There were low clouds gathering from the north east. Instead of being outside in the sharp but short light of a sunny morning Jay Ro had spent too much time scrolling through various posts on her phone. She could find no trace of activity from Gaia and the general news lowered her spirits. A thunderstorm was breaking over the eastern range of the Sierra but the steely grey clouds had halos of brightness as the sun rose above this low-lying cloud bank. Jay Ro looked at the sunshine glinting on the wet leaves of the old oak. It was still warm enough to sit on the porch but for a few days there had been a ‘gota fria’, this literally meant a “drop of cold”, or a frozen teardrop.
It was September again and for most Spanish children and teachers it was ‘Vuelta la Cole’ time. Back to school but for the first time Jay Ro did not feel that dread of a new school term. At college Jay Ro had made good friends and got involved with the climate action groups, Changes must be made in every country. September in the Sierra should bring some relief from summer heat and some rain. However, water levels were very low even though this was supposed to be one of the wettest parts of the southern Iberian Peninsula and the reservoir was low where she had swum to those islands with Carmen and Jonas. The trees were accustomed to plentiful water, but this year there were more scorched leaves and bare branches than she had ever seen. Many of the trees protected their core if there was little water by letting the tall outer branches die off. The following year these would look odd sticking out above the tree with no leaves, and were compared to a stag’s horny antlers.
Jay Ro glanced around and spotted the stag horns of cherry tree near the house. It was twenty years old, so a bit older than she was and a survivor. She loved to look out for the bee eaters clearly visible on its leafless branches sticking out into the sky. The birds would call to each other. Perhaps they were gathering to get ready for their long journey over the Sahara their African winter homes. Stormy weather was not a good way to start a long journey but neither was no water to drink before crossing a desert. Trees had evolved many ways to face up to the problems the weather might bring. But for the migratory birds it was more difficult.
Jay Ro felt the trees helped her, calmed her, rooted her. And the birds inspired her with their determination to survive. The outside world and news was always creeping into her brain and causing anxiety. She did not want to slip back into that depression. All was tranquil here but on the east coast people were experiencing terrible flooding. And in other parts of the world there were extreme hurricanes. People were missing, thousands, but no one seemed to be admitting how many could have died while being battered by 100km winds and sea surges. The news of terrible wildfires in the Amazon was no longer the main news. What would be next? Somehow, she must learn the resilience of roots and anchor herself with the knowledge of nature’s ways. Adapt and survive.
There was a flash of movement across the patio terrace near Carmen’s massive dog. What was it? Lola was stretched out on the tiles, half in shade and half in sun. An ocellated lizard was running along the edge of the tiles and abruptly turned when realising the great dog was in the way. The dog didn’t even blink. The lizard froze motionless but its eyes were looking at Jay Ro and then the dog. Thinking was going on. Assess, evaluate, act.
Ossie, the ocellated lizard, was one of the first stories Nana G told her. She had suddenly been passionate about monsters and dinosaurs. Nana G sent her a picture of Timon lepidus, the ocellated lizard and later wrote her a story about Ossie. Could Jay Ro remember this one and write it down? She went back into the house and with a new purpose.
Ossie lived in the wild valley of Navaselva and loved to warm himself up each day on one of the many rocky boulders. Often other animals like the spotted genet would try and pounce on him. One day a mongoose almost ate his tail.
Ossie wanted to be much bigger, much stronger and make everyone scared of him. He had heard tales about giant reptiles and dinosaurs in the dreamtime stories told by the old white gecko. Ossie wanted to be like a giant dinosaur, big and powerful. If he grew really big, he could chase all the animals in the valley away. He tried to eat and eat as much as he could but he only became slower.
One day he disturbed the fire salamander when he got stuck in a muddy rock crevice. The salamander had lived a long time and knew how to adapt and survive in her own skin. She had learnt many stories too and one was about how the dinosaurs became extinct. How could such a powerful species fail to survive?
The reptile answer was that the dinosaurs became too big and ate too much and then there was not enough food left – but the birds told a different story. Some dinosaurs were covered with feathers but were too big and slow to learn how to make the most of their fine warm covering. They wanted to flap and preen their pretty feathers but did not realise their potential. Many became easy prey for those with bigger jaws. There were too many monsters on the Living Earth. But some learnt to lift up from the earth and fly away from the hungry monsters.
The salamander told Ossie that he was a special jewelled lizard, and Ossie must be very proud of his colours and bright blue spots. Although some ancestors might have been big lizards, all needed to adapt to survive. And so now Ossie was very small. It was better to be small, hide among the rocks and leaves and not need to find vast quantities of food. Perhaps, one day Ossie will find another jewelled lizard and together make more beautiful lizards. There was no need to be big like a monster. Small was indeed beautiful.
Jay Ro realised now what the story could tell her. Why hadn’t she remembered Ossie when she wanted to be with the bigger girls who dominated and kept others under their control by sharp and hurtful words? She believed their words and wanted to change her body to fit in rather than just accept and enjoy who she was.
Tracy’s group were like monsters crashing through the playground jungle but they failed to adapt and survive. They failed to realise that they didn’t need to be monsters. All most of those girls needed was love, respect, care but instead they played at power games and could bully others to do their bidding in many subtle ways. The excitement was intense and addictive. She knew now Tracy did not have much love and support and was called ‘looked after’. Except she wasn’t and neither was Gaia who was considered a burden and nuisance in her uncle’s family. This bonded them together and their group felt stronger and no wonder Gaia was drawn to them too.
Gaia and the other girls found that there were other bigger monsters and each one of the girls got devoured or destroyed in some way. Jay Ro knew she survived because she was protected and able to discover who she really wanted to be. Was it still possible to help Gaia or was it too late?
Jay Ro wanted to find one of Nana G’s books on the local reptiles which should be on the pine bookshelves, in the alcove. But she found some photographs instead. Looking closely, she could read a date on the back. Paris 2015. There was one by the Eiffel tower and another by Notre Dame. Nana G was smiling, with her hand outstretched, feeding some small birds by this monumental cathedral. The other photos were of some large factory-style buildings and slogans. One was with lots of people gathering, the other place was empty except for some rather thin cats near a sign COP15. Was this, the place of the climate change talks? The Paris Agreement was considered an achievement but then business as usual. Nana G had written a poem called ‘Same Old’ and Jay Ro remembered her anger on a Twitter feed. There were also some diaries but Jay Ro left those on the shelves. Diaries were private and she would not like anyone to see hers.
Jay Ro thought back to her first weeks at college. Everyone was new and friendly and ready to talk about so many things and have a good time. She started a diary that year as writing journals helped her low moods but she ended up being so busy that there was never time to jot much down.
Two boys in her biology class invited her to some meetings about climate change in the college library. Each person was asked to speak about their concerns. Jay Ro felt her nerves on edge but spoke out about the danger to so many species of animals. She was clapped and cheered. It all felt so good as she was admired for her knowledge of nature and its ways. She also felt sadness that as she rediscovered the diversity of nature, she understood more how much the natural world was suffering. The possibility of mass extinction of so many species was real but she was able to talk about successes too. She explained how she visited Rutland Waters and adopted a female osprey. She cried when this bird made it all the way back from West Africa to nest again at Rutland Water. Her fellow students asked lots of questions about these birds and she readily answered these without worrying.
Jay Ro knew she was overwhelmed by this attention but surprised herself with her knowledge. Not many of the students knew very much about the natural world but most could explain the effects of too much carbon on the future of the planet. This time when sadness and anxiety welled up inside her, she had the support of friends.
When she decided to take part in the school strikes her parents were not pleased as she had already lost a year through her eating issues and changing school. She introduced her parents to some of her classmates who wanted to be doctors. This appeased her parents but she felt guilty that she was losing contact with Gaia. In a way she wanted to just forget that time in her life but it kept creeping back in. Gaia knew so much about nature too.
One of her science teachers challenged her about missing classes and said that climate change action was just part of the selfishness of the human race. Jay Ro didn’t want to agree but did not know how to argue her point. Later she saw the Spanish school strike placards
‘Ni un grado mas, ni una especia menos.’
‘Not a degree more, not one species less.’
She liked this and this gave her a good answer. We are trying to save all species, not just humans. There is a concern among young people for all living things and all over the world.
Jay Ro learnt more about how young people in parts of Africa who were involved too. They passionately wanted to protect the forests and their local animals. This helped her feel stronger too. These animals were the animals of her childhood picture books ‘elephants, giraffes, rhinos, lions’ and from other places, ‘tigers, polar bears, penguins.’ Jay Ro remembered one of her speeches about how she didn’t want young children to see them only in picture books, zoos or as prints on fashionable clothes. She wanted the wild to be wild in wild places.
But in those heady exciting days she had forgotten about Gaia. There were some texts sent and she could have seen her. Maybe she could have helped her, prevented her getting more involved. Jay Ro thought she could save the planet but couldn’t save one friend from being drawn into the dark edges of the human world. Why were there no messages from Gaia?
The diaries of Nana G intrigued her. Dare she look? Would Nana G mind? Nana G had said that once you wrote something online you made it public. If you write in rage, it may help, but best on paper and then tear it up. All those Instagram posts and comments had been awful. What made people so unkind? She remembered Nana G’s words: If I give up Twitter, you give up Instagram. Twitter makes me rage at some of the crazy politics we have now. It eats into me and my time. Get creative rather than reactive!
Jay Ro felt that as these diaries had not been torn up Nana G may be giving permission to read them. Posterity was a word she often used. Jay Ro browsed through some of the diary entries, they showed anger with so many things. She hadn’t realised how strongly her grandmother felt about many issues. She smiled as this was Nana G’s Twitter feed but now in her diary. Other entries were observations or short poems for the day. There was a clearly labelled 2015 diary. Was there anything on her trip to Paris?
Just passing through Paris on the way back to Spain by train. Thought I would try and meet up with Anna. We still keep in touch after all those years when she came to England. Only seventeen then but her head was in the right place. We had some lovely French pastries and then as she lived near Le Bourget, we went to look at the place where the Climate Change Talks had taken place. Nothing happening now, just a few feral cats gathering after the humans have gone. Perhaps cats will survive us. The humans have gone and the talks are a fiasco- neither success or failure. Well, at last an agreement but nothing to hold governments to account. Time is running out. Will we ever learn? And still all about us rather than all the other living things. We need courage to keep going and we must protect as many wild habitats as we can.
I followed up the email from the Spanish contact, researching missing people from Spain in the 1940s. He had information that my father had been a writer and refugee, living in France during the occupation. He told me there were some records of my father’s life in the archives of the Spanish in the French Resistance who had fled Franco’s regime. He was very young in his teens when he left Spain. Why? What happened? Carlos fills me in of the possibilities. Families involved in opposing Franco were often hunted down. Their children taken away.
What monsters, ordinary people had to face then, and with what courage and resilience? But why did he never tell us about this part of his life? It just sounded romantic when I was told my mother and father met and got married in Paris after the war.
Jay Ro felt puzzled. Didn’t this information link up in some way with the boy who escaped with wolves. Was there a connection? And no one was alive with the answers now.
Why were such secrets kept? Jay Ro was relieved the monsters and battles of those war years were long gone. Her worry was there were different battles now and other monsters in disguise ready to take advantage. She was sure Gaia and Tracy knew some.