The most privileged place I drive to work is by a river, in a narrow flatbed valley. There are trees on the hills all around, and a greensward by the water. There are otters, kingfishers, storks, and on one occasion a flight of over fifty eagles migrating north. Only a small scum of bubbles floating on the stream show that there is a town upstream.
I go to a stony bank, stranded after a flood a few years ago, to pick rocks for a series of retaining walls I’m building by the house up on the hill, so there may be productive terraces up there on what was previously a steep, neglected slope. They will need water lifted by a mains-electric pump, and in this way Christina will get a crop of vegetables even if the main patch down on the flat is washed away in one of the torrents that thunder down the vega every couple of years.
Once there it‘s a question of turning up rocks, gloves on, lifting always the further side first so that brave and mobile inhabitants will head away from me. Actually this is quite unlikely: the vipers and scorpions prefer dry ground higher up, but many a little frog, centipede and spider has become temporarily homeless in this way, and ant’s nests have lost their eggchamber roofs.
Many times I have carried a rock to which adhered on the underside a small fluffy parcel of spider’s eggs, while the scandalised mother, having initially refused to budge, sought a shady place from which to glare at me.
I don’t feel happy about it. Isn’t it wrong to do that to an animal? Maybe everyone should sweep the ground before them to prevent crushing tiny living things. Or watch mosquitos landing, and say ‘go in peace’ when they fly off, blood-laden. Perhaps I should go and meditate, seek enlightenment before trying to mess around with the world at all, leave the family to shift as best they can. It’s all very well to walk lightly on the earth, but just how small a footprint can one leave anyway?
Should it even be as small and short lived as possible? I was pleased to learn that the client wants me to make another series of terraces by the one now taking shape, and hope to use the classic wallbuilder’s line when this job is over - ‘Call me if there are any problems in fifty years time.’