Under the Strawberry Trees

Waxy leaves of rock roses on the cliffs, exuding the curious, musky, warm scent of burning agar wood. In the sticky green velvet there are appear the occasional anomalies: tiny clumps of bright magenta flowers. Unseen insects whirr, a sound like idly spinning bicycle spokes

On the marshy riverbanks: cerise sweetpeas, maize, fig trees, blackberry leaves mottled yellow and maroon, cowslips, white columbine, dandelion’s purple leaves, cork oaks – flesh orange where the skin has been sheared off, painted white numbers for reference, dense canopy of eucalyptus, fluffy stubs of dry grass seeds like blurred snow on my lens, spiky cheery shapes dangling from the madronherias – strawberry trees

A mountain of cork, cylinders of bark mostly intact, tubes piled higher than my head yet each piece is as light as air. The heap shelters smallholdings from the brisk winds

Old Portuguese men with rusty black flat caps ploughing fields with sand coloured cows, one row at a time, interminably. The same old men in a Brazilian worker’s caff, stumpy and weathered, smelling of brandy and mint

Said Brazilian worker, bear-like taking my order for coffee and pastel de nata, an unfortunate tan line on his forehead from a cap worn backwards when he switches shifts and goes to plaster the house two doors down

Days oscillating between town and the beach, between cobalt-trimmed houses with sculpted chimney stacks and cobalt waters sculpting stacks of sandstone and slate

Outside Arrifana, the 12th century ribat of Ibn Qasi, erstwhile student of Ibn Arabi: a group of neatened stone squares perched high over the Atlantic waves exploding against rocks. Walking through the ruins there is a strongly male presence still, a silent ferocity, a desire to have remained hidden to tourists. Over the brim of the cliff jagged rows of rock are visible through the clear water, magnified shark’s teeth – perhaps the remains of the rest of this cliff before those waves smashed it to sand

The pale beaches taking refuge beneath their striated rocky defences, shifting with the moon’s allure – when it was waxing we had a perfect lagoon, now it is gone – and in places struck with diagonal ridges of serrated dark slate, as if the waves have pounded so hard on the beach they have grazed it

The sand itself, home to billions of microscopic diatoms, food for translucent sandhoppers – the plankton of the land. Incremented daily by bananas peels, peanut shells, apricot kernels and lost socks; the high tides are marked with shoals of plastic jetsam. Today I learned how to copy the fishing net knots

Stones crunching underfoot as we scale the hill to the car; on top they seem to be dark grey or pale sand, but where they have been split apart by prehistoric geological arguments they reveal stripes of chocolate, dark plum, caramel, and palest duck egg blue

At last relaxed, able to offer two listening ears to children’s cries and hear myself in them, back learning how to be straight and not suffer, how to just sit. Perceptions come into better focus, pettinesses exposed, simplicity treasured. Not a holiday from home; instead, home has come on holiday.

5 thoughts on “Under the Strawberry Trees

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