Grazing in the Enguera mountains II
Grazing in the Enguera mountains II
July 13, 2009. Transmittent route Enguera-Alpera
Together with the foreman Bernardo, a veteran shepherd who has been in this job since he was 9 years old, we made the path to Alpera. The itinerary begins in Los Altos (Enguera), near the transformer (Km 31 on the Enguera-Ayora road) to Casa La Matea (first day) and to Alpera (second day). We left around 7:00 p.m. and two and a half hours later, already at night, we arrived at the La Matea watering hole, nearby, on the Vulture farm, we spent the night in the open. Lying under a starry sky, hearing the croaking of the frogs in the nearby ponds and the hoot of the owls, sleep overcame us and we fell asleep, although at dawn, the passage of a herd of wild boar scared us and we woke up.
Bernardo was a shepherd for more than 50 years and although he was already retired, he sometimes helped drive Luís Chorques’ cattle through these mountains. The White Gypsy said of him that: “The mountains are known inch by inch…”.
Bernardo was always in these parts: El Carrascal, Casa del Pino and Casa del Alto, between Enguera and Ayora.
Bernardo Martínez García, 69 years old and a native of Enguera, is one of the shepherds of the Canal de Navarrés. He was born in the Casa de Serradores 5 hours (on foot) from Enguera, located a little further from Benali. He is a lively man, awake in conversation, it shows that he has been trained by the field that saw him born. Until the age of 38, he worked for his parents and married late, at the age of 58. He himself affirms that “he was not ambitious with money and he did for his parents whatever it took”, so he was happy with little. Therefore, we can speak of a day’s journey from the Casa de Serradores to Enguera: five hours there and five hours back. That was already done by his parents with a donkey and a pack mule. His parents practiced bartering in those days, bringing chickens and pigs, and changing them for groceries. Remember a certain Silvestre de Canals who brought food up and came down with hens and chickens.
The Enguera mountains has suffered many violent fires, he, as a good shepherd, feels the pain of the mountain as his own. He assures that if 10,000 heads of goats were put into circulation on the Enguera mountain, the mountain would recover its health and live, but that, he sadly affirms, “nobody will do it anymore”. According to him, the goat cleans the bush and keeps it healthy. He still remembers the last great fire, and how he cried the day the entire mountain, from Ayora to Enguera, was left to the flames. He remembers that on the same roads, which were now lifeless dry land, his father came to see the Iberian lynx. Now there is nothing left.
He recalls with sadness and fatigue the period in which the shepherds of the Sierra de Enguera were prohibited from grazing, they were the post-war years: 1954-1956. They were accused that their goats ate the pines, when, according to Bernardo, “they are the mothers of the pines”, just the opposite of what was thought. The goat, -Bernardo continues arguing-, eats the undergrowth and prevents it from remaining as fuel for the subsequent burning of the tree. He affirms that, now with “the jungles of undergrowth” that grow uncontrollably in the forest, there is not a single pine tree left, most of the forest has disappeared due to the flames. Formerly the same neighbors were in charge of turning off the mountain, now -he says sadly-, there is no one to turn them off. Bernardo considers that there was a clear intention to change one variety for another: pine for Aleppo pine, hence the ban on shepherds, who had to dedicate themselves to other things and return years later when the ban was over.
The neighboring town of Tous, being a mountain that belonged to the town, did not force the shepherds to suspend their work and some took refuge in its mountains. Bernardo had 1,000 head of cattle once he settled in Tous. Between his father and his brother they took turns to be in Tous with the animals, so they spent long periods on horseback between Enguera and Tous. On occasions, the goats, guided by instinct, would go back up to Enguera and the forester would wait for them there to denounce them. Sometimes, they could outwit him hiding on the banks of the Rio Grande, but it was the least, and the excess of fines made them temporarily give up their beloved work. So his father “badly sold the sheep.” He affirms that “they could live decently”, since the kids were sold in the month of June, the day of San Juan, and the entire summer period had already passed with the sale of “choticos”. The butchers would go up to the sidewalk and take them away on foot, with the only help of a gelding male or manso made of stone. He has the patience to explain to me how the stone meek is trained and for what purpose. The manso de piedra will carry the shearing (pecks) of an adult and will be the guide of the rest of the flock, together with the voice of the shepherd. They take 4 or 5 stone meeks in the flock, depending on the number of sheep, and follow the shepherd’s instructions so that the rest follow them. The shepherd throws stones at them, and instead of fleeing, what they do is approach the shepherd so that he stops throwing stones at them, so the shepherd, strategically located, achieves his goal: the sheep follow in his footsteps. As a child, several shepherds, located one on each side of a field, threw stones at him, so instead of fleeing, because he could not, he went towards his owner and thus, already trained, he fulfills the proposed function as an adult. Bernardo remembers the names of several gentlemen he had and, according to him, “were very good”: Carbonero, Merchant, Libertao…
A goat was worth little money, he remembers the price of thirty pesetas, although he affirms that in the fifties that was already something: “you could live”. Bernardo looks at the mountains, since we are sitting in the patio of the house in the middle of the mountain, and warns us of the end of grazing, since the difficulties are many: “a lot of forest, but all jungle”, so that the goats can only eat 25% of what they need, since access to pasture is almost impossible. This detail indicates that the mountain is completely dirty, it is not cleaned and this makes the task of the shepherd enormously difficult. Another great difficulty that Bernardo finds is that there are no longer people who know how to take the goats, in fact he sold them and they returned them, since it is a very peculiar animal and requires a certain mastery, since they go a lot on their own. They usually breed where they come from, and they used to mark the place with a bunch of rosemary and return later with the car to pick them up. The chotico had remained there, along with his mother, who were patiently awaiting the arrival of the shepherd. Later at night you had to foster them so that the chotico could suck and not die. He states that he has dedicated his life to shepherding, and that he has been happy in his own way. Nature has taught him what he knows, above all, a life of peace and well-being with himself and with others. It has even provided food when there was nothing to eat, as is the case with the unlikely ardacho1. The curiosity of his life is that the woman, whom he met at Chella’s dance, thought that Bernardo was a pastor but a Protestant, he had not fully understood what his trade was.
He remembers that his father told him about the presence of wolves2 in the bush. These attacked the goats and used to collect some piece. To defend themselves against the imposing presence of the wolves2 both his father and his grandfather used a mastiff dog that protected the goats with care.
Later, he gives me an exhaustive exposition of some field flowers and their uses, which leaves me amazed, since his knowledge of the natural environment is splendid, as an expert botanist who has acquired a wealth of knowledge through oral tradition and, perhaps, by own test. Below I detail some of the plants and uses that he told me:
Bocheta y Arnia…………………………For all types of inflammation
Arenaria……………………………………Cleanses the kidney and is good for colic
Trigico de moro………………………..shut down diarrhea
Poleo………………………………………..For a good infusion
One of the greatest fears that a shepherd can experience in the mountains is that a storm will surprise him3. The goats take shelter in the pines, but the shepherd does not, because he knows that lightning strikes the trees. But he remembers a difficult day, where the stone made it impossible to withstand the downpour and he had to look for the shelter of a pine tree. He thought that all the choticos that remained in the corral had died, what was his surprise that when he arrived at the corral, once the storm passed, he heard in the distance the bleating of the choticos and thought that with luck some would have been saved , and so it was, everyone was safe and sound, huddled around a large tree that stood in the barn.
They used to gacha-miga to eat in the mountains, his father taught him and he remembers saying the following saying:
La gacha-miga del carbonero,
dos vueltecicas y al agujero (boca).
La gacha-miga del pastor,
Cuanto más vueltecicas está mejor
He talks to me about the vermin of the forest, the viper, the aspe, the sacre, the jumper, -“if they sting you, you die quickly”, Bernardo affirms-. They bite the goats but do not kill them as they would a man. We do not have skin that covers and protects us, as animals do, although “if they do not die they will not be long.” The shepherds carry heather sticks with them so that, in the event of a bite, they can puncture the affected area promptly, and extract the poison. Then you have to wash your hands quickly, either with water or, failing that, with urine. He staged a scene for me where he was harassed by a snake that eventually disappeared into the undergrowth. Using his forearm and his right hand, resting on the palm of his left hand, he drew the movements of a huge snake, which, according to him, was stalking the cattle and when he heard his voice it turned towards him… he was scared, he tells us.
The only transhumance he carried out was the transfer of some goats he acquired in Dos Aguas. The transport was carried out on foot and he did it together with an assistant from Ayora. The journey lasted three days: the 1st night we arrived at Casa Otonel in Cortes de Pallás; the 2nd night in the small town of El Oro, keeping the goats in a local corral. Although the owner of the corral did not want to because they could bring any disease with them and transmit it to their cattle. The cold was intense and that meant staying out in the open. It was the wife of the owner of the corral who took pity and convinced her husband that they could keep, at least that night, the goats in their domain. Normally this was done as a favor between pastors, today for you, tomorrow for me. That same night was a party at El Oro, and, tired as they were, they had to endure the whole night of partying right in front of the inn. On the third day, we reached Enguera, on the banks of the Rio Grande.
1Sarvatxo or fardatxo in Valencian and deformed is called ardacho in Enguera. Lizard in Spanish. He affirms that its flavor is similar to that of fish, and that it has been a frequent meal among shepherds.
2Bernardo remembers a precious episode in which he came to see an Iberian wolf, he does not forget it, it was the year 2000. It was a dark night and the fog covered the thicket. He was going out to control the goats, because they have a tendency to get lost, in that and like a ghost in the fog, he saw her serene figure that was looking at him attentively… the second he disappeared without a trace.
3Remember that in Ayora lightning killed a boy.
4It is a curious verse that tells us about the time that the shepherd has in the mountains, where he can cook his food quietly. On the other hand, the rest of the professions do not have the same time and the food is made to be digested quickly.