I’m sitting under a tree, on a bench, looking across the valley – drinking in the colours, the ochres, umbers, greens and browns of mountain, tree and plant. It’s a view I love, a deep valley rising on the far side to gentle peaks. The shape of the distant mountains resembles a sleeping giant and when the kids were small I’d tell them stories about the giant and when he might one day get up from his slumbers. I painted and drew that view repeatedly, never managing to capture it – the largeness of the landscape somehow escaping my feeble attempts. I think now that I should not have tried to paint the landscape but rather to have made the marks that capture its essence.
It’s 2pm now and the breeze has arrived. For all the years we lived here, it arrived around the same time, you would hear it coming, travelling along the valley, through the Pines and Cedars, sweeping over the long grass, shaking the seed heads, gently blowing the flowers, carrying the sounds of bird song, sheep bleating and goat bells. It drowned out the persistent insect chatter and on stiflingly hot days it brought incredible relief. To step out into the breeze was to find peace, an escape from the unrelenting heat of summer.
It also carries the scent – in Spring of the orange blossom planted miles away in the bee filled groves. In Summer the heat of the resins from the trees and the fine mists of sand, in Autumn the parched earth, the incredible dryness that finally gives way in Winter to the first rain. The smell of red earth, newly wet from rain, is incredible. I can’t quite describe the scent but would recognise it anywhere. It’s almost beyond a scent becoming instead a sensation, a moment when the earth draws breath after such a long, exhausting dry season. It is warm, earthy, almost spicy, rich and rounded and it rises all around, enveloping. You both feel and smell it. I remember a friend from Kenya describing the same thing, she said as children they wanted to bend down and lick the water from the soil. I understand that.
I realised today that my relationship with this place goes so far beyond the friends and plants, it has somehow permeated my very being. The simple act of sitting on a bench looking, feeling and listening to this place is utterly restorative. I can’t imagine not coming here to this little island in the eastern Mediterranean.
I’m listening to the sounds, occasional distant cars, cicadas, dogs, cows, sheep, goats. I can hear them all, but more than that, there is the sound of bees, it forms a constant low hum, rising and falling as they move from flower to flower. A moment ago I heard the distinctive sound of bee eaters calling to one another as they fly in formation up the valley, picking off unwary bees. There is a constant background twitter of birdsong. It is such a vibrant soundscape, unlike anything I hear any more in the south-east of England.
I’ll be here for a few more days, picking, drying, peeling and all the rest. The distilling is done for now, the orange blossom converted by some alchemical miracle into the most amazing aromatic water, the Geranium too. This is the slowing down, the tidying up and the moment to savour the place, to feel the sun on my skin and the heat in my bones. To recharge ready for the adventures ahead.