Fossils, mistletoe and great warriors
The cold has bitten deep in January, but December was deliciously mild and the memory warms us. On Boxing Day, unable to amble beside the whispering pines and stout marram grass on Norfolk’s Holkham beach (Christmas always spells distance for us) we took off for a neighbouring village in these hauntingly beautiful Catalan mountains, following an ancient way that snaked through forest and ravine. In 11 years it was our first time. Once past some pens of howling hunting dogs we dropped down into a dry river bed, clambered out the far side into a Paleolithic world, looped high through the silence of the trees and herbs, then sat and weighed the timeless solitude. Above, mistletoe ballooned from boughs: beneath us a bone-dry 20ft-wide cleft of rock told of the storm waters that had patterned eternity. Everyone knows that relentless water is undefeatable, yet, a few hundred metres on, a ridge still resisted, forcing the river to twist 90 degrees to the right, creating an amphitheatre curve of spell-binding magnificence and history. High in the bare wall of lime and red stone one gaping hole brimmed with the twigs of a raptor’s eerie. In the base, in grey rock that perhaps was once mud, we found a curious pattern of dark egg shapes with white centres like embryos. There was only a sprinkling of them. Could they be fossils? The more you grow older the more you realise how much you need to know: Please enlighten if you have any knowledge.There was no one to ask at the time. In five kilometres we did not meet a soul, while above jet trails drew incongruously straight lines across the artwork of the heavens, like the Roman arrow roads that were once carved across the continent. Back home we spent time on the vegetable patch, replacing the collapsing cane fencing erected two years ago by a Nepalese friend, also pulling out our exhausted tomato and courgette plants and nursing the winter cabbages, garlic and lettuces. Maggie created feasts from festival leftovers and, having watched the film Julie and Julia, we amused ourselves with the truth that she is steadily working her way through the glorious volumes of Delia. With a twist, of course, for all of Maggie’s meals are a variation on a theme, and I have lost count of the time we have chorused that she must write down exactly how it all came to pass, only for the moment and the creator’s memory to fade. That said, there is a rumour going around the kitchen table that she has written down ... somewhere ... her post-Christmas turkey and leek quiche recipe - or was it the chicken with lime and coriander wonder? - and it is my ambition to post it on our website in the coming days. One tranquil Sunday, January 8, the day before the bugle call of the school run rang out again, we rolled down to the coast to lounge on a bench and stare at the blue while the sun, scent and faintest of winter airs lied that it was March. Cafes and restaurants bulged with locals while a smattering of foreigners, include some South Americans whose Spanish accents were as distinct as a Geordie in Dallas, shared the warmth. Do you remember how I signed off the last letter home? Joe and I were Barcelona-bound to meet a warrior, but on encountering softly-spoken, self-effacing Joel Stewart you would not, with all respect, deem him so. He was one step away from the crowd, and was stunned when I recognised him and thanked him. But first this. In native American legend a boy asks his grandmother, who was called Eyes of Fire, why such terrible things have happened to their people. She answers: "There will come a time when the earth grows sick, and when it does a tribe will gather from all the cultures of the world who believe in deeds and not words. They will work to heal it... they will be known as the 'Warriors of the Rainbow'." We are long-standing family members of Greenpeace. I could fill this newspaper with reasons why. The new Rainbow Warrior III ship, paint barely dry, is hope; a mere 855 tonnes of green and white belief that enough people care enough to say ENOUGH. Paid for by the 3 million members, she came to Barcelona after carrying her message up the Thames to London. We queued with hundreds of others for the chance to stand at the bow and on the bridge. We looked up at the sail rigging and were overwhelmed by the realisation of what a technological and psychological leap forward she is for the principle of direct peaceful action to stop the relentless, unforgiveable rape of our world, 70 per cent of which is covered in water: doing for the environment what the civil rights movement did for the dispossessed. She embodies a rapidly growing awareness of - and resistance to - the insane pursuit of short-term profits regardless of the bleakest consequences for the planet. I - we - desperately need champions like Greenpeace., and Greenpeace needs us. So check out www.greenpeace.org and follow Rainbow Warrior’s vital odyssey. Joel Stewart? He is the skipper.