Week 70: The sea
Fine veils of rain hung in our valley in the early part of this week, moving gently in the breeze, slowly drenching the land and releasing its earthy perfume. It was the kind of weather the Irish call ‘soft’. It was very much needed, and gave us a few days’ break from watering the garden ourselves. The sun returned the next day, and has continued to shine every day since, but it is a slightly less ferocious sun than the one of high summer and we no longer need to have windows and shutters closed all day to keep it out. It is perfect sun for the beach.
I would spend every day by the sea if I could. When we fell in love with this country, this province, indeed this particular valley, almost two years ago, it was over the course of a single grey week in January. We never went to the coast. We were some way advanced with our purchase of a house without ever having been to the sea. Now that we’re here, it is going to the sea that I love most of all. This week we managed one visit to the glittering, entrancing water and the glistening sand. We switched our beach habit from an early morning to an afternoon one, arriving after lunch and staying until the end of the day, which in September is 6.45 p.m. when the last boat returns to Santa Luzia from our favoured spot. As the afternoon wore on, more birds appeared. Winter-white sanderlings tore up and down the water’s edge, playing catch-me-if-you-can with the waves. Turnstones, rather drab without their breeding colours of oranges and reds, examined the sea’s terminal moraine for whatever it was they had lost. If they found it, they rushed away from their companions to examine it more closely, in case it was a precious thing to be kept from greedy eyes. Two Mediterranean gulls spent some leisure time at the sea’s edge, showing off their fancy red legs. Their head is black in the breeding season; out of season all that’s left of the colour is what looks like a pair of headphones. One was ringed; it will have a story to tell. And all afternoon long a slim, waxing moon hung over the sea like the ghostly remains of a paraglider.
At home, to our joy, the red-rumped swallows have been back to visit. Such independent-minded birds they are. We thought they had left with the rest of the summer birds, but no. Just as they arrived later than their swallow brethren, it seems they will leave later too. They perched on the wire and babbled, then swam into and out of the veranda, and glided up and down the valley, their feathers wet in the sunlight. When our neighbours arrived this summer, we finally learnt where the birds had nested: the enclosed mud nest with its tunnel entrance had been newly built under their eaves. Given the regularity with which the birds check out our site, we cannot have totally lost favour. My plan is to destroy their old nest so that the sparrows – who lack such nest-building skills – cannot take it over next year. Plus we want to paint the front veranda, which we can’t do with a mud nest in the way. Swallows will be welcome to rebuild on the freshly painted surface if they choose. The sparrows can find themselves a new site.