Category: Food

Picture Parade Three Hundred and Forty-Two

More of my fiddling!

I am trying out a new photo editing software program called DxO PhotoLab.

It’s powerful and full of features that I am still nowhere used to. But I am taking a shine to it.

But here are a few of my photographs for you to look at.

First, a shot taken yesterday, at the moment of Solstice here in Merlin – 14:43 PDT

Days At Home

Low scattered cloud highlights the newly arrive sun.

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Another day and another sunrise.

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The same sunrise albeit a few minutes later.

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I feed the wild deer every morning. A few of them will come really close to me.

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This is a regular stag visitor! I feed them COB: Corn; Oats; Barley.

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Another sunrise.

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The last new moon. Amazed at the crispness of the photograph for it was handheld.

All photographs taken with my Nikon D750.

Dog & Cat food recall

A food recall that came in yesterday!

We haven’t had a recall for some time but here’s one from Health Canada.

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Carnivora Dog and Cat Food Recall

June 15, 2020 — Health Canada is recalling Carnivora Fresh Frozen Patties for Dogs and Cats due to a possible contamination with E. coli O157.

E. coli O157 is a particularly dangerous strain of bacteria that can cause serious and life-threatening illness in both pets and humans after eating or handling the affected food.

What’s Recalled?

The recall includes 6 varieties of Carnivora brand raw pet food.

Approximately 1,803 packages of the affected products were sold nationwide in Canada between January 13, 2020 and June, 2020.

As of June 12, four cases of illness related to the recalled product have been reported.

About E. Coli Bacteria

E. coli O157 is a bacteria that can cause serious, sometimes life-threatening illness.

Some people infected with E. coli O157 do not get sick at all, though they can still spread the infection to others.

Common symptoms observed after infection include nausea, vomiting, headache, mild fever, severe stomach cramps, and watery or bloody diarrhea.

Most symptoms end within five to ten days.

Pregnant women, those with weakened immune systems, young children and older adults are most at risk for developing serious complications and might need hospitalization.

There is no real treatment for E. coli infections, other than monitoring the illness, providing comfort, and preventing dehydration.

People should contact their health care provider if symptoms persist or worsen with time.

What to Do?

Health Canada advises consumers to stop using any of the affected pet food products and contact the retailer where it was purchased from for a full exchange or refund.

U.S. citizens can report complaints about FDA-regulated pet food products by calling the consumer complaint coordinator in your area.

Or go to the FDA’s “Report a Pet Food Complaint” page.

Canadians can report any health or safety incidents related to the use of this product by filling out the Consumer Product Incident Report Form.

Get Lifesaving Recall Alerts by Email

Get free dog and cat food recall alerts sent to you by email. Subscribe to The Dog Food Advisor’s emergency recall notification system.

There’s no cost. No spam. Cancel any time.

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There you are good people. I trust none of you is affected.

These are very strange times!

A Grist article raises a core question.

On June 4th this year Grist published an article written by Eve Andrews. It is not about dogs at all. Yet, it seems to me to ask a fundamental question about us humans. The article speaks of America but certainly it applies to my old country, the U.K., and it probably applies to most of the countries in the world.

I recently wrote to Annelise McGough, the Growth and Engagement Editor at Grist asking if I could republish the article. She kindly said yes!

So here it is!

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Grist / Windy Kelly / EyeEm

Why is everything falling apart in 2020?

By on Jun 4, 2020

Dear Umbra,

Did any aspect of climate change cause the pandemic to happen this year (versus last year or next year)? Could pandemics happen more often?

— Which Oracle Read Rightly Imminent, Existential Doom?

A. Dear WORRIED,

2020: what a year so far! As anyone who witnessed the crowds of face mask-clad people show up in the middle of a deadly pandemic to protest police violence this weekend can attest, a lot seems to be terrible all at once. You’re asking, in a sense, why now? It almost seems like it must be a rhetorical question. But it’s not — by understanding how we got into this mess, we might presumably be able to find our way out.

This doesn’t just apply to the pandemic.

Let’s start by taking your question at face (mask) value: There are multiple factors that have contributed to the rise of zoonotic illnesses — those of animal origin — over recent years, as my very sharp colleague Shannon Osaka delineated in an article and video earlier in the spring. Scientists believe COVID-19, like several other SARS viruses, likely originated in a bat. It turns out many strains of coronavirus can be traced back to bats! Who knew those little guys were such harbingers of destruction?

It’s not really on the bats, of course. Warmer temperatures (an established feature of climate change) and environmental degradation (often attributed to climate change, industrialization, or other products of human development) have driven a lot of animals to migrate out of their normal habitats and into human ones. Those factors have also contributed to different species coming into close contact with each other, which makes viruses normally contained to one species more likely to “spill over,” or jump to a new type of animal.

So clearly, the lead-up to the novel coronavirus’s outbreak was a gradual one. But perhaps 2019 was just warm enough to kill off enough of the insect population that some COVID-19-carrying bat depended on for food, and that drove it out to wreak some (unintentional) havoc on humanity. The bat’s habitat could have been destroyed by a new coal mine development. It could have woken up one morning and thought: This is my time to fuck shit up! Revenge on those humans that messed up my home! (OK, there was also probably a pangolin involved, but let’s keep things simple.)

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, COVID-19 is the fourth major pandemic caused by a novel virus to hit the United States since the 1918 “Spanish flu” that killed 50 million people worldwide. And there are so many factors and variables that lead to the sprout of a pandemic that you could very well argue that, “Yes, of course it happened at this exact point in time” or “No, it could have happened at any point in time.” It’s impossible to know for sure. But climate change and habitat destruction are certainly working together to create circumstances more favorable to the spread of disease, and that means pandemics will likely become more common as the world grows warmer.

The thing is, highly contagious, devastating illnesses have always been a part of human life, even though a real pandemic is a few-times-per-century event. It’s a fact of sharing the Earth with other living things; it just happens. But humans are ostensibly equipped with the means to contain the spread of diseases and help heal those who become sick. At this moment, thanks to advances in medicine and information-sharing and communication, that’s more true than ever before!

And yet. The United States, an astonishingly wealthy nation with ostensibly the most advanced — certainly the most expensive! — medical system in the world, has lost around 100,000 people to COVID-19, with many more surely to come. That doesn’t even take into account the far-reaching hardship caused by an economic collapse as drastic, by some metrics, as the Great Depression. The current unemployment rate, for example, exceeds 20 percent.

The reality is that what some have referred to as “the lost spring” (and what could very well be “the lost year”) is not the product of a single infectious disease, but the boiling over of many long-standing crises, including structural forms of injustice. Like everything else in American society, the damage done by the coronavirus is unevenly distributed across race. The death rate of black Americans from COVID is three times that of whites, and 40 percent of black-owned businesses have shuttered due to social distancing measures. As of April, rates of black and Latino unemployment were 16.7 and 18.9 percent, respectively, compared to 14.2 percent for whites. These hardships continue to feed into the cycle of racial inequality in this country.

The devastation to American society that we are witnessing in real time, one could argue, could only have happened at the present moment. That’s due to the nightmarish confluence of horrific leadership, centuries of racial oppression, unprecedented wealth inequality, the erosion of the social safety net, privatization of medicine, a far-too-consolidated supply chain, politicization of science, a highly globalized economy, and one misguided or mischievous bat. Oh, and the climate change and environmental degradation that could have led to said bat’s misbehavior.

COVID-19 could have popped up at any time, as viruses do. The degree to which it’s ravaged American society, however, has little to do with the virus itself. Other countries such as New Zealand and South Korea, faced the same disease and came out the other side with far fewer deaths and less severe economic devastation. This is, to a significant degree, about governance and leadership.

It’s also a preview of what climate change can do. A very contagious respiratory virus is an unfortunate fact; it’s not going away, and it is a challenge to be dealt with. Climate change, just the same, is coming whether or not we pay attention to it. Communities, cities, and states are going to have to put measures into place to ensure that it doesn’t literally kill us all. That’s what adaptation means, and that’s why people talk about things like seawalls and tree cover and managed retreat.

But creating a climate-resilient society requires a lot more than just building or planting stuff! This is where I would normally tell you to vote for leaders who support all that building and planting and, more importantly, cutting carbon emissions in the first place. Yes, do that. And additionally, vote for leaders who will feed our starving public systems to make it so they actually support the people who need them. Vote for those who understand and want to change what non-white people experience, what poor people experience, what immigrants experience. Without all of these things, there cannot be a climate-resilient civilization.

If anything were made clear by the unique, mind-boggling suffering that the United States has seen in the past week, brought about by the collision of a viral pandemic and police brutality, it’s that voting is a necessary condition but it is not enough. You, WORRIED, wrote to me to ask why the pandemic happened right now, possibly because it seems like such a uniquely terrible moment for the country to have to deal with it. We not only have the worst possible leader, but also a general absence of leadership altogether.

Going back just a few months, I believe there was an opportunity for an alternate version of this moment in American history in which one incredibly dangerous virus did not kill as many people nor ruin as many lives. But even in that universe, it’s important to acknowledge that pre-pandemic life wasn’t so great for most people. Undoing this path and “restoring order” is a ridiculous hope, since the order that has existed for so long has created a society that is wholly unsustainable judging from almost any social, environmental, or economic perspective.

So what can we do with this knowledge? One, you should be angry. Be angry that leaders missed opportunities to fortify the nation beyond its military, to break down racist systems and promote equality, and to instate laws and policies designed to help prevent crises that, by all accounts, were utterly predictable.

Then I think you should show your anger, whether that’s through protesting, hurling money or your time or whatever you have at worthy organizations that will put it in the right hands, or just screaming and yelling, if you have to. And while voting might not feel like enough when so much feels so wrong, it’s a necessary condition for change — force people in power to know that they created that mess and that they are accountable for it.

Furiously,

Umbra

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Climate change or global warming is with us NOW. It is time to make fundamental changes to the way we live NOW. While many individuals are doing their bit we need international agreement, especially international support for the United Nations, for all the nations in the world NOW.

Thank you for reading this!

It breaks my heart.

Let me not stop with that. I want to hear from you. Are you worried? Or not quite as concerned as me and Umbra? Do you think it is in the hands of our leaders or is it an international problem?

Let’s have a bit of a discussion.

Dry skin in dogs

Dry Skin Dogs: Three Steps You Can Easily Do Right Now At Home

I am delighted that Roger Brooks’ submission of guest posts is becoming a regular feature.

Here is his latest.

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Dry Skin Dogs: Three Steps You Can Easily Do Right Now At Home

By Roger Brooks,

4th May, 2020

An itchy dog with dry, flaky skin is worrisome for you and your dog alike. There could be several potential causes for your dog’s skin-related ailment – ranging from seasonal allergies to more severe disorders. In the latter case, you are highly recommended to rush to a vet and get some over-the-counter medication, as such conditions may soon become an incurable medical disorder. The seasonal allergies, cracked skin, redness, dandruff, or scaling may be treated at home by adopting few dietary changes or incorporating dog supplements for dry skin in its regular diet.

Read on to find our three at-home and easy to follow steps to provide natural and instant relief to your dry skin dog!

1. Chamomile Oil and Green Tea Bath
Owing to their age-old healing properties, chamomile oil, and green tea provide immediate relief to the itchy patches on your dog’s skin.

All you are to do is fill a big plastic tub or sink with 10 liters of lukewarm water and put 5-6 caddies of green tea into it. Let them sit well and dissolve their juices into water. It will take 4-5 minutes. Squeeze the tea bags well and take them out of water. Then add a teaspoon of chamomile oil. After mixing it gently with warm water, let your dog lay in and enjoy its soothing hot bath for about 10 minutes.

Alternatively, for relatively small-sized patches, you may choose to prepare this liquid in a glass by one or two green tea bags in warm water. Or preferably boil the tea bags in water for about one minute. Let it cool. Now, you may choose to rinse or spray this water on to your dog’s skin or dip a sponge into this balmy water and apply this water on to any visible redness, rashes on your dog’s skin. You will notice that your dog feels instantly relieved after it.

2. Adding Supplements to Diet
Multiple pieces of research back the fact that whatever your dog eats directly affects its skin. It means dry skin symbolizes that something essential is missing in the diet. Therefore, it is always useful to add coconut and fish oils like omega-3 fatty acids to your dog’s homemade diet. You will find that by feeding your dog with these oils in moderate quantity cures dry skin more quickly as compared to massaging with the same oils.

You might be thinking that the dog food you bought from the market already has omega-3 fatty acids in it. But let me tell you that those processed foods carry a few of these acids in them, which is not enough to resolve the skin issue of your pooch. The reason for this low amount of omega-3 acids in the commercial diet is that they are quite expensive, and the commercial sellers add omega-6 fatty acids instead, which do not cure dry skin. Therefore, it is always wise to add fresh salmon or sardines to your dog’s regular diet. But remember, use them in moderation as excess may lead to diarrhea.

While most of the skin-related issues of your dog will be solved by adding Omega-3 fatty acids in the diet, a few hardcore allergies might require vitamin E, yogurt, or coconut oil, as all of them combat well against skin issues. Yogurt being a natural moisturizer keeps your dog’s skin moist. An additional benefit of adding a little yogurt in your dog’s diet is that it keeps its stomach safe from bacteria and doesn’t cause digestion issues.

Coconut oil and vitamin E possess a high level of antioxidants. Since science says, free radicals cause much of the damage to your dog’s skin. The right amount of coconut oil and vitamin E helps release free radicals and keep your dog’s coat smooth and moist.

3. Set-up a Humidifier
This can also help a great deal in curing your canines’ dry skin and keeping them moist and fresh.

What happens in the chilly cold is that you start keeping your dog mostly indoors to keep it warm. Unfortunately, this makes an entirely feasible condition for your dog’s dry skin as the centrally heated system of your home interior sucks all the moisture away, leaving a sterile environment that makes your dog more vulnerable to skin ailments. This is why outdoor dogs are less prone to skin issues.

Statistics, however, prove there is no significant relation between winter and dried dog skin. Therefore, the fact is established that irrespective of weather and dog breed, skin issues persist in millions of dogs because they are naturally more sensitive.

Setting a humidifier for your dog throughout the year can lessen its trouble with skin by keeping the environment moist and fresh.

In all, let’s not forget that a humidifier alone can do no good to your dog’s dried skin, it should be combined with a nutritious homemade diet, rich in omega-3 fatty acids, Vitamin E, yogurt and other oils as that is fundamental to get fresh and dandruff free skin of your dog.

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John writes with an authority that comes from knowing his topic.

How many others found this post to be of help or of great value.

Thank you, John.

Another dog (and cat) food recall!

This is one that affects both cats and dogs!

Please make a note and share the details if you can.

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Icelandic Plus Dog and Cat Treats Recall

March 23, 2020 — IcelandicPlus LLC of Ft. Washington, PA, is recalling its Capelin Dog and Cat Treats because some of the fish have exceeded FDA guidelines for fish larger than 5 inches… which has the potential to cause botulism poisoning.

What’s Recalled?

The affected products are sold in a clear plastic package or tube… and marked Icelandic+ Capelin WHOLE FISH, PURE FISH TREATS FOR DOGS, or PURE FISH TREATS FOR CATS.

UPC codes include 8 5485400775 9; 8 5485400711 7; and 8 5485400757 5.

Related products are packaged in a 2.5 ounce tube or a 1.5 or 2.5 ounce bag (lot numbers 02/2020 to 02/2022).

What Caused the Recall?

The FDA has determined that salt-cured, dried, or fermented un-eviscerated fish larger than 5 inches have been linked to outbreaks of botulism poisoning in humans between 1981 and 1987 and again in 1991.

Since some IcelandicPlus Capelins are larger than 5 inches there is a possible health risk.

To date, no illnesses of dogs, cats, or persons are reported in connection with the treats. Nor have there been any positive test results for Clostridium botulinum from any IcelandicPlus Capelin.

However, because of the potential risk, the company has decided to announce this product recall.

About Botulism Poisoning

Clostridium botulinum toxin can cause severe clinical signs including death in both animals consuming the pet treat and humans handling the pet treat or coming in contact with contact areas that have been exposed to the product.

Common symptoms may include dizziness, blurred or double vision, trouble with speaking or swallowing, difficulty breathing, muscle weakness, abdominal distension, and constipation.

Consider that several of the listed symptoms, such as double vision, cannot be easily assessed in animals or conveyed by an animal.
Pets or persons experiencing these symptoms should seek immediate medical attention.

Where Was the Product Sold?

The affected product was shipped to distributors for sale to consumers by independent pet specialty stores throughout all U.S. states.

Message from the Company

IcelandicPlus is family owned and run by pet parents who take the safety and wellbeing of its consumers and clients with the utmost importance, as such we are conducting this voluntarily recall to further protect our customers.
Additionally, we are changing our Capelin supplier to ensure that the fish in our product are consistently less than 5 inches, or if larger, they will be completely eviscerated.

What to Do?

Distributors, retailers and consumers who have purchased IcelandicPlus Capelin can return it to the location where it was purchased for a refund.

Consumers with questions may contact the company at 857-246-9559, Monday through Friday, 8 am to 5 pm ET.

U.S. citizens can report complaints about FDA-regulated pet food products by calling the consumer complaint coordinator in your area.

Or go to the FDA’s “Report a Pet Food Complaint” page.

Canadians can report any health or safety incidents related to the use of this product by filling out the Consumer Product Incident Report Form.

Get Lifesaving Recall Alerts by Email

Get free dog and cat food recall alerts sent to you by email. Subscribe to The Dog Food Advisor’s emergency recall notification system.

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This is the page from where I republished this recall.

Hopefully, tomorrow I can return to Tom and Chica’s fabulous walk!

Stay safe wherever you are!

Day Nineteen of Tom and Chica’s walk.

These photographs are just amazing!

Gilliwolfe has changed very slightly the appearance of the post. But it’s just as good!

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Day 19: Riogrande to Alfarnatejo 16k

By Tom and Chica, 16th February, 2020

Written by Tom’s wife

This morning’s doze was interrupted at 6:30 by a digger starting up and then at 7:15 by lights of a 4 X 4 as fella turns up for work. Hey-ho! So up and into town for double rations of bacon bocadillos with coffee and on the road at 11am. Passing out of town,  two ground workers and the digger driver wanted to know if it was cold in the tent so I put them right; good sleeping bag and doggie hot water bottle. After a bit more building site banter (to make me feel at home, but without the rain) I stopped at the fuentes on the outskirts of the town, had a quick wash and filled the water bottles.

A hard uphill slog followed and this pack isn’t getting any lighter, I’m going to have to be more ruthless in selecting items next time! But it was a great day’s hiking and I was delighted to find Restaurante Gerado by the Rio Sabar where I scoffed an early supper of ham, egg and chips with two beers for €8. Bargain! Sated we trotted off into the hills for 45 mins and found a lovely camping place in the olive terraces  – pictures tomorrow.

Leaving Riogrande
Hmmm, nice pad!
Cooling off!
Essential water purifier.
Good walking surface!
Easy to miss but welcome confirmation that we’re on the right track!
Looking back the pointy peak in the distance marks where we started this stretch. Satisfying!
Restaurante Gerado – highly recommended!

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It’s an amazing walk and that doesn’t really give full justice to what Tom and his two dogs are doing.

It’s a very real pleasure to be given the permission to republish these episodes.

Another three next week!

Dogs and grass!

Most, if not all, dogs eat grass – this explains why!

Of the many Mother Nature Network articles there are many that concern dogs. Such as this one.

Dogs love to eat grass especially when the grass is green and fresh. Quite often some of the dogs throw up not long after.

Here’s a post on Mother Nature Network that explores the topic.

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Why do dogs eat grass?

By Morieka Johnson    August 15, 2019.

Some dogs just like the taste of grass. (Photo: Tanja Esser/Shutterstock)

No walk around the neighborhood is complete without my dog Lulu eating grass. Even on a full stomach, she likes to hunt for the perfect blades and chew away. Left unattended, I’m sure she could mow down a small lawn. Since lawns today have any number of herbicides and pesticides, many pet parents wonder if it’s OK to let their dogs eat grass.

Here’s what the experts say about these grass-eating habits.
It’s yummy: It’s normal for dogs to chew on the green stuff because they like the taste of grass, says Dr. Jennifer Monroe of Eagles Landing Veterinary Hospital in Georgia. Some pooches even develop preferences that range from fresh leaves to drier weeds or even a particular species of grass. What they cannot discern is whether grass has been chemically treated. Use caution when walking on a neighbor’s lawn and stick with greener products in your own yard. Monroe recommends nontoxic treatment options.

“You do have to be careful if you have a dog that is a chronic grass eater,” she says. “We do have a lot of clients who bring pets in for vomiting and wonder if it’s from something the yard was treated with.”

Nutritional deficiency: Most commercial dog foods offer a balanced diet, so many experts say its unlikely that your dog isn’t getting the nutrition he needs from his dinner. Instead, dogs with certain intestinal diseases don’t necessarily digest food properly and have trouble absorbing minerals, which can lead to grazing, says Monroe. Anemia and bleeding in the gastrointestinal tract also cause dogs to eat dirt.

Some dogs eat grass because they need to throw up. (Photo: smerikal [CC by-SA 2.0]/Flickr)
They are trying to induce vomiting: When dogs are eating something that doesn’t agree with them, they often have an upset stomach and eat grass to induce vomiting. If eating grass causes your dog to vomit twice a week or more, call your veterinarian because there could be another underlying health issue. She also recommends a visit if there is any doubt that your dog may be ill; better safe than sorry.

Some dogs nibble the lawn and are fine, while others are always eating grass and vomiting. It may just be the grass tickling their throat and stomach lining that causes them to vomit, says PetMD, or it could be something more serious. That’s why it’s key for dog owners to make sure their pets aren’t sick. Keep track of how often your dog vomits and let your vet know.

Instinct: One theory is that this unusual dog behavior is just instinct. Dogs in the wild are natural omnivores who eat meat and plants, so domesticated dogs naturally gravitate towards plant material too, says Purdue University College of Veterinary Medicine. Another theory is that wild dogs would eat plant material in the stomach of their prey, so they developed a taste for it.

Behavioral issues: Dogs can develop obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) regarding the grass. (I suspect that my Lulu falls into this category. She’s pretty determined during those lawn-gobbling excursions.) In the majority of cases, Monroe says this is no reason for concern. To correct the behavior, she recommends reducing your dog’s grazing time.

Basket muzzles restrict grass guzzling, too. In severe cases, she recommends consulting a certified veterinary behaviorist for advice. Otherwise, let them stop to smell — and chomp — the greenery.

“If not they are not vomiting and not destructive, I say let them enjoy it,” Monroe says.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated with new information since it was first published in October 2013.

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All very straightforward it seems.

But I suspect there may be just a few who found this post revealing.

Day Eight, again, of Tom and Chica’s walk.

Yours truly can’t count!

For my previous post was entitled Day Eight etc. and this one is also called Day Eight.

Ah well, it’s the content that counts!

Which is to say that the next three days are, again, devoted to Tom’s walk along GR7.

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Day 8: Cerra de la Fantasia to Benacoaz 16k

By Tom and Chica, 27th January, 2020.

Written by Tom’s wife.

Authors note: Because we have had such a long weather delay, I have decided to number only the days that Tom and Chica actually walk otherwise it is going to give a very unrealistic idea of how long it takes. That is why today is Day 8 and the last walking day was originally Day 10 (but is now Day 7). I have updated all the blog references to correspond.

We were up with the lark this morning. Earlier in fact, as it was still dark but we were keen after such a long rain delay. We left the village in fog and went in and out of the sun and mist all the way up to the start point miles into the forest. It was still murky there too and we didn’t hang around as there was a gathering of hunters. Their dogs were in trailers, barking with excitement as this is probably the only time they ever get let out of their cages. But what happens to them after the end of the season next week? I can’t bear to think about it. But that’s why we’re doing this – so onwards and upwards my faithful duo!

After coming out of the forest onto the road, the trees gave way to scrub and the track roughly followed the same route as the road. The mist made it hard to get a feel for the surrounding landscape at first but then as the mist became patchy there were glimpses of the majestic valley and surrounding mountains – a truly spectacular view but impossible to capture on a phone camera.

The track crossed the road and descended to the river – Rio de Ubrique – which heads towards the town of the same name. After a bit of a clamber up a steep, wet, rocky and rather unsavoury path between agricultural outbuildings, we popped out right next to the town sign.

It was a pleasant stroll through the comparatively large and bustling town centre. The sun was now properly out and so Tom stopped in a plaza outside the Town Hall and had a coffee while Chica scrounged titbits by breathing in and contriving to look half starved! Carrying on up through the narrow streets, they arrived at the Convento de Capuchinos where a sign to Benacoaz pointed up a cobbled road: the Calzada Romana (Roman Road).

This proved quite tough on the feet as the cobbles were uneven and scattered but after 3.5k it emerged into the village of Bonacoaz, perched on the side of the mountain with vast panoramic views south –  stunning end to today’s beautiful walk.

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I know I have said it before, and undoubtedly I will say it again, but this account of Tom’s walk with his two dogs is astounding! They have been walking for over a week and they are experiencing countryside and more that must be unique to Spain.

Keep it coming!

(And thank you, Gilliwolfe, for penning it.)

Day Eight of Tom and Chica’s walk

Now it gets very interesting!

This is a longer post and with great interest.

For it covers the Park at Los Alcornacales as well as the Spanish cork industry.

As always, the post is a republication of the original and is gratefully offered to my readers.

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Los Alcornacales – cork and pork and much, much more.

By Tom and Chica, 24th January, 2020

Written by Tom’s wife.

So far, during this part of the walk, Tom and Chica have been travelling through the unique habitat of Los Alcornacales. We fell in love with this beautiful area the first time we visited back in 2013. As we are rained off at the moment, I thought I’d take the opportunity to research more about the area, especially the amazing cork oaks which comprise large areas of the forest.

 Granted natural park status in 1989, Natural Park Los Alcornacales occupies a protected area of 170,025 hectares in Andalusia. Soil, moisture and traditional uses have been the main factors in the conservation of the largest productive area of cork trees anywhere on the Iberian Peninsula. Located in the province of Cadiz and part of Malaga (mainly in the municipality of Jimena de la Frontera, where we have just been walking), it runs from the mountains down to the recently created Estrecho Nature Park on the coast and is home to a variety of landscapes, flora, fauna, history and folklore.

This rich diversity is mainly due to the many rivers, streams and reservoirs but also the moisture that comes from the coast. This latter accumulates to form banks of mist in the deep, narrow gorges known as ‘canutos’. In these conditions, the ancient laurel forest flora has flourished. Characterised by smooth, bright leaves, it can make the most of the moisture and limited light that penetrates the alders growing on the edge of the gorges. So, amidst the scent of laurel and the beauty of flowering rhododendrons, you can walk through this dense forest accompanied by the sound of dippers, kingfishers, blackcaps and finches.

Egyptian mongoose
Griffon vulture

In the more clay-rich areas lower down you can see the wild olive tree, cleared from time immemorial to make way for pasture for the region’s most typical livestock, the brown Retinta cow. On the valley sides, the Mediterranean scrub of rockrose, heather, lavender, daphne and hawthorn is perfect for Andalusian deer, as well as buck, roe deer and carnivores such as genets, badgers and also the Egyptian mongoose – the largest population anywhere on the Iberian Peninsula.

Cork production

Los Alcornacales and the surrounding areas are home to the Iberian cork industry. As well as its most well-recognised use as bottle-stoppers, cork is also found in many products from car construction to aeroplane insulation.

The cork oak, quercus suber, is a native of both the northern and southern shores of the Mediterranean. Its age is unknown, but quercus suber or its ancestors have been around for at least 147 million years. It is a prophyte, ie a species adapted to survive fire. While other species rely on seed propagation to survive fires, the cork layer protects the stem of the tree so it only has to regenerate branches. This makes it very well adapted to the fire-prone forest of southern Spain.

Archaeologists have found evidence of tribes actively working with cork oak in northern Africa before 6,000 BC. Early man would have used the various species of oak for fire wood, tools, weapons; and for building as the hunter-gatherers began to settle. Similar evidence has been found in Andalucía and other parts of southern Spain dating back 4,000 years BC or more.

However, it would take a few thousands more years before the special sealant qualities of cork would be utilised. This property is due solely to the presence of one particular constituent: suberin. Suberin is a fatty substance found in the cells of the denser forms of cork which stops the passage of air or liquid.

Cork was probably first used as a sealant in containers by the Greeks and Phoenicians, for wines and other liquids in pottery containers but it would take the invention of the glass bottle, a fairly recent innovation in historical terms, for cork to finally meet glass. Legend claims that Friar Perignon, a French monk, discovered this use for cork on a slender glass bottle neck in the seventeenth century. As news of its efficacy spread, so a new industry appeared.

Cutting the cork is a highly skilled task and requires two years training. It is unusual for a tree to survive ring barking (the bark being removed around the complete circumference) and it needs to be done with care and at the right time. The cutters’ experience tells them how far to cut up the tree to avoid harming it.  Cutting is only legally permitted between 15 June and 15 August which is when gangs roam the oak forests, each of the usually five members having a specific role, from chief cutter to lowly carrier.

These gangs traverse the forest in a nine-year cycle, allowing the trees they cut to regenerate the cork in the intervening period. Their mules roam free in the forest except for the two month harvest period when they trek back and forth between harvest site and cork factory. So expert is their knowledge of the routes that, once loaded, a tap on the back will send them off unaccompanied. The town of Cortes de la Frontera actually holds burro-loading contests at its annual summer feria, with a prize for the most ingenious loading of a burro.

What we see lying curled on the ground is still many stages away from fitting into the neck of a bottle. At the factory the cork is boiled in a vast, deep pool of water, which renders it malleable for flattening and then processing by machine. The cork then goes through several levels of compression, depending on its destination. It emerges as very thin sheets of varying sizes, perhaps thinner than a child’s little finger. It is then checked for quality – the oak trade has five levels, from excellent to poor – and the oak is assigned to an appropriate use.

Most interestingly, however, is how it does reach the bottles we uncork. Bottle corks are stamped out by machines at different widths for wine, champagne and cognac (Spanish cork is treasured by French brandy producers). When they pile up in the dumpers beneath the pressing machines, they look like big wooden pennies. These are graded by quality, and then carefully fed into further compressing machines. Cork makers reckon that it would be a waste of good cork to use it throughout a wine or champagne cork, so lower quality cork is placed in the middle, highest quality at either end, where the cork meets both wine and outside air. These layers are then compressed so tightly we do not even notice that a cork we pull is not one single unit but a compression of up to eight layers crushed together. The finished corks are then dispatched to bottling plants across Europe and beyond.

There have, of course, been concerns about the rise of the plastic cork. Its proponents say that it prevents a bottle being ‘corked’, ie, spoiled, by air penetrating the old-fashioned cork. Its detractors argue that, beyond the aesthetics of levering a wad of white plastic out of your favourite wine, it doesn’t allow the alcohol to breathe naturally. (French brandies breathe so profusely that the distilleries are wreathed in fumes which promote fungi on the roofs and keep nearby cattle happily sozzled year-round.) Yet with even the British supermarket buyer seemingly moving upmarket in their choice of corked drinks, and the Spanish and French keeping their noses in the air over plastic stoppers, it seems the Iberian peninsula can hold on to its two billion euro cork industry yet.

Other uses for cork include flooring. We have some of this in our bathroom at home. A long way from the basic dull cork tiles of old, now it comes in stunning patterns and looks beautiful. It is also sustainable, provides excellent insulation and is lovely and warm to walk on. If I could, I’d floor the whole house with this.

Iberian pigs

The Iberian pig is a traditional breed of the domestic pig (Sus scrofa domesticus) that is native to the Iberian Peninsula and is currently found in herds clustered in the central and southern part of Portugal and Spain. Its origins can probably be traced back to the Neolithic, when animal domestication started.

The most commonly accepted theory is that the first pigs were brought to here by the Phoenicians from the Eastern Mediterranean coast, probably along the old droving tracks one of which our route, the GR7, roughly follows. They interbred with wild boar and this cross gave rise to the ancestors of what are today’s Iberian pigs.

Prized Iberico ham

The production of Iberian pork is deeply rooted to the Mediterranean ecosystem. It is a rare example in world pig farming where the pig contributes so decisively to the preservation of the ecosystem. The Iberian breed is currently one of the few examples of a domesticated breed which has adapted to a pastoral setting where the land is particularly rich in natural resources, in this case acorns from the holm oak, gall oak and cork oak.

The numbers of the Iberian breed had been drastically reduced since 1960 due to several factors such as the outbreak of African swine fever and the lowered popularity of animal fats. In the past few years, however, the production of pigs of the Iberian type has increased to satisfy a renewed demand for top-quality meat and cured products. Now, though, there is controversy over the providence of the highly prized Iberico ham as breeders cash in on the market and produce a similar but much less sustainable product more cheaply, thus threatening this ancient livelihood.

The Iberian pig can be either red or black or in between. In traditional management, animals ranged freely in sparse oak forest (dehesa in Spain, montado in Portugal).  They are constantly on the move and therefore burn more calories than confined pigs. This, in turn, produces the fine bones typical of this kind of jamón ibérico. At least a hectare of healthy dehesa is needed to raise a single pig. True dehesa is a richly diverse habitat with four different types of oak that are crucial in the production of prime-quality ham. The bulk of the acorn harvest comes from the holm oak (Quercus ilex) but also the Pyrenean oak (Quercus pyrenaica) and Portuguese or gall oak (Quercus lusitanica) and the late cork oak season, which extends the acorn-production period from September almost to April.

Some recent research from Cordoba university concluded {the translation isn’t perfect but you get the idea}:

‘The couple Iberian pig and dehesa has proved to be very effective; so much [so] the Iberian pig is called the dehesa jewel, but the first needs this agro-ecosystem to reach its highest quality properties (organoleptic and nutritional ones); and the second needs a clear commercial differentiation for Iberian pork and cured products in order to receive a high price to maintain and conserve the dehesa. Spanish authorities should be responsible for protecting this traditional system from fraud and unfair competition. In this way, farmers economy could be enough to conserve this unique ecosystem and its values for the whole society.’*

Whether you eat pork or not you may still believe as I do, that this traditional and sustainable way of producing it is better for the ecosystem and the pigs than intensive farming on a huge scale. And we love seeing the black pigs snuffling through the forest. I hope it can be protected along with the rest of this remarkable and stunningly beautiful area.

ooOOoo

Well I must say that this is a tremendous post and a privilege to be able to republish it.

Gilliwolfe did an incredible job in composing the post and inserting all the photographs. Well done!

Well done!

 

A further word about natural supplements

Stick to the major brands and you should be alright!

Following my republication of the article in The Conversation two days ago, I have now come to a conclusion. That is that if one sticks to major brands or supplements made in the USA then one should be perfectly safe.

Margaret of Tasmania made a recommendation to use ConsumerLab.com and it appears a brilliant suggestion.