Life in a Dol house
2016 - Week 25

A striking visitor at breakfast time

Summer has arrived this week, with temperatures around +34ºc every day. 

The night time temperature has barely dropped below 21 degrees and there has been little air movement to make the hot and sticky 65% humidity more bearable.

In the orchards I picked the last of this year's plum crop. I had the last fruits on my yellow plum, which fruits especially early, some three weeks ago, since then I have been waiting for my red plums to ripen. 

I saw that one or two were falling to the floor, so decided to start picking. There are two productive trees, one is large, with a height of 10 to 15 metres and the second smaller at just over 3 metres, a height I am keeping it to by pruning. 

Half way down the orchard is a later plum variety, similar to a Victoria, which has quite a lot of fruit that are some way off ripe.

Last year I invested in a device to pick fruits from height and it is great.
With a stainless steel circular rim and a series of crenulations, it can be used for a large variety of fruits. ​​ 

You just guide the bowl under the fruit to be picked, get the fruit into one of the gaps between the crenulations and gently pull. The fruit drops into the canvas bag underneath.

I found an extending 6 metre aluminium pole at Bauhaus which I fitted the device to, so from the ground I can reach quite a way into the trees, although the highest fruit still eludes me. But it does mean that this year I have not had to try and position long ladders against the trunk and then do a "Tarzan" act to try and pick fruit. 

Some of the plums have been eaten, some have been bottled in Kilner jars for the winter and some given to friends and neighbours. 

An especially refreshing cold summer desert is plums, lightly poached for just 3 minutes with ginger and cinnamon, then layered with whipped Mascarpone and low fat yogurt, then topped with crushed almonds. But unfortunately it doesn't freeze well and has to be eaten straight away.

The holiday makers are here in large numbers now, and again I watched as some American tourists traversed the old donkey track at the back of my home, taking photographs of an especially impressive Oleander tree at the end of my garden, Nerium oleander, which is covered in pink flowers.
The Oleander is poisonous, the sap, the leaves for animals, even the smoke if the wood is burnt, but it is grown extensively in warm climates, like ours here in the Mediterranean. 

Walking along the track the air in the vicinity is filled with the delicate fragrance of the flowers, which have a scent similar to almond blossom or vanilla. It comes in several colours from white to a deep crimson.

This year I am making a concerted effort to walk along the lanes and paths of the village each month, to note the wild flowers and plants which appear at different times of the year. This week the wild Clematis, Clematis recta, is in flower and I came across one old stone house with a wall completely covered in fragrant white Jasmine.

The Mediterranean climate is sometimes called a "Summer Dry" climate because of the lack of rainfall. Over the Millennia, it has created it's own specialised community of plants, which in the main are drought tolerant or which die back and rest during the summer heat. Most of the wild flowers have disappeared now, but the Common Mallow, Malva sylvestris, is still to be found in flower.

This week I explored a track I found marked on an old map, the first survey of the island, dating from the 1880's.

Leading down from the Apse of the Parish Church of St Michael, there is a set of broad limestone steps, which seem to terminate at the current road.

The Church is of comparatively recent origin, having been built between 1904 and 1908 on the site of a previous 16th Century building. So this map shows the previous building and a set of steps leading east, all the way down the hill.

On the east side of the road, I found a narrow path between shrubs and saplings, so followed it downhill.

Within 100 metres it was obvious I was on the right trail because large stone kerbs were visible and the steep slope had been graded with well made steps and slight gradients as the direction of the path zig zagged down the hillside, through pine forest and Maquis until it reached the dry stream bed on the valley floor.

A vertical descent of 50 meters had been made easy over the ground distance of 275 metres by the builders of this centuries old path.

I suspect that it had both ceremonial as well as practical use. Having a width of almost 3 paved metres, this is where a large procession could pass with ease. Remembering that this substantial way had been built long before the age of the motor car, I was reminded of some pathways in my native County of Yorkshire which were used by funeral parties to bring the recently deceased to their place of final resting. Perhaps like the Coffin Roads of the UK, this easy uphill path had been used by villagers - whose homes were mainly in the valley bottom, to get to the Church.

Whatever the past use, on my ramble I was accompanied by swirls of small butterflies, in colours from Lilac to dusky brown as I cut down through the woods.

There were a number of Short Tailed Blues, Everes argiades, feeding by the side of the track which lifted in clouds as I passed.

Brown argus, Aricia agestis, were also there in abundance.

As were the High brown fritillary, Fabriciana adippe, with markings the colour of a Bengal Tiger.

If only the stones could talk and tell the tales of all the feet who have passed over them, smoothing the limestone sets and keeping the path open. The path shown leading from the graveyard to the north is no longer passable because of trees and dense scrub, but it does not look as well made as the one to the east. 

Building the path must have been a major undertaking, remember there were no JCB's or mechanical devices to help, just manpower, muscle power and perhaps the odd wheelbarrow, combined with the skill of the stone masons. These paths deserve to be better known.

As we pass the Summer Solstice in the northern hemisphere, the days are at their longest and I am usually woken around 04.30 or 05:00 by No. 1 cat Risha, who has decided that the breaking dawn in the north east sky means it must be breakfast time, and because it is nice to be out and working in the orchards when the air is till cool and moist.
One morning, as I opened my Mosquito screen door, I saw that I had an unusual and colourful visitor.
With the long antenna, I recognised that it was a Katydid. 

They are of the Cricket family, similar to but distinctly different from grasshoppers. The striking colours of yellow, black and green should have made identification easy, but I couldn't find it in any of my books. Indeed it took several hours of intense online research to identify it as a Eupholidoptera chabrieri schmidti. This is a male - it has no ovipositor - and to discover that some websites list it as "threatened" or even "lost" from the Adriatic was exciting. I have been in contact with some experts in Zagreb to determine the exact status and await a reply.

I left him to go about his business and have not seen him since, although I have heard the calls at night time several times. These Katydid live in the Maquis. It would be nice to think that they are breeding close to my home as well.

As we pass the longest day, here in the north we can soon look forward to noticing the change in daylight length as the days begin shorten.

 At the same time, readers in the Southern hemisphere can look forward to lengthening days as the end of the southern winter approaches. Wherever you are, take time to explore the little used tracks and byways around your home and to enjoy what you find there.