It was a particularly beautiful dawn at around 7.30 this morning. Red sky in the morning, shepherds’ warning they say but this bullshit adage doesn’t mean much out here as it continues to be warm and a little overcast. Shepherds? We have two goat-herders (cabreros) within a mile of us as the blue tit flies, the other side of the yawning valley that stands between us and La Maroma.
Ricardo runs about 120 goats, and Geronimo has less, but interspersed with a few sheep which must qualify him as a shepherd, I guess. Red sky or not, Ricardo and Geronimo still walk their goats, not taking the slightest heed of wind and rain although I think they would draw the line at snow.
Oh, there’s so much to say about Ricardo, his eccentricity, his bloody-mindedness, his cunning, his incredibly hairy chest and his belief that he owns the whole mountain but I will just confine this blog to a first, brief introduction. During the hot summer months, his goats are moved to the top of Maroma, but during the rest of the year they live just beyond the place where we get water and the smell can be pretty strong.
They remain corralled in the pokey yard until Ricardo is ready to take them out with the help of his two or three Andalusian sheepdogs (these plus a few bigger dogs bark all night, every night). He doesn’t usually come for them until late afternoon then they roam far and wide; sometimes he’s with them, sometimes not. Some days he’s very hands-on, other days he leaves them to their own devices then goes out searching for them in his latest clapped-out vehicle in the dead of night, yelling and making all manner of sounds that echo throughout the valley.
Tools of his trade appear to be a stick, a pair of binoculars, a catapult and a canvas bag to hold his smokes. The valley between us is very steep and I don’t blame him if he’d prefer to round them up using a system of ear-splitting commands, whistles and sling-shooting various sized rocks to hurry them along.
Giraldo we don’t see so much of these days. He always accompanies his animals, and his dogs are well organised and efficient. He and his wife make goats’ cheese from their little hovel in the village but we have been advised not to buy any because, well, I think the word ‘listeria’ was mentioned by a few people. Their cheese is made in the traditional way on this oak table, dated 1859.
A job well done today: the two holm oak trees next to the cabin needed a bit of pruning as they are almost touching the upstairs verandah. They are a very useful barrier against the wild weather, but also they screen us from the track below us and always buzzing with a family of blue tits who, incidentally, raise their babies twice a year in the same place – a tiny space just to the right of our big picture window. They are dear friends because their main diet consists of the sort of creepy crawlies that make me shudder. They are so enchanting and agile and we can sit and watch them for hours.
It’s always rewarding to hear the little ones getting stronger and more vociferous and right next to us! When the babies are almost ready to fledge, the parents start feeding them in earnest, taking it in turns to use either of the two oaks or the wooden verandah to perch and wait until the other parent has delivered their offering.
We have hundreds of holm oaks (quercus ilex) on one side of our hill and they have protected status, they’re very slow growing, the leaves are holly-like (hence its name) and just as prickly. They send out shoots over quite a radius around each tree, and as the leaves and branches burn very readily we have to do a lot of strimming once the wildflowers and grasses have entertained and nourished our legion of long-legged and flying insects. This is to keep the mata or undergrowth to a bare minimum but we only really managed this task properly for the first time this year and it was very hard work because of the inclines. Then once it’s been brush cut or strimmed down, the cuttings have to be gathered up and burnt.
We thought we could safely burn things until the end of May, but one night as we’d just finished doing some burning we had a blue light visit from two fire engines plus assorted crews who made sure we were fully aware that at no time ever, this close to the Parque Natural, are we allowed to have a fire without the necessary permisos (permission) from the town hall. It is common practice for everyone around here to burn stuff from December to May but they even stated that was totally wrong. You do wonder whether there’s one rule for locals and one for extranjeros (foreigners). They sprayed jets of water everywhere to satisfy themselves and left saying someone would be writing to me with the appropriate course of action. I haven’t heard yet, but then, I never go into the post office to collect the mail.