In the Land of the Wild Boar

This is wild boar territory. They search for food mainly at dawn and dusk, rootling among fallen leaves to find anything that takes their fancy and seems edible. They’re opportunistic feeders, eating almost anything they can find. That’s mainly plants and roots but they’ll also eat any small animal they can catch as well as worms, insects and eggs. Newly hatched birds and reptiles can be a delicious titbit. They make a den for nesting and resting and will oftentimes build a shelter by cutting long grass and then crawling under it to lift it and form a canopy. They communicate with each other loudly and frequently, grunting and squeaking to let others in the pack (called a “sounder”) know where they are and what food is available. Sows will also use a range of grunts and squeals and chunterings to discipline and locate her piglets.

I’ve often seen them close to my home. Once, a rather tired and elderly looking male sauntered casually through my garden and flopped down to rest, as if absolutely exhausted, just outside the gate. Concerned for his wellbeing I tried to approach him with a bowl of water but my presence was clearly disturbing and he dragged himself wearily to his feet and lumbered off up the hillside. I was sorry that I hadn’t left him in peace. My good intentions were, on this occasion at least, misguided.

On another occasion, walking with Tara, I heard a rustling and scrunching in the undergrowth beside the track we were walking along. Tara’s ears pricked up and she stood stock still staring fixedly in the direction of the sound. My first thought was that it was a person hiding – with what purpose I didn’t even begin to speculate on – but I very quickly realised that given the height of the vegetation the person would have had to be crawling on all fours or about 1 metre tall both of which did seem somewhat unlikely. Suddenly a small head popped above the plants – then another, a third and finally a fourth – four wild boar piglets. I was then able to identify the grunting and mumbling of the sow, invisible to me but concerned about the safety of her babies. The last piglet to appear, looked for a couple of seconds at me and at Tara, decided that discretion was definitely the better part of valour, ducked beneath the level of sight and scuttled back to Mum’s safe-keeping. The other three were more curious and stared for quite a few minutes at these two strange creatures who appeared nothing like anything else they’d ever seen before deciding that we weren’t so very interesting after all and returning, one by one to their foraging and chomping.

I find it hard to understand how anyone can hunt and kill such lovely creatures just as I find it difficult to understand how anyone, having seen one in the wild, can then eat a piece of it. But then, some people say carrots scream when they’re pulled from the ground.



The Times they are a-changing

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.