3 March, 2020
Two things happen here in March. The first is that one morning we will awake to a carpet of yellow dust on the terrace and the roof. The cars will turn yellow, and they will run on yellow roads. This is the pollen of the pine trees that powders us for a fortnight every year. After a couple of weeks, the pollen disappears, and I will be able to walk over to my table on the terrace without leaving a line of footprints behind me.
The second thing is the processionària.
A grand word, isn’t it! Processionària! It’s a word that should refer to the processions of Holy Week in Seville where hundreds of the faithful form lines and carry their statue of the Virgin solemnly through the streets. Those are the famous processions, and we have them here too in Palma.
But no. The processionària I am talking about now is a caterpillar that lives here in Mallorca. We are very aware of it before Easter because at this time of year these insects leave the trees where they have spent the winter. They form long processions on the paths in the woods. Hence their name. They make for some hole or shelter in the earth where they can pass the hot summer months.
The lines can be as long as three yards. The insects move in procession down the pine tree where they were born and then, still in procession, move forwards till they find a place underground to hide. Their nest in the branches of the pine looks like a mass of cobwebs and is about the size of a football. Mallorcans used to take a shotgun to destroy the nests, but today quieter methods are used.
I came across a procession of these caterpillars this morning. It was over three feet long. They were bravely trying to cross a road on our hill. The line was still intact, in good marching formation, and it was making for the other side of the road. How often do we, people and insects alike, have plans and intentions that lead us astray! Why did the processionària want to cross over the road? This side was good enough. Why are we all plagued with such ambitions? Sooner or later a car would come.
By the way, these insects can cause great harm. Any touch of their fine hair leaves a painful rash on the skin, as many Mallorcans know to their cost. This is why the nests are removed. Parents warn their children about them. They are as feared as the wolf in the wood in the fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm.
Despite their reputation, I hoped this particular procession would be safe. Seeing them heading for danger was like watching a friend who insists on marrying someone who you know will be a disaster for them. You can do nothing about it.
Worried about their fate, I returned to the spot about half an hour later. As I feared, those at the head of the line had been crushed by the wheels of a passing car. The rest, the majority, had turned back and regained their formation. They were making their way forward as close to the kerb as they could. What sense! They must have accepted their losses and then carried on. Had their former leader been headstrong in making for the road? Did he make some miscalculation or was it just an unfortunate mistake? Anyway, the rest kept calm and carried on. No doubt they managed to find a way up the kerb and over the pavement to the shelter of the woods where they can reach some place to rest in safety.
I did my best to observe them carefully. Gilbert White would have been pleased!
Well, there it is. A couple of glimpses of the spring here in Mallorca. If you ever come in March, it’s worth leaving the beach and the bar. Just head for the pine woods.