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Spirit lifting sunshine

by Margaret Brown [email protected]

Margaret Brown is one of the Algarve Resident’s longest standing contributors and has lived in the Algarve for more than 20 years.

Another year, another notch on the tree of life and a step into the unknown viewed with some trepidation. A lot of faith and hope is needed in the 21st century and ours was tested late on Boxing Day night.

A lurking health problem found the Boss in Barlavento Hospital at 10.30pm, the waiting room full and standing room only. Within 10 minutes we passed into Urgência where various tests were made, drips inserted and then we waited, sitting on hard upright chairs in company with other patients similarly attached to pipes and bottles.

Every chair and bed was occupied, the kind and efficient medical staff stretched to their limits and often hindered by uncooperative drunks and confused old folk. It was going to be a long night, and at 2.30am we persuaded the friend who had climbed from her bed to drive us to Portimão to go home.

Eventually the Boss was given a reclining chair and told he must remain overnight. A taxi was called for me and I was home by 5am. Collecting the Boss next afternoon we were given comprehensive information about tests that had been carried out and were told to book him in for an ‘urgent’ operation – now we await the summons.

As for Barlavento Hospital we have nothing but praise and gratitude for the doctors and nurses who showed humane care and patience across the board.

With endless weeks of unbroken sunshine continuing to lift our spirits, local farmers and smallholders view their dry crumbling plough ground with anxiety. Time is passing but why sow seed for birds and ants to take their fill before one green shoot can appear?

Unless a good fall of rain comes soon, it promises to be a hungry year for livestock, while buying in feed is not an option in these financially challenged times. More holdings will fall into ruin because young people have departed to find a future elsewhere; old people will be left to fend for themselves and the family no longer a unit.

The upside of this long false spring is the presence of a variety of birds already bonding and butterflies at various stages of their life cycle. Along a country lane near our house, lined on both sides with the Swan plants as mentioned in last month’s column, there are a large number of fast growing striped caterpillars.

They munch their way through the foliage while shedding several skins (exoskeletons) during the few weeks prior to pupating. Those late hibernating Monarch butterflies responsible continue to bathe their four-inch wings under a hot midday sun, in flight more like small brown birds than members of the order Lepidoptera. As I write on the last day of the year, one of these has just glided past my window.

Arriving late autumn but in greater numbers than usual, White Wagtails have already claimed their territory and being monogamous are defending it vigorously against intruders.

They can be seen every 15 yards or so along our local lanes, moving aside at the last moment with bobbing tail and elegantly tailored feathers as we drive past.

Eucalyptus and Oxalis blossom are humming with bees probing for honey at a time when they should be hibernating, their low key vibration an invitation to stretch out on a lounger under the warm sun. If this is a microcosmic example of the world’s climate then no wonder the icecaps are melting.

Now that Christmas is over one merchant ventura was advertising on television that ‘this is time to buy gifts for Christmas 2012 because there are only 359 days left’.

With so much stuff bought on credit last December, debts from festivities 2011 come with a horrible hangover that only frugal living can relieve. Add to that a large question mark above the euro and maybe we shall have more company beside the sea this coming 25th of the twelfth month, in the twelfth year of the 21st century.

Having celebrated the birth of Jesus in the well filled Church of Nossa Senhora da Luz near Lagos we headed westward to Praia de Furnal. A small empty beach set between tall cliffs of grey rock with only a hump of sand separating the pounding waves from what would become a lagoon at high tide, beyond which our car was parked – hot coffee from a flask, hot sun out of a clear blue sky and not a catering care in the world.

From there we drove to the west coast for a picnic at Praia de Castelejo surrounded by steep cliffs of layered black schist which feels oily to the touch. A haven for shell fishers and surfers, four of whom, dressed in neoprene and flippers, were messing about in the shallows making no attempt to ride the great green waves beyond.

These approached from the west end of the beach, crowned in white and gaining height all the while before thumping down in a cauldron of foam with a strong off-shore wind taking clouds of spray toward the horizon.

At last two surfers made their way out to sea, ducking under breaking water in search of a ride. One man had it just right for a couple of minutes inside the barrel of a wave going east before he disappeared and his board shot skyward. This has been a Christmas we shall not forget.