Yesterday evening, when we went to ‘our village’ in the Valley of the Great King on the island of La Gomera in the Canaries, we saw an owl in the first hour of darkness, and it was heartening to know that such things hadn’t changed.
Long-eared owls are seen as regularly as always, and not just on the scrubby scree slopes, bamboo breaks and giant palms of the upper valley, but also down by the sea where there is development, and houses have replaced the banana, avocado, and mango plantations nearest to the shore.
Apparently, barn owls are still seen too, so my son who spends much of the year on the island, tells me. I’d dearly love to witness the white, ghostly shape of a barn owl fly past me on its silent wings. I recall, years ago, seeing one particular bird sometimes when walking on the unlit paths of the upper valley at night. It was a ‘local’, and the path was in its territory.
Back then, if one looked up the valley from the sea below, only scattered pinpricks of light pierced the darkness. Now, pools of light mark the steps and the caminos. Happily, there aren’t too many.
They don’t disturb the owls, which may even avail of the wildlife, including the large moths, attracted to them, and they make moving about at nighta great deal safer than in 1981, when we bought, lived in and renovated a ruin in a village up-valley — my first excursion into property.
We sold it for a modest profit in the early 90s to return to Ireland and set up home after 32 years of overseas wandering. Its value now would be many multiples of its worth back then.
It is heartening to see that the native fauna, avian, mammal, and human have, so far, survived the influx of two-legged foreign species, which has accelerated further over our two years’ absence from Gomera.
Having written about it in these columns since 1991, I must accept some passing responsibility for the inflow of Irish adventurers to this ‘secret paradise’, so different from package resorts.
From our first year here, and for many years pre-internet, I received enquiries about how to get here and where to find accommodation.
I didn’t steal the title from the Rough Guide series, later to publish guide books to faraway places all over the planet but not yet published then. Who knows but the publishers stole it from me, but I sincerely doubt it.
Nevertheless, had I copyrighted my title, I might now be able to allow its use in return for tickets to newly discovered holiday venues or, at least, copies of the guide books about them.
I wonder if, somewhere among the yellowing deeds to our long-gone ruin, I might find copies of my old foolscap pages with hand-drawn maps of the valley. I would love to compare the itineraries then with those that have since been installed.
Happily, the paths, remade by stonemasons of the local stone, the lights like old-fashioned gas lights on iron posts, the standalone new houses no more than two-storeys tall with red tiled roofs and standing amid greenery, all meld with the ambient charm.
On the sheer slopes above our village, we spotted a nanny goat and four kids foraging among the patches of cactus and other succulents; the herd descends to feed at dawn and dusk from the mountain above.
Last week, my son was roped in to help village friends in an attempt to capture a couple for domestication.
He and his compadres were about to lasso a fine young specimen trapped between them when, to their frustration (and admiration), it launched itself into plain air, landed light as a feather and sure-footed as a cat on a level 2m below and scampered off through the scattered boulders on the 80 degree slope to rejoin the family.
When we spotted the group, he thought of alerting his pals but realised he’d have to offer to join them.
Meanwhile, it was getting dark, climbing the slopes was very hard work and, besides, it was his parent’s first time back to the village in two years.
There were neighbours to meet and our friend Mella’s Irish Christmas fudge to deliver to the lady who always loads us up with a big bag of her home-made biscuits (famous throughout the valley) to take home. We had Dubliner cheese for her husband but are since told that he, also, has a sweet tooth. Next time, we’d better bring more fudge.