Islandmomma

Exploring the Stories of the Islands and the Freedoms of Third Age

Finding Yin and Yang on the Hillsides of Tenerife

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I went out to search for evidence of  bleakness,  sadness and possibly anger, a proof of man’s arrogance and his disconnection from the earth. I expected to be overwhelmed by the anger, but instead I arrive home  overwhelmed by beauty and a sense of renewal.

Where was I? What happened? Was this a Road to Damascus moment? (now there’s a phrase to conjure with right now!) Maybe. Maybe not. There it is, you see – Perhaps. Perhaps not. Maybe Yin? Maybe Yang? Goodness knows I don’t know enough about Eastern philosophy to be sure, but I think that’s what I experienced. I hesitate to use the word Zen, because I’m not sure I totally understand it, and it could be that in saying that I do understand?

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Here’s the backstory: A couple of weeks ago my friend, Cristina and I were driving up into the mountains to see the snow – an occurance sufficiently rare, despite what you see on postcards from Tenerife, to prompt folk to take their kids out of school for the day to go to see it – we drove through familiar territory, through the village of Vilaflor and up towards the National Park and the caldera, chatting about this and that, taking in a surroundings which were beautiful, but to which we were accustomed. There are seasons when this journey is remarkable for its loveliness, when flowers are in full bloom, or the seascape, with its glimpses of mysterious, other islands is almost hypnotic, but this was an ordinary day – early spring, before the blooms, the seascape a little dulled by haze, little flora on the roadsides.

We’d been driving through the shade of pines for several minutes, when we rounded a curve and almost paused. The vista in front of us was like a kick in the stomach. We slowed. We pointed. We said very little, because there were no words. The once-familiar panorama to our left, where the mountains glided down to the sea, was like a war zone.

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It’s been seven months since wildfires swept across this countryside, and I hadn’t realized that I’d been away that long. This was my first view of the devastation, these black, skeletal posts marching across the contours of the hillsides had been elegant pine trees. As the mountain mists writhed their way between the branches they had left moisture, which the trees fed to the soil below in one of those perfect cycles of nature which leave us awed.

To say that we were shocked would be putting very mildly.

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It wasn’t as if I haven’t seen endless pictures on the internet, or film on tv, of what happened, but being up close is something else. Last Tuesday I went back to try to understand:

This time there is no shock. I am prepared. But when I pull over the car it’s a few minutes before I can get out. It feels the same way I feel in a holy place, as if I am intruding. And, of course, this is what happens when thoughtless men intrude on Nature, when they forget that they are a part of the equation which makes up our world, and selfishly blunder their own way, regardless. It is rumored that this enormous destruction was the result of one good old boy having a wee bonfire to burn garden rubbish. Having a bonfire to burn garden rubbish at a time when there had been no rain in the area for two years; when, on every walk, words like ‘arid,’ ‘barren’ or ‘parched’  hung on our lips in unspoken anticipation of a sight like this one;  and when the trees were virtually the only remaining greenery on the landscape. It is also rumored that the village in which he lives has closed ranks and that no prosecutions have been made. I can’t repeat more than rumors. I can’t find information other than rumors. Silence speaks volumes about mankind.

I stop in several places. It is, for want of a better word, heartbreaking, and I am very aware that despite the enormity of what I am seeing, this extends far beyond this area. The tinder-dry ground couldn’t have been more vulnerable. The fire spread, well, like wildfire. If you’d seen the scenes unfolding daily on our tv screens here you would have understood the origin of that phrase.

I wonder if the guy responsible ever comes to look at what he did?

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I drive. I stop. I take photographs. I am a witness to destruction. I wanted to come after the fires, but it seemed like rubbernecking, somehow encouraging the idea that this was a spectacle, an entertainment. I am, after all, not a professional journalist. I am saddened. I stand for long moments and think of how it used to be, wonder how long it will take to recover, wonder how the guy who started it all can live with himself. I’m not in a forgiving frame of mind.

The Canary Pine is more forgiving, however. It is resilient and strong. Its bark burns, but at its core it remains alive. In time that surviving core will push out new growth through scorched skin, from its latent battalions of buds, which have been held back for just such an eventuality. Throughout Canarian pine forests you can see blackened trunks from previous fires sporting fresh, new life, but it will take time.

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Strange to say, I don’t feel the anger I thought I would feel this day, and it isn’t just the knowledge of the pines’ rebirth which has cheered me, but the, literally, breathtaking sights which I’ve seen on my way to this point. I didn’t do biology in school, so my utterly uninformed opinion is this – we had two years of drought, when there wasn’t sufficient rainfall to provoke much growth in springtime, this must have meant that seeds expelled from flora in the meantime lay, dormant on the earth, until, this year, watered and warmed adequately, the whole island appears to be heaving with an abundance of wildflowers which is making everyone proclaim that they’ve never seen anything like it. Friends who walk more than I, friends whose knowledge of different plants is far vaster than mine, friends who have lived here all their lives are saying the same thing: there never has been a spring like this one.

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In a minute I’m going to stop rambling on and just post the pictures of my drive. This is a moment in time which should be shared, no doubt about it. It can’t identify all the flowers you’ll see. I am awed by the profusion of terraces of wild fennel, and enchanted by friendly California Poppies swaying at the roadsides. Beyond those, the purple hazes, the delicate buds and other types of poppy I can’t name for you.

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Turning, finally, away from the ruins of once-verdant hillsides, I come home by, for me, a route ‘less-traveled,’ to be put in mind again of the good stuff on our planet. I am driving now away from the direction the fire took, seeing unspoiled countryside, thick forests, elegant terraces (a reminder that man and nature often do work together) and curbsides littered with flowers of every hue under the sun.

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I arrive home, not in the state of frustration and anger I anticipated, but serene and hopeful. Perhaps confident in the Earth’s promise of renewal. My faith in man is less, my faith in Nature is more, than when I left home on this very short journey. Is that Zen? Not understanding just why I feel this way? Is this the inevitable balance of yin and yang of which philosophers speak, allowing us to be skeptical and hopeful at the same time?

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Added April 8th: This is a post I would have written anyway. I have, almost unwittingly, written a fair bit about the landscapes and nature in Tenerife, which is an island of amazing diversity and beauty, but at the back of my mind whilst writing this post was participating in the monthly Boomer Travel round up theme, which is Nature. I haven’t ready the other contributions yet, but am utterly certain that I’m going to love them. If you enjoyed this post, then you’ll definitely enjoy the others! Take a look at http://greenglobaltravel.com/2013/04/05/nature-travel-blog-roundup/

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Author: IslandMomma

Loving island life and exploring the freedoms Third Age brings: Challenging myself every day: writing, traveling, snapping pix, running & teaching ESL

18 thoughts on “Finding Yin and Yang on the Hillsides of Tenerife

  1. It was a jaw dropping moment for me too the first time I saw the devastation – and I couldn´t believe just how much of the landscape had been blasted. Like you, I wonder how long it will be before it recovers, but recover it will.

    • The good news is that it’s already beginning to recover. Apparently, these buds lie dormant in the trees’ bark until they are needed i.e. when the tree is damaged by fire or pruned http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Epicormic_shoot . Fascinating stuff. From the roadside I was pretty sure that I could see where regrowth was already underway, but in writing I didn’t want to say without being totally sure. However, now that I’ve blow up some sections of the photos and spoken with a friend who has been hiking in an affected area recently it seems that, yes, regrowth is, rapidly happening. Because the buds are in the bark, it happens all along the sides of the blackened trunks, and with the recent rains and warmth they are fighting back magnificently already….which is not to offer any comfort to those responsible!

  2. Mother Nature – Gaia, if you prefer – speaks to us constantly, if only we will listen. In the battle between nature and man, nature will always emerge victorious. Perhaps it was nature gloating over this fact that you felt so strongly. I felt like I was right there with you, and now I have a piece of that serenity you felt. Thank you for such a lovely story.

    • I love the name Gaia, much nicer, somehow than Mother Nature. Given the richness of life in almost all its varieties here, it is really sad how few people are listening. I definitely felt that the Universe was soothing me, reassuring me. I’m so glad you liked it, and that I conveyed what I was feeling. When I reread it hours after hitting publish I thought it could have been better. I wrote it quite spontaneously, and didn’t edit as much as I should (I hardly ever do on here!), so I’m very happy that I said what I wanted to say!

  3. Fire on this scale is scary and scars the landscape. I think I told you before about the monkey puzzle tree down in London. at the bottom of a friend’s garden, we sat enjoying hot sun and cool drinks and were told the story as to why it looked so scraggy up to a certain height then grew lush and green. it was struck in the blitz, then grew on to the magnificent tree we were admiring! buildings had crumbled and lives lost and the tree stood witness and carried on growing! trees can be inspirational! it will interesting to see those trees in a few more years, maybe they’ll surprise everyone.

    • You did, indeed. I loved that story! As you can see from my reply to Colleen, they are already surprising us, which is wonderful, but no excuse for the perpetrator of this devastation, though, as Barbara says, Nature will always emerge victorious in the end.

  4. Sounds like you touched bases with the earth and her yin and yang. Seeing and hearing about this human caused destruction brings the anger, yet Being within it gives hope for renewal. Definitely Zen.

  5. Brilliant as always Linda, I felt I was there with you!
    I saw it all last summer after the fires it was probably worst then being so recent but I also felt hope as already, only a month or so after the masacre, there were parches of brilliant green sprouting through the black ashes and that was just the lbushes which you would think that they were totally wiped out!
    Thanks Linda, for taking us on a journey of hope and rebirthing…

    • I’m glad it made you feel that way, my friend! You would have loved my wee journey, perhaps tajinaste and broom will be in flower when you come, and we can make another journey to check on Nature’s progress.

  6. I remember driving through Yellowstone National Park several years ago and was shocked to see the huge areas where fires had come roaring through. But there was still much beauty to see everywhere in the park.Mother Nature was sure showing her beauty in those gorgeous wildflowers you photographed. Interesting to read about your thoughts and emotional reactions to the devastation and the signs of hope.

    • Thanks, Cathy. I was surprised myself. The first time we drove through and saw them a couple of weeks previously I was shocked, and I expected my reactions to be quite different the second time. It hit me forcibly because it’s an area I know well I think, but this Spring has been extraordinary here. The same conditions which made the earth ripe for fires have made it dazzle with an abundance of wildflowers such as I have never seen in my life before! Shows how little we know, and how much the Earth does.

  7. One of my favorite places to camp, canoe, and fish is Quetico in Ontario, Canada. There have been several fires and a blow down of over a million trees due to a micro burst storm, so I can relate to the loss of natural beauty to a place you love. I like the pictures of the flowers near the end as it signifies regeneration and hope.

    • The day totally surprised me. I’d been procrastinating about seeing the damage because I thought it would make me angry and upset, but although it made me sad, the new growth and the flowers were very uplifting. Since then the island has been a riot of color. This year we have spring flowers like never before.

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