Comadrito and Milvana
The Great Raptor Rock of Monfrague
Audio Ch 10
In the early morning Comadrito climbed onto Milvana and she flew up into the clear, cool sky. He nestled deep within her body feathers. Before taking off she scanned the skies with her sharp eyesight for any sign of that male kite or other dangers. All seemed well with the world. Comadrito could trust her and she him, and the fear of death at the beak or the teeth of the other had diminished.
Later in the day, Comadrito felt darkness over him. He was in a shadow and it felt chilly. His heart beat faster. Shadows above were warnings of early death. Milvana moved sideways as she too sensed these changes. Comadrito could see great wings high above them. There was a creaking sound in the air and warm currents swirled around them. Milvana kept adjusting her flight so Comadrito clung tightly onto her neck.
Great wings stretched high above them. Great wings were beating all around them. Comadrito peeked out of his feathery comfort zone. He saw long feathers at the tip of great wings. Then a scrawny neck and almost featherless head came into view.
Vultures. Comadrito knew these creatures quite well from Navaselva. They could be quite intimidating if you found a good rabbit to eat. They would surround and wait but no weasel ever felt like staying too long. Your hard-won prey became theirs. He wished he hadn’t peeked out. He hid his tiny head and neck back in the feathers. Fear flooded inside him.
Milvana was trying to communicate with the vultures. He could sense her unease. The vultures were directing her to stop over at a high standing rock by a wide river. This was the great raptor rock of Monfrague. Here the great messenger birds gathered and had their own meetings. Milvana conveyed a sense of feeling safe in their presence. But Comadrito was not so sure. These were the griffon vultures and related to the colony around Navaselva. They were also curious birds and wanted news of their relatives. The lead vulture told how swifts had brought reports from Navaselva of Milvana and the mission she and the weasel were on. The raptors of this raptor rock were ready to help.
The great granite cliff face overlooked a wide river. There were many faces to the towering rock where birds of great size and strength gathered on all the ledges. Comadrito felt his smallness against all this greatness. He seemed to be accepted or just ignored but he kept close to the feet of Milvana. As he quietly slid off her back, he felt watched by eagle eyes. An imperial eagle. These were the important ones that used to visit Navaselva. They were the winged guardians of the Iberian Peninsula. After Old Lobo left Navaselva, the imperial eagle would bring news but the eagle’s visits like the bird became rare. In the two years of Milvana’s life she had never seen one. At Monfrague the male eagle was at the rock but the female was on the nest. These were dangerous times. It seemed it wasn’t only weasels that could steal eggs. Outsiders were a big threat. Comadrito wondered why Outsiders would want to eat an eagle’s egg. From what he had seen so far, they had plenty of kept animals to eat.
There was an array of other eagles too such as booted eagles, snake eater eagles, and others like harriers and buzzards. There was also a black-shouldered kite and a big family of black kites. They seemed to want Milvana to join them. She reassured Comadrito she would continue on their mission to the north and not join the other kites and she made it clear to Comadrito she preferred her landscape around Navaselva. She preferred being a lone kite, which was unusual but suited the purpose of Navaselva at the moment.
Most amazing of all were the numbers of these great vultures and the different kinds. There were the griffon vultures with their odd bald white-looking heads. It seemed this helped them with very hot weather and very cold. These lived and nested around this rock and other smaller rocks close by. Then there were some other vultures, the black ones. These would come to Navaselva but only occasionally. There were also the ancient Aegyptus vultures. All were gathered here.
Leonardo, a griffin vulture, opened the meeting with a very scrawny story. It was the story of how the griffon vultures and lions of the desert lands had tricked and frightened away some rather cruel hunting Outsiders. The vulture rode on the lion’s back and flapped its wings wide. The Outsiders fled and no longer came near the oasis in the desert. Their watering hole was safe again. This story spread and was used by other great birds. It didn’t seem to matter that this beast couldn’t fly. It just seemed as if it could. Unfortunately, these tricks couldn’t be played anymore. Outsiders had changed yet again and were no longer so easily fooled.
After this story had been told there was a great ding and dong of cries over who was the first great bird to join up with a lion. The eagles cried it was them. The black vultures showed off their wingspan. The Aegyptus vulture had seen drawings in caves and it was a beautiful bird head not an ugly head like Leonardo’s. All the baiting was good natured and then there was some flying around and tail bashing. Comadrito stayed well hidden behind Milvana.
After this, all became more solemn. More sudden deaths of young vultures travelling back from Afri Ka were reported. An elder bird was caught by Outsiders on one of the dead rivers with rolling beasts. She had not been able to fly after colliding with one of those invisible but spark jabbing lines. All agreed that the weather was more challenging with extremes of heat and storms at unexpected times.
Smaller birds flew round the great rock. Swifts and other fast-flying messenger birds relayed a call from the high rock mountains of Cantabria. Old Lobo was there and the great bear. This was the north they knew. Directions and an escort could be given. All wished Milvana and Comadrito well on their mission. And to return safely with more information to share. More knowledge could help the Many find ways to survive in challenging times. A collection of blue rollers and hoopoes were nearby and gave news of a lone bee-eater travelling north.
Comadrito was excited by the news and was keen to move on next dawn. Some of the long-necked black fisher birds were there to guide them. The journey seemed long as these birds flew low but they always knew where the next watering place was. Along this route Comadrito was surprised to see a different kind of stork to the Valdelarco one. They called themselves black storks and had striking black bodies and wings but white fronts. It was hard to work out but they were not like their cousins the white storks with black tips only on the wings. The black storks did not like to nest near Outsiders unlike white storks but they searched for secret wild wetland places. These places were now harder to find.
There was also another type of bird so large that Comadrito wondered if it could fly. It fluffed up its feathers to look even bigger with a great ruff. This bird preferred flat grassy lands but was also not surviving too well. Its name seemed a little odd, the great bustard and it seemed there was a little bustard too but it had not been seen for a while. So many of these wild ones seemed to be suffering in some way and their families getting smaller and smaller.
High above at sunset the sky filled with large birds flying over. Their long necks stretched out in front and the sound of wingbeats filled the air. Milvana did not know anything about these birds but the cormorants urged her to join this grand flock. These were the cranes and they were returning to the North. These birds could be guides to the far north. Forget about Old Lobo. But a little owl hooted a warning. Comadrito was relieved Milvana was not keen to fly with such large birds. Mixed with their grace and elegance was a sense of mystery, of other worlds waiting to be discovered. It filled Comadrito with fear as well as a joy in watching such beauty and effortless flight. The cranes passed over and into the distance becoming mere shadows as the sun fell. Disappearing into darkness.
The opportunity to join the cranes was over but Comadrito sensed he and Milvana were sent by the Navaselva meeting because there was little concern about the numbers of weasels and black kites. Perhaps, it did not matter if they did not return; if they died? It did seem to matter that the bee-eater returned and for Comadrito, he wanted to find other turtle doves to be with the lone Navaselva turtle dove. They must survive.
The long-necked, black fisher birds left Comadrito and Milvana when there were steep rock faces of high mountains ahead. A valley lay like a great flat dip and then the slopes of the mountains went up and up and up. It looked like a shell from high above, curved and indented by water flow. Flying up and along one of these ridges there came an astonishing sight of more and more rock-hewn mountains ahead. There were deep wooded valleys, ravines and fast-flowing streams.
On some of the grassy pastures Comadrito saw strange cloud-creatures, moving slowly or not at all. These were kept ones. Higher up there were great rock shapes, shaped by the wind and rain and ancient natural forces. On some of these barren rocks were wild creatures with curved antlers, agile movement along steep edges. Wild eyes were always so different from the kept eyes. Comadrito knew this now. Wild eyes showed freedom and fear combined with great knowledge and pride.
High up was where Old Lobo was thought to be. The forests in the valleys were very dense and dark. Milvana and Comadrito were now on their own. How could they even attempt to find Old Lobo in hidden places like this? Milvana communicated to Comadrito that she would not be able to fly high over these with the weasel. He would be gasping more than ever or would have his last gasp. She would have to find a way through but wished she was with messenger birds that knew the safe passes. Milvana thought this was the end of the world and the furthest north that they could get but her eyes still searched for acceptable fly through gaps between rocks and over forest.
It was getting dark earlier than they had anticipated. The sun was falling behind the mountains. They would either have to fly along this mountain range to go to the north or try and get through to see what was on the other side. Milvana flew on for a while until Comadrito urged her to find a landing place, preferably on solid earth. He was minded to one of nature’s more urgent calls. He certainly didn’t want to have to do one of those up a tree in front of a bird or have an accident in her feathers. Milvana landed on some rocks in a valley similar to Navaselva. He slipped out of her feathers and down along into the undergrowth with a ‘won’t be long ’expression.
After the much-needed relief Comadrito eyed up the area for possible food sources and competitors for the territory. It seemed very quiet and lonely. However, he felt as if he was being watched. And then there were the distant howls. One nearby and then another some distance away. Dogs, he wasn’t really scared of and he knew he would be able to take care of himself. Dogs, though could be a nuisance with so much barking, it meant other animals kept away and then there were no food sources. But there had been no sign of Outsiders or their kept animals. The sound didn’t have the long-lost call of the wild that kept dogs made. This surely was the call of the wild ones. The howling kept building up and this time made Comadrito feel uneasy. But Comadrito was so relieved to be back with his paws firmly on the earth that for a short while he forgot the howling and even his new purpose in life.
He wandered about with his nose close to earthy smells. He picked up the scent of rabbit, a change from the fish. The rabbit scent was stronger now and Comadrito was hungry. There were faint shadows of rabbit ears in a clearing. He approached low to the ground and then he danced and danced. Stilling them with his twists and turns. Then the sudden pounce. Life was taken and life was given. With the one young rabbit he could carry, he dragged it back to where he had left Milvana. Some for him and some for her. He must be going soft trying to impress the old bird with his hunting skills. He must also tell Milvana about his other plan. As a bird surely, she could listen out. He wanted to find turtle doves. If there was even just one out there, he would love to find it. He would convince it to go and save the turtle dove of Navaselva.
He looked around for Milvana. Where was she? He hadn’t eaten any of the rabbit when there was a sudden cold swish of the air. She swooped down and picked him up in her claws. He cried out about the food. There was no response and he was being lifted high off the rock. He was about to joke with her and remonstrate about the tasty rabbit when he realised with a startled cry that it was not Milvana's talons gripping him so harshly. What was this giant bird? Was he now prey?
Running With Wolves
The hunt was on with the smell and sounds of death. Guns fired into the ruined bodega with no care for any animal or human that might be in there. Non-stop firing. Shouting. Several, if not all the goats must be bleeding to death. Then boots could be heard trampling up along the valley side. Cursing. With the barking of dogs near the old oaks I drew my breath in. I would have to run fast. The dogs were on my trail.
There was a howl. It was not the dogs. And another long drawn-out one. Ahead of me must be wolves. Wolves or hunting dogs? I pushed my way down to where the stream met the river Murtigas. On a rock there was a dog-like shape. Its eyes met mine. Held mine. It followed a slip way into the river. I watched. It turned its head back. Our eyes met again. I stumbled down to the river. It was cold, slippery underfoot. It was a wolf walking, slowly along in the water. downstream. Every so often it turned and looked back. Our eyes met. I began to follow. I could hear the dogs close by but knew now they would lose our scent. On the other side of the river was a slightly smaller wolf with two young ones. She was growling, rumbling her throat so the dogs on the other side would hear those tones. Keep away from my young or I will kill you. The wolf in the river turned, caught my eyes again, began to swim as the water got deeper. I swam too after the wolf.
That metallic smell of the blood spattered all over me was washed away in the cold shock of the water. My ears could hear again. I had got away but failed my parents. My sister was still in the village. Would she make it to a safe house?
There was no more home, family, childhood in the Sierra. My father shot and mother taken away. We were treated like the wolves. To be persecuted and hunted down. There was no time for grief, just guilt for leaving my sister behind.
My father told me to find our way to the north, to cross the three rivers of the Guadiana, Tagus and Duero. In the mountains were people who could help.
There was the wolf, one ahead of me leading me, and the female and cubs, a short distance behind. The strangest part was the direction we were heading to the north west. We mainly travelled at night and by the stars I knew we were continuing northwards. This was the way I was told to go. By day there was always a stork flying above until we reached a very large river. Then there were often eagles in the sky ahead.
This wolf pack helped me escape and find safety. I swear one of the wolves was the wolf cub my father looked after when I was five. How long do wolves live? Not long, if Franco encourages so much hunting down of them. It is the long shadow of the death of democracy and wolves. How long will Franco remain dictator? I hope it won’t be long. I want to return. I want to find my sister.
Jay Ro was sitting at Nana G’s desk. She lifted her eyes from the page and stared at the rocks. Did this happen here? The valley streams went down into the Murtigas river. Her eyes were squinting as she struggled to read the writing. This did not look like Nana G’s handwriting. On the other side of the page there were some notes.
‘Original found in Mother’s papers, in Spanish. Carlos Garcia, researcher into the Spanish missing in the war years translated this, Must send him copies of photos and any names.’ And in large print. ‘WHO wrote this? IS THIS FACT OR FICTION?’
Jay Ro was puzzled. It was with all the bits of papers that just had beginnings of stories but this was different, it seemed like a historical account. This was after the Spanish Civil War as Franco is referred to as the dictator. What had happened? This was not the Spain she knew. Now all seemed so civilised, democratic, little sign of such violence. She did remember her grandmother talking with friends. They argued over whether to bring up the dead bodies of the past or to just forget and forgive what happened during the Civil War. But this account seemed to be set after the war and during Franco’s government.
She knew so little of this history. She was not even sure what happened in Spain in the 1940s but she knew a lot about British history then. At school they had studied the WW2 at primary school and packed what they would take if evacuated to the countryside. That seemed like fun to go on an adventure away from parents. Later in secondary school there was more to do with the causes of the war and extracts from the diary of Ann Frank. But they never studied about Spain in those difficult years even though so many went on holiday there or had Spanish lessons.
Her mind went back to a vague recollection of her great grandad. There was some connection with Spain and Nana G said he was her mother’s Abu and Jay Ro’s Bis Abu, meaning double or twice grandad in Spanish. She was in those hazy memories of preschool years but there was a photograph of her with her great grandparents when she was a baby. And there was a painting behind them. She remembered the eyes, wild eyes looking right out at you. It was a wolf. Bis Abu once said his favourite animal was the wolf and he gave her an olive wood carving of a wolf that he made.
Her great grandmother only lived a few more years after Bis Abu died. She seemed very old and smiled less and less. It was also the time Nana G decided to buy this Andalusian rural house and land in the Sierra. Jay Ro had not connected that up before but she was very young then. She remembered an argument about a demonstration her ninety-year-old great gran had gone on. Nana G was cross but was told off by her own mother. Jay Ro remembered trying not to laugh out loud but the words came back to her with a jolt.
‘You have to stand up to bullies,’ was her great gran’s retort.
‘Yes, but you must also know your limitations,’ responded Nana G.
‘I am ninety-two. I have no need of limitations.’
Jay Ro at the time thought the word ‘limitation’ meant something to do with money and multiplication tables.
Jay Ro wondered about her great grandparents. They lived through the war years but although Nana G was a story teller she didn’t tell stories about her parents’ lives. Did they share their stories?
Jay Ro’s great grandma obviously felt very strongly about that demonstration. Jay Ro remembered her own stand with Tracy over the names she called Gaia. She felt strong at first but still wanted to fit in so when Tracy and her group became friendlier Jay Ro was drawn into spending time with them. Jay Ro knew now the word she understood was not so much limitation but manipulation. The friendships with Tracy were always on Tracy’s terms. Understanding why and how bullying worked could be complicated.
Carmen called out and broke Jay Ro’s reverie. There was a meal ready in their little house near Nana G’s. Jay Ro welcomed the company of Carmen and Jonas. Some years had passed from when they first came to stay and help at Navaselva. Jay Ro’s lost years, although when she first met Carmen and Jonas, she again remembered most their zest for life and good food which helped her to eat well. Their food was still good but it was hard to be vegan in the Spanish countryside. It was a homemade tortilla, with acelga, this was a kind of chard that was grown easily in the sandy red earth and the fresh eggs came from the chickens. As Jonas joked the chickens provided the chicken shit for growing good vegetables which was much needed on this poor soil. It was imperative to eat the excess male chickens as only one cockerel was needed for a harem of hens.
‘And plenty of fresh eggs, natural, sustainable, organic. What more do you need?’ concluded Carmen with her natural flourish.
There were always arguments and counter arguments about food and sustainable living these days. It was almost enough to stop her eating again but Carmen’s and Jonas’s food was delicious.
Jay Ro wanted to talk about the passage she had read, the boy chased by men with guns, and if they knew from their history books about this time in Franco’s Spain. She then thought better of this. Jonas was from Germany, so she didn’t want to bring up Hitler and the past for him. So many old wounds are still there even in 21st century Europe. And then worse, she wondered what side Carmen’s family were on. She did remember her grandmother saying the most terrible war was a Civil War. Families, friends, all can be on different sides for different reasons and be fighting one another. Killing one another.
Instead, Jay Ro chatted with Carmen and Jonas about wolves. When were there wolves in this part of Spain? Carmen was happy to talk about the Iberian wolves, and laughed about her young nephew who loved the phrase ‘el lobo que viene’, ‘Watch out the wolf comes.’
‘Si viene, viene.’ Let them come. I will not be scared. He welcomed the wolves rather than be scared of the phrase or wolves.
‘It was only about sixty years ago that the last wolves were shot or poisoned in this area. Spanish farmers had lived alongside wolves here for centuries and kept the giant ‘mastin’ dogs like Lola to guard their flocks. These dogs would wear large spiky collars so they could not easily be attacked by a wolf. They were also much larger than the wolves and would be kept in twos or threes with the sheep or goats. This had been the way humans and wolves coexisted on the Iberian Peninsula. Then, in the name of modernising Spain, Franco’s dictatorship encouraged the hunting down of all wolves. This was supposed to bring Spain into the 20th Century.’
Carmen sighed and continued, ‘Many people who did not really support Franco, supported him on this measure of getting rid of wolves. Nowadays, the Iberian wolf is endangered but has some protection.’
‘How is it different to other wolves?’ Jay Ro was intrigued.
'It is smaller than the northern grey wolf, with more rusty brown colours and markings so it is called, Canis lupus signatus. There are only a few packs left, some high up in the northern plains and mountains, others on vast hunting reserves in eastern Andalusia.’
Jay Ro asked after any local people who knew about wolves or rescued them in the past. Carmen did not know but suggested she ask Nana G. Nana G had become very interested in wolf stories too and visited the wolf man called Marcos in Jaen with some ecologists. But that was over a year or so ago and over 500 miles away from here.
Tired and reminded too much about the power games played and persecution of people and wild animals Jay Ro mumbled something about a headache. Usually, she liked evenings spent with Carmen and Jonas but she felt disturbed. Back in the old house she tried to go to sleep but thoughts of Gaia and wolves kept her awake. Was Gaia being persecuted? She got up and to distract herself she looked at some more of Nana G’s notes.
There was an article about the Spanish man her grandmother visited, Marcos. He had been abandoned in the countryside when young and then looked after by wolves. There were so many wolf stories of mythical proportions but this had been carefully investigated and the wolves came out as the good guys.
Her mind was wandering back to childhood stories. Perhaps Red Riding Hood would have been looked after if she had met a wolf mother but then the story would not warn, as it should, a young woman to beware of a certain kind of male encounter. She shuddered at that and remembered her own. Why were old folk stories cleaned up and targeted at young children? Some earlier more earthy versions were about a young woman being quick witted enough to fool the wolfman and save herself. These were stories for older girls to help them think about saving themselves from danger. Jay Ro was glad she had studied different versions of fairy and folk tales in her school English lessons. They were all old enough then to reflect on stories told to them in childhood and the many hidden meanings and different versions.
It was a bit sad though as some of the innocence of her childhood was being lost; even the Jungle Book had been changed; she had loved its songs when young but the original story had some dark moments about belonging. Mowgli learned how to communicate with the animal kingdom and stay with his pack. Maybe there was much to learn from growing up in a wolf pack. Wolves are not like human bullies.
She felt a pang of sympathy for the old man, Marcos, who preferred his childhood with wolves rather than living in human society. He had been neglected, abused and sold to a goat herder by his family.
How awful was that? Why did that happen? There was nothing in this article to explain why except terrible poverty. But not all poor people treated their children like this and many struggled to improve life for their families.
Jay Ro read on.When the goat herder died, the young Marcos managed to survive with a wolf pack. But after many years he was discovered and brought back into human society. He was very vulnerable as he had not had a human family to socialise him and protect him or any close friends. Unlike being with his wolf pack the human community he returned to did not understand his needs and some would take advantage of him or exploit him with low pay and long hours.
In his old age, some ecologists began to help him get through the winter as he was so poor and could not afford to keep warm. The ecologists understood his experiences more and were like the wolves of his childhood, helping him to keep warm and giving him some of the companionship he had found with the wolves. He knew how to communicate with wolves and he helped those ecologists understand more about the intelligence and social side of wolves.
Why were gangs and criminals often called wolves or ‘The Wolf’? Ahh, she remembered a trip to The Wolf Trust with Nana G and listening to a talk about wolf packs and how social and cooperative they were. It wasn’t wolves that were the bullies.
Time to stop comparing bad humans to wolves. Time to learn from the ways of the wild.
Her eyelids were heavy with straining to read in the dim light. She needed to recover with some deep sleep. She was still tired from the long journey and having so many memories stirred up was jangling her brain. And now instead of finding the manuscript she was just finding fragments of different stories.
Was Nana G writing a story about a young boy that wolves helped escape or a weasel? She was obviously very interested in wolves. There were more notes and comments and then an old newspaper clipping, in French. It showed a dark-haired youth, Spanish looking but underneath was a caption which translated into ‘The boy who escaped with wolves.’
Who was he?