Silent Sunday

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As anyone who has read ‘The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’ will know, the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe and everything is, of course

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

As of yesterday, it’s also my answer to the question: ‘How old are you?’ (Hence the cake.)

I’m sorry to report, however, that I received no revelatory insights on the occasion of my 42nd birthday. Or at least if I did I must have promptly and absolutely forgotten them. (It’s a possibility, there was some celebratory gin consumed.)

I did have a very lovely day though. Which has got to be almost as good as unraveling the mysteries of the universe, right? An afternoon spent with good friends, eating good food, sharing good conversation and with a gang of children running about entertaining themselves. Flung together at the last minute, it really was one of the most relaxed and enjoyable birthday celebrations I think I’ve ever had.

Maybe this getting old thing isn’t too bad after all.

 

 

Sierra del Sueve

It’s Spain, it’s June but somebody forgot to tell the weather. We’ve had a decidedly dodgy start to spring and summer – average temperatures in May were 3 degrees colder than in the last three decades and average rainfall was up by 50 litres per square metre!

As a result my garden is in a sorry state. I have planted very little; with so much rain finding the right time to dig has been difficult, and what I have planted is not doing so well. With so little sun nothing is really flourishing as you would expect at this time of year.

Climbing too has been curtailed and our usual escape clause in times of bad weather of jumping in the van and heading off for a few days has not been an option as the bad weather hasn’t just been confined to our mountainous corner of northern Spain but has, most unusually, squatted over vast swathes of the country.

It’s also slowly dawned on me that we have become so accustomed to the (normal) Spanish weather that we have lost some of our capacity to cope in bad weather. Now we see bad weather as a reason to withdraw inside, batten down the hatches and sit it out. Plus our barometer for what is ‘bad’ weather has been reset to a considerably lower baseline. Drizzle that might be termed a ‘soft day, thank God’ in the west of Ireland is now enough to stop us dead in our tracks. We wrap ourselves in fleeces on days that would be worthy of bikinis back in the UK. I think we may have gone a little soft.

As we wait for normal service to resume with the weather it is time to revert to hardier, northern European ways and to remind ourselves that there is no such thing as bad weather, just inappropriate clothing. So when last week there were storms forecast for Thursday, the day I had arranged for my ‘gardening club’ (we’re a club of two friends, helping each other out with manpower and motivation on a weekly basis) we decided to pack some waterproofs and head off for a hike up the nearby Sueve mountain. (I know, the gardening link is somewhat tenuous here but the statutes of the club are flexible enough to allow motivation to come in various guises ūüėČ )

Bar-Restaurante el Asturcón, Alto La Llama. The start point for our hike up the Sueve

Bar-Restaurante el Asturc√≥n, Alto La Llama. The start point for our hike up the Sueve. They do great pinchos and full men√ļs here.

We set off from Alto de la Llama in a dank, dismal mist. With the Sueve being so close to the sea the views from here as you gain height are usually spectacular, with panoramas along the coastline as well as to the higher mountains of the Picos de Europa to the east and the Cordillera Cant√°brica to the west. On Thursday as we set off we could barely see the path ahead. Luckily it’s a very clear wide track so even in the mist there was no risk of getting lost and wandering off a cliff edge. We did almost stumble across a few wild horses in the mist however.

IMG_9438The Sueve is home to a large population of the native wild pony, the asturcón  and, whatever the weather, you will always be guaranteed sightings of herds of these sturdy animals on its hillsides. As we headed onwards and upwards we were rewarded with a few breaks in the cloud that allowed us to see just how many of these ponies there were around us. A lovely sight, especially given the fact that they have historically been threatened by extinction.

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IMG_9447Once we had gained enough height we actually emerged fully above the cloud that wrapped the coast and had clear views around us.

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That’s some bank of cloud. Much more attractive from above than from below.

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Are those some mountains I spy in the distance?

Now we were able to sight several roe deer, another plentiful inhabitant of this sierra but considerably harder to photograph as these skittish creatures don’t tend to hang around long enough for the slow-reacting photographer to extract her camera from its bag and remove the lens cap. Here are a pair I managed to snap in the distance as they skittered away from us up a rockface.

IMG_9448We didn’t make it all the way to the top; it was a school day and I had to be home by 1pm so we had to conclude the ‘gardening meeting’ early. Which was lucky as we made it back just before the promised thunder storm broke and it really was time to retreat indoors and batten down the hatches.

Contrasts

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Our sleek black greyhound makes a fine contrast against the snowy backdrop of San Isidro ski station. His energetic charging about belies the few white hairs that are already sprouting in his fur.

Last weekend we nipped across the mountains of the Cordillera Cant√°brica to Le√≥n. At the top of the mountain pass, just over the border from Asturias, we stopped at San Isidro ski station to have a little play in the snow. (And to give the poor old motor-home’s engine a chance to cool down after the long slog up the windy pass.)

The ski station had long since closed for the season and the contrast between the hot, sunny Saturday in May and the deep blanket of snow that still enveloped the mountain tops provided the perfect physical illustration of the bipolar weather patterns of the last couple of months, as we have flipped back and forwards between spring and winter. Even this high in the mountains, at over 1500 metres above sea level, it is very unusual to see so much snow so late in the year.

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As we mucked about and laughed in the sunshine and snow I also couldn’t help but contrast the day with the last time I had been here. 20th December 2008, I ended the day in the first aid centre, with the ski-station’s doctor attempting, unsuccessfully, to re-place my dislocated elbow and putting a provisional cast on to protect my shattered ulna before sending me on my way to hospital. I eventually made it home on Christmas Eve, with a titanium plate and 7 screws in my forearm and a LOT of very strong painkillers in my bloodstream. It’s really no surprise that I hadn’t been back to San Isidro since.

Despite the involuntary shudder that passed through me when I saw the dreaded torture chamber first aid station and as I spied the exact point on the slope where I had been taken out by a snowboarder, it felt good to be back at the scene of the accident, whole and healthy and happy.

Indeed here I am, some 4 and a half years later, in an entirely different phase of my life but a phase that I may never have reached if it hadn’t been for that disastrous day on the slopes. With an enforced stop to all plans and activities for several months (no surfing, no climbing, no diy, no gardening, no writing, no trips) came an enforced pause for reflection and, with that, some life-changing decisions.

And that’s the thing. Even in our bleakest moments there always exists the seed of as yet unknown joys.

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Jack, born October 2009

The American Resident

Country Kids from Coombe Mill Family Farm Holidays Cornwall