Chasing rainbows

¿Dónde termina el arco iris, en tu alma o en el horizonte? (Where does the rainbow end, in your soul or on the horizon?)

Pablo Neruda, The Book of Questions

I know at times my attitude has been considered a bit un-PC but I believe children need to be exposed to fresh air and sunlight, to be allowed to get wet and muddy, to climb trees, build dens and poke about in ponds and streams. Our bunch spent many happy days making foul-smelling potions in beach buckets, gathering windfall apples in a toy wheelbarrow and bringing me posies of stemless flowers. They chased butterflies, ‘rescued’ worms and collected snails. They wandered and wondered.

They were helping out in the garden before they could walk and have all grown up with a deep understanding and appreciation of where fresh, wholesome food comes from and how flowers are great for wildlife and good for the soul. Most importantly, they were allowed – encouraged, even – to take risks (under supervision, of course). They climbed trees, scrambled up rocks, waded into water, looked over the edge of cliffs, used knives, handled fire, poked their noses into beehives. I know many people would disagree with me but I believe children need to be allowed to take risks: how else do they learn to understand how to deal with danger, how to become confident, courageous, resilient beings?

This is something I’ve been mulling over many times during the last few weeks. For us in total lockdown, a regular stream of photos and video clips of our grandchildren spending days of gorgeous weather playing outside – not to mention celebrating a birthday – have been a delight; it has brought many smiles to our faces to see their busyness and mischief in full sail. In complete contrast, I have felt extremely sad and frustrated for the millions of Spanish children who have not been quite so lucky, shut in the confines of urban apartments for six long weeks. What a blessed relief for them to have been granted at least a small freedom in recent days, allowed out with one adult for one hour and no more than one kilometre from home. Parks and playgrounds remain firmly closed but it’s a welcome start. For us oldies, too, there is a glimmer of hope with the tantalising possibility of a relaxing of the rules around walking and sport to come at the weekend. It will be over 50 days since I last ran outdoors properly, training in torrential rain for a 10k race that never happened. I have been grateful that, unlike so many of our Spanish running friends, I have at least had a barn to run in but the idea of finally being released from what I’ve come to think of as ‘goldfish bowl syndrome’ fills me with great joy. The open road will never have seemed so sweet!

Most children in the UK haven’t been locked down as tightly as their Spanish counterparts but for many, the rainbow has become a central symbol of this strange and unprecedented time in their lives. I love rainbows and have always been fascinated by their fleeting beauty. One of the most incredible moments of my life was standing in the centre of a circular rainbow at the Skógafoss waterfall in Iceland; I was so entranced at being completely encircled by such an ephemeral natural wonder that I didn’t realised just how drenched I was getting! It’s not magic but pure science, of course; nonetheless, I find myself as captivated by the refraction, reflection and dispersion of light through water droplets – be it arcing across the sky, dancing around waterfalls and breaking waves or caught in a soap bubble or a glass of water – as much now as when I was a child.

Given the choice, I would take sunshine over rain most days but I always feel a sense of gratitude for the gift of rainfall, so desperately missed and longed for in other places. There is a reason why Asturias is so green and lush! We seldom let wet weather spoil our activities so on a day this week that brought us everything from the finest drizzle to torrential downpours, I headed out into the garden with the camera to seek a rainbow. Not a real one – no chance of that when the cloud rolls moodily across the mountains – but a spectrum of flowers to lift the gloom.

Mmm, where to start? Actually, I had no problem with that one.

Orange offered me several possibilities, in particular the nasturtiums flaunting their jaunty faces in every corner or the orange calendula that have mysteriously appeared amongst their yellow companions for the first time this year. In the end, though, I plumped for the Californian poppies which have been releasing satin petals from their tight cones of buds in bright starbursts all week.

For yellow, my old friends the aforementioned calendula or pot marigold, here having set themselves rather artistically against a purple haze of sage flowers.

Green? Choices, choices. In the end, it just had to be the fresh leaves on the kiwi.

When it came to blue, I didn’t even hesitate: enter borage, one of my very favourite flowers.

Indigo posed a bit of a problem when I found I just couldn’t choose between two strong candidates, cerinthe and passion flower. Time to toss a coin? No, indulge me with this one, please: they’re both here. Well, how could they not be?

As for violet, I was spoilt for choice. Should it be clematis, honesty, allium, salsify? No, I’ll settle for granny’s bonnets.

Well, it was a rainbow of sorts!

In the same way as I feel the prevailing quiet, clear air is amplifying the sounds of nature around us at the moment, so I am completely convinced that rainfall heightens the senses in other ways. It smells so wonderful outside: the deep, spicy bass notes of pine and eucalyptus wafting down from the woods mingling with that evocative sharp, herbal tang of cut grass and woven through with the heady perfume of hundreds and hundreds of flowers. It might be wet, but as far as I’m concerned, I’m in a captivating paradise.

Wet days seem to enhance the colour in the garden, too, giving a marked depth and intensity that is so often washed out by bright sunlight.

The Spanish for ‘rainbow’ – arco iris – is named after Iris, the rainbow goddess and messenger of Greek mythology. In my Spanish studies this week, I have been translating an article from a tourist board blog about places of interest in Asturias which are steeped in myth and legend, some of which we have already visited, others which I hope we will be able to explore in the so-called ‘new normal’ of the future. Now I am happy to admit that a working knowledge of las xanas (water nymphs) or el cuélebre (a giant winged serpent) is unlikely to be of much use when we need to have the car serviced or visit the dentist, but for me there is as much magic in the descriptive language as in the stories themselves. We can’t hope to recreate a crystal waterfall hidden deep within a bosky glade or the explosive snorts of coastal bufones sending salty spray skywards, but there is still enchantment to be found in our rain-spattered patch. We only have to look.

What contrast there is between the sweet simplicity of raindrops caught on leaves . . .

. . . and the bold, architectural sweep of cardoons and globe artichokes.

How is it possible that these tiny nubs of silvery velvet will swell into the luscious bounty of summer peaches?

How can I describe the striking colours and textures unfolding from walnut and chestnut and oak, the startling newness of it all?

Come into the Enchanted Garden. If I were a small child once again with an unshakeable belief in the Little People, then this surely is where I would seek them!

There are discoveries to be made here and treasures to uncover, some almost too strange to be true.

Ah, perhaps those Asturian fairy tales have gone to my head. After all, despite how it might seem, I’m not really an airy-fairy, unicorn-riding, New Age granny. Honest! Life goes on here for us as normally as possible under lockdown; there is still a home to run, a garden to tend, clothes to launder, meals to prepare, tax forms to fill out and bills to pay. We are practical, pragmatic people with plenty to be doing . . . but even so, I think everyone needs to chase rainbows now and again. Don’t you? 🙂

13 thoughts on “Chasing rainbows

    1. Thank you, Trace! It’s sad the only way we can share it at the moment is virtually, we won’t be seeing our little visitors wandering about it next month now. 😦 Still, it’s keeping me sane, I think! xx 🙂

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  1. Classy gym 😂! Yes, it’s worrying that Spanish kids don’t get their vitamin D, when lack of seems to be one of the risk factors. All looking lovely and lush. We’ve just entered the beautiful green phase where all tree leaves are unfurling 😊.

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    1. Ha ha, I’d like to point out those weights are nothing to do with me, the wheelbarrow is more my thing! 🙂 Isn’t it what makes this whole pandemic situation so difficult, there is such a danger of other serious health issues as a result of lockdown? Enjoy your green lushness, it’s a beautiful time of year. 🙂

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  2. I can’t believe how much further in the season you are than us! I mean, I can (because Scotland) but it’s incredible to see your flowers out when I’m just coming to the end of sowing some of the same varieties!

    I completely agree with you about children needing to learn to take risks. I remember once, when collecting my youngest from nursery, the teachers were holding a survey of parents. We were asked whether or not we were comfortable with our children riding bikes – in full safety gear, one at a time, and supervised – down the disabled access ramp. I replied that of course I was comfortable with it – the ramp was 20cm at the tallest point! But apparently, they’d had complaints from another parent regarding the process and so had to review their policy. Happily, in the end, the children were allowed to keep rolling…

    On the similar theme, the film ‘Project Wild Thing’ is available to watch (in the UK at any rate) during lockdown. There’s a link here: https://vimeo.com/67763495?utm_source=The+Wild+Network+2017&utm_campaign=3adb735a6f-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2018_02_08_COPY_01&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_d8ec5e93eb-3adb735a6f-233190921 It was absolutely heartbreaking when the film-maker realised that his child only spent 4% of her time outdoors – the same amount as she spent in the bathroom. 😦

    I’m grateful for my garden every day, during this period. I can’t imagine how claustrophobic it is, trying to raise small humans entirely indoors. It’s hard enough with lots of room outside to spill into. I really hope those kids in apartments get the chance to enjoy the outside world again soon.

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    1. What an insighful comment – thank you! Also for the link to Project Wild Thing which I’ve just tried and it will play here so I shall definitely be watching it. Your story about the bikes at school made me smile, I had been a mum for 13 years before I started teaching in primary school and the whole ‘wrap them in cotton wool’ culture came as a huge shock. Strangely enough, the best school ‘trips’ we had were the ones where we didn’t go anywhere but had themed outdoors days on the school field like Castaway and Wild West, cooking over campfires, building shelters and generally going feral. The children absolutely loved them. Enjoy your garden . . . I am a complete gardening fraud to be honest, a short mild winter and little variation in min and max temperatures means everything grows so well here, it would be hard not to have an abundance of veggies and flowers! 🙂

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  3. I love your floral link to rainbows and enjoyed reading, as always.
    Too many helicopter parents around these days, hovering and worrying, for children to be as independent as ours were.

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      1. I have to confess, it isn’t mine, although I would love to have been the one who thought of it. Quite a common expression here. 😊

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  4. Wow, that was beautiful Lis – lovely words & the photos were absolutely fantastic! It has really brightened my day, so thank you so much!

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    1. Well, thank you for your lovely comment! It’s most definitely the garden and the beauty of spring unfolding around us that is keeping us sane in these strange times. We are so lucky to be here! 🙂

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  5. Wow… so beautiful. As the lock down eases, we are beginning to realise that travel out of Spain will still be restricted for a while yet. I am learning patience and have resigned myself to not meeting our new baby until he or she is a few months old. ( due in 3 weeks!) However Walt loves a plan and that plan is looking very much like the Picos in August… we might divert to take in more of your stunning region!
    Totally with you on being out doors… I was a free range 60s kid and still hate being cooped up. I found it very hard to understand why my daughter and her husband insisted on city living. They have a beautiful Georgian flat in Edinburgh’s new town and access to the city’s many green spaces, Water of Leith and Royal Botanic Gardens which are just wonderful. However they can’t just drop kick the bairns out in to the garden! Having said that I noticed early morning temperatures in Edinburgh today were 4C! We are spoiled here, sitting with our front door open until 11pm last night!
    Good news re quarantine relaxation…. our huerto is reopening! We have time slots and strict instructions to let no one else in. I am going up at 8am on Friday to start weeding!
    The new rules and regulations re exercise and going out are hilarious and open to quite a bit of interpretation! You will not have this problem as I am sure there are fewer than 5,000 of you near by! LIBERTAD!

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    1. Yes, it’s a very different life we’re all leading, isn’t it? So many plans gone by the wayside but I think there will be some wonderful celebrations when we can all catch up again. Think just how precious that new babe will be! We are planning to spend some time in the Picos too (hoping it will be a bit quieter than normal!), also Ponga, Redes and Somiedo Natural Parks which we love, there is some fantastic walking to be had. Come and see us if you decide to head west, we’re about an hour and a half from Ribadesella along the A8! Fantastic news about the huerto, hooray! Hopefully the weeds won’t be too bad and you can start planting again. I was thinking about you yeaterday as we melted in an incredible 30+ degrees here, pretty unusual in August yet alone May! Don’t know how you manage to garden in all that heat. have a wonderful time in your patch on Friday. xx 🙂

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