Burning lunch, browsing the papers and birding
It is one of those barbecues where you can’t go wrong. Calcots are a variety of onion that look like leeks and are meant to be burned to a cinder on an open flame, before being wrapped in newspaper to sweat before consumption. This March and April Catalan tradition always affords me ample time to leaf through the necessary pile of old newspapers. With Biba the dog snoring among the irises and frightening the chickens, I did a masterful job of incinerating everything while sipping a small ale and browsing articles about the disturbed childhood of someone called Angelina Jolie, and how insulin plays a significant part in weight gain. How to eat a blackened calcot? Grasp it with a piece of the newspaper, pull off the outer layer to reveal the very tender and sweet heart, which you tip in a salsa, dangle into your mouth and chomp. Seriously yummy, but rather messy. High behind the barbecue the surface of the balsa was calm for a change. The indefatigable grey heron which kept coming back like a boomerang to feed on our goldfish has been displaced by a cormorant. A rare sighting has been a hobby, sitting obligingly on the wobbly top of a young fir in front of the farmhouse, long enough for me to get my binoculars and be absolutely certain for a change what I was admiring. These falcons normally migrate north from Africa in the spring, but the mild winter had obviously encouraged him or her to embark early. Too early, perhaps, because the swifts and swallows and dragonflies that are prey have yet to appear. At ground level there has been a delightful and rare flash of white tail. Rabbits may be rife in your neck of the woods, but here they are scarce, perhaps due to the plethora of carnivores, Catalans included, and the limited grazing. But flash by it did, as if late, and we quickly gathered up the radar-nose dogs and headed in the opposite direction. There was once, many years ago, the trauma of our old springer spaniels retrieving from goodness knows where a great number of very young bunnies, all dead. We tried to track them back to the source, off our land and into the abandoned almond grove that borders us, but found nothing. I don’t think we have seen another rabbit at Mother’s Garden, until now. There are no badgers as far as we can tell, like at our friends’ farm across the valley. The sett is close to their farmhouse, half way up an almost vertical bank of ivy and bare oak roots, where soil spills out of a gaping burrow. Maybe when we have finished thinning the main area of pine wood that already resounds with much more birdsong we can focus on the dyke in the north western corner, where there is about half an acre of dense undergrowth, including highly flammable cane and countless abandoned hazels. This wilderness could contain be all manner of inhabitants, boar included. They come and go, as you know, along set paths worn to bare earth, then fan out across the farm, leaving trails in the soft ground. I’m loath to disturb them or any other creature, but we cannot take the risk of leaving the area untended through yet another tinder dry summer. After all, our power line, trip switch and meter are on the edge of it and it is not so far from our neighbour’s house. And amid all this undergrowth there are eight more ancient olive trees waiting to be freed.