A place far, far away

My dehesa is about a half-hour drive from where I live in Madrid. It’s a wild pasture with scrubby oak trees and rocky bits and impenetrable thickets of blackberry thorns and two tiny streams that struggle to collect enough water to flow very far. I say my dehesa even though it’s not mine, or anybody else’s, but I go there a lot and I know it well so I’ve come to call it that. There’s a rock wall surrounding it but it’s low enough to scramble over, otherwise you have to go around to the iron gate down the hill and be mindful to shut it behind you so the cows don’t get out. 

If you’re lucky, you might see some roe deer, but normally it’s just a glimpse and then they’re gone. They’re wild. Nobody feeds them by hand, I can tell you that. They’re wary and timid and know you’re coming long before you see them. Once though, I was walking along a ridge and surprised two of them. This time, owing to the terrain and because they were downhill, I had a lovely view in the early morning light, with time to marvel at their speed and fitness and agility as they floated over the rocky ground until disappearing in the trees.

Rabbits are a guarantee. Hawks, too. And gigantic gryphon vultures circle overhead but sometimes you see one of their bigger cousins, the black vulture. Reaching a wingspan of three metres, a feather’s-width shy of ten feet, they make a golden eagle look small. 

I came to know of this place by wondering what was at the end of a rough gravel road. After 15 minutes of bouncing around and stuttering over corrugations and filling the car with dust, I came to the iron gate. Since then I’ve seen a car or two parked there very occasionally, mostly mountain bikers or mushroom hunters when the season is right. But the road goes on up an even rougher hill and at the top it becomes impassable. That’s where I park and I’ve always had it to myself.

It’s a world away from Madrid, a city I love, and also love to get away from. My dehesa does have some good views of the mountains, but really it’s not a spectacular place and you do have to step around a lot of cow patties depending on where you go. But you can be alone here, especially in autumn, and listen to the songs of robins back from their summer vacations in England and breathe the fresh chilly air that sweeps down from the sierra.

At some point last year, I decided to make a short film about the place. It took a long time to get enough shots together, but I wasn’t in a rush. When I finally did have enough, my plan was to do a voiceover for it, but on the good advice of Miss A, the woman I share my life with, that might have distracted from the peace and tranquility of it so I chose music instead. Since relaxation is what I get out of going to my dehesa, that’s what I would like to share with you, too.