Planting for the next Century

 

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Where Should I Plant this Sapling?

 

They say a man plants

A tree, not for himself, but

For his descendants. Well,

I agree, and have seen

The benefits of a mulberry

Planted by a man I never met,

More than a century past.

 

As the sentinel starts to sag

I’ve saved a sapling from

Between its roots and would

Take the next step for my

Generation before it falls.

 

But where would it prosper?

I fear the weather

Will not favour the same spot

As its forefather for much longer

Than half its lifetime,

And ere it gives fullest fruits

Will stand in different clime.

 

So, where should I plant this sapling

In a changing world?

 

Where its roots can anchor the eroding soil

As farmers harvest down to the last?

 

On a slope so the children of this village

Can reach the lower limbs

To stain fingers and lips on

Summer afternoons, should

Any remain after rains have

Deserted the landscape?

 

In a ditch to take some advantage

Of rich dampness as the rest

Of fields blister in the sun?

 

Or on a high knoll to stay dry

While surrounding ground soaks

Under incessant thunderstorms,

Turning this aridness instead wet?

 

It seems a bet to hedge;

I should plant a score

From hill to shore.

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Oasis

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Oasis

 

I rested upon some leaves of grass this morning;

Dabbling as the park drakes dipped in the rippling

Pond shimmering sunlight reflections against green:

The distant traffic as irrelevant as desert sand dunes

Beyond the screen, for all the notice the ducks took,

And us, aware of such, see what they mean

By oasis.

 

Escaping the City

Though the rains have returned, it’s still kinda nice enough to get out of the city these days.

And it’s so nice to do so.

The orchids are up in the Valdorba, and the thyme blooming.

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Unfortunately, the rains have increased the erosion in many places where there’s not enough vegetation to hold the soil. This bunch of thyme is clinging on, but you can see the rocks breaking away from the side of the gully behind it.

And yes, that is recently burnt vegetation behind the orchid… some farmers just don’t get that scrub serves to hold their soil from washing away down to the Ebro and silt it up, which they complain about later when the farms on the floodplain… flood.

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Hopefully the other plants can grow and help slow down further breaks.

 

Here’s a poem I wrote recently about getting into the countryside.

 

Birdsong Outside the City

 

Something calls, unseen, to me

Hidden in a willow tree of a copse

Alongside a swift river tugging

Tangled dangling fronds and

Flooding islands, a place

Providing people only invitation,

 

Unheard above the cars of

The city where blackbirds scream,

 

A small, soft, birdsong twittering

Like a signal, reverberating in

This stillness, resonating

 

As far as childhood; deeper,

Into bones, birth, bringing

Relief like a lost boy seeing

Family, safety, a memory.

 

A song saying stay, for whenever

Could one return?

 

 

 

Spring Rains

So spring is here. Finally. We had a long rainy few months here in Spain, such that our reservoirs, at historic lows, are now nearly all full and actually incapable of keeping back the flood waters and we are seeing huge damage in many places because rivers are overflowing downstream.

Now, as some clean up the mud, calculate the damage, we upstream are enjoying the sun and the sudden rise in temperatures to the twenties (˚C).  The bees are out in force, the house martins came back two weeks ago, last weekend we heard cuckoos, and the tadpoles are growing.

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Dandelions have already been through their first generation of flowers while we were inside

 

Of course, even if the rain had continued, the birds would have returned, the tadpoles kept on growing, if a little more slowly – and certain of having their pools remain as long as they need them!

Here’s a poem I write while holed up in a cafe with the rain coming down on the horse chestnut tree outside…

Undenied

 

The rain does not negate the spring

It only shrouds it in its gentle veil,

Perhaps dampen the flowers dazzle,

Keep crickets and butterflies undercover

Have bees seem few and far between

Make blackbird evensong sound more melancholy

 

But still the sunlight arrives, seeping

Through clouds to soil rising heat,

Sucking sap up trunks and twigs so

Bursting buds dangle like green dew jewels

Against damp dark boughs, and grubs

Break forth to chew upon them, feeding

Birds hidden on eggs heated, hatching, and

A season that will not be denied.

Deer “Management” in Ireland: wolves would do it better…

I just wanted to comment on a couple of recent articles in the Irish press.

The first is a call for a large harvest in Kerry, because local farmers and golf course owners are “at their wits end” due to deer damaging their property.

https://www.independent.ie/business/farming/forestry-enviro/environment/call-for-major-cull-as-deer-causing-havoc-farmers-and-property-owners-say-killarney-deer-are-ruining-lands-36773544.html

 

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Hey, you! Get off of my lawn!

 

On social media where this article is discussed, I’ve seen a few calls for the wolf to be reintroduced to help in such situations. Although I am firmly (see other posts I’ve written here) in favour of a wolf reintroduction to Ireland, I think the area around Killarney is not necessarily the best place to start. As I said before, Achill or Donegal would be better to start with. On the other hand, where there are no wolves, humans have to do their job. They can’t just leave things be. But that’s precisely what happens most of the time.

The other article clearly demonstrates this…

https://www.independent.ie/business/farming/rural-life/starving-deer-shot-after-others-were-found-starved-to-death-36763613.html

Two thirds of a small herd of around 45 deer have had to be culled as they are starving, on an island in the Kerry lakes, where four deer already died. They’d been there for a decade without any control on their increasing numbers and now there’s hardly anything to eat for them.

This is a microcosm of the problems we have on the island of Ireland. We let the situation get out of hand. Anyone with an eye in their head and a few neurons stitched together can see that the problems coming down the road, but nothing is done. Until the situation becomes untenable and something just has to be done. And the reaction is usually drastic.

The same can be said about deer management in general.

We have been hearing for years and years, since before I finished my PhD in this field 18 years ago, that we need a central countrywide, if not island-wide, management team – or just a manager – with statutory responsibilities and powers to do the job properly.

I put my name forward for it in discussions with COFORD, which had funded my project on studying the deer herd in Wicklow, and which was keen to support some logical steps towards avoiding the problems the forestry sectors were having. When a Inter-agency Deer Policy Group was formed and put out a request for proposals for a “Deer Management Policy Vision” in 2011 I put pen to paper and described what I believed needed to happen. Lots of other stakeholders did the same. We repeated the process in 2012.

What came of it?

Nothing.

Just the same old story.

And now the most important herd in the country, of genetically pure native red deer, is under threat of a large harvest because the local farmers and golf course owners are up in arms. While they might be exaggerating – a farmer suggested harvesting 300 deer, though where this figure came from is a mystery – and complaining about droppings on the greens seems a little pedantic (and could be fixed by a deer fence around the course if they were willing to completely eliminate deer from their fairways, which considering they spend €20,000 a year at the moment would probably be a good investment), it is symptomatic of what happens when there is a lack of clear management goals and action towards achieving them.

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well, the deer keep the lawn trimmed, and they do less damage than the donkeys… perhaps they’re a boon for golf fairways?

In the article about the starving deer, The National Parks and Wildlife Service is quoted as saying that balancing the needs of deer and ecology is “challenging.” That sentence, right there, is a stark example of what we are up against in Ireland.

Using wolves to reduce a deer population should be far from necessary in these situations – a relatively small number of deer in close proximity to/easy access from busy public amenities and livestock farms – but from what one farmer states it is costing him currently (€10,000 a year) it would actually be cheaper to have wolves in the area, even factoring in the probable damages to sheep herds it might entail.

Of course, they’d have to redesign Killarney to cope with all the extra ecotourism traffic…

 

 

Spring has sprung… or has it started?

While Spring officially started at the beginning of the month back home in Ireland, in Spain we are still in the middle of winter, with the next season only set to start in another month on the 21st of March.

 

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the walls of Pamplona dusted with snow

It is, I admit, the height of skiing season, but even here, the daffodils are shooting up and will soon burst buds, the crocuses in the parks are spotting the grass, and I even saw a few daisy and dandelions the other day. The trees are mostly still bare, but showers of catkins have popped out on a few.

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my daughter gathering snow for a snowball fight before it melts

Mostly, though, you can just smell it. The air is different. Despite the snow that we had last week, there’s a feeling of spring that even humans living in a city still experience.

Spring is here, as far as I am concerned.

And summer isn’t far behind. For I saw the bats take their first flight of the year and it reminded me of a poem I wrote last year on the subject of signs of summer, more than spring. It’s perhaps a little premature to be thinking about butterflies and bees, but since I haven’t posted a poem in a while, here it is.

 

Signs of Summer

 

There are many signs of summer coming, here,

Starting perhaps with cuckoo calls and swallow sighting

And the return of the swifts, or

The first flight of the bats at twilight,

The scent of honeysuckle through open balconies and

The abundance of butterflies on the garden lavender,

Some are specific to Spain, like closing the blinds

Against sunlight to keep the house cool, and

Sleeping with the windows open all night

Pouring water to fill the swimming pool and others

Seen only in this city: setting up the tombola,

Putting the fences around the flowers in the park

In preparation for the festivals and digging up

The road to get it ready for the running of the bulls,

And lastly, putting up with the stench of piss

Upon opening up the street door every morning.

Easter Island: What if they saw it coming?

George Monbiot has an interesting, if depressing, article out this week about the British Govt. doing more or less nothing to solve the environmental crises we are facing.

We all know the shit is approaching the fan, and it will surely hit it at speed and force should we so blithely as we currently are, continue to do our business as usual on the planet.

I have used in Easter Island as an example in my biology classes for more than a decade now. I had my students read use the essay Twilight at Easter by Jared Diamond in The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2005 before he I read his book Collapse.

It’s an instructive, if depressing, lesson on how people can undermine their own future by going with the business as usual way of doing things, even when that means short-term gains lead to long-term destruction.

People often wonder what the person who cut the last tree on Easter Island thought as he did so.

And the answer of course, is that he didn’t cut down a big tree, he only cut a small tree that he needed to cut to cook his meal, and it looked just like all the other bushes around, so he didn’t think very much of it at all – the big trees had been gone for a while.

We always assumed those poor sods were ignorant, that they didn’t have the benefit of hindsight like we do. If we, with their example, do the same stupid thing, then we would be so many times dumber than they were.

However, perhaps the Eastern Islanders weren’t all that stupid. I mean, perhaps all of them were not that stupid. The ones who weren’t so blind were nearly stymied by the majority of stupid.

I’m sure some saw it coming.

It’s clear that they didn’t do very much to stop it.

More importantly than asking what the guy who cut the last tree, we should ask what went through the mind of the guy on Easter Island who was shouting out to stop the cutting of all the trees. The guy(s and gals) who were predicting the future, pointing out the disappearance of the birds they used to eat, lamenting the old state of the canoes that could not be replaced and meant dolphin and deep-sea fish were off the menu, etc.

You can almost imagine a Monty Python-esque scene where the proto-ecologist says to the crowd that the big statures aren’t going to help get more food or help make canoes to catch tuna, and one of the stone masons shouts back say to him, “Shut up, you, or I’ll bloody throttle you – I’ve a good job here making them statues.”

If it were indeed case that some knew the collapse of their society and lives was imminent, well, it would make Easter Island an even more instructive, and depressing, lesson for us today as we face the guardians of the status quo.

Even more so than the statues of Easter Island, the status quo is a hard stone to roll off us.

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“But if we cut down all the trees, Bob, we’ll be fucked!”
“Shut your face, BigNose! I’ll look much more enigmatic surrounded by grass.”

Climate Breakdown: explaining it is easy when the examples abound

I’m teaching Climate Change in my first-year classes at the moment.

No matter what the topic, I always like to use examples to make things clearer to the kids – references to things in their own lives. I often refer to TV programs, movies, songs.

However, some of my references are dated – movies made before they were born, which, while classics, haven’t always been seen. In my English SL class last week, when describing the meaning of “a the height of one’s career,” I used a TV presenter, who first shot to prominence on the Spanish equivalent of Who Wants to be a Millionaire? The show was called 50 for 15, referring to 50Million Pesetas – a currency that disappeared when the kids were toddlers.

But teaching Climate Change, I was struck by the fact that I don’t have to reach back very far to come up with an example of what I mean when I talk about the changes that are happening/ could happen in the future.

For example, California – it was burning a few weeks ago; latest news out of there is a terrible mudslide. Opposite types of natural disasters in a short timeframe.

 

Even here in this very city, though, the oscillations are becoming ever more obvious. And rapid.

I described how Spain was experiencing a drought late last year. Reservoirs were down to 10 or 20%. On the 3rd of January, I was in a jeans and a sweater, enjoying the sunshine. I was sent a video of a snake the same week.

This poor frog was squashed by a car just outside the village that night – what the hell was a frog doing out on Jan 3?

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On the 5th, it started raining, then snowing.

I posted this photo on my facebook page, joking how I’d always wanted a garden with a little river flowing through it.

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It was gushing out of the gully under the rocks you can see behind the fence in this photo.

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And some of it was filling the groundwater so much that I’d springs popping up in the grass.

This looks like a cowpat, but it’s actually mud pushed out of the ground by the water flow.

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Pamplona was covered in snow.

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The aqueduct of Noain outside Pamplona.

The reservoirs refilled past 50% in a few days.

And now it’s mild again.

So the kids get it. They understand Climate Breakdown. They can hardly not when it is staring us in the face like the barrel of a shotgun.

Question is, what can they do about it?

Because the previous generation who knew about it haven’t been able to do very much, yet.

It’s time to put warning labels on meat.

I just signed this pledge, to reduce the amount of meat I eat.

https://secure.avaaz.org/campaign/en/meatless_day_loc/

The organisers seem to be mostly concerned about the slaughter of so many animals to feed us gluttons.

It’s true, that 56 billion animals are treated fairly shittily every year. But that’s not quite my main motivation…

I want to reduce global climate change impacts.

I watched this video from the satirical character, Jonathon Pie, the other day, about how people are upset that the British Govt don’t think animals are sentient, when of course everyone loves their dogs so much they dress them up in shiny winter jackets nowadays. He was taking the piss because most of the same people don’t give a toss about the environment or wildlife.

 

And he’s right.

But hey, if people stop eating meat because they can’t stomach the idea of a cute little piggy getting stuck with a knife and hearing that death squeal, well, that’s all to the good.

At this stage of the game, motivation does not matter. Only the end result.

Just like making petrol very expensive in Europe makes the emissions here not quite so fucking outlandish as in America.

So in order to save the planet’s bacon, as it were, we need to reduce meat consumption, and we can either make it expensive – like cigarettes- and/or make it unpalatable – also like cigarettes.

So how do we do the latter?

We put labels on meat that explicitly say, “Did you know that this pig (photo of cute pig) went through this (photo of bloody gutted corpse) to make this tasty ham?”

Perhaps followed by the sentence – “If you are okway with this, then go right ahead and enjoy the tasty meat…”

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This will put off quite a few people.

Myself excluded, of course. I always have the actual animal in mind when I’m eating them. I’ve seen dead animals, seen animals die, had a hand in that death myself. That doesn’t make me a bad person, it just makes me a realist. It’s the folk who haven’t seen, and worse, don’t want to see, or even think about, the death that went before the packaging and purchase, who are the problem here.

It is not often their fault, though – the supermarkets and food companies have purposefully separated the nastiness from the tastiness. Who sees the butcher at work in their supermarket?

In Spain, you can still see dead rabbits, fur on, in the butcher’s counter, along with pig heads, baby pigs, chickens hanging with heads and legs on. That’s the way it should be.

But that doesn’t mean we aren’t fed a pile of shite at the same time.

This advert is running on Spanish TV at the moment. Watch it. It’s 20 seconds.

I have eaten this ham. It’s nice enough. But eff me, what the hell is that ad all about?

There’s not even a shot of the farm, never mind the pig.

Associating a cooked ham with strawberries, or mother’s milk is far from fucking natural, folks, let’s just make that clear.

Natural is seeing the animal on the farm. Natural is seeing it being butchered.

If you don’t want to see the latter, then no problem – just stay away from meat.

And we’ll all be happy – except the food companies.

 

Supporting WWF

Belated happy new year, everyone.

Another year rolls around, another calendar goes up on the wall. If you don’t have yours up yet, why not get this one?

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I got it for my office wall, where I am writing now.  And I also got this nice card with a note from Monika Kull, thanking me for renewing my WWF membership.

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As you know, I have pledged to donate 10% of the royalties from my novels to this NGO which works to reduce and even stop species extinctions around the globe.

You should donate whatever you can, too. If you think your pet is important, imagine how much more important it is to save entire species which will otherwise vanish from our lands – from our television screens, even.

And how much less beautiful would our calendars be then, too?