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?
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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/