Men I didn’t want to sleep with. The end and the beginning. Chapter 5.
I once met an extraordinary man called Luis, who made me promise I’d write a book about all the other extraordinary men I’ve also met (platonically), and title it “Men I didn’t want to sleep with”.
This is the end, and also the beginning. This is the story of Luis.
When I was working at a raptor research centre in Ireland, a colleague told me about the volunteer work she did in her home country of Spain, at Doñana in Andalucia. She told me about Luis, this wise man with a big white beard, who started ringing and monitoring bird species populations. She told me how they crawled through mud up to their chests to reach very small birds in nests under bridges, as well as rather aggressive, not-so-small birds (for which they had to wear special glasses to avoid having their eyes pecked out), and how they climbed tall trees to catch eagle chicks, put numbered rings on their feet and return them back to the nest. To me, these stories sounded like a description of paradise.
Years later, I happened to be on a mission to deliver a human organ to a destination a few hundred kilometres from Doñana Park and, thanks to my biologist friend, I got the opportunity to work with Luis.
We met for the first time at seven in the morning in a bar in El Rocio, a town of unreal beauty that looked like the far west. A town of small white houses, lakes with pink flamingos and dazzling white sandy (not concrete) streets with very few cars, where people mainly travel on foot or on horseback.
Luis is more or less 70/80 years old, (some guys in the bar told me this but he never confirmed it, because he is young at heart and therefore ageless) with a long beard and white hair, intelligent eyes and a lithe, agile physique. He introduced himself saying “For me Doñana is the preservation of species and the environment. Making your profession a religion, a philosophy and a way of life, this is what I call working.”
With camera, binoculars, notebook and jeep as extensions of Luis’ body, after a hearty breakfast, we set off for two days in the blazing sun, listening to his incredibly interesting and detailed ornithology lectures, swimming in the mud, climbing rooftops with our bare hands, leaning on lopsided ladders inside crumbling houses, climbing tall trees, taking birds from nests, photographing, counting flocks of birds while watching them through binoculars, and noting, noting everything.
A typical example of a note: 10/06/2021, 6-day-old Cernicalo, nest 4 of the abandoned house, three siblings, ring number x3471, x3472, x3473.
Luis keeps notebooks in which he’s been writing the same types of notes hundreds of times a day, for more than 65 years. It was back when he was a little boy that Luis started thinking about where the birds came from and where they were going. He knew they were heading for Africa, but how many of them? How many would survive the journey? How many would come back? Driven by curiosity, he started making little rings and writing reference numbers on them. He then found the nests, put the rings on the birds’ legs and wrote down the reference numbers and dates in his notebook. Every year he would monitor which ones came back and the future generations they produced.
Before long, Luis was building nests and doing his work on a grand scale. Having learned of his work that had been born out of passion and carried out in secret, the Doñana managers decided to give him an official assignment monitoring species and assigned him a dedicated team to both learn what he was doing and help him in his mission.
Thanks to Luis, Doñana Park was thereby the first European park to monitor bird numbers, migrations and species trends. Thanks to Luis, little by little, other places around the world started joining in, reporting where the ringed birds were arriving. They also started to ring birds themselves, and centres of interest working to reduce the risk of endangered bird species going extinct sprang up.
Doñana Park offered young Luis a scholarship to study ornithology at university. Luis packed his bags and went to the city. At the end of his first day, he returned to his rented accommodation where the landlady asked him what he was going to do after he graduated. Luis replied “I’m going to ring and monitor the number of birds in Doñana Park”. Shocked by his own answer, Luis packed his suitcase and abandoned his studies to return to his beloved park.
Although Luis has been retired for years, every day, as for the past 65 years, he still gets up at 7 am to drive to the park in his jeep, which he unlocks and enters like a king, to work with volunteers, ring birds, teach and record everything in his notebook.
When he sees a flock in flight, he looks through the binoculars and then writes down “47 common buzzards, 14:05”. He learned how to count the number of birds in a flock, at a glance, by spending years at a table throwing handfuls of rice in the air, and estimating how many grains of rice there were. He would count hundreds of grains one by one to find out how wrong he’d been. He continued doing this for years. And now he can throw a handful of rice in the air and accurately tell you, at a glance, how many grains there are. As well as how many birds are flying in a flock.
Luis is amused by the current park staff who are employed to ring the birds, who use five people to do the work of one, reach the nests via electric ladders and wear helmets in case they fall. Luis climbed on rooftops, ladders and trees with me, with bare hands, not afraid of anything.
For Luis, life is very simple. Even though humans dress up and purport to be superior species, they are just animals dominated by survival instincts and the need to reproduce. Girls who choose older and wealthier partners are simply animals securing resources for their offspring. Men cheat more, simply because they have plenty of cheap spermatozoa, compared to precious female eggs. Ambitious generals are just animals afraid of losing their daily meals.
“Luis, how did you realise your wife was the one?”. “I knew it when I saw her one day in a beautiful blue dress, as a bird would tell by its partner’s plumage or song”. For him, all it takes to impress someone is to grow hair, or a beard, accumulate resources or put a fresh red flower behind your ear.
During our adventures, I used to tell Luis about all my extraordinary friends, and he told me that it would be touching for a man to know that I feel such admiration for them even though I do not choose them as partners and that being animals, men live to be admired by a woman like me. He said “Promise me this: next year you will come here with a camera and binoculars. And then you will have to write a book about the men you told me about, and title it: “Los hombres que no quise follar” (=Men I didn’t want to sleep with). It would be an absolute bestseller. I swear to you”. I responded, “But, Luis, sex has nothing to do with it”. He came back with, “You are a beautiful and intelligent woman, we are animals, sex and survival have everything to do with it”.
And since great men can’t help but be obeyed, I wrote this and other articles about the various extraordinary men I’ve platonically encountered.
To be oneself means to suffer, to fight tooth and nail. It means accepting that you are not equal to your peers, and are standing alone in your shadow. It means observing yourself as you colour your shape outside the lines of the pre-set design and feel out of place, grotesque and inaccurate. It means receiving painful criticism because no clothing can hide your naked essence. It means being rejected while you are as vulnerable as a child who knows it cannot change to be loved. It means living the only life worth living. It means being free. It means shedding the heavy mask you have been given, taking off from the ground, and flying.