Defending The Land


Picture this. A mountain, a small mountain known in Catalan by that awkward word "puig". It's an unremarkable low mountain, low enough for it not to merit definition as mountain. The vegetation is not lush; it is scrawny, haphazard, unplanned, perfectly natural. Goats roam and bleat. Rugged might be a description, as rugged applies to all Majorcan mountains, low or tall. Some mountains in their base reaches have abundant vegetation - forest of oak and pine - but as their summits emerge, so does the barrenness. The peaks can house primitive life forms: the ancient mountain ant, for instance, unseen except by the knowing vision of scientific experts. The mountains are permanent. They are unyielding. Man has intervened, but largely only by having moulded landscapes, themselves hundreds of years old.

The particular small mountain is viewed from the fourth floor of a building. Its presence, juxtaposed with urban development, appears a curiosity. It is so close and yet it is distant. This remoteness is defined by time. It was there way before man ever set foot on the island. And once man did, was there a time past when he would have been in the exact spot where the building now stands? Would he have climbed a tree to the exact height? What would he have observed? The first light of morning sun traversing the bay and brightening its peak into a melange of yellow, grey and green. For would it have been any different three, four millennia ago?

A tree in the exact spot would have been a possibility. Trees grew and grow on the primeval giver of life in this place, the wetlands of Albufera, that were also once the taker of life - dengue, malaria. They are in part a lost memory, torn away by intervention that totally and irreversibly altered the landscape. The culmination of the ambition for this alteration was the City of Lakes, a branding from decades past that has itself now been lost. The mountain, the Puig de Sant Martí, has looked down on this transformation. Unmoved and unmovable, it has observed the creation of lake and waterway, the burial with the ash of electricity generation of swathes of wetland, the rising-up of buildings taller than trees, the hubbub of summer nights that was once solely the clicking of cicadas.

Picture this. A beach. Not an urban beach backed by hotel and residence, and in some instances an artificial formation, shaped by alien sand in order to provide comfort and context to its occupants. Instead an unspoiled beach, a rustic or virgin beach, such as Es Comú, the marine-side complement to Albufera, the outer land limit where, beaten back by a demanding sea, forest and dune retreat and leave expanse of sand, pockmarked by spiky flora that triumphs over the adversities of aridity and of salt and sun; where wind and wave wash dead sea grass that binds the sand and has for an eternity acted as a natural preventer of erosion. The beach was virtual no-life land, a type of de-naturalised zone nevertheless harbouring its limited peculiarities of flora or fauna, the demarcation between the fragile but dynamic alliance of land and sea.

Would that same tree-climber have once sat in the exact same spot on Es Comú that any one among thousands of beachgoers now does? What would he have seen? Aleppo pines beaten and distorted by the force of the Tramuntana winds. The taller mountains of Arta, their sheets of dense forest that spread only so far on the rugged facade captured in sharp shades of orange as the sun drifts lazily in its summer after-noons. He would not have seen, had he looked left, the curve of buildings as the bay itself bends. Nor would he have seen the chimneys of the old power station that provided the ash for the City of Lakes.

What was it like? Have you ever stopped to imagine? Have you ever thought for one moment that at that exact spot on Es Comú some (most) of what can be observed has existed for a longer time than is imaginable? Or that in a time pre-history, a human occupied that very same spot? Have you ever been humbled or overawed by that sensation?

It is like this anywhere, of course it is, yet in Majorca this land has attained a mystical status, it is revered as "our land". It exists in myth and legend, in poem and folk tale, in painting and in song. It exists in the very soul for it has existed for far, far longer than from a time when it started to contribute to the invention of soul. But it is also taken for granted. How often is it contemplated? How often is there reflection of its essence and of its primal nature?

They talk about defending the land, but this isn't just a defence from development. It is a defence of a spirit. Picture it: a small mountain or a beach where once upon a time no one had ever walked.

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