By: MARGARET BROWN | [email protected]
Although not enough to break the long period of drought being experienced in Portugal, that first downpour last month and subsequent heavy showers transformed the back country and gave local birds something to sing about.
The versatile song of nightingales, so long absent, drifted down from Margarida’s lake as I walked through our valley and at last the tight budded cistus was spreading its petals in white profusion over the dark green hills. A similar change brightened the local lanes, their grass verges and neglected fields a mass of borage, blue and hairy.
With remarkable medicinal uses, this plant’s virtues were lauded by Roman historians Pliny and Homer 1500 years ago, who wrote that if steeped in wine, the resultant liquid brought about a state of “total forgetfulness”. It is also claimed that if its flowers are boiled in water, the tisane, when drunk, acts both to reduce high blood pressure and as a diuretic.
Nowadays only the seeds are harvested to extract oil, which may be taken either by mouth or as a cosmetic cream for the treatment of skin disorders, while the flowers and young leaves are good in salads.
Meanwhile, having found a tick strolling across my hand after venturing into the bush, morning walks will be confined to roads and tracks until winter comes round again. These horrid blood suckers are very difficult to remove even with a specially designed tool and they seem to have a predilection for my blood.
However, apart from deep potholes and their component hard core spread liberally across the tarmac by passing traffic, local lanes are full of interest and a study in people’s attitudes to the environment. Bottles of glass and plastic, builders’ rubble, paper tissues and nondegradable bags to name but a few, are dropped from passing vehicles. Over time, these will become veiled beneath native plants and flowers, but will not go away.
The other morning, as I walked briskly westward, there on the grass verge placed neatly side by side was a small child’s pair of blue Crocs. Farther down the narrow road, a leveret (young hare) lay dead, the amber eyes still bright and coat of brown and cream fur barely damaged. I believe it was one of a pair because next day a living replica came strolling toward me, sat down for a moment to look around before leaping away into the bushes.
It seems that wildlife is slowly returning to the area after years of indiscriminate hunting, and confirmed by an occasional sighting of birds of prey soaring high over head.
On the other hand, when we took part in a sponsored walk along the ridge above Parque da Floresta last month, very little appeared to be moving in the hills apart from wind in the trees, and the slowly turning blades of many wind turbines.
The designated route took us through what should have been rich with vegetation and wildlife, but much had been cleared away to allow access for enormous low loaders needed to transport these Martian erections. A derelict farmhouse and outbuildings suggested that nothing must stand in the way of progress.
Back in 2007, the cost of producing one commercial scale wind turbine was between http://www..2 and http://.6 million (dollars), per megawatt capacity, installed. A sizeable wind farm brings with it the problem of surplus power which, at present, is stored in batteries.
Experimental work is being carried out in Germany at the Centre for Solar Energy and Hydrogen Research to explore the use of surplus electricity to produce methane (natural) gas. This is done electrolytically by splitting water into its component molecules and combining the hydrogen released with atmospheric carbon dioxide.
While the ‘Green’ lobby might see this as a double benefit, the large carbon footprint produced during the manufacture of turbines and necessary storage facilities for surplus power, plus the ultimate return of carbon to the atmosphere when methane is burned, suggests otherwise.
Which brings me back to St. Vincent’s sponsored walk on April 21 in aid of charities supported by the church. Although the turn out was smaller than last year, a group of about 43 people of all ages set out to cover the 7.6 kilometres within two hours. Conditions were perfect, with a cool breeze and plenty of sunshine.
Starting out with the crowd, after an initial burst of energy, the Boss and I took things at our own pace and slowly dropped behind. Gentle slopes felt like hills, stony and uneven tracks took their toll and the halfway pit stop with water and glucose sweets was a welcome breather. From thence forward we were accompanied by a good shepherd, the rest of the flock well out of sight. I hitched a ride for about a kilometre at the foot of the final hill before rejoining the Boss and we finished together, thirsty and tired. Five children covered the distance in about one-and-a-half hours, the youngest of which was Chaplain Haynes’ second son Caspian, aged five years.
We were welcomed home with large glasses of lemonade and the delicious aroma of barbecued sausages, home-made beef burgers and a variety of salads on the side. Followed by a wicked choice of puddings, it was a most productive way to raise money for designated charities.
While all we had to do was put one foot in front of the other, the team of ladies worked their socks off to provide an excellent feast, ably supported by a pair of senior church members being slow roasted at the coal face as they barbecued the meat.