Cork oaks have an ancient look to them – their soft, springy bark is grey and deeply wrinkled, their trunks a contortion of twists, adorned with moss in fizzing greens and lichens in porcelain shades of washed out blue-green, green-blue and jade.
I can’t always persuade K to come walking with me, and indeed I haven’t been out for a while myself, but I’ve spent too much time in the house this week and have come down with cabin fever, so here we are, walking up a rough road into the cork forests that overlook the Strait.
We’ve been to the visitor centre for the national park that surrounds us – two national parks in fact – and a nice lady has sold us a cute little pack that contains sixteen maps. The morning has been rainy but the clouds have cleared a little and the sky is pocked with blue patches as we tackle the first of them, the sun bursting through to dapple the world in moving circles of light.
It has helped my mood not one whit that we’ve spent the last hour in an enormous supermarket getting the weekly shopping done, me following K around like a sulking child, she eventually giving up on any notion of deploying my fetching capabilities.
Her: Could you please get a box of tagliatelli?
Me: Maybe. Could you please harpoon me in the face?
I’m not usually so infantile. I’m normally slightly less so. Slightly. But the fact is, and I don’t like mentioning this in a blog I work hard to keep whinge-free, I’ve had a shitty week. Not eventful shitty. Uneventful shitty. The worst kind of shitty, if you ask me. I’m supposed to be changing my life, just at the moment. Getting my entrepreneur on. You know, transforming myself and my world like a butterfly from the cocoon.
No pressure then.
A couple of kilometres in, the trees are more mature and most have been harvested for their valuable bark – stripped from the ground to about shoulder height, their lower trunks are smooth and exposed and the most incredible, rusty red. It’s the same ferrous colour that can be seen in the soil and even in the rock around here and I wonder if the iron in the ground is finding its way into the plant life.
K hesitates for a moment to let a snake cross the path, so we pause and crane our necks to enjoy the vultures. Some of the land to either side is signposted as private hunting ground and we speculate as to what the prey is. I know, for example, that there are boar in this part of the world. We don’t see any, but there are horses and donkeys grazing and a few cattle here and there, bells tinkling. A migration of grasshoppers litters the path. Dung beetles too.
We reach a point where, according to our little map, we are to leave the track and clamber down towards the Rio Guadalmesi to follow it back towards the car. The river is a mess of rather massive, moss-strewn boulders and at this time of year the water level is very low. We haven’t had any serious rain yet.
In just a few steps the terrain changes completely – we’re under a canopy here, in a shaded world of ferns and pools. Everything is encrusted with something else – the ground with a carpet of wet-smelling leaves, the rocks with moss, the trees also – even their branches, green and furry, provide a habitat for other plants to take root.
As we amble along the poorly marked path, our wilderness experience is reflected in the quality of our exchanges as, for example, I stop to examine a bush, rubbing a sprig of it between thumb and forefinger:
“What’s this? What would you say this is?”
“I don’t know.”
“Is it a pine of some sort?”
“I don’t know.”
“I say pine because of the needles. See?”
“Not everything that has needles is a pine.”
“No? I think it might be a type of pine.”
“It isn’t a pine.”
“How do you know?”
“It isn’t a pine. I say this as a German. We have lots of trees with needles.”
“I think it might be.”
“It might be.”
“It isn’t though.”
“Yes, but it might be.”
“Yes, but what I’m telling you is that it isn’t.”
“But you could be wrong.”
“I’m not wrong.”
“Saying ‘I’m not wrong’ doesn’t actually mean you’re not wrong though.”
“I’m going to throw a stone at you…”
As is usual for us, we get lost just as we reach the point where we’re eager to be back at the car, and add a cranky twenty minutes to our little excursion, clambering over bracken and felled trees and ending up at one point at the back of what appears to be someone’s garden. We rely on our shaky sense of direction and eventually end up back on the track, but not before our detour has furnished us with another wildlife encounter – a very large rottweiler who doesn’t look particularly pleased to see us and prompts an immediate about turn on our part. Luckily someone has tied the monster up; I’ve seen smaller ponies.
Apart from the few seconds of fearing for my life (and K’s, of course), the outing has been medicine for me. I needed this – I have a busy week ahead of me. A busy few months, probably. There’s a very fine line between entrepreneur and unemployed and my agenda is stacked with phone calls to be made and hands to be shaken. Introductions.
It will all involve a blend of skills I haven’t used for a long time and new ones I haven’t yet acquired, and I’ve been feeling daunted. As we get into the car though, the hike has done its job. I feel chipper, ready for the week ahead. I fire a round of wisecracks at K as she drives.
“You’re bipolar,” she says. “You know that, don’t you?”
“Don’t know what you’re on about,” I reply, laughing maniacally though the windscreen…
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