By: MARGARET BROWN
Margaret Brown is one of The Resident’s longest standing contributors and has lived in the Algarve for more than 20 years. As well as Country Matters, she also writes Point of View every week.
WINTER HAS been slow to give way this year and as a result our wood shed is almost empty, the floor covered in dead lichen and fragments of bark, plus the beginnings of a sparrow’s nest.
Various insects found refuge in the debris including a recently hatched grasshopper nymph no bigger than a grain of rice, a pale and perfect image of what it will become after several moults.
With many natural enemies and in order to keep the numbers up, thousands of eggs are laid in the ground each autumn. Once fully grown adults emerge en masse they can devastate agricultural crops in a manner similar
to their larger relative, the Locust. We see a few of those but otherwise grasshoppers in the Algarve are small, noisy and endowed with scarlet or blue wings. Flying out from under one’s feet on grassy patches and low growing vegetation, they fiddle away all night, rubbing their hind legs together to tuneless effect while serenading for a mate.
In contrast, the valley Nightingales are singing again: absent for several years, the other morning they were in full voice. Heavy overnight rain turned the dry boulders into a bubbling stream, the combination of sounds a song of praise to a wild garden filled with flowers of every shade and colour.
It has taken that long for the hills to recover from a disastrous fire in the summer of 2003 which cremated animals and vegetation. Even now the blackened stumps of eucalyptus may be seen at the centre of stout secondary growth, saplings maturing into tall trees around the carbonized parent trunk. Despite so much time having passed, when rain falls after a period of drought it is still possible to pick up the smell of freshly quenched charcoal.
All this extra watering will help the countryside to stay green into May giving plants time to mature, seed and reproduce and what breeding birds and animals remain should find enough food for their young. If some survive the shooting season or controls were imposed on game bags, there could be a gradual return to the number and variety of wild animals present when we came to live here in 1986.
While the weather has given extended life to plants wherever there is enough soil to put down roots and the Algarve is decked overall, our recent visitor was denied the warm sunshine for which she was longing. Coming from Britain pale and a touch fed up with rain, hail, snow and dull days, her lack of tan has been compensated by walks among the beautiful hills.
The other side of the coin has to be the spreading tentacles of concrete reaching out from one town to another, ugly and without forethought judging from the empty townhouses and apartments, many up for sale or rental. The arrival of an estaleiro between Odiáxere and Sargaçal suggests that before long these two dormitories will be joined to Lagos. If global warming is not just a red herring to take our minds off poor government and failing economies and desertification of southern Europe a probability, fewer holidaymakers will be coming south once their own climate has warmed up.
Meanwhile, the lane that used to be a dirt track between home and the EN 125, now covered with tarmac, has become a short cut for heavy trucks commuting to and from this growing estaleiro. Any time during the day, one may meet a maxi ballast lorry being driven smartly along this narrow twisting road that is edged with deep gutters, leaving no room for bicycles let alone a car.
The other morning a new born foal was standing in the middle of a blind corner while his mother grazed the verges. The Boss stood on the brakes as a truck came from the opposite direction and the youngster, unafraid of people or vehicles, trotted back to its dam: we spent a short time stroking the friendly little animal, fearful for its safety and puzzled that the owner should be so careless.
Just as the temperature shot up and the sun came out, our visitor had to fly home and we were at Faro by 9am after a sleepless night. Despite setting various alarms clocks, a fear of oversleeping lurked in the subconscious: it happens every time.
Having made an early start, we decided to carry on into Spain. Feeling like slow roasted chickens in the rising heat, the road to Ayamonte had little to offer in the way of interest with no sign of bird life on the saltings and flat plains extending for miles toward the coast. We aimed to fill the petrol tank with gasoline, a bargain at 40centimos less per litre across the border, and to buy a prescribed medication that is unavailable in Portugal, only to find it was no longer sold in Spain.
Home again, next morning being The Day of the Revolution, we breakfasted outdoors to the thump of maroons. April 25 1974 marked the end of a 64 year period of coup and counter-coup, from the end of the Monarchy in 1910 through various regimes, one assassination and the 32year fascist dictatorship of António de Oliveira Salazar. He steered Portugal toward economic recovery despite the repressive regime, dying in 1970 following a stroke. Four years later, the bloodless revolution marked the beginning of democratic rule as we know it today.