Next to Nature
It is the very moment when the earth rolls away from the light to go to sleep and a thick, milky mist rises from the roofs and starts to spread through the bottom of the valley. There is nothing exceptional in describing what these eyes, that will be eaten by worms, can see; but there are more things to observe in this landscape, since in that thrumming mill two lovers are exchanging their first kiss and the dogs are barking in that country house with the dried up chestnut tree.
From the porch of a church we can see the valley shrouded in rain. The pouring water softens the blue smoke against the slate roof of a shack. The paths are covered in mud and a blanket salesman comes clacking by on his horse. It is a painter’s vision; but there is still more in the landscape, since the church tower is ringing the death-knell and the sound is as bitter as if the dead man’s head itself were being used to sound the bell. And we cannot make out from which house he came because they are all- all of them- sad.
A moonlit night: near a fairy tale crossroads is a wayside cross with stone table close by, on which they lay the dead to sing a response. A gentle stream can be seen through the trees and the moon is hanging from a pine branch. The painter must evoke something more than this, however, since on this stone table at the cross, that very afternoon, they laid the dead body of a lad who came from military service; along that narrow lane a trainee priest walks pondering over the young girl with the red kerchief who stole his vocation. And in the distance they are wailing.
An early Sunday morning: the distant mountains are blue like a Patinir painting; broom and gorse add their touches of yellow to the landscape’s divine symphony of green. There is much in this landscape for an artist: see there on the branch of that apple tree the blackbird of Guerra Xunqueiro [famous Portuguese poet of the Escola Nova], still ‘lucid and jovial’, is waiting to say good morning to the village priest. Yesterday it rained. The bells of the church are pealing out and, along the cart track from the meadows down below, the little red and black ants are coming to Mass.
Time has touched the old feudal castle with tones of gold and silver. The serfs of the treasury are hoeing maize in the fields. The river can be seen winding amongst shadowy willows at the valley bottom. The sun beats down on the earth’s back. Everything is ready to be painted because it is all a gift to the eyes; but there is more to this landscape. Today is Midsummer’s Eve, smelling of ‘mother’s neck’, crickets are singing and the gentle breeze brings the sound of drumming from afar. Tomorrow we shall wash ourselves with sweet-smelling herbs.
It was getting dark. The black silhouette of a pine tree was drawn against the dark blue of the sky. You all know that in spring the pines produce thousands of candles, taking on the appearance of giant candelabra. How often we have felt tempted to light these candles. Well then; a priest went by my pine tree carrying the sacrament of Extreme Unction, accompanied by two boys and four praying women, on their way from a neighbouring village. What a miracle! Brother Pine, conscious of this religious moment and in homage to the Holy Host, lit up its candles, which remained alight until the Sacrament was lost from sight around the bend in the road.
One day at Christmas, seeing a landscape that seemed like a Nativity, I realised that there is more beauty in wild than garden flowers. Little wild flowers born in the fields are like the creations of Bosch or Breughel the Elder, whilst florid garden flowers look like the buttery blooms of Rubens. From then on I set my heart on being a wild man of letters.