Week 48: Ricochet
How foolish of me to have said last week that we hadn’t heard the hunters since January. How easy it is to tempt fate. Our Sunday morning peace was shattered by the sound of gunshot ricocheting around the valley. Sunlight glinted off weapons on a nearby hill. We decided to pack up and go to the beach. In itself, not a bad thing.
On the way to the sea, we stopped to see some Dutch friends and take them a new loaf of bread to try out. We told them about the hunt we’d heard earlier. Our friends are well-informed and have a no-nonsense way about them. Hunters are only allowed to shoot at certain times of year, and this time – breeding season – is emphatically not one of those times. Should we wish to discuss this with anyone, here’s the name and number of the local mayor, who is very highly regarded.
We haven’t made a call yet; thought we’d wait and see if it happens again. We don’t want to make enemies – certainly not of men with guns. I don’t, for the record, object to hunting. I’d rather eat wild boar that’s succumbed to shot than a factory-farmed beast any day – for both my sake and that of the animal. But the hunters should follow sensible rules, and it seems as though they don’t. Even our Portuguese neighbours think the hunters are crazy.
The beach was beautiful and swept all cares away. Things are hotting up there now, but we walked past the recently installed lifeguards and sunbeds until we were free of everyone else and stretched out on the warm golden sand by the blue-green water under a mackerel sky. (We had bought fresh mackerel ourselves from the market the day before. Its iridescence was enough to light up the sky; clouds are but a poor imitation of it, really.)
The other sound that ricochets around our valley these days is the ‘fee fiyoo’ whistle of the golden oriole, which has arrived in numbers. Husband mimics the sound quite well and it seems that he sometimes gets an answering call. He has also seen plenty; perhaps the whistle gives him privileges. I haven’t seen one yet this year, but it can’t be long. Since their Portuguese name is papafigos, or fig-eater, I’m keeping an eye on our fig tree. Husband’s best friend from Berlin, staying with us this week, also got a good view of the bird and could hardly believe that such a gloriously yellow-lacquered creature was real. He was equally enchanted when we got a clear sighting of the little owl, which arrived on its telegraph post before dusk had quite fallen: such a beautiful thing, and so small, like ‘an owl that has been shrunk in a hot wash’, he said.
As the hunters threaten decrease, Nature all around is on compensatory increase. The space around our front terrace has been fertile ground for coition: lizards, sparrows and serins. The oh-so-elegant – though inelegantly named – red-rumped swallows continue to appear on the telegraph wire, swifts criss-crossing the air behind them. The swallows babble at high-speed, their black-capped heads and long piercing wings glossy in the sunlight. One morning this week, the male was there alone, preening. Along came the male sparrow and shuffled towards him inch by inch, with each hop swiping both sides of his beak on the wire, as though sharpening a blade, until he closed in and the swallow gave up and flew off. It is the sparrows who have won the mud-tunnel nest. The heavy whirring of their wings as they approach and leave it suggests they only just have the flight dexterity required. I’m a little prejudiced against them; it’s not their nest, after all.
One bird, however, has not been seen for many weeks now: our very own black redstart, the bird that drank daily from the water bowl I put out for him, and roosted under the terrace roof. It seems he only winters here. I will be happy to see him – or his kin – again, even though by then summer will be a distant memory. Summer. We have yet to experience a full Algarve summer.
PS The jeep (see last week) is fixed; it wasn’t a big problem and was very satisfactorily dealt with by the garage.