Changeable temperatures herald ‘confused’ climate

Changeable temperatures herald ‘confused’ climate
The flowers on roadside briars, a feature of Ibiza in February and March, are all different, each with dozens of brightly coloured flowers. Picture: Damien Enright

I don’t know why we bothered to go to the Med for part of the winter when we could have been sunbathing in Ireland, at least up to two weeks ago. Now, we hear that there was snow in Killarney yesterday.

Last week, neighbours at home said they were sporting tans that would make us blush! Temperatures in West Cork and in the street outside our Ibiza town apartment were equal morning and evening. However, in the hours between, this island bakes in temperatures higher than those of summer Ireland.

A newly-arrived visitor would wonder why almost everyone around town wears jackets. The reason is that the tall, narrow streets, built dark and deep to shelter them from the summer sun, are ice-boxes in winter. My wife and I carry jackets and woolly hats during metropolitan outings. Going to the country, we leave them at home.

Sun-seeking was only part of our reason for coming here. Evissa (Catalan for Ibiza) turns out to be as we had hoped. Its 40km length by 20km breadth, is crowded with interest.

Exploring the human history could absorb a lifetime, while a single life- span wouldn’t be enough to fully know the land, its wooded mountain ranges, fertile plains and farms, and over 200km of coastline, everywhere indented by pretty coves and strands.

Strangely, the fields of the plains and the valleys seem, often, to be neglected. This is a joy for the amateur naturalist; wild flowers are legion, insects and butterflies are everywhere, and flocks, or individual, small birds often seen or heard.

Raptors are rare, however; so far, I’ve only seen kestrels.

It’s a mystery why so many of the multi-species, robust meadows are ungrazed. We rarely see farm animals, only small flocks of sheep and occasional small herds of goats.

Here and there, we come across broad fields with grass as green as Ireland’s and, seemingly, as husbanded as Irish pastures, but there are no cattle. We see fields of red earth recently ploughed and laid out in furrows, ready for planting, with lines of almond, orange, carob or fig trees marching across them. Vines, we also sometimes see, some clearly commercially grown.

Ancient olive trees abound, but the olives are not good here. The carobs, with long, leathery pods suspended from their branches, are important commercially. The 15cm- or 20cm-long pods are full of beans and, if unopened and left to dry, go black, and when rattled, make excellent maracas for the percussion sections of Latin American bands.

However, their true value is when they are crushed into meal for human and animal consumption. The beans are full of carbohydrates, proteins and low levels of fat, while the tree roots prevent soil erosion. Thoroughly useful trees, they are Mediterranean natives and can withstand long periods of heat and drought.

It is as well that they can do so. Since we arrived here on December 18, not a single drop of rain has fallen upon us. We look forward to some thorough drenchings of Atlantic downpours in the March-of-Many-Weathers to which we will soon be returning.

The long spring drought here has been unusual. The climates of the entire planet are, of course, out of kilter. My son, in La Gomera in the Canaries, tells me that the avocado and mangoes are producing new fruits while last year’s crop is still on the trees.

In the south of Ibiza, salt pans created by the Phoenicians in 5BC were developed by the Romans useful, I suppose, for paying legionnaires salaries in salt. Here, sandy paths wind through ‘meadows’ of magnificent marsh samphire (glasswort). As in Ireland, the samphire doesn’t seem to be harvested.

At home, it grows in the tidal marshes behind Garafeen beach (Harbour View) on the north side of Courtmacsherry Bay. Young shoots are tasty in salad, or stir fried. It’s said that it’s best when ‘washed by two tides’, which it often is.

As we drive the country roads, I often want to hop out and take photos of old farmhouses and of the meadows, flowers, bushes and trees. I recently read a farmer’s list of the produce of his holding, of the iron-reddened soil of his fields.

Of fruit: oranges (six varieties), lemons and sweet lemons, almonds, figs, apricots, peaches, plums, pomegranates, quinces, medlars, apples, pears and carobs for animal feed.

Of vegetables: red and green peppers, beans and runner beans, tomatoes, grapes (wine and dessert), carrots, potatoes, peas, courgettes, pumpkins, melons, fennel, parsley, and coriander, and lettuces since the tourists came.

What a cornucopia of produce this land engenders!

However, much is now abandoned. Tourism pays the bills, and many foodstuffs are imported.

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