Author Archives: davidjmobrien

Universal Connections

 

 

Universal Connections

 

I sit upon a hotel terrace,

Gazing out at grebes

Diving between white and yellow

Water lilies, trying to grasp our universe.

 

This Dark Matter they say

Gives gravity to our galaxy

Must mingle with us here on Earth,

Else why do I feel such linking

With other species, the lake life teeming?

 

I am entwined with these trees

More than merely exchanging molecules.

 

Reincarnation is reality. A part of me

Exists outside myself, with which I can commune;

 

Fragments of my former lives abound in this pond,

Fine portions of prior bodies populate the forest.

There’s a strand of me in that serene swan

Stately sliding, signets drawn behind like magnets.

These geese gliding in on the twilight and I

Share atoms. The stones under our feet,

Still throb with the vitality of ancient seas;

Our electrons once spun in the same shells

And yet retain the memory of those orbits.

 

Since the energy of starbursts vibrates on in ourselves,

These connections are impossible to erase,

We are one: our earth, the stars and empty reaches,

Really only fractals of an elementary existence.

 

 

I wrote that a couple of months ago while staying in this hotel, having breakfast on this terrace. Just to show there are positive poems going round my head too!

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It was in the Netherlands, and the lake was man-made, created when dredging to make higher land elsewhere in town. The motorway went past behind those trees, but it was still wonderfully quiet and peaceful, and the waterfowl didn’t care how their home was made. It shows that nature can come back strong when given a chance, even in the midst of our habitations.

Here’s another in the same vein, one of a few I was inspired to write that week…

As you can see from the photo at the bottom, it’s hard not to be inspired in that light.

 

Twinned with an Egret

 

They say every electron has a twin;

In space and time, while even atoms

Exist in two separate places at once.

Well, that would explain this affinity

For egrets and owls and willow trees.

Motes might not have the energy to

Escape gravity, but bits of bodies split:

My twins vibrate in other entities.

 

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The Patience of a Gardener

Zen and the Art of Gardening

 

What better training for meditation

Than training vines along a trellis,

Winding each tendril through the

Frame, gently threading the trails

Under other branches to dangle

Just enough in the sun to shoot more,

The stems too short enforce a wait:

Patience until they can be tucked in,

Behind a stronger stick, weeks or longer

But soon, after some years, just, fronds

Hide the structure; lost like thoughts

Through the training, green grace gaining.

 

Acceptance of constraints and learning

Yet, for every yin a yang and yearning

To grow we know some still unable

To conceive the concept of what a

Plant implies, portents to be, and see

The straining ungainly, slicing at green

With a pair of shears, wreaking

Destruction tsunami like, leaving

Tender tendrils to push forth once

Again, taking time to train, regain

The sense of self through restraint.

 

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The idea is to make this concrete retaining wall disappear beneath ivy and honeysuckle. Somebody with a shears thinks that the best way is to cut back the new growth to stimulate more growth…

it’s an ongoing situation. Time is hopefully on my side…

 

The Man with the Shears

 

Seems the man with the shears will always win…

 

We coax and encourage fronds to sprout forth,

Watching, enjoying each tiny new leaf burst

In a verdant self-creating sculpture, we wonder

What shapes it will take as we wait while it grows

 

Doing our best to protect from frost, but we know

The pruner needs pounce only once a year

Undoing all our efforts with his sharpened shears,

 

And we must go back to coaxing, and just hoping

The trunk grows a little stronger in between setbacks,

Each year more resistant to withstand these attacks.

 

 

 

 

 

International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples.

 

At the End of the Days

 

Ultimately, if our civilization

Can’t continue without further

Ecological destruction and

Genocide of tribal peoples,

It’s not very fucking advanced.

 

5/8/18

I wrote this the other day after Reading Gary Snyder’s The Old Ways.

Then I heard that August 9th is the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples.

Here’s a video.

The main point about allowing people to live the way they always have is to understand that they are not “Stone Age,” nor primitive, and that if they have not already become part of our globalised civilisation it is because they do not want to, not because they’re too ignorant to know better. They do know better. They have heard of the ways of the world outside and they have rejected it. Sometimes because of a very real fear for their lives.

Second thing is to understand that the land they live on, if it belongs to anyone, belongs to them. We need to stay the hell out of there – and that mostly  includes loggers, miners, ranchers, palm oil producers… all those nice people…

Here’s another video. As it asks, how long could you last alone in the forest?

On the other hand, how long do you think it would take one of the Yanomami kids, currently being affected by a measles epidemic,  to figure out how to play FIFA on your playstation?

Five minutes, is the answer to both….

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As Snyder said back in the 70s, to be able to survive off what the land under your feet provides is a sign of extreme advancement. Our society can’t do that. it needs so much more…

here’s another poem.

 

Equilibrium

 

Balance comes in all we observe;

It is a fundament of our Universe:

Strong forces and electromagnetism

Keep atoms unified or flimsy, gravity

Balanced with a satellite’s speed keep it

Spinning instead of spiralling away.

So too on our planet, as the mountains

Rise, so the earth underneath goes ever

Deeper. In our humanity we see the same

Climbing by pushing down others: leisure

Comes only by enslaving or exploiting,

Creating peasants and proletariats;

Cites spread by denuding vast areas outside;

And imperialism depends upon

Ecological destruction.

5/8/18

 

I donate 10% of my royalties on the Silver Nights Trilogy to Survival International.

The planet needs them, and they need us.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Lepidopterist’s Dream

Turning on a mountain track

We stumble upon a lepidopterist’s dream:

Butterflies abounding, bouncing from

Bramble to buttercup, clover to cornflower;

A dancing profusion of colour in heat

Haze of August morning amplified

By the addition of dragonflies, damsel

Flies, hoverflies and bumblebees, with

A host of other insects humming and

It occurred to me, that there were once

Such sights in my own suburbs, along

The hedgerows down below and beyond.

That once everywhere outside the city

Centre was an entomologist’s dream, and

The countryside the same for ornithologists

Now they lament the stark scenes

Silent callows empty of corncrakes, and

The bees barely seen in park trees,

Moths no longer litter windscreens

Of a night drive, and these hills, though

Still roamed by pigs and roe, seems so

Similar to those of South Africa, they should

Also hold antelope, lions and leopards

And once they did, until all were lost,

Along with the bison, auroch, and rhinos.

 

As for the sea, it also should be teeming

They say in the seventeenth century,

Thrashing tails were seen from shore.

Now trawlers roam for days, and only

Coral reefs this century remain, as

The bramble banks of the sea. Yet

How long can its rainbow dance continue?

We watch their wonderful choreography

Holding on to those tiny joys to keep going

But the world is crumbling, we are bumbling

While the coral is bleached clean. Unless we care

More than before, these brambles will be as bare.

 

 

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if you zoom in, you should be able to see some of the hundreds of butterflies up along this track. I took a video, but it wasn’t very steady…

My odyssey with the Spanish civil service exams.

I’ve been away from my blog for months now. But I have an excuse. I was studying for the “Oposiciones” in Education here in Navarra, where to get the scant few permanent teaching positions offered by the local education dept. once every two, or three, or four, or five years (there’s no rhyme or reason to the timing) dozens, or hundreds (depending on the subject) of teachers all compete against one another to see who’s the best teacher in the whole wide world and the lad at the top of the heap after the cage fight gets his pick of the jobs.

Sounds like a great system, I hear you say. The teachers must be the best in the world – eff you, Finland!

Eh, no. As you might have guessed, it’s a pile of shite.

Anyone who’s watched The Maze Runner, or The Hunger Games or a load of other flicks, knows it’s no way to choose a teacher. This wasn’t even like that. It’s more like the Japanese flick, Battle Royale. If you haven’t seen it, well, watch it. Japan is up there with Finland, after all!

I whinged against the system when I went to get my driving test renewed. Why tell you all this sorry tale? Well, just to get it off my chest. See, I didn’t win. I didn’t go home with a prize job.

I know I shouldn’t have bothered with the whole process, if I’m just going to call it bullshit. And yet many tell me I should be happy with my performance, that I’ll do well enough next time.

Cheers.

These same folk say that I didn’t spend much time on the exams, to have done so well (I am the nearest to passing – so I am like the best loser!).

There are some who spend years studying for this process. They take time off work to study, put off having kids till they’ve won their job for life.

But I did spend a couple of months of my life doing sweet eff all else with my brain than thinking about this exam.

I spent my life learning English, for one.

I spent a month on and off writing up a curriculum plan for a school year in the subject, and a unit plan from that.

I spent a weekend doing literary analyses of texts,

I spent two months going through the 69 areas they could examine us on. Reading reams of information on everything from linguistics to the circulation figures of the Daily Sun, with the history of the British Isles and America in between.

And let’s just say I’ve been studying a lot of that since I was able to turn on the TV and stare up at the test signal of the BBC till the Saturday morning programs started.

I also decided to read through Leaves of Grass, since Whitman was on the list (got through most of Song of Me, but there’s a good 80% of the book left to go). I found a PD James novel on my shelf, which was a good read, and I went back over my Wordsworth. There wasn’t time for more. Henry James was a bad idea to even try. The Ambassadors went back to the library after the event with just two chapters waded through.

I had the first exam on a Saturday evening at 8pm. Seriously. At least the heat was lessened compared to the sauna the other exams before us must have been. That was the bright side. God forbid they use a school with AC for exams in the end of June and July.

A bingo selection told us which five topics we had to choose from out of those 69 we’d all prepared.

I got lucky.

The Lost Generation. Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Steinbeck and Faulkner.

Now, I’ve never read Faulkner. He’s on the list, but hasn’t made it onto the bog with me yet. But the rest. Well, I’ve been studying those lads for a long time!

I’ve read all of Hemingway, have read his Biographies, been to his house in Oak Park, visited the Hemingway room in the JFK library in Boston and read his letters from the woman who inspired A Farewell to Arms (well, his injuries inspired it, probably, but the girl is more interesting!)

I studied Gatsby for the Leaving Cert., have read most of Steinbeck, including the unfinished Arthurian works. That’s years of study on this topic. I’d gone over the material on the exam website I’d found a few days before. It was all fresh in my head.

We weren’t allowed to take our own pens, so I wrote with a tissue wrapped around the bic, sweating and sliding.

Twelve pages.

I gave them details that weren’t in the website.

They gave me 5.9 out of ten.

Now, considering I was writing in my first language (and I’ve a bit of practice with the old writing lark…), you can imagine that most of the poor Spanish folk around me fell at the first hurdle.

Except the few who’d been studying the system, however they found out about it. And gave the tribunal exactly what they wanted. I clearly didn’t.

Turns out the people correcting the exam are just some poor sods selected out of a bingo ball, and know no more about the topics than anyone else in the system. Less than me, in the case of the three novelists mentioned. But they have a rubric, and anything off that rubric, be it valid info or not, is irrelevant.

Can we see the rubric?

Can we see our exams to see where we went wrong, what we could have improved?

Don’t be stupid! Of course you can’t.

Do you think the idea is to help people get past the post?

You’ve not been paying attention.

As an aside, at this point, let’s think about how often I’ve used my extensive knowledge of the Lost Generation in an English as a foreign language class… or in a Literature class in Spain…

Apart from reminding Pamplona inhabitants that their town is super famous because of the guy whose statue stands beside the bullring, who was an American writer, absolutely never. Nor would I have used my knowledge of the various channels making up ITV, or the details of Cromwell’s stint in power in the UK (though of course I always take any opportunity to tell anyone who’ll listen what an absolute bollox the man was).

The next exam was called the practical test.

I passed that too.

I got 5.125.

So did one other person in my tribunal. The one who knew the system, had studied. I don’t know her, but fair balls to her. She got 8.4 in the first test.

A practical test, let’s remember. On how well your English is.

Well, I got 3 out of 3 on Use of English. Filling in blanks. A breeze for me. Took ten minutes, so I had an hour and a half or more to write the answer to the literary analysis. I wrote my maximum 400 words and explained the shit out of the text.

I got 2.125 out of 5. A fail. What did they want from me? Fuck knows. Perhaps blood. I took a rubber penholder with me, so my fingers didn’t bleed.

Then I spent ten minutes pissing in the wind, as if I could pick up any of the remaining two points.

Phonetics.

I know most Spanish teachers who studied English as a language to teach would have studied that, but I only went through the main ideas on the Internet page. It’s not something a native speaker needs to know. In fact, it’s pretty redundant nowadays.

Nevertheless, the task was to translate a text into phonetics.

RP, the tribunal president asked us politely. Please use Received Pronunciation.

Wow.

I know how to speak in RP when I need to.

I tell my students not to copy the way I say cup, or bus, or Dublin. Instead I show them how to say it the way Donald Trumps newest fan would as she walks along with him admiring the horses.

But when I read the phonetics, it says the symbol is pronounced like you say ‘Mother,” with the same sound for each syllable. Try say it. Go on. I can’t even write how to do it. I’d have to know more phonetics. But I can say it. Though in Ireland those two syllables are very very different! Muder.

Anyway. It was like translating into Braille or Morse code. If you knew it, well enough.

But I was one of only 24 who got through the first round. Out of 300, divided in three tribunals.

So all congratulated me (they’re accustomed to hearing about failure). But as I said, I’d studied most of my life for those exams. And I wasn’t impressed with my scores.

Nobody was impressed with their scores. They were marked down like a deadbeat professor who flings the exam booklets down the stairs and gives the ones which reach the bottom an A and the rest a C.

The oral defence of the programs I’d handed in were the next hurdle.

Easy.

Everyone seemed to pass that part, if they got to it.

I spent a week going over the thing, memorising it, writing out notes to later transcribe in the preparation time they give you.

But I was nervous. I needed to do this well.

I did it well.

I went in with a smile, stood up on the teaching platform and told them all about my planning, how to do the unit, what the students did, how it helped them, how they were evaluated, what I’d do for kids with higher or lower levels than the average.

All that good stuff.

And they nodded and smiled and took notes. The president filled out her rubric. And when I asked if they’d any questions, I got just one, given in a pronunciation I found hard to understand, after 11 years teaching English to Spanish people.

I answered it. She seemed to accept the answer.

Nobody else spoke, bar the president, who thanked me and I left. I never heard the other three English teachers speaking a word of English. Maybe I intimidated them. Who knows.

I went home happy, and even wondered where I might have to work next year.

I didn’t allow anyone celebrate, but everyone saw it as a given, a foregone conclusion.

But I got 4.15 out of ten. Not the 5 I needed to pass and get that job.

How a tribunal can let someone who’s failing in front of their eyes walk out without asking them a question is beyond me, as a teacher, and it should have been beyond them as teachers (and as folk who’d been through the same process in their own time).

It was a defence. With 15 minutes for questions.

I could have defended anything they objected to.

If I’d been given the chance.

But being given the chance is not the process, of course.

It’s being so perfect that they can’t avoid giving you the point, or they’d be breaking the law.

It’s being forced to have someone take the teaching position (which is open, which needs a person to teach some real kids in a real school in a real town in the region) because it’s simply unavoidable.

So of the 300 people trying to get 31 places, 20 got places (four people failed the defence, me with the nearest to passing).

And the 12 unfilled positions will go to temporary posts, changing each year as new temps come and go. A great way to be educated, with a new teacher every year.

I’m sure the Fins would be impressed.

 

by the way, you can still get all my books on sale with Smashwords!

https://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/djmobrien

 

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.

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…