Heartbroken in Alferce

Dear Editor,

I am sending you this because I think people have little idea of the destruction happening here.

Everyday, for three years, I have walked with my two dogs into the mountains above Alferce. To walk amongst every shade of green and witness the changing seasons, watching the colours emerge in each precious flower, must be one of life’s pleasures. The red of the medronho appearing more vibrant everyday against the deep green leaves. The tiny deep blue, purple, and cerise flowers carpeted on the path, and yellow flowers everywhere I rest my eyes, and I am reminded of Wordsworth’s poem “The Daffodils”:

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.

I too felt this joy as I wandered idly along the small path. One plant caught my attention. Over waist high, it was easy to cup the plant in my hand, marvelling at the intricate beauty I was seeing. A firm stem with smaller stems growing off it, at first looking rather like a small green pine cone, with clusters of green buds. I watched every day until its flowers unfurled and burst into the sunshine. Small white delicate flowers emerged, and running down each petal a peach-coloured fine line, so exquisite I was mesmerised by its beauty.

Imagine then, my utter dismay when walking one day I saw that the leaves of this adored plant were turning yellow. At first I imagined they were scorched by the sun, but quickly discarded this idea as impossible. Then, day by day, I watched as the flowers struggled to breathe and live, only to give up, turn brown and wither. My heart sank with the awful realisation that they had been poisoned. Each and every beautiful plant…dead. The affect this had on me was devastating. I simply could not smile. I lost the joy in walking in the hills. It affected me profoundly.

Last year my walk was disturbed by the onslaught of heavy machinery carving into the mountains. Bulldozers making wide paths all across the Alferce hills, they destroyed the tiny walking paths, leaving dust and debris. Trees, bushes and plants destroyed, and left to wither, and dead branches strewn everywhere.

And this year the plant I so revered, poisoned. Every single plant where I walked was dead or dying and withered. Words cannot describe how wounded and heartbroken I felt.

So sickened by this act I decided to take my dogs up to the Alferce Castle where I thought I would be free of this awful sight. But I was wrong! Every plant on the entire mountain around the castle, poisoned. Animals eat the leaves and, as the poison seeps into the earth, it kills the wildlife. And only this plant was targeted. Why, and by whom?

Its name is Asphodel. In Greek mythology it represents and is honoured as “The Flower of the Dead”. The sacred flower of Hades, often planted beside graves to uplift the spirit of the dead, and associated with Persephone. It is said to have magical qualities and heals many ailments.

Over the years I have spoken to the people of Alferce and they remember Alferce 30 years ago when the land was free. Before the poison of chemicals, where nature thrived and blossomed. The land was abundant with vegetables, fruit and flowers. I was told that in springtime the yellow flowers were so abundant, to look on this sight was a feast to the eye, and breathtaking in its glory. They remember the cork forests, now suffocated by eucalyptus trees – beautiful in their own right, but allowed to usurp the majestic cork oak.

These same people are saddened by the destruction they see. They shrug their shoulders and say “que pena, que pena”, and I see a profound sadness in their eyes.

But there are a few who “have no heart” and are ignorant of the consequences of their actions. They are destroying the mountains with wanton damage, planting eucalyptus near the lakes, and ignoring the laws of nature, because they can. They have little respect for the earth and its bounty.

I write this as the voice of Asphodel, the Angel of Light, and I urge this community, for the sake of the children and future generations, to raise the consciousness of the few who “know not what they do”.

Martha Ray
By email