This is what drought looks like.
Spain is currently going through a water crisis, with reservoirs drying up all over the country. It’s been on the news a lot this autumn.
Sometimes you see stuff on the news and you just go back to your business and you try not to think too much about it. Like you do with wars and the other stuff that our politicians mess up – the Dakota oil spill being a prime example.
But if you look around you can see local examples of things going very wrong.
Last weekend we went to Ezcaray, a small town in La Rioja that lives off tourism – especially skiing in winter. The skiing hasn’t opened yet. It might not open for very much this year, nor for very long in the future.
There is a little snow on the hills, but with the warm weather that we are still having in November, it is probably melting. Not that you can notice it downhill.
This is the river. It’s more like a dry canyon from somewhere down in the south, like Almeria, than a mountain river in the north.
When you search Ezcaray in google maps, this is the photo that pops up.
It’s kind of different to the one up the top of this page. Or the following one.
We were told that this is usually a waterfall. It has a fish ladder, which you can see under the cage on the left, for all the use that can be made of it this year. There are no fish in evidence in that pool, the only drop of water visible in a hundred metres. Directly upstream it’s completely dry. Just a few drops seep through the rocks. A few hundred metres upstream we saw a few small rivulets coming through the stones. But there can be little life there – not even mayfly or caddis fly – to sustain a river ecosystem.
The local council wants to put a dam upstream, we heard. The locals are fighting to save their river. A sign hung in a village said, “Water is life, save the river Oca.” I wonder if keeping the construction at bay will be enough to save it.
It’s been a while. It’s been busy.
But I’ve been doing a bit of writing.
I have a few poems to share, over the next few weeks, as the summer proper hits us.
Meanwhile, if you want me, I’ll be on the porch….
The House Stands Built, the Garden Lies Laid
If we needed lumber, I’d gladly go into the wood,
Cut logs and split them all afternoon.
Were there a shelf to put up, a cupboard fixed,
A picture to hang, I’ve no problem lending a hand.
Should the lawn need mowing, or the hedge trimming,
The garden path cemented, a fence erected,
Bicycle mended, stone wall constructed, a pond dug
Or a border weeded, you can count on me;
I’m always happy to go to work.
But the house is built, the garden laid,
There’s left little to do but watch the grass growing
So if you want me, I’ll be on the porch.
(This is a short video of what’s in front of said porch….)
Here’s a short story for your spring, now that we see the flowers growing like they’re on steroids – and they are, of course – for a flash fiction challenge about invasive species – a topic I’ve talked about before….
Always said them scientists would mess everythin’ up, playin’ round with Creation like they was God.
The environmental beatniks said it too, course, but they said all kind of whatnot, like the weather was changin’, that we didn’t listen much to them guys. Joel McCallum, though, he reads the scientific papers, and he said they reckoned the canola plants’d be the ones that did it, them being so common and close to weeds anyway. He said the genetically modified canola would mix with the field mustard plants, and lead to a superweed that nothin’ could get rid of. The idea of sunflowers takin’ over like they was on steroids, well, we none of us predicted that.
What we never saw comin’, either, was losing our land to the federal government after trying so hard to keep independent from them assholes in DC.
We bought the land fair and square, set up our town ten years beforehand. We were self-sufficient by then, hundred per cent, and all set for the apocalypse, should it decide to turn up. We never did think it’d turn out this way.
It was the federal government’s fault, though, too. Always knew that would be true. They were the ones invited that crazy sonbitch to plant those damn sunflower plants out our way. Gave him permission to use federal land we used to graze cattle off, not twenty miles from town. Well, we didn’t think no sunflowers’d stand the shallow soil there. No depth at all, after the dustbowl years took it clean away. Even the grass dried up when it didn’t rain in late spring. We didn’t think the plants would stand up in the wind, first time we went out there and they told us what it was they were growin’.
Joel tried to explain what they’d done to the sunflowers – struck in some genes from a creeper, a vine of some sort that was supposed to only change the roots from the deep taproots sunflowers supposed to grow, into wide spreading roots that’d keep the plants upright and get them enough water from what rains came. They’d spread the seeds out farther than normal to compensate. Well, Joel didn’t know what way they’d messed up – whether they’d put in the wrong piece of string or if the gene did more jobs than just make roots of one sort or the other, but mess up they did, good and well. Plants grew up stringy and creeping; stretched along the ground, covering the empty patches between plants till it was just a sea of green, with all trace of the rows they’d been planted in gone. The flowers were small, but each plant had four or five ‘stead of one. We was amazed that first year. The scientists just took notes. They harvested some, but with the way the plants were all higgledy-piggledy, they missed half the seed heads.
Course, we didn’t like to let the food go to waste. We was self-sufficient, but it’s a sin to waste such bounty as the Lord places before you. We planted some in our own plots – and planned to keep plantin’ it, till we realised it didn’t need no plantin’. The wind came through one night, the way it does, and the seeds flew everywhere on it. Next year, it was everywhere. It invaded the wheat fields, covered the town. It was kinda pretty at first. We used the oil for our trucks, couple of years. But we soon saw it was gettin’ serious when it covered the forest floors, started cloggin’ the creek, and broke half the corn plants before they got to cobbin’. It wrapped around everything – I mean everything – like vines, like morning glory, or that Japanese knotweed and them other invasive species they’re always goin’ on about. These creepers blocked out the light from every other plant, till there were was nothin’ else we could grow.
Well, we thought we could at least use the oil to cut and burn it out, but eventually, much as it galled us to do it, we had to ask the federal government for help. It was their problem, all said and done.
They came, in helicopters, since the roads were practically overgrown by then. One fella told Joel they was comin’ anyhow, whether we asked them or not. Their scientists told them to shut down the whole operation – and more. They was goin’ to move us – would’ve paid us to up and move sticks someplace else. But what we asked for help, they just took us out, told us to gather up our belonging, and make damn sure it was all clean of vegetative material, they called it.
We did as was asked – we weren’t no fools, wishing this upon everyone, or anyone else. That would be a sin not even God might forgive. Besides, we weren’t ready for this kind of apocalypse. Nor were we ready for any kind of reckonin’ without our land, our shelters, our supplies.
When they took us up in the helicopters, we saw them start the firebombin’ straight off. That shit smelt like the end of the world. No wonder them Vietnamese hated us, using that shit on them. I asked the pilot how much they was going to burn. Five thousand square miles, he told me. Hell of a lot of Napalm man. Of course, we had some Napalm ourselves, just in case. When I saw the town explode, I thought, well, there’s an end to it. We might not survive the next apocalypse, but at least we helped the world avoid this one.
That’s what I thought. That’s what we all thought, true as the Lord is lookin’ down on me.
Thing about sunflowers, though, even these crazy ass ones, was the seeds were real tasty. The kids in town used to go round all day, biting on them and spitting out the shells. Well, how can you put the blame on the shoulders of a little kid, not eight year old, instead of the scientist that made them seeds? She meant t’ eat them, of course, and all would’ve been well. But when she saw the explosion from all the stuff we’d in storage, well, she jumped so high she near enough fell out of the damn chopper herself. Only natural the bag slipped out her hand.
Okay, modify that: why do so many hunters have to be arseholes? After all, I’m one myself; a hunter, not an arsehole.
Seriously, I see so many gobshites who should never be allowed to take up a weapon, it’s embarrassing.
The good news this week that Danish wolves exist again was tempered by the sad fact that the authorities are not going to tell anyone where the wolves are – and what a boon for eco tourism it would be, if we could all go and see the wolves! – because they are afraid of hunters going there to try kill them.
Why would hunters want to kill wolves?
(If that seems like a stupid question, I have another – are you sure you’re not an arsehole?)
Do they really feel that the wolves (five of them, for Christ’s sake) are going to reduce the numbers of animals they can hunt?
The government has that all regulated, and mostly it’s because of the other hunters that you can’t kill more. In Ireland, where there are relatively few hunters, we can hunt lots of deer each (depending on the area, of course) but here in Spain, where I am currently applying for a hunting licence – after several years of living here – it’s hard to get a spot in a red deer hunting area, and it’s a lot more expensive.
What’s the solution to too many hunters?
Perhaps act like an arsehole so that people don’t want to be associated with you.
In fact, that’s one of the reason I never bothered applying for a hunting licence here before. It’s a much more dangerous activity here than in Ireland.
The type of hunting can, perhaps, be more hazardous – larger groups of people in an area, hunting animals that are on the run.
But that’s no excuse for the number of hunters killed by their companions every year.
That’s just recklessness.
If you have to wear an orange jacket, there’s something wrong with the people around you (photo from Washington Dept. of Fish and wildlife).
In the course I had to do for the hunting exam, I encountered a few of the kind of shitehawks I’d never want to share a cup of tea with up on the hill, never mind hunt with. Dangerously dismissive of the rules, they argued that since they had the guns, they should win the arguments with the walkers and the mushroom pickers that can fuck up a hunt. And they seemed inclined to think that anyone who moved off his post during a beaten hunt deserved to get shot, rather than consider it their duty to identify the target before shooting at something moving past them.
I won’t be hunting with those guys – if indeed they’ll be hunting with anyone, for I’ve serious doubts they’ll study for the exam. Nor will I be running to join a boar hunt, to be honest. I’d rather hunt alone here. I can go home to Ireland for companionable hunting. At least I’ll know I’m not going to get killed by my companions, and the only animals getting shot will be ones permitted.
Yet, separate and apart from my personal problems, the more important point is the issue of our good name. Hunting is getting a bad name, despite its importance in our and other societies. I consider it a necessary activity as well as an interesting one, and believe it will continue, but it will do some in a much more regulated and restricted fashion in most places.
Hunters should not have this bad name. As a collective, disregarding my own intense love of nature, we should be the most vocal, the most powerful guardians of the environment out there. Our integrity and conviction should be unquestionable. It’s a matter not of our personal preferences, but of the survival of our sport.
Hunters should have better long term planning than some are currently displaying.
But, then again, given our human history thus far, perhaps that’s just beyond us.
This most important piece of news out today, I found on the second last page of the newspaper – an anecdote, a curiosity, an aside amid the Spanish corruption scandals, the French elections, the continuing shite that blights the lives of billions (there was one nice bit about a certain wall not getting funded by a certain congress, but besides that it was all boring same old depressing mess till reading the above) – right back beside the information that some local actress is going to star in some new film being made sometime soon.
Two points to make:
One, if watching animals and trees on TV can reduce stress (and there are reams of positive benefits the study, done by UC Berkely, no less, details) imagine what actually going out into the parks, the countryside, the seaside does for us!
Throwing stones in the sea: what better stress disperser exists?
And why don’t we do it more? We all return from our beach holidays relaxed: yes, we have no work, but just sitting on the beach relaxes, and we should do it every day if we can, or at least get to the park and watch the ducks.
Can you feel the tension lift just looking at these bluebells?
Two, why is this way back at the bottom of the news?
We are in the middle of a stress crises. We have a tsunami of suicides, self-harming and addiction. People are going to medical health professionals of all sorts and taking many medications to help them get through life. And yet, this simple source of relief, if not potentially a complete solution, a cheap if not actually free aid, which can help us with this crisis, is practically ignored by the media.
If it were a study claiming eating butter could cut stress (or chocolate, or even lettuce) or help some other serious health problem, it would be much further up the order of importance.
Your doctor would tell you to avoid alcohol, eat fibre, cut out saturated fats, eat less sugar, lower salt intake, stop smoking etc. if he/she thought it would help keep you alive and well and happy for a few more years. There are campaigns for all these going on all the time. Laws are changed to help us quit smoking, have healthier diets, drink less.
And yet, will we see any move to get people out into parks, to have wildlife documentaries subsidised by the department of health? Will we have laws to protect ecosystems so they can be used to make further films, or see famous people encouraging us to climb mountains? Probably not.
But I hope so. Because we should. I personally won’t be happy until I see David Attenborough get a Nobel Prize for Medicine. He’s certainly saved my sanity…
A child in the countryside is a happy child!
There are sheep in them there hills. But finding them isn’t easy.
Last weekend I went for a walk from our village in Navarra to try to see the mouflon which had been illegally introduced to the area last year. The numbers had increased to the point where the local police were brought in to try to remove them by baiting them with salt licks to a field where they could shoot them. I’d heard that several of them had been shot already, and I went to see if I could spot some of them. I’d never seen this species outside of a zoo enclosure and I was lucky to catch a quick glimpse of two.
Yesterday in the local newspaper an article said that the local hunters have been authorised to shoot as many mouflon as they can while they are engaged in their normal boar hunting activities. I had seen this coming. This was probably what the local hunters were waiting for, and whoever released the animals had had just this idea in mind. Whether all of the animals in the area will be shot is up for a debate, and in my opinion it is hard to see how all of them will be killed, given the manpower needed to eliminate them. Yesterday three groups of boar hunters came, and shots were fired, but we’ve heard nothing about any mouflon having been hunted. More likely they dispersed the animals more. There are many who think that only males will be shot, anyway, because what hunter wants to shoot a pregnant female of a novel species right at the end of the season when you could shoot two next autumn?
The field where I saw the mouflon – beside the bank of pale grass at the end.
My question is, however, whether shooting them out is, or is not, a good idea. I’m not sure where I should come down on either side of the argument. As an ecologist, I am aware that introduced species can wreak havoc upon ecosystem, and she sheep can be particularly destructive. On the other hand, there is the fact that rewilding landscapes doesn’t necessarily mean that only animals which were there before in historical times have to be reintroduced and no other species can be.
If these were muntjack, then I’d say get in and get them out. ASAP, using all the manpower you can muster. Muntjack can wreak havoc on the plants. Introducing them to Ireland, which some it seems have tried and been somewhat successful at in recent years, is a stupid idea.
But these aren’t muntjack.
The article does not mention that of these animals might be detrimental to the local flora of the region. Instead, it says they might compete with native animals, such as the wild boar and the roe deer.
The article says that these sheep are very adaptable to various ecosystems in Spain where they have been released. I haven’t heard any horror stories from these other places yet.
Though officially from the Mediterranean islands of Cyprus, Corsica and Sardinia it seems that the mouflon, or a very similar species, must have been native to the mainland of Europe at some stage. They didn’t just pop up and three islands from nowhere. Given their adaptability it seems like to me that they were probably fairly widespread until humans decided they were competition for their own descendants the sheep, in the same way the aurochs were competition for their descendants, cattle.
If wild sheep were here before and they are returned in a small population I’m not sure what difficulties if any, ecologically speaking, may arise. After all, these mountains I’m looking on right now used to be grazed by thousands of sheep and goats., and the landscape suffered much from it from what I’m told by the old timers, with the understory of the forests bare from intense grazing of the sheep and goats of the local farmers.
Shepherding is not so widespread here anymore, but still hundreds are brought around some of the area. The forests have thickened up, though, and I have heard that the local government want to pay shepherds to bring their goats into their forests to help “clean them up” and tidy them because there forests are quite dense with shrubs and thorn bushes. Seems to me that these mouflon might do such a job for free.
On the other hand, I’m not sure if the population of roe deer and boar will be badly affected by these other ruminants sharing the mountains. After all, the population of both the roe deer and wild boar have been increasing in recent years to the extent that they are causing problems with road traffic accidents and farmers are complaining of destruction of their crops. I see tracks and animals all the time. In fact, blind eye is being turned to the poaching of these animals so their numbers can be reduced. Therefore, if the plan were to compete against the roe and boar, it would be a plus in that respect. I can’t see what objection the farmers could have, unless the mouflon are doing more damage to their crops than the roe deer, and boar. That I don’t know, and from my point of view as an ecologist, I don’t have very strong opinion either way.
I heard that the local government is mostly worried that they’ll have to foot the bill for any diseases the farmed sheep might contract from their wild cousins.
However, in terms of the wildlife, the flora and the other large animals, even the rabbits, I don’t see how a small population would have so great an effect.
It’s not as if mouflon don’t coexist with other ungulates in their “natural” environment. There are wild boar and red deer on both Corsica, and Sardinia, and Fallow deer and wild horses on Sardinia too. Cyrpus is a bit smaller, but wild goats share the island with the mouflon. How can the mouflon be so detrimental if they’d not ousted these other from their islands? Roe are slightly different, but both roe and red deer share the Scottish Highlands with plenty of sheep.
From my walk in the area, there are boar and mouflon sharing the same field.
Boar tracks, on the left, with some soil pushed about with the nose, and mouflon tracks on the right, in the same field of young wheat.
Perhaps they can even help diversify the fauna of Navarra and other parts of mainland Spain, the way the bovines and equines do (a big part of the rewildling movement) Here in Navarra, and in this valley, cattle are led into the woods daily and some are left there for months on end, as are horses, without any concern for the other fauna. That’s because they’d not detrimental; quite the opposite. There are even moves to reintroduce bison into Navarra to help improve ecosystems.
I know the animals were not introduced with the intention of making the land better, but if they can be kept at small numbers, in low population densities it might be for the better.
But I’m open to a more knowledgeable opinion.
Let me know what you think in the comments.
As I get back into the swing of things after summer, first thing I have to do is congratulate David Devins of Co. Leitrim and Damian O’Sullivan of Co. Cork, who both won copies of my children’s novel, Peter and the Little People in the summer IWT Irish Wildlife Magazine’s book competition.
As you might know, I have pledged to give 10% of my royalties on Peter and the Little People to this NGO (if you’ve read the book you’ll know why) to help the great work they do.
At the moment a new battle has emerged for them, and us all, to tackle – the possible introduction of more destructive insecticides in Ireland, which threaten bees and other useful and important insects.
It seems that the fight to protect bees, like the fight to stop much environmental destruction will be continual, as companies try to introduce more chemicals.
It’s similar to George Monbiot’s post this week, that though the TTIP agreement seems to have been abandoned in the face of so much negative public opinion against it’s implementation, there are other similar treaties in the works, all designed to take power to legislate international companies from government – and thus public – hands. At the end he suggests we can never let our guard down, for the corporations and their cronies are always working against us and our environment, and they only need to succeed once, while we have to beat them every time.
Similarly, the bees and other insects only have to be erased from the planet once, and we have to save them every year, every week, every day.
Do your bit – join the IWT or whatever similar organisation operates in your country. And be vocal, even through the internet. It’s not quite the direct action that seems necessary to protect the Dakota water supply, but it’s effective when there are enough of us.
An Absence in Abundance
Lavender lays sideways under the weight of wind and blossom
But the bees clinging to the swaying stalks are few and far between.
An exuberance of blooms festoon the garden; from geraniums to clover,
But the butterflies are almost all white. Where is the abundance?
The humming profusion we should see before us?
The insects are ever scarcer on the farm – apart from houseflies –
And sparrows are ousting the house martins.
Those looking closely can see the cracks and give voice
To our misgivings that something’s got to give.
The last song of the thrush before nightfall,
The final swings through the sky before swifts eventually settle:
The ensuing silence – if you can find it – as dusk sinks in
And pink clouds vanish into black.
These call out, loud as swift screams
To all who have ears:
Open the windows, shut off everything else,
Watch the darkness descend and catch the bats first flight;
You are alive now, but might not last the night.