Where the lentisk thrives

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Where the lentisk thrives.

The place: Tal-Liebru on the small Maltese island of Comino.

The time of year: A dry, hot, windy Sunday afternoon in mid July

To the unappreciative eye, the landscape in this photo may be dismissed as arid scrubland. A dry, soil-poor area of land, devoid of shade: the sorry remains of formerly proud rubble walls standing sentinel over fields that once were. Reminiscent of the drought-ridden scenes from the dust-bowls in the westerns of our childhood: a bit of tumbleweed and the ominous sound of a rattlesnake the only missing items to complete the scene.

But the reality is far from this depressing description. For, upon close observation, one sees nature slowly reclaiming the scarred land and using its amazing powers of regeneration to make a comeback which is nothing short of breathtaking.

For the beauty of this picture comes from the huge number of naturally generated lentisk shrubs (Pistacia lentiscus РDeru in Maltese) which dot the landscape. Former agricultural fields which have lost all their soil to erosion are being slowly repopulated by this hardy indigenous shrub which not only provides sustenance for birds and other native fauna but is also managing to expand into increasing patches of year-round greenery: a luxury not to be taken for granted on a rainfall-dependent parched rock which does not receive any rainfall for five to six months a year.

Those familiar with Comino during the winter and spring know all about the magnificent colours of its rich garigue, but to be able to observe an expanding population of indigenous evergreen shrubs which is making a steady comeback in a tough environment without any human intervention whatsoever is nothing short of breathtakingly fascinating. Fast-forward this a few decades and one can actually dream of an island which does not turn completely into a brown landscape every summer but retains a natural green cover twelve months a year.

I have just spent five happy days on Comino and I count this image as the most inspiring one of the many photos I took. For, above all, it shows the restorative power of nature left to its own devices. No large scale projects and irrigation systems: just remove the humans and the greenery starts to come back, even in the most adverse conditions.

A word of warning for those who might be enticed to drop in for a visit aroused by this short entry: do not go there expecting a woodland. What I have described needs to be appreciated from the camera-eye perspective. Cameras are capable of capturing beauty in a different way from our wide-angle eyes and help us sit back and enjoy still imagery which we would generally tend to ignore when moving unawares though a landscape.

Comino is still far from being the tree-covered Croatian island type which we are all familiar with. Notwithstanding this, the greenery is there. In brave little pockets, or in low lying clumps. Surviving the heat, the thirst, the wind, the sea spray, the dust and human depradations. And that’s what I like most about Comino. Its capacity to remain defiant in spite of all the odds!