The reunion is like seeing old friends again. Or perhaps it is like seeing an old love again. Perhaps a bit awkward this time. Probably because it is raining cats and dogs. But that happens even in the best sierras, I’m sure. It is also the cold that reminds you, more than ever, of the hot past. However, deep down you know very well that the mountains can still scare you at the end of April even though you are in Andalusia: renowned for its heat and drought.
If you are used to come here in Summer or Autumn when grass and flowers look scorched and brown with fatigue; it is almost impossible to recognise nature: now, green springs from the Earth and if you stay away from the valley for two days or more it seems as if an invisible and immensely fast-working council employee has planted a completely different plantation of flowers in every colour of the rainbow.

The biggest change, however, is in the sheep. Or even better put, it is in the shepherd. Through the years, I have got used to the image of sheep and their so-called pastores. Not the folklore shepherds you can still find in Italy or Portugal with identically woven blankets draped over their shoulder in an obligatory way and holding an oak shepherd’s stick. They’re nice to look at but probably better suited for tending tourists.
No, the shepherds here in Andalusia resemble much more the roughness and relentlessness of the immense mountains: they wear a cyclist’s cap or a scruffy jacket, or overalls if they have to, just as they please. They throw stones at their sheep and goats when they seem to drift off the herd producing harsh screams which make you think of Medieval theatre rather than modern management.
It is also known that in winter time, shepherds graze their cattle in the lowlands of Andalusia. They only come up the mountains at the end of May.

That is why you’ll be surprised every time to see the vast herd of sheep with this one little black goat in between. And who, then, would be this nice looking young man, well, 35 years of age, perhaps, wearing a meticulous shirt and sitting in his tiny green Land Rover for ages?
‘Someone conducting a research? A detective? But why, then, stands the Land Rover always near the herd?’
After days of thinking you’ll find out: he is the shepherd!
He sits in his Land Rover as if it was written in a film script: James Dean in a road movie, or better still, a young Anthony Quinn in a Mediterranean-and therefore exotic, then,-film; windows down, toothpick between the lips, ‘olaaah!’.
‘Yes, ola’. Had he turned his car radio on? Perhaps it was a modern one that suddenly appears when you turn the key.

Next to him on the front seat sits a little dog. From another film: Peter Sellers enters a small hotel in his inimitable version of Inspector Clouseau: he sees a small counter and a stool with a sweet looking, fuzzy, little dog on it; an older man stands behind the counter reading a news paper. Clouseau, looking at the dog, asks in his French-English: “Dus yoor doog bite?” The man shakes his head without looking away from his paper. However, the inspector’s finger is almost bitten off when he wants to stroke the dog. He gives the man behind the counter a furious look but he just answers: “This isn’t my dog”. So, a dog like that.

In the mean time, Summer has arrived: clear blue skies, a brilliant sun and the shepherd gets out of his Land Rover. After opening the doors to the boot he claps his hands. Just like my mother used to do when we were playing outside and it was time for dinner. And it still works: Perfectly calmly, 386 sheep and one little black goat frolick to the open doors. No bleating. The sound of dozens of bells dies away and the herd has disappeared in a wink. The shepherd closes the doors as a past master, gets into the car and drives past; greeting modestly.

Another day has ended here in the sierra. A day like other days.

Sierra de las Villas, Spain 21 May 2004
Toon Maas

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