Places that are torn and wild

There are times when you’re confronted by savage and untamed landscapes that make you question whether the God that made them was still practising, or if this is the finished article.

wild and torn

I’m talking now  of the huge and empty mountains that rip into the skies above Mairena,  or  the cruel and desolate cliffs that brawl with the seas at Cabo de Gata, the little –known promontory where we spent the last two days.  This forms part of a sub – desert, the driest part of Europe, and boy, did it rain.   Blew too, white havoc on the water, with even the gulls forced to hunker down in the cracks between the slabs of rock

I loved it. Through the chaos of the wind you could see for miles down the coast and up and along the twisted black backs of the twin volcanoes lay the path we had chosen.  A tiny, heroic path stitched to the flanks, seemingly leading nowhere; in the gales this was not a route for the faint-hearted or for the owners of poodles or other lightweight dogs.

If ever you want to be reminded of your own insignificance,  spend a day alone in the mountains or on the shore of a storm torn sea.   The prodigious land and seascapes of Andalucia  are plenty vast  enough to dwarf  the biggest of egos.  Try it: worries are sloughed, you can weigh the things of substance and  appreciate the business of being.

snowy peaks

I find this revitalising, in the truest sense.    It’s kind of refreshing to remember that we’re not after all the masters of our world, that we cannot comb the unruly curls of creation.

Ultimately this I suppose is part of why I love the alpujarra.  It is untamed, mostly, but in a tame kind of way, on the edge of the sierras, but not edgy as in could-be-lethal.  A walk at 10 000 feet here is a controlled adventure, somewhere between a stroll in the Cotswolds and a trek up the scary bits of Everest.  Danger lurks everywhere, of course.  I remember one terrible occasion, for example, when the dogs – Labradors inevitably – stole the picnic from our rucksack, including the only Melton Mowbray pork pie in the kingdom, so it always pays to be watchful.

It’s so different here.   Not always better, but always different. This time last week I was in London and I loved it.  I discovered by chance the Japanese gardens in Holland Park, and was blown away. Not blown away like the poodles on the cliff walk, but amazed by the detail and symmetry of these exquisite ponds and lilies.  Now that is the finished product, no question.   Whether I’d want to live there permanently though, rather than  in the capricious, eye-popping, awe- inspiring mountain wilderness of Mairena, is not, at least for this writer, a particularly difficult question.

Almonds and bees

All around the almond trees the air is zumming and thrumming to the sound of a billion bees.  A lot, anyway.     It seems to me a serious, responsible noise, one which is at once soothing and uplifting,  a constant, reassuring springtime background to complement the brash bright flowers and, when you can remember to grant yourself the time, a gentle hubbub to inspire fine thoughts.

They are altogether grand little fellows, the bees.  Good eggs.  Selfless and dedicated, you just get the sense that a bee wouldn’t let you down as long as you don’t muck him around too much.    A bit unimaginative they are , all that flying in straight lines and hive subservience  and so on,  but  they’re  reliable and gentle and their presence deeply pleasing,  unless one decides to join you in bed, that is, or hides in your sandwich.

So I like bees. They’re not spiteful and random and vicious like some wasps I have known, but strangely serene.  So too I enjoy all that persistent buzzing around and appreciate their endeavours in the field of pollination, which steadfast task incidentally helps keep the human race in fruit and veg.    Honey too , of course, the only foodstuff I can think of that is somehow faintly decadent and yet  still good for you.

Meanwhile, an agreeable peculiarity is that their greatest enemy here is rather glamorous, with Mother Nature seeing fit to send their chief tormentors dressed in the finest feathers she can find. Seriously, have you ever seen a bee eater close up ?  Fabulous.  Incredible balletic fliers who must disembowel their prey mid-flight lest it sting them, these  lovely assassins burble happily and sing like nightingales, (well, not exactly like nightingales obviously)   and are as ostentatious as they come,  all reds, yellows and kingfisher  blues.   Little consolation to the bee, I suppose, that its killer is a looker,  it’s a bit like covering the can of insecticide in Christian Dior and silk, but it means  you can forgive them, kind of, for supping on your favourite insect, in a way that you may not forgive say, a crow, were he to do likewise.

And as for their favoured haunt this month,  the  almond trees, there can be few finer sights on this fair earth than to see them now in bloom against the snow and  blue, blue sky, the most fragile, perfect flowers in Christendom toughing it out against the wind and cold a mile up  in the high sierras.

You see  the thing with almond trees is that you might imagine that  they’re a bit soft, with  their delicate pink petals,  poetical  prettiness,  exquisite scent and ephemeral confetti blossom and all that, but you’d be wrong,  for beneath that camp façade is a tree that’s hard as nails.  A desert tree that requires but little water,  whose resilient black trunks  stand defiant like van Gogh squiggles against the bare winter hillsides, and whose timber is like iron.  So beware, lumberjack, for if with an axe on some cold winter day you should strike at just the wrong spot then your arm will recoil and quake as in a scene from Tom and Jerry. These guys are tough nuts.

So these efflorescent macho dandies are the perfect host for the tireless bee.  Year on year the two combine and offer up their yield to us, and do so beautifully.    At least for now.  Spain is currently the world’s second largest producer of almonds after California, but the US state is suffering from  the dreaded Colony Collapse Disorder which has led to all kinds of shortages, to the extent that  half a million hives now need to be trucked  in  by so –called pollination brokers.

Thus this morning as I sit enchanted in the ancient groves of Granada, the breeze carrying with it the murmur of the bees and the perfume of the petals they adore, I find it hard to imagine the disquiet and lamentation that must be the fate of the American farmers, but hope, selfishly, that we will not share their distress here, and that the perfection of the orchards of Andalusia will persist a while longer.

Ojala, as the Spanish say.   Inshallah….. God willing.