Bamboo, birdsong, and being an outsider

Bamboo, birdsong, and being an outsider

The breeze rustles through the bamboo that grows in the barranca beside the house where we’re staying. The barranca is an old river bed long since dry. Once upon a time it would have carried water all the way to the coast or into another, bigger river that would chaperone it down to the sea – freshwater merging with salt.

The sides of the barranca are terraced and planted with almond trees, some already blossoming though this is early in their season. The bamboo is 20ft tall, maybe more. At the right edge of my vision here on a little terrace, it’s thick, muscling out any other plant, thinning out only as the barranca falls away to the left, east towards the sea. Held aloft on firm roots, each plant waves fluffy plumes the colour of French mustard. They look like upturned brooms or a giant’s paintbrushes. If I shut my eyes and listen to the breeze catching the bamboo, I could be hearing the sound of a gentle waterfall. 

It’s out of place, this invasive species from far away. It doesn’t belong here. An intruder brought, perhaps, by another intruder, its parentage dating back to the carefully landscaped garden of one of the casas grandeswhere the newcomers live.

The terraces across the barranca are astonishingly green. The normally lumpy, pale grey-fawn earth is covered in growth, lush below the almonds. Not grass, but a carpet of coarse, low-growing plants and lots of a particular clover that you see everywhere here. It may be a pest, the Spanish equivalent of bindweed or ground elder, but it is arrestingly pretty with its copious foliage and vibrant yellow flowers held on slender stems. I’ve never seen it in such abundance. They say the winter up to Christmas was wet allowing these eager, uninhibited plants to creep explosively along every terrace.

When the breeze subsides and the bamboo stops pretending to be the cascading river that no longer exists, it’s left to the birds to colour in the soundscape. From dawn to dusk the barranca is choir practice for countless voices. Elegant grey pigeons coo-coo to offer a steady, repeating bass line for a day-long avian A cappella. I wish I could identify the different voices. There’s a solo descant of such flawless tone holding long notes beside a chorus of short quavers from hundreds of small birds singing perfectly in tune. 

A pure white bird flies over several times a day. About the size of a small gull, his slender black legs stretched out behind, his bright orange beak thrust out in front, he glides effortlessly overhead. He must arrive at the top of the barranca by a different route for I only ever see him flying in one direction, like a hang-glider on a thermal draft. Maybe he sings out of key for he is not a member of the choir. He flies by, seemingly voiceless, apart. Maybe he nests nearer the coast but just can’t stay away from the music. An outsider here who yearns to belong.

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