I try to lower my wide-brimmed hat and pull up my coat collar even further, but I know I’m wasting my time. Not only is the rain now persistent enough to find a way through any undone fastener or poorly-waxed seam, but I’m already sufficiently wet through for it not to really matter.
Wet winter days can be tough here in the Spanish campo. Back in the UK, cold, wet weather was pretty much expected from around September to April (though as this replaced the slightly less cold, wet weather of May to August, the exact moment of switch-over could be hard to spot). Here, in contrast, the climate has geared our life much more toward outdoors, and these days of dismal deluge that seem to appear from nowhere often leave me, as has happened today, pacing bored around the finca, finally deciding – or being told by Sue, somewhere around my twentieth lap – to go out for a walk. Or, in fact, anywhere.
Of course there are useful things I could be doing at home – there are always things to do – but that wouldn’t cut it this time. Today I’m the wrong sort of bored for that to work.
And so I find myself heading along the roadside toward the nearby but barely visible village, hunched against the elements and with hands buried in coat pockets in a way that Dad would never have condoned. The downpour wasn’t this heavy when I set out. Had it been, I may even have given in and gone for one of those alternatives that are drearily constructive but, at least, dry.
The usual country cacophony is suddenly noticeable by its absence. Rural Spain normally has the noisiest sort of silence you can find anywhere on Earth, as every species does its best to out-neigh, screech, caw, bark, howl or grunt its neighbour, the few human competitors doing their best but making little impression with their chainsaws, shotguns or car stereos. But in today’s weather, it seems everything wants instead to be cowering under something else, and by the muted soundtrack I assume that most are succeeding. The world is on hold. It reminds me of rainy childhood Sundays in Northern England, when time seemed to crawl through the few month-long hours between the end of lunch and the start of The Golden Shot.
Across the campo every channel is flowing. On the unsurfaced caminos the water runs down wheel depressions cutting sharp-sided furrows, finally depositing its stolen gravel across the main roads that these tracks intersect.
Above the roadside drainage channels the rocky banks exude a thousand tiny springs as the olive groves above hit saturation point and can soak up no more.
Wherever these channels have not been maintained, deepening pools spill rust-coloured stains across the road. The deepest of these ponds will last until spring; long before the summer nights are accompanied by the chirping of cicadas, through the lengthening evenings we’ll hear from the thousands of frogs that will be born here.
But where these roadside channels have been cleared by the Ayuntamiento’s gangs or by diligent neighbours, the collected water rumbles and gushes through concrete culverts beneath, before reaching the ends of the man-made gullies. Beyond, these frothing brown bores fan out and cut grooves and channels through the olive groves and stony fields, each stream finally bleeding into the massive and growing lake at one of hundreds of points around its periphery. From my vantage point I can see the lake turning clay-brown as it fights to deal with the year’s worth of suspended crud.
Extremeñans have waited with bated breath this year, as every year, for the winter rains. In a region that relies so heavily on agriculture, the winter weather can make or break businesses and families. For all that it’s running down my neck and seeping into my boots, I’m happy to see the rain. And though it may not stop today, or tomorrow, when the water does abate and the spring sun finally peeks through, Spain will once more pull off its best trick, once again transforming itself seemingly overnight into a land we all thought we’d forgotten.
But just for today, if it could see its way to clearing up by the time I’ve got to my destination and finished my coffee and pastel, well, that would be great, too.
“He looked down at the water and tried out the word he’d been taught by his grandfather, who’d been taught it by his grandfather, and which had been kept for thousands of years for when it would be needed.
It meant the smell after rain.
It had, he thought, been well worth waiting for.”
― Terry Pratchett, The Last Continent