Tales of the Lecrin Valley

A personal view of life in an andalusian village.

Pepe’s Gone Plastic 

At dusk, when the birds have flocked to their family trees for the evening’s parochial meetings, shouted to each other the events of their day, discussed the prospects for the coming day, said their goodnights and left for their roosts; one or other of the farmers in the valley opens his sluice from the main  acequia and claims his ancient water rights.   Then in the half-light and quiet of the evening, the sound of water fills the valley, rushing along concrete channels, plunging over rocks and crags or gurgling along watercourses carved in solid rock to finally rest lapping gently on the flooded terraces.  The sound brings a peace to the valley, a continuity with the past, with the Moors, the Mozarabs, the Andaluces.   

But now the sound is becoming scarcer.  Some of the small terraced groves, bordered by small earthen dikes to allow them  to flood, now stand moss-grown, in places the dikes breached.  The acequias are silted up, or filled with weeds.  My favourite sound, from across the valley on Pepe’s land where the water fell one hundred feet over a cliff from the valley’s main acequia into a time-carved rock-pool on his terraces below, is no more. 

Pepe’s gone plastic. 

Medusa-like, thick black PVC piping snakes among the trees, across the groves, straddling terraces, keeping the sound of running water mute within it’s blackness.  Here and there tendrils of thinner piping branch off from the main torso and reach towards their allocated orange or olive tree, succouring and nourishing them in the oh-so-efficient way of progress.  But to service Medusa, here and there on the terraces are large, squat, ugly concrete cisterns, spoiling the once virgin vistas. And to me Medusa’s life-giving umbilicals appear menacing; serpents in the groves of paradise.

 I mention it to Antonio in passing one evening, guiltily as I feel that it is not my place to talk of trees and water rights.  He tells me that the trees now yield much more and are far healthier.  I tell him that that is good for him and good for the valley as it preserves precious water.  He agrees.  I go on to say that it is also so much easier for him not to have to clear the weeds from the acequias, level the terraces and maintain the small earthen water-retaining walls previously needed for flood-irrigation.  But he is wiser than me.  He agrees that this should be so and that that is what the progressives say to sell their piping and their cement cisterns.  But he tells me that if he stops this continuous, back-breaking maintenance, the flash floods of the winter, rolling down from the Sierra Nevada, will wash away the whole hillside.  So he continues as he has done all his life, and as has been done for centuries, to clear away the weeds from the channels, build his retaining walls to slow flood-water and keep erosion from washing his trees and terraces away.   

And when he has finished that, he has to find time to service Medusa.   

You can’t deny the farmers their advances.  The maintenance of acequias and the building of the small dikes is back-breaking work.  When finished the terraces look so much a part of nature, natural,  neat, precise, manicured.  But PVC is better.  None of the farmers are getting any younger and their sons and daughters don’t want to continue this back-breaking work, any more than their parents want them to have to.  I pray that the groves don’t die, or that macro-agriculture bulldozes  the tiny terraces into something terrible.

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