Natural Allies

Thinking it might rain this morning, I decided to sow some grass seed in the bare patches in front of my house. I won't call it a 'lawn', as it includes mint and oregano, which send up their scent whenever Betty dog runs across. It is pretty rough with weeds and the daisies are welcome here. It does need a bit of help, so I scattered some soil, seed, then more soil and tamped it down with a rake. Half an hour later, I noticed that the seeds were moving! All over the soil and the grass, the seeds were moving across the earth. I looked more closely: ants were carting it about, carrying the dried seed in their jaws in one direction and returning empty jawed in the other. Following their trails, I saw heaps of seed at the entrance to their ant nests; impressive stores, industriously created within half an hour. With such organised team work, I wonder if any will sprout.

 Tiny snails clinging to wild love-In-a-mist  (Nigella.)  They cover many of the plants here like limpets. They also stick to the bonnet of my car and have often survived the long journey to England.

Tiny snails clinging to wild love-In-a-mist (Nigella.) They cover many of the plants here like limpets. They also stick to the bonnet of my car and have often survived the long journey to England.

It is good to keep the grass short here, as a couple of weeks ago, on one of the first warm days, I spotted a baby snake working its way across the ground. I was unsure whether it was an adder or a grass snake as I have never seen such a small one; it measured about seven inches long. A reminder to watch where I step. And then a few days ago, I felt a chill as I saw a scorpion dashing across the floor. I found it remarkable what perfectly straight lines it ran along. 

Bees are swarming around the small pond in the garden. They are drinking there and collecting water to take back to their hives to cool them down. I have to walk past them to go down to the washing line, but they don't seem bothered by me.

The other evening I had an encounter with a flying praying mantis. I felt something large land on my shoulder. I gave a loud squeal and brushed it off. My friend visiting me from Italy helped me put it outside into the night. It was about three inches long and it really startled me. But it was only praying... 

Friends and guests come and go, but it seems I am never really alone! 

 Buddha unperturbed by the bees. They fly around him all day. Some of their reflections are visible in the water.

Buddha unperturbed by the bees. They fly around him all day. Some of their reflections are visible in the water.

Last weekend my mission was to plant the tomato plants I had bought from Fran├žois in the market. Christophe, who helps me out in the garden, had rotivated a strip of ground and dressed it with goats manure. When I went to prepare the soil for the plants, I found it was completely infested with couch grass. I took a fork to it, but soon had to admit defeat. And so it was that I started digging a new and small vegetable patch down by the washing line, working under my straw hat to protect me from the heat, listening to the poet David Whyte speaking with Krista Tippett on the 'On Being' podcast. I heard him talk about how, 'we have so many allies in this world, including just the colour blue in the sky.'

 Betty lying amongst the young tomato plants

Betty lying amongst the young tomato plants

Being here, I am so aware of the presence of those allies. The cuckoo calls in the distance. The hoopoe bird softly replies. The nightingales sing day and night, cleansing the air, with each sweet phrase of their liquid song different to the last. Frogs start up in the evening with their alien, sonic sounds reverberating throughout the valley.

Dark brown eagles wheel about in that blue of the sky. The great rocks have been here longer than any living thing.

The air is alive with juniper and warm pine resin, blended with the sweetness of broom and roses, spiced with aromatic wild thyme, mint and oregano. Having spent my first couple of years of my childhood inland from Malaga, I have been longing for those southern scents my whole life.

Many of those creatures are considered enemies: the snake, the scorpion, the bees, the spiders I find in the house. So is the couch grass. When I went to the local garden centre and somebody asked for weedkiller, he was told that no, it was no longer available without having a licence. He was directed to a flame gun. I am loathe to kill any of the creatures, and I definitely don't want to use poisons. I throw spiders out of the windows and even the scorpion was put out of doors with a piece of card and a glass. The ants are everywhere and they come in all sizes. If a crumb of food is left out, they are there. They help motivate me to keep the place clean. If not, it will be the flies coming in. The bees, well they are essential. There isn't much water around, so I will share the pond with them. I hope we can all get along. I'll let you know how it goes.