LIVING ON the edge of the Monchique foothills, our dogs have a freedom about which suburban pets can only dream. Until such time as there are no more castaways, and dogs continue to breed unchecked, there will always be a population of strays and victims of ill-treatment seeking a place to stay. In homes dotted around the countryside, behind the EN 125, an unknown number of animal lovers take in and care for these discarded and traumatised victims. Charities do their best, but usually refuse new inmates for lack of space, or perhaps through lack of money. It is a running sore on the face of an otherwise tolerant and beautiful country.
During 20 years, we have taken in eight dogs in various stages of disintegration, from the newly born to the very close to death. Without exception, they have been nursed back to health and their wounds mended, always with the backing of a skilled and compassionate vet. While the cost of fencing remains expensive, especially if bedrock lies just below the surface, the rescued lixo of the Algarve mongrel population will remain independent spirits. They are canine romanies and, having learned to survive in a hostile world, they do not take easily to being chained or confined. Fed regularly, kindly treated and offered a comfortable bed somewhere sheltered and dry, their gratitude is reward enough. Our most recent acquisition is a case in point. Fred, having managed to keep body and soul connected by a thread, during his starveling youth, has been with us for two years. Quite a gentleman but still a wanderer, he goes off for a day exploring the scrub covered hills with his mate from next door, returning in time for supper dripping wet and with lumps of red mud on his feet. House proud I am not, but there is a limit.
Some of those rescued have short but happy lives, hidden diseases carrying them off prematurely. The more fortunate survive into old age, to become cherished family members, and, in return, give unlimited affection devoid of criticism. We have just said ‘goodbye’ to Bess after 10 years, a small self-contained mongrel with a mind of her own and excellent manners. She lies buried beside Pingo and Fly, in what was intended to be a lily pond, under a shady wattle, whose seeds from last season are now saplings a foot tall.
Life moves on and so must we, but happy memories remain to be savoured and sometimes invade our dreams. So it is that the latest in a long and disparate line of Locums at the Luz end of St.Vincents Anglican Church has finished his stint. After three months, Canon John Davies and Frances his wife, are returning to Wales, having offered enlightenment and hope right across the parish to a dwindling congregation of residents and holiday makers. During the lengthy interregnum, a few members have left to attend services elsewhere, while others have ceased any form of regular worship. This is no criticism of the dedicated priests who have been caring for an increasingly disheartened body of people. As part of the parish farthest west in the Diocese of Gibraltar, St. Vincents might have dropped off the tip of Iberia, into the sea, for all the progress made in choosing a new Assistant Chaplain for us. Bearing in mind that variety is said to be the spice of life, it was a pleasure to welcome the Reverend John Askey as our Pastor at the beginning of June.
Now that a spell of cooler than usual weather has given way to flaming June, everything underfoot crackles like cornflakes. Hungry flies seek blood, even in the early hours, and any candles not stored in a cool place are beginning to droop. While large areas of agricultural land lie parched and neglected across the Algarve, cork trees continue to provide an income and Portugal supplies 50 per cent of the world’s needs. Those found in our valley were harvested two weeks ago: stripped by skilled workmen, using axes to expose the bright gold virgin bark underneath. In nine years time, this bark will provide another cash crop. First cuttings are taken at 25 years and, with the life span of a cork oak being anything from 150 to 250 years, patience and long-term planning for generations to come, has been a way of life for centuries.
Now that vintners are seeking to improve the flavour and storage of wines, they are turning from cork to screw tops and plastic bungs, to give a better seal during ageing. If the trend continues, it will have a far reaching effect upon areas of forest, the environment and local employment. There are other uses for cork, such as insulation, fireproofing, tiling and vehicle engine gaskets, but not enough for the status quo, or to encourage future planting of young trees. As these plantations come to the end of their lives, large colonies of White Storks nesting in the tree tops today, will have to move elsewhere, or adapt to a different way of life, along with other species of animal. There has been a considerable increase in the Lagos stork population recently and, judging by the number of small white heads poking above the ramparts, this has been a good year for breeding.