Lightning, a forest fire and planning permission

I arrived back in Spain after a 2 week absence from the mountains on June 9th. The World Cup was starting and I was retreating into the mountains! It had taken 2 days to return as my train in Tortosa missed the last possible bus back to Valderrobres where Bianca was picking me up from. I sat in a mosquito filled park at dusk in Tortosa as the text messages went back and forth. Eventually it was decided – I would stay in a hotel overnight and get the lunchtime bus the next day.

What had changed in two weeks?

The growth spurt on every single tree in the mountains seemed to have slowed down. Before I had left each tree had a good few inches of paler green growth at its tips. I had never realised quite how much growth happened in springtime. The new shoots on the pine and carrasco were now blending in. I noticed for the first time another type of tree; Guhyavajra who came from Guhyaloka, our mens ordination retreat centre, to visit, thought it was some sort of maple. It’s lovely to see a few deciduous trees amongst all the evergreens.

The weather has been quite erratic with violent thunderstorms and sweltering humidity. I went exploring down a beautiful dry river gorge at the weekend and was accompanied by loud rumbles and cracks of thunder the whole way. It felt like I was being accompanied on my walk by my Yidam (meditation deity) Wrathful Vajrapani. Eventually torrential rain came and with it hailstones the size of chick peas. I hid under a bush as they have been known to fall the size of golf balls. I chided the sky. “Come on, it’s June. In fact it’s nearer July than May. What’s this all about?” The reply was more thunder and lightning flashes.

For the second time in a week lightning struck the highest ridge we can see from the support community. The hail instantly extinguished the smoke that came from the strike. However the first time it happened there was little rain and a fire started. Vijayasri saw the flames start to spread and tried to phone the fire service (the ‘bomberos’) but our usually poor mobile reception was even worse that day. Eventually she called our builder Jose at home in the village and he phoned the firemen. They came in a fire engine with special tyres for off road driving accompanied by landrovers with the ‘guardia civil’ (local police) and guardia forestal (forest police). However most of the work was done by a helicopter that sprayed water on the fire returning a few minutes later having picked up more water from the resevoir an hours drive away. After about ten trips the patch of ground was left smouldering and then the fire was out. It was scary to see how easily forest fires can happen but reassuring to see how quickly the fire service responded with very effective means of putting the fire out.

In the yurt our first solitary dweller has finished her 7 week long retreat and at our invitation was able to feed back how the facility had worked for her. She had got to know the surrounding areas well through some long walks which we’ve been trying out. We’ve been getting used to being able to make lots of banging and other building sounds once more, and calling out to each other outside without a sudden “whoops” and muffled giggle and retreat into whispers.

Today we picked up our official planning permission for the retreat centre. It’s taken almost 6 months to come through and even though we were able to start the work without it it feels a very significant step to now have it in our possession. Another milestone (knowing that we finally had the ‘permiso’) was showing 2 local journalists the retreat centre building. They had both been interested in our project for several months – particularly in why we had chosen the region of Teruel to have our Ordination retreat centre. Having managed to pick up more Spanish vocabulary for building terms than we were ever able to in English we realised we need quite a different language to express the Dharma in Spanish…

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