In late October 2016 the Earth passed through a belt of meteor debris. Some of these small rocks hit the Earth’s upper atmosphere at speed and burn up, creating shooting stars. The event lasted a few hours in the early hours around 4am GMT, centred in the sky around the three bright stars of Orion’s Belt. Only seen at night, this placed Europe and Africa in the best position to view the event.
The air quality around the Canary Islands is particularly clear, having only the Atlantic Ocean for miles around, and with minimal light pollution it is no accident that the Spanish government built a major astronomical telescope on the mountainside in Tenerife.
So, at 4am I am standing at a window looking up to a pitch black sky with thousands of stars, Orion’s Belt well above the horizon, watching the flashes as a few shooting stars burn up each minute, mostly quickly. And then one, slower and redder than the rest, crosses the sky as if to deliberately close the show.
Sometimes your stars do line up.
And later you reflect, wondering how many children have yet to see a pitch black sky dotted with thousands of stars.
A walk along the harbour quayside is a pleasure, both in Los Cristianos and in San Sebastian. These are working harbours with large ferries, fishing boats, and pleasure craft. Earlier this year a small group of cross-Atlantic athletes rowing boats were tied up, resupplying. And the water quality, even in a working harbour, is crystal clear. Shoals of fish can be seen, their darker shapes against the brighter rocks on the sea bed. The occasional eel mingling in. A few pieces of bread strategically thrown can create a great show of frenzied eating, drawing in passing pedestrians to watch and search their bags for something to add themselves.
A while back on the regional TV news after the weather forecast, the presenters like to sit on the sofa and exchange a few closing pleasantries, usually football. One time a news presenter commented that he’d had complaints from the Blackpool authorities that the weather forecast was frequently too gloomy, that their weather had a better microclimate but people were being put off from visiting. I remember how the meteorologist’s smile dropped and she answered him swiftly, everywhere has a microclimate. He hastily changed the subject.
Tenerife is an island of very varying climates, from the temperate north to the arid south, with extensive farming. To the south the irrigation systems feed large enclosures of banana trees, often screened to better retain moisture. To the north, rain watered fields are common. Insects abound, as do migrating birds.
La Gomera includes a natural ancient rain forest, now protected as a national park, rising to a high altitude. When you drive to Leeds on the motorway a sign near Saddleworth tells you this is the highest motorway section in England. On Gomera the only roads are up and down the peak, there is no other way to drive around the island, and their road rises over three times as high as Saddleworth. The bus trip across the small island is four hours, then back again.
I guess it is the usual thing to finish a postcard wistfully, something like, it is a different world here. As I think about it, it isn’t really. It is the same world. But we mess with it differently.