The other night I was standing outside at half past two in the morning waiting for a sick Wookie to finish tearing up the grass, stop vomiting and come inside. It was a clear, still night, cooler than usual but not yet cold. The sky was bright with the moonlight and there was complete silence except for The Wookie chewing his cud.
And there it was, from across the valley came the unmistakable call of the veado, the deer that roam the Serra da Lousã.
The One had said he’d been hearing them calling a few nights before, but I didn’t believe him – September is too early for the mating season and anyway, I had never heard them in Cú de Judas, where deer and silence were plentiful.
But sure enough, there it was again: a mooing that was not entirely sad but full of longing. A longing for deer love, I’ve no doubt.
So the following night we grabbed the cameras (The One’s new mobile phone actually, and the remaining camera of mine not destroyed by the freak wave in last week’s post) and we headed for the hills. Dusk, as all hunters know, is the best time to catch deer, and sure enough as soon as we reached the top of the Serra da Lousã the boys were braying away enough to make me sceptical once more that the sound was perhaps actually the gearing down of the wind turbines. I mean, it just couldn’t be that they could be so close, or so many of them, all calling at once.
We dropped the car and set out on foot and almost immediately I saw what could have been a Y-shaped stump of a tree. Except it was a female deer, standing very still…watching me. As I moved closer, still deerly disbelieving, I saw the male’s enormous antlers twist around and they both made a move camera left. And then they were gone. Before I’d even drawn my mju to take a shot.
Well that just whet our appetites for more venison really: we spent the next hour and a half tiptoeing around the pine forest after horny mooing wildebeest, who were relentlessly just over the next ridge. Finally, in the pitch dark, without the moonlight able to penetrate the forest and the mountain’s chilling temperature dulling the spirit, I gave up. There was no way my little camera could handle the low light anyway and using the flash would be way too slow for these sprightly antelope.
Anyone who’s done a bit of wildlife pursuit will know how compelling it is. Bird watching is all very well, but there’s something very special about the presence of big animals. You feel humbled. I feel a profound respect for them. Perhaps it’s partly because I’m Australian and deer of any kind seem very exotic, but the veado of the Serra da Lousã are awesome animals. Firstly they are big, as fit and statuesque as a horse. Add two square metres of antler and you have a beast as spectacular and mesmerizing as a sighting of Pegasus.
That anyone would want to shoot the things, well, make no mistake on where I stand on hunting. In Australia, the rabbit and the fox are introduced species and destructive vermin, decimating native and engangered wildlife. Kangaroos too require culling by the million each year, and make a lovely purse or carpaccio. Hunters, and furriers of the world come on down, but leave the gratuitous slaughter of nice animals elsewhere to killer whales. Who doesn’t laugh when a hunter gets shot?
On our return home, we saw another deer crossing the road in front of us – the usual way to have a deer experience in the Serra da Lousã. They are so robust and proud an animal that, like a kangaroo, they are likely just to stand there and stare you down rather than get out the way of an oncoming vehicle. But this spotty dude, possibly a roe deer or a young red, knew we had cameras and didn’t care for posing. So he sauntered off while we mere mortals fumbled with our instruments and swore.
Still twinkling with the thrill of having just been in their presence, The One then discovered while surfing the subject that our local pub the Palácio da Lousã is running a photo competition on the very subject!!! It’s not just us who are turned on by the mating season – they are even offering tours! I doubt they’ll be giving me a sneak preview of the pictures entered so far, but maybe after the 15th November I might get access to some of the pics for the facebook page. Naturally we are now determined to win – given the prizes are accommodation and dinner at what I think is a very lovely hotel (and I already have plenty of photos to prove it).
Okay now I guess it’s time to fess up – I have moved to the other side of the mountain. Don´t panic, punters, Emma’s House in Portugal is still there, it’s not being sold or even abandoned in any permanent way. It’s just that I’ve had an offer of a flushing toilet and plumbing in the kitchen and a handsome lump in the bed… did I say lump, sorry I meant love. And who can resist a flushing toilet?
For those that remember that this is a blog about building, thank you. The absence of mortar in my hands does burn at my heart. But the Great Financial Crisis will not be told and euros have not started falling from the sky as I have wished, so therefore dramatic erections of the scaffolding kind have not materialised at Cú de Judas. Actually that’s a lie. While I’ve been waiting for sufficient funds, the neighbours have built one house, one al-fresco kitchen and dining room with views, one garage, one adega, one storage shed and some ugly furniture cut with a chainsaw from an ancient chestnut tree. While the men at my scaffolding hire place are forgetting my name, their upcoming summer holidays are being fully funded by my neighbours. Maybe I am being melodramatic about the palace next door, and maybe there is a hint of jealousy finding its way out through my ramblings. Let’s remember they have very little cash too – but these people just get on with it, really rather putting me to shame with my permissions and engineers design talk.
But don’t give up on me yet, there is a plan. I have to pick up my building licence before the end of the year or that will be the end of it. The council have been very patient but the ruin waits for no woman. One more winter of being rained upon and it will turn to soup. So a roof, at least, she will have. The dream is yet alive. Building action, albeit on a modest scale, will be resuming shortly, and I just can’t wait to get dirty again.
And although Wookie and Mao have integrated themselves happily and I am a ga-ga with amor, I do miss my little hell hole. I liked cooking over an open fire and shopping in the garden for a meal. I miss my weirdo neighbours and their good humour and generosity. I miss my cafés and the fish truck and my routines. I miss my solitude.
On the other hand, the grass really does look greener on this side of the mountain. I’m in a stunning little village with a new cast of crazy neighbours. There’s the concelho of Lousã to show you, castles, palacetes, outdoorsy adventure and hidden local treasures to explore. It’s a whole new angle to the adventure. Stay tuned.
We learn as we go. We learn as we grow. A woman is not an island, I’ve discovered. And there’s something very grown about allowing yourself to be loved.
My life is a house
You crawl through the window
slip across the floor and into the reception room.
You enter the place
Of endless persuasion
like a knock on the door when there’s ten or more things to do
who is that calling
you, my companion
Run to the water
On a burning beach
and it brings relief
it brings relief
– ‘Nails in my Feet’, Neil Finn, Crowded House