area belonging to the village of Tárbena. It’s a V-shaped valley bordered by mountains ranging in height between 1000 and some 750m above sea level. The valley is wide and gives a feeling of expansiveness, a sense of space and distance not always evident in the mountains. For the most part it’s cultivated though there are definite signs of the unfortunate advance of time and the changes it brings about in agriculture. Almond trees whose trunks and branches are smeared with the cadmium yellow of mildew; brambles encroaching on what was once arable land; cherry trees strangled by opportunistic weeds and vines disappearing among the stubborn growth of tufty, spiny grasses all indicate land long abandoned to its own devices. As the owners age and their sons and daughters move away from the land to seek better – or, at least, different – opportunities elsewhere, the trees, no longer a source of income as they had been to former generations, return gradually to their wilder forms and succumb to the ills that untended plants are heir to.
Long ago, – or perhaps not so long ago – men would have come to this area on their donkeys, would have pruned the trees, cutting the wood into convenient sizes for the fireplace which served as hearth and cooker for their homes and they would have walked patiently and uncomplainingly from Bijauca back to the village, another day’s supply of firewood loaded into the donkey’s panniers. Today, however, I notice piles of trunks and branches lying, uncut, on the ground. I presume they were chopped from the trees and then left to dry, the owner of the land intending to return the following year to reduce it to fireplace sized pieces for burning. Now it lies, gnarled and too dry for burning, a testimony to the inevitable “progress” from open fireplaces to gas heaters and electric ovens. In a few more years it will have rotted and will be providing a rich loam to fertilise land which no-one will think to use
Yet still there are indications that some cultivation continues. There are olive, almond and cherry trees whose bases are surrounded with cut branches. They’ve recently been pruned. Someone is planning for next year’s harvest. A swathe of land has been turned over and awaits planting. Another tract is already planted with some green crop – I wonder what it might be. Certainly not any longer fodder for animals but perhaps potatoes, beans, garlic, onions for home consumption. I hope so.
The olive trees keep their grey green leaves all year but now the cherry almond and other fruit trees stand stark and bare against the sky. The cherry tree trunks are a dark purplish brown colour and sometimes seem to have been glazed with a shiny paint. The almond bark, on the other hand is a duller brown and decidedly rugged and wrinkly.
Touches of colour can be seen here and there in the wild flowers that grow alongside the paths and tracks. White and yellow predominate just now and I can’t help wondering whether there might be any reason for this since Nature rarely does anything just for the hell of it. But neither my memory of long ago Biology lessons nor my imagination can come up with any plausible reason so I decide simply to enjoy white and yellow flowers in abundance. I also give up on naming them. The long ago Biology memory does yield quite a few names – lady’s smock, celandine, Herb Robert, trefoil, vetch – but does not stretch to an identification of any of them. Anyway, they were flowers common to Britain so perhaps are not native here anyway. I do, however, see one that I can name and which also happens to be an exception to the white and yellow prevalence – rosemary. It grows in vast profusion here and its flowers are a delicate shade of cerulean blue. There is a delightful legend that tells how the rosemary flowers came to have their colour. When Mary and Joseph were travelling with the Infant Jesus from Bethlehem to Egypt to escape the clutches of King Herod, the Virgin grew tired and sat to rest under the shade of a rosemary bush. The sun reflected the colour of the Virgin’s robe onto the white flowers of the rosemary plant and turned them blue.