She Rises

(That’s a stork up there)

Yesterday morning we left Portugal. As I write we are in a town in Spain called Palencia. Leaving was a strange experience. First, the road was narrow and it twisted this way and that as it wound though the mountains. I was twisting this way and that too. It was uncomfortable. I hate leaving.

(The town of Puebla de Sanabria, Spain)

Just another characteristic of my human mind. Discomfort makes me crave familiarity. I am discomforted by change. The road signs change. The names of towns are unfamiliar. The possibility of a morning coffee very unlikely. I am a creature of habit breaking a well formed habit and it’s painful.

(River view)

We arrived at our destination for the night, a car park in the town of Puebla de Sanabria. It was hot. There was no shade. I was grumpy. The nearest coffee was up, up, up a steep gradient on the other side of the river. It was getting hotter. There will be no coffee. I leave Denis to park the van while I take my mood to the riverside.

(Can you see her?)

And there she is. Standing waiting for me. How quickly I forget. A stork. Every stork has been reminding me to stay present. Reminding me to drop my expectations, my past losses, my future hopes. Just be here now.

(Just at the last moment… she rises)

I looked across at the other side of the river and it’s beautiful. I hadn’t noticed. I missed something beautifully right in front of me because I was holding on tight to something I didn’t have.

I made tea instead of wishing for coffee. Mairead.

Silves’ elusive things

(A glimpse of the wall)

There are two things you see a lot of in Silves – the old moorish walls and the storks. Funny enough both are hard to photograph as you walk around. The storks are always too far away. So I had to stop trying and just watch them instead. The walls are surrounded by houses built in their shadow so there’s only a glimpse ever now and then of their red stone.

(Storks on top of the supermarket)

The storks build their nests on top of electricity poles or tall chimneys or on the corner of a very tall abandoned house. They are so graceful when they fly off to find food for their chicks. I think their grace is connected to their size, they have to glide everywhere to remain in balance. The ends of their wings are like long fingers and I think that’s what they use to change direction. When they have picked a direction their long legs seem to click back against their abdomen so that they are streamlined.

(On top of a pole)

Looking at them from underneath as they fly over me I am reminded of an airplane tucking in the wheels as it lifts off. Whenever they do fly over me I am unable to even think, all I can do is stare up with my mouth slightly open and watch. It’s only afterwards I consider my luck at being in exactly this place as they pass by.

(On an edge of the old walls)

You will never guess what is happening as I write… we are parked beside a river today far away from Silves and a stork just walked up the river outside my window. It’s 7am there’s no one else around so I guess she feels safe to walk so close to the vans. Watching her now at such close quarters I realize why storks are so hard to capture on my phone. They are very, very wary. This one seems to jump when a smaller bird flies too close. She even seems to be aware of my watching. I am not moving a muscle, I am in the van and there is a window between us but she has stopped fishing and she is alert for danger.

(Can you see her?)

She started walking up the river out of my sight so I risked grabbing my other camera and sneaking out of the van and up the river bank. She didn’t hear me but as soon as I had cleared the trees she snapped to attention and rose into the air. I didn’t even get a chance to watch, I was watching my footing instead. When I looked up she was in the grass on the far side walking parallel to the riverbank. I had a clear view but she was far away from me.

(Here’s a zoomed in one)

This is the closest I’ve been to one as they walk and they are not as graceful on the ground. Her legs are impossibly thin and her body so much bigger. So the balancing requires more jerky movements as she places one foot down, rocks her body back to be able to place the other as she steps, steps, steps through the grass. For some reason it reminds me of a documentary on television where the scientist is placing drops into individual tiny glass cylinders. Drop, lift, tilt, drop.

(And another)

And then she was hidden by the trees. Of all the experiences I’ve had on this trip the storks are the ones who remind me to be present. They say, for this one moment I will tuck my impossibly thin legs under me and I will fly over your head and you will not be able to capture this moment, you will not be able to slow it down, you will not be able to share it with others, it is just for here and now and then I will leave.

Here and now, Mairead.

The Mining Town

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(The lake near our car park)

It’s sunny! In fact it might be a little too sunny…. just joking! It’s just perfect, perfect. We have moved to a new location beside a very peaceful lake, it’s also near an old gold mine. Well, the gold mining was back in the day when the Romans were here. The most recent mining for copper ore ended in the 1960’s.


(The resident stork at the old mine)

What we didn’t realise, when we were at the border post (watching my man from Spain) was that we were parked on the docks beside the site of the old mine train. The copper ore was transported from this town to the border town by train. Then it was loaded onto huge sailing ships bound for England.

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(Can you see the copper coloured water?)

We went for a walk to see some of the old buildings. The buildings are just walls and chimneys. The only occupants now are the storks. The earth has a deep red colour and weirdly so do the trees piled on the side of the road. As we got closer to the open mine we could also see other colours, yellows, white and even blue. This is our second day without electricity so we’ll have to move on tomorrow which is a pity because there’s a little museum in the town that’s closed on Mondays. Today is Monday.

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(The trees look red)

You know I suppose it’s obvious but no two towns are the same, they don’t look the same of course but they also don’t feel the same. It’s like the combination of all the people who live here, combined with all the actions and intentions of all the people who ever lived here, add up to a place. This place is very interesting.

From a lovely lakeside in south-east Portugal, Mairead.