Welcome or Bienvenidos
We hope you will enjoy the serialisation of Part 1 of Navaselva, The Call of the Wild Valley. The inspiration for writing this novel comes from my life living in a woodland valley in Western Andalusia, Spain. I was fascinated by the amazing variety of plants, trees, insects, birds, and other animals around me. I would buy guides and look everything up and try to learn how to identify the wild lives around me. But I also began to realise how much of this incredible diversity was at risk. I began my nature blog to try and record my observations. I also wanted to write a whole novel.
One idea was to write from the point of view of the wild world. I did not want to focus on ‘talking’ animals or young children. I wanted an ecological journey for maturing 21st century readers. Was it possible to try and be within the consciousness of key animal characters and for there to be deeper forms of communication between species? How could the characters manage the long journey north?
When sending off endless submissions to publishers with little response I found an American editor who helped me ‘polish’ the submission and gave me the idea to frame the story with a human narrator. From this Jay Ro and her family and friends emerged and were supported later by Debz Hobbs Wyatt to create the novel we have now and thanks to Bridge House will be publishing the book later this year.
Below is the audio file for Episode 1
You can mainly look and read but at times the audio may not exactly fit the text. This is my first attempt at this and may be useful to readers but has also helped me review the flow of the words.
Into The Minds of The Many
It must be a point of fact that there are many different points of view on this earth, La Tierra, the Living Earth. Too many points of view for a small weasel to get its sharp teeth into. But there was one fact he had to really make sense of. He was going on a journey. His short legs trembled as he came out of a borrowed burrow and into the warm light of day. Poised on a mossy green rock, he waited and wondered…
The calls of migrating birds gathering by the old olive grove broke Jay Ro’s concentration. They must be bee-eaters on their way back to Africa.
Jay Ro was turning over papers on her grandmother’s writing desk, searching for lost stories and the manuscript Nana G had left behind. She went to push the shutters out wide as the sun’s rays were less intense. She stared out onto the rocky western slopes of the valley. The limestone crags jutted out, making strange shapes that hid caves and wild creatures like weasels with ancient histories, weasels on broomsticks, or the weasel from the stories her grandmother told her. Was this drawing the weasel of those childhood stories?
There were so many papers and files; typical of Nana G’s way of organising her life. Jay Ro leafed through a folder of half-filled pages with drawings and beginnings of stories. This was one weasel story she did not know anything about. Why was this weasel going on a journey? Why leave the safety of the wild valley of Navaselva?
Navaselva had always been Jay Ro’s safe place; her happy place – but now there was more sadness. She’d been away too long and was here with a new responsibility to help her nana. In her teens she’d somehow lost interest in visiting Nana G in these mountains and valleys in the south of Spain. But now Nana G might not return. Those childhood holidays were full of endless warmth and freedom. In the mornings she’d get out of bed and wander out to feed the chickens and then explore with the old shepherd dog. She knew ways through most of the valley except the really wild side. Nana G was always very firm about this.
‘The wild ones must be left some wild where humans never go.’
On the desk, holding down some papers was a woodcarving of a rhino Jay Ro used to play with when young. It was from Africa where Nana G spent her younger life working on conservation wildlife projects. Jay Ro’s fingers ran over the smoothness of the dark ebony wood, feeling a sense of mystery about a missing past. Nana G’s husband, Jack, died when Jay Ro was almost five. Jay Ro had few memories of him but it was the first time she saw her mother cry. She remembered that clearly, sharply like when a bee stung her and she knew it was going to die. She did not see Nana G cry but they adopted a baby rhino in memory of Jack. Not long after, Nana G moved permanently to Navaselva to follow her passion. Protecting wild species wherever they were. Too little wild was left.
Jay Ro stared out of the window again at the forbidden wilder side of the valley. Pines soared up to the sky along a high ridge but with little good soil to anchor them deep to the earth like the trees in the lower valley. She could just see the heavy body of one great pine lying over two boulders with shattered branches all around. A large bird was soaring on the warm air of an Andalusian autumn, its tail angled like a kite. Was this the black kite of Nana G’s African stories?
Jay Ro’s glazed eyes went back to the desk. This search for the whole novel Nana G said she had written was not going well. Where could it be?
So far, all Jay Ro could find were fragments of her nana’s writing, nature notes, drawings and these openings of different stories. Jay Ro stretched her restless legs. Maybe a walk would help; it was frustrating finding just bits and pieces. She’d come back refreshed, resume her search then. Why didn’t she visit Nana G earlier perhaps, she could have helped her pack for her visit to the UK. Her grandmother always seemed to forget something nowadays and perhaps Jay Ro’s presence would have avoided leaving behind the important parts of Nana G’s life: her stories and now this whole novel about some animals from Navaselva on an incredible journey.
Jay Ro was on her ‘perhaps’ mode which never helped and only fuelled her anger at some of her own past events and friendships that had backfired badly.
The sun was falling fast behind tall pines and the blues of the Andalusian sky were fading into a velvet gloom. There were last minute calls from within the trees, some strident warnings, some soft beckoning to encourage young fledgling birds to return to roost with their protective parents. If she was to go on her walk she must go now.
Jay Ro closed the heavy chestnut doors behind her, walked up towards a small pond made out of the local stones and looked for the path she and Nana G first followed when she was eight years old. It was a narrow track trod down by the wild boar and made more human sized by the wild deer pushing the vegetation back. She looked for the ancient cork oak with its unusual thick bark which Nana G never stripped off for valuable cork. That tree was on the route to the rocks where they used to sit, surrounded by tall spindly young trees. Or not so young as Nana G once said.
‘The life spans of trees are long but eventually an old one will fall and a younger one in waiting for so many years, can now branch out and spread into the light.’
Jay Ro had felt sad at this but Nana G didn’t seem to mind that all living things must die one day. Some lived short lives like the festoon butterflies, others like the old toad they found by the house could live for forty years or more. But trees could span centuries.
Were these the beginnings of her worries about death and dying?
Although the sun was fading Jay Ro hoped to reach the rocks and be back before it was too dark. Her memories were more of getting up in the early hours of a cool dawn and walking with Nana G down this path into the woodland. But whether dawn or dusk Nana G said this was their best chance to encounter wildlife, the crepuscular time; the sun fading into dark or rising again to disperse the dark. This was a time when many animals would move about in search of food and water while the birds would contribute with songs of beginnings or endings to the day. When Jay Ro and Nana G reached the circle of rocks, they would practise becoming invisible and sit quietly to listen, wait and perhaps glimpse a wild one passing.
It was here Jay Ro learnt the different songs of the resident birds and even some of the spring arrivals like the whitethroats, chiffchaffs and many other multi-voiced warblers. She always loved the sounds of the birds and all the knowledge she picked up from Nana G wandering around Navaselva. It was those secondary school years when she lost interest, and refused to come one summer. She needed to be with friends and not miss out on any opportunity to meet up and maintain her new position of belonging within the group. That was a time when every mark on her face, each lash around her brown eyes had to be studied with critical concern. But she never knew or loved her face like she knew and loved this path. And it was the sounds of the birds that brought her out of her dark cave of a bedroom that awful year.
The sun was not fully set but was behind the western hill. The clouds above streamed different shades of rose red. There was an hour before it became completely dark but she wanted to see how far she could get. The path was a bit more overgrown with bramble branches and at times there would be a tug of a strong strand of sarsaparilla. Such a pretty name for the plant with red healing berries and roots but she knew its thorns were capable of delivering nasty raw blood scratches. She was wearing her faded jeans and trainers to protect herself from the prickly inhabitants of these parts even though it was hot and she felt cooler in shorts. She had always been surprised no nettles grew here to sting her, just thorns to jab her if she didn't pay attention to the path.
It didn’t take too long to find the rocks in a glade surrounded by a mix of pines, deciduous oaks and the glossy evergreen of the madroño or Arbutus unedo and Viburnum tinus, the Latin names Nana G always taught her as a useful international language that helped understand, identify and link all the many different species worldwide. Jay Ro looked around for the starry seed capsules of the wild peonies. They used to collect them and try and plant them in other places. But the wild peony Ms Peoni Broteri was very particular. Jay Ro loved one of its local names, ‘flor de lobo’, flower of the wolf but no one seemed to know why and the wolves were long gone. As to alert her to its name and presence, a woodpecker started tapping, ‘Pajero carpintero,’ the carpenter bird, but was it greater spotted, lesser spotted or green? All should be found here at Navaselva. But none would show themselves easily. All truly wild and wary.
As it was moist under the cover of the tree canopy there was a lot of undergrowth with ivy, dutchman’s pipe and phlomis. Just ahead of her was a glade of light, an opening where nothing wanted to compete for water and light. Nothing took root in this dry rocky centre. Her favourite rock was smooth to sit on and she lowered herself quietly. This was her special place to think, reflect, remember or sometimes just to cry, like when Grandad Joseph, her father’s father died.
A large butterfly flew by her, making a breeze on her arm and making her think it was a small bird coming very close. It was the magnificent and regal Two-tailed pasha. It settled on a nearby madroño tree which did look like the English name, strawberry tree because of its bright red berries. Perhaps the butterfly was laying its eggs there?
Perhaps, again. Perhaps if she had not got involved with Tracy’s group at school. Jay folded her legs up onto the rock. She breathed in the freshness of the air. All was calm around her but her mind kept wandering back to the past.
She wanted to become the brightest butterfly and fly her colours and a thin body around to attract attention. But really, she was trapped in a cocoon, in a world cut off from real time. ‘Teen time,’ Nana G once said, ‘remember, you can take your time.’ But time was what she felt she did not have. Except now she realised the success she achieved with some unforgettable friendships caused her to fail in the most important area of her life: her own health. Tracy was trouble… but troubled. And Gaia? Gaia became her closest friend but no one else loved Gaia. Gaia’s relatives and the school did not want to support her. It was only Nana G who wanted to get to know her. She invited Gaia to accompany Jay Ro to Navaselva that year before everything went so badly wrong. After that, Jay Ro’s mother and father wanted Jay Ro to have nothing to do with Gaia.
Jay Ro felt some birds land close by the rocks. What were they? She did not want to disturb them but sensed they were very close. Azure winged magpie with long tails, jays, or blackbirds but they were unusually quiet. She must leave the past behind, focus on the present, her nana and make up lost time by finding the lost words.
Jay Ro knew she needed to be at Navaselva to search for the heart of Nana G, her stories, and maybe rediscover her own.
Jay Ro desperately wanted to find this manuscript her nana was so upset about losing. But where were the childhood stories Nana G told, about Navaselva, with animals like, woody wood mouse, the weasel, genet and wild boar. Were they more alive in her imagination than real? She longed to see more of the wild creatures that lived in the valley but remembered Nana G’s words. So much was in danger of being lost forever.
‘The wild have no time for human kind. We cannot be trusted. But you may be blessed by their presence if you keep still and your human smell is not too off putting.’
Jay Ro crossed her legs, like a pixie, her nana would say. That calm came as she tuned in to the stories of the many different animals and plants in this valley rather than her own messy past. If she couldn’t find these old childhood stories, perhaps she could piece them together from her memory.
Many stories began with something like this:
If you listen with all your heart, and open your mind, you might just begin to understand the point of view of another living thing, their way of seeing and their way of being. For stories are the path into the ways of others and if we don't follow that path, we may never really understand who we are or how we connect, each to the other.
There was a whirr of wings above. Some ravens returned noisily to roost. Jay Ro stayed still, with the final twilight chattering of other birds. As the dark was gathering it was getting cooler too, she had no shawl to stay out longer and did not feel like meeting any boar. There was more movement of wings very close by, settling down around the rocks. Jay Ro stayed motionless, listening. It was one of the first stories about Navaselva, called the Meetings of the Many that came into her mind.
Imagine you are on the wings of a messenger bird flying in from the great landmass of Afri Ka across a narrow stretch of salty water and on into the southern part of the ancient Iberian Peninsula. The journey has been long and not without death lurking in desert shadows.
We need to find a place of safety to rest and restore energy. We look out for a long spiny ridge of mountains, higher than the nearby hills. On the northern slopes of these high mountains is the wild valley of Navaselva. Here, we will be called to stay for a while and share our stories as all messenger birds must do. This is a special place. A sanctuary for the living stories of lives well lived on a living earth.
Here the ancient rocks create a terrace of boulders among a mix of wild and forgotten trees whose roots go deep into the knowingness of the living earth. In the spaces between the rocks under the soil, rainwater reservoirs gather, keeping the roots strong and the earth full of goodness.
These rocks have known many changes in the history of the earth and are now the assembly place for the Meetings of the Many. It is an ordinary wooded valley in many ways, but with extraordinary creatures who are called to be keepers of the history of the living earth.
Our genetic heritage is unique and united: to be at the Meetings of the Many. To share our seasonal reports and stories. To adapt and survive together.
We, the messenger birds are the much-needed visitors that spark these Meetings. Our many different voices tell stories from our present lives and from our ancestors. Swallows report on stories from the southernmost tip of Afr Ka so many, many, wing beats away. Their stories of the great tuskers bring laughter to the residents at Navaselva and wonder about what these great beasts look like, let alone smell like. The brightly-coloured bee-eater birds share scary stories of giant bees and giant apes. Bee-eaters call out the strange stories of that two-legged, big-headed ape. We all learn to be wary of this one that lives outside of the Many and can destroy so much.
At the Meetings of the Many much can be communicated between our fellow species within the animal kingdom, and the ancient trees of the plant kingdom take note too. All must work together, to be strong and raise our young well as we sense our wild world is losing many of the Many.
Great changes are happening
It was getting darker. There were quite a few birds nearby but she could not see them. A turtle dove was cooing gently.
Jay Ro wanted to go forward in her own life and be stronger. But at times all she wanted was a cave to hide away in, away from a world broken into sharp pieces ready to pierce you, away from the plastic particles of deception that slowly poison the world around you.
She slowly got up from the rock, not wanting to disturb any resting birds and wandered back carefully following the path to the house.
As she closed the door to keep out the cold and the night, she saw the movement of bats busy feeding on insects near the porch. The moon was rising, its light visible through the trees. Wild boar rustled through the forest floor. An owl hooted. Perhaps there was to be a Meeting of the Many?
Next Episode - beginning - Into the Minds of the Many
If you listen with all your heart, all your mind, and all your soul, you may just hear, in that moment between moments, the stories the trees murmur and the reports the birds bring. You may begin to grasp the point of view of one of the many, many different life forms on this earth. You may even begin to understand your part in this saga whether through the eyes, ears and nose of a common weasel, on the wings of a black kite, buzzing with a buff-tailed bumble bee, or a rainbow-feathered bee-eater with an eating dilemma. You may just be able to overcome the barrier for our species and enter
Into the Minds of the Many
To be continued in Episode 2