It wasn’t the aboriginal Guanche, who lived on this archipelago before the Conquest, nor the Spanish Conquistadors, who named the island chain, but Juba ll of Mauritania, well, at least according to Pliny it was. The word Canaria (Canary) coming from the Latin word for dog, canis, and having nothing at all to do with our feathered friends. Apparently, back in history, multitudes of wild dogs roamed the islands, or, another theory postulates, possibly it was seals, canis marinus, but whatever, the name stuck.
There is an abundance of myths surrounding the islands, which some claim are the Lost Garden of the Hesperides; and others claim to be the site of Atlantis. They were also known as The Fortunate Islands – an ancient Greek version of paradise, which was somewhere in Macronesia, they say. Take your pick, and remember that perhaps choosing one name does not preclude another.
Whichever name you like to use, there is no doubting that the Canary Islands are idealized, and that is, largely, because of their climate, which is, overall, warm, rather than hot, and rarely extreme; even when snow falls on the mountains of Tenerife (remember that El Teide is the highest peak in Spain) it never settles long. When you put the gentle climate together with the rich and porous, volcanic soil you have a veritable Garden of Eden (and, yes, that is another theory).
So, is there a Spring? Are there seasons at all? I’ve written about Autumn here before, about how different it is from countries further north, and about how much I miss it, but I’ve hardly mentioned the other seasons apparently. Odd in one way, because Tenerife’s nickname is The Island of Eternal Spring. In a way, that confirms the idea that there is no change in season, and that’s not really true, and yet in another way it is! If you’ve lived in countries where seasons are more clearly defined as the year rolls around, it takes a while to get used to the subtle seasonal changes.
Summer is a state of mind in the Canary Islands. A change comes over the islands. Local television celebrates the onset of the season every bit as much as if it signaled the major weather change which it does further north. Familiar faces disappear from local tv as long holidays are taken. Life moves outdoors whether beach or mountain barbecue, or simply sitting on a terrace or balcony, however humble, to catch the morning sun, or the evening breeze. It’s that evening breeze which keeps us sane, curtails the temperatures, so that when you step outside after 7 or 8 o’clock there is a pleasant balminess, a breeze which can feel even cool on sunburned skin.
Many offices grind to a near halt in late June, and school is out until early September. Flights are more expensive – which makes me feel trapped. In an emergency I would have to pay a small fortune to get to mainland Europe. A weekend visit to Santa Cruz is a delight as the city streets empty and residents flock to the coasts. The highest temperature I ever experienced here was in Santa Cruz, an unpleasant, but not unbearable, 43º. As in all cities, the heat bounces off the concrete, hence the weekend exodus. Many residents of the capital have holiday homes in the south, or elsewhere along the coasts, and it isn’t unusual for mom and the kids to decamp for the entire summer, to be joined by dad on the weekend. Yet, with low humidity and Atlantic breezes the heat isn’t nearly so exhausting as I’ve experienced elsewhere in Europe.
In late June summer will begin with rosalillo carpeting swathes of the caldera in the National Park, but like everything else they will succumb to the heat and fade away, summer is marked by absence of flowers rather than an abundance.
It used to be traditional for folk to camp out on the beach for the entire summer, sleeping under the stars, catching fish for dinner, but with the luxury of being able to return home for a shower before going to work, or just staying for the weekend. I’ve known youngsters who still do this, but truth is that there are fewer places where camping on the beach is allowed.
Summer, then, is hot but not debilitating, but at its end the earth will be arid and parched, both in the mountains and down below. The unceasing sun we crave will have reduced much plant life to brown twigs, as sure as winter strips English trees of their finery. In areas there will still be green, in the pine forests, or even in the badlands where cacti and tabaiba grow, but the difference is notable.
Autumn is the missing season on the coast, but in the mountains it isn’t so. The Autumn mist I remember hovering over English farmland, here swirls among the pines, whose elegant needles seduce it into lingering, and then drip it slowly onto the rich earth. A circle of life, the water then seeps underground and ensures us a plentiful supply of water. Even after two years without rain on the southern coast, and precious little elsewhere, there was no ban on water usage.
Though by far the majority of forests are pine and evergreens, there are deciduous trees, like chestnut, scattered around, whose colors turn, then glow, then fade, just as they do in England or in France. Meanwhile, down on the southwest coast, the geraniums, hibiscus, oleander and bougainvillea which form the bigger part of cultivated gardens are a riot of color year round. Palm trees don’t shed their leaves in winter,and grass must be mowed year round. You could be forgiven for claiming that seasons here don’t exist. But by late September the first rain may have come, and anytime from then until March there is the slight chance that we may wake to rain. The plant life on the dry, southern hillsides will stir after the summer drought, and the Anaga Mountains, always caressed by the brume brought by the trade winds will be lush. Often, after heavy rain followed by days of sunshine plants sprout within 48 hours, in a giddy burst of photosynthesis.
When we first mooted the idea of moving here, I tried hard to get my head around the idea of what winter would be like, and I pestered anyone I could find who had visited the islands (how much easier that would be in this day and age of internet!). Never did get a clear picture, but when I am similarly questioned now, to Brits at least, I compare winter to an English summer, which is that mixture of warm, sometimes hot, days, and cloudy ones with rain. Actually, it rains much less here, but in winter there is ever the possibility. Most years it rains, some years it doesn’t, and the greenery egged on by the rains of Autumn flourishes, giving us what seems to be a topsy-turvy climate.
Some years there is snow like the picture above on the mountain tops, very occasionally on the tops of the foothills. But you have to be quick to catch a picture like this, get up there in the snow or the day after when they open the roads. Meanwhile, back down on the coast folk will be roasting on the beaches and swimming and surfing, just not for as long as in the summer. By 4pm it’s usually time to head home.
And so to Spring, with such mild winters are there signs of Spring? I suppose, if you live and never move out of (Oh yeah there are lots of expats of all nationalities who do this) the southern coastal strip of the island the chances are that you might not notice much difference.
If you get yourself out of the resorts and urbanizations, however, after Christmas you will find Springtime all around you. No sooner have the kids become bored with the gifts which the 3 Kings brought them on January 6th, than there is talk of sighting the first almond blossom….and what is a more romantic symbol of spring than a tree heavy with pink or white blossom?
Spring comes in gentle waves, it begins in late January with the blossom and the wild lavender and the margaritas, and those gentle pastels give way to the blazing reds of the tajinaste and yellows of the California poppies in June, before summer heat bakes the landscapes dry again.
Between these flowerings, broom will scent the mountain air, clusters of lotus campylocladus will carpet the pine forest floor, and rarer flowers, like the jara rosa will line pathways, and all manner of other flora and fauna, which I am far too ignorant to be able to name, will flourish in the long spring.
Yes, there is Spring on the Island of Eternal Spring, it might not be “eternal,” but from January through June, each time I venture into the countryside new colors and perfumes greet me. There is every bit as much that sense of renewal which is what spring is all about as there is in a colder climate – but you probably need to get off your a** and go find it!
Absolutely delighted that this post is included in the blog post carnival (hope I got that name right, it’s my first time!) hosted this month by Cathy at Traveling with Sweeney. You can find the rest of the posts here http://travelingwithsweeney.com/2013/02/28/spring-fever/ to get a taste of what spring is like and how folk think about it around the world :=)