Spanish original and more photos
“God is blue” said Juan Ramón Jiménez, when the sky was completely cloudless. Such days were frequent in spring and summer in Alcalá. Spring arrived with Easter and the Festival of St George, in between the two most extreme seasons of the year, winter and summer, from the middle of March to the middle of June. If it was a Sunday or festival, people's spirits would rise - “Let's go to the countryside!” It was like going out to see the first flowers and shoots of life itself. The very word “primavera” [spring] comes from the Latin “prima videre”.
The older folk took the San Antonio hill and walked to La Palmosa. The young lovers escaped to the Ortega hill and went down the winding road lined with rock-roses with their sweet white flowers. The children went off down the hill of the Saladas to the Prado, where the first greenfinches, goldfinches, chaffinches and other small songbirds flew at liberty. The streets awoke early, and God instilled everything with blue.
On the return, the pathways would be quiet again; the adults came back full of energy, the children ravenous with hunger and the sweethearts sated with love. So much sunshine made the poppies burst forth and turn red, resembling bloodstains in the wheat-fields, carmine lips, spotted party-dresses. The youngsters carried bunches of rosemary, impregnating their hands and the air with the aromas of the mountains. The little birds sang their mysterious incantations and the evenings turned golden, pink and scarlet. The hills turned white with the flowers of the retama [Spanish white broom] and green with the rosemary bushes. At night, the moon lit up the treetops.
Each morning the bank of the River Barbate was a garden of pink and white oleander, floating rushes, yellow irises and scented yellow sedges. The view of Alcalá from the Prado was totally different from that from San Antonio, more craggy and intensely steep. When sun hid behind the tower and the castle, the Prado was left deserted and lost its colour. From time to time we could hear the roars of bulls and cows gathered in the cattle sheds. When the lowing of the ruminants went quiet, gradually, solitude and silence reigned again.
One morning we went down to the Prado to set traps for birds. It was spring on the riverbank and the sky was pure blue. Some wild ducks broke the majesty of the firmament and drew perfectly co-ordinated figures. The leading group flew in the form of a V and other fancy formations. But the flock adopted the new formations in flight and the line didn't falter. The changing formations helped them protect themselves in the air. Later I learned that they were migrating birds, who changed their location according to the cold season. They arrived from the North in spring, but when the summer returned, they went back North again.
They were seen in Alcalá quite frequently. The head and neck of the mallard are green with a white collar around the base. The breast is a purplish chestnut colour and the rest of the body is brown, except the rump and part of the tail which are black. They have a violet blue sheen on their wings. They are different from the common ducks who live on the lagoons, although they have a certain resemblance, because the common duck is a derivation of the wild duck.
In the area around Alcalá there were a dozen lagoons, suitable places for ducks to live and feed. Some dried up in summer, but others retained their water throughout the seasons. Grey herons could also be seen on their banks. The pre-mating migration was in February and March, and the post-mating migration in August and September. Look for them in wet places; large birds with a grey body and a black-and-white head. In flight they are distinguished by their arched wings, with a slow beat, the neck bent in the shape of an S, and their feet sticking out behind them. There is another species called the purple heron, which can be seen in La Janda and in the Barbate reservoir. This fauna is one of the riches of the Alcornocales.
But in Alcalá, the orange trees in the orchards were full of birds, and on the banks of the Barbate flocks would come to drink, eat or just fly about. Then they would hide in the pink and white oleanders to mate. Sometimes they would come out to drink the water in the brooks. The cemetery looks down on the meadows from on high, a if wanting to put a stop to the life and loves of the countryside in spring. The castle has dreams of clouds of yellow flowers, and a ruined tower. The barbarous French only understood canons, frigates and mortar fire. They went and ruined the dreams of childhood, the peaks of La Coracha and the fragrance which came up from the Prado.
Translated by Claire Lloyd