Friday, 20 October 2017

The wood, the trees and the forest.

Take a picture from our pitch in any direction, even upwards, and you would end up with a photo nicely illustrating the old aphorism that 'you can't see the wood for the trees'. This is because we are parked in a site on the northern edge of Donana National Park which is basically a huge plantation of umbrella pines. Whereas the southern section is one of the largest estuarine swamps in Europe, this part was pine-forested a century or so ago in the hope of stabilising the shifting sandy soil. The  thing about umbrella pines, as their name suggests, is they have an effusive top-knot and a spindly trunk. 

This means that even when you plant endless acres of them they don't ever form that wall of green that prompts you to use a collective noun like 'wood' or forest'; even en-masse they resemble a phalanx of lollipop trees, like a seven year old would draw. As a forest they are somewhat unconvincing.

Now what I am about to say may be the result of the gentle analgesic effects of a third glass of tinto de Toro, but because an umbrella pine forest's canopy has a passing resemblance to a cloudscape, you are struck by the uncanny thought that rather than growing upwards from the earth, their trunks dangle downwards from the sky. As evening gathers,when  the last rays of the sun catch the canopy and shafts of grey-green light glimmer through more distant glades, then the forest becomes magical. The only way I can think to describe it is to say I was reminded of the forest in 'Where the Wild Things Are'.

It is always tempting  to romanticise these moments, to begin to think that you are touching Nature profoundly in a way that your distant, forest dwelling forebears may have done. It's an alluring but fanciful notion. There is little of the genuinely natural whatsoever in what I am looking at, here sat outside our 3500kg of slightly grubby metal, parked in a campsite with garish orange lights that will switch automatically at any moment, staring at a big plantation which is hardly 'ancient woodland'; three or four generations ago this was a malarial swamp not a forest. 

Does it matter? It may be all the result of human intervention, an imaginary wild, but it is very beautiful, a peaceful retreat. It is difficult to believe we are less than 30 miles from Seville's sprawl, not only does it feel remote, it is surprisingly unfrequented, unlikely other sites we have stayed at over the weekend the place is almost empty.

The stormy weather has passed, sunny days have returned, cool enough in the morning to get out and about on the bikes to explore the cycle tracks. Afternoons are warm, and because it is windless, feel hotter than the 27° on the thermometer. Time to stretch out in a shady spot. 

As we cycled back from Hinojos this morning we passed a clutch of date palms. You find them across Southern Spain, but they are planted for ornamental purposes mainly. Here, however, they had fruited, rusty red clusters dangling among the fronds. It struck me just how far south we are now; the toe of Italy and Athens both north of us. At 37° this is about as far south as we"ll get, perhaps Sagres in the west of the Algarve is a few kilometres further south, but it catches the Atlantic westerlies and does not feel quite as far south as the sat nav asserts. Moreover, though the summery autumn still persists, experience tells us that November brings chillier days no matter how far south you go in Europe. It's time to savour the moment, in our patch of imaginary wildness, in a Maurice Sendak forest where the trees grow downwards from the sky.

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