Blog Archives

If you want me…

It’s been a while. It’s been busy.

But I’ve been doing a bit of writing.

I have a few poems to share, over the next few weeks, as the summer proper hits us.

Meanwhile, if you want me, I’ll be on the porch….

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The House Stands Built, the Garden Lies Laid

 

If we needed lumber, I’d gladly go into the wood,

Cut logs and split them all afternoon.

Were there a shelf to put up, a cupboard fixed,

A picture to hang, I’ve no problem lending a hand.

Should the lawn need mowing, or the hedge trimming,

The garden path cemented, a fence erected,

Bicycle mended, stone wall constructed, a pond dug

Or a border weeded, you can count on me;

I’m always happy to go to work.

 

But the house is built, the garden laid,

There’s left little to do but watch the grass growing

So if you want me, I’ll be on the porch.

 

(This is a short video of what’s in front of said porch….)

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Irish Wildlife Trust Winners

As I get back into the swing of things after summer, first thing I have to do is congratulate David Devins of Co. Leitrim and Damian O’Sullivan of Co. Cork, who both won copies of my children’s novel, Peter and the Little People in the summer IWT Irish Wildlife Magazine’s book competition.

As you might know, I have pledged to give 10% of my royalties on Peter and the Little People to this NGO (if you’ve read the book you’ll know why) to help the great work they do.

At the moment a new battle has emerged for them, and us all, to tackle – the possible introduction of more destructive insecticides in Ireland, which threaten bees and other useful and important insects.

 

It seems that the fight to protect bees, like the fight to stop much environmental destruction will be continual, as companies try to introduce more chemicals.

It’s similar to George Monbiot’s post this week, that though the TTIP agreement seems to have been abandoned in the face of so much negative public opinion against it’s implementation, there are other similar treaties in the works, all designed to take power to legislate international companies from government – and thus public – hands. At the end he suggests we can never let our guard down, for the corporations and their cronies are always working against us and our environment, and they only need to succeed once, while we have to beat them every time.

Similarly, the bees and other insects only have to be erased from the planet once, and we have to save them every year, every week, every day.

Do your bit – join the IWT or whatever similar organisation operates in your country. And be vocal, even through the internet. It’s not quite the direct action that seems necessary to protect the Dakota water supply, but it’s effective when there are enough of us.

Misgivings

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An Absence in Abundance

 

Lavender lays sideways under the weight of wind and blossom

But the bees clinging to the swaying stalks are few and far between.

An exuberance of blooms festoon the garden; from geraniums to clover,

But the butterflies are almost all white. Where is the abundance?

The humming profusion we should see before us?

The insects are ever scarcer on the farm – apart from houseflies –

And sparrows are ousting the house martins.

Those looking closely can see the cracks and give voice

To our misgivings that something’s got to give.

An Absence in the Fields

A colourful afternoon in the countryside.

Northern Spain, April 24th, and though breezy, a bright and sunny day.

Spring seems to have come early after a very mild winter.

But there’s something missing….

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The oil seed rape is in full flower.

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The barley heads are already up, and the wind is sending waves through it.

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Thyme splashed pink along the banks and slopes between fields

 

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The orchids are blooming.

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Back in Pamplona, the lilacs are out already.

But there were no bees.

No Butterflies, on any of all these flowers.

It might have been the cold breeze… but there was an apiary not far  (50 yards?) from that huge field of colza, and though I don’t like to get too close, I couldn’t see any commuting bees from that corner.

And it was disconcerting.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Springtime, I think…

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As the mild winter ends, we’re still getting some snow, which is a sting for the bees and their blossoms…

But a few signs make me think of things, and remind me embrace the environment.

 

Spring Should be Here.

 

The blackbird has deemed

It propitious this St. Pat’s

To screw the snow and sing.

 

 

Serenity

 

Sometimes when the traffic signal stops us

Those sixty seconds

Bring the most serenity to our day.

 

 

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Taking Time

 

Too often taking a few minutes

To scribble down some new words,

Staring at the screen and soaring

In our imagination, but not taking

Time to just sit and watch the world;

Interacting with the environment,

Embracing our ecology.

 

 

What, Exactly, Is Rewilding?

 

I read an interesting article about rewilding today – calling it the “new Pandora’s box in conservation.”

Hardly a title to inspire confidence…

One problem the authors see with rewilding is that the term is fluid and quite ill-defined as yet. It would be better to firm up exactly what rewilding is and is not, and define what it aims to achieve.

I agree, as a scientist, that it would be better to know exactly what we are talking about.

But I think there is room for maneuvering yet.

Rewilding is a new term that has yet to come into its own. It has yet to capture the public consciousness.

And in order to let that happen, I think the term should be as broad as possible for as long as possible.

In fact, perhaps we can have two meanings – just like the word “theory” has two meanings – one in common parlance, and the other in scientific terms. It won’t be that problematic if we have a broad meaning for the wider public discussion and then a more precise, concise or even split terms for use in ecology – for example, the Palaeolithic rewilding, or passive rewilding as mentioned in the article.

I say this because what we don’t want to have happen is that the general public decide that rewilding is some scientific activity which only trained ecologists can pursue, or have a hand in, or a stake in.

Because we will need lots of rewilding, of all types, if we are to get through this century with functioning ecosystems. There are some, such as passive rewilding, which the general public can have a great, and direct, impact on. There are things they can do themselves at home, in addition to supporting more extensive projects and translocations by voting, signing petitions and going to visit places which have had formerly extinct species reintroduced.

An article in the Guardian today, about not mowing the lawn so often so that dandelions can flower and feed the multitude of insect species that rely on them highlights this.

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As we live in a world steeped in pesticides, we will need the gardens of our suburbs and cities to give a refuge to the species which would otherwise die out. While research suggests that farmers should plant wildflowers themselves to aid keep pests down in their crops, it’s plain that insects like bees are suffering as we continue to spray.

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Luckily, the terrain of the farms I visit near Pamplona makes wildflower verges almost unavoidable, though even here the number of butterflies seems to have plummeted in recent years.

To a certain extent, rewilding is just allowing that little slice of wildness to exist alongside our lives and our lawns, instead of keeping wilderness far from us as we push into that very wilderness.

The man on the street with a garden can help this rewilding, just as the building companies who can’t get financing to build on the lots they bought during the boom can let the weeds grow in the meantime. It might not provide habitat for wolves, or bison, but it can keep bees alive, let butterflies and lizards and small mammals survive.

Instead of even planting grass for lawns, home owners, and councils and building management companies, can plant wildflower meadows instead. I showed an example of one in Pamplona last summer. I look forward to it blooming again this spring.

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Wildflower meadow planted in Pamplona park about to bloom in 2015

 

One type of rewilding that the article didn’t mention, but George Monbiot among others does, is rewilding ourselves – getting back in touch with the nature we have too long either ignored or tried to tie up, impound, mow short and neat. I’ve seen the kids approach this wildflower meadow in a much different way to how they’d approach a lawn. I’m sure you can imagine which they’re more excited by.

We might be disinclined to let our kids dig in the muck these days when everyone’s so obsessed with cleanliness, but allowing them romp through a few flowers will set us smiling more than any pretty new frock or well-maintained playground.

 

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What child can resist making petal angels?   And collecting conkers can be done in a clean frock.

 

And just as we might one day be delighted to have dandelions, we will be grateful for the general public’s work in keeping our lives just a little bit wild.

 

 

 

Harbingers

Praying for an Early Spring

 

Sitting in shirt sleeves

This late January afternoon,

Lettuce sprouts in greenhouse,

Bumblebees in almond blooms;

Annuals keep flowering and

Geraniums haven’t faded.

Newts and salamanders swim in pools

Wondering, too, if it isn’t too soon

Despite the lack of ice and instead

Should still slumber.

 

And though we’d love to see some snow,

It would be safer to let winter go

Unannounced, unpronounced, this year,

For fear it will freeze the very things

That would bring life to the spring.

 

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This photo is from the week before, but one snowfall does not a winter make: the geraniums are still as colourful, the snow melted mostly that day, the sunny sky remained. The lettuces were fine; there are cheap strawberries in the supermarkets already. Unfortunately my phone camera didn’t work when I was trying to take a snap of the almond blossoms or the amphibians…

 

 

 

January poems

 

These were written mainly over the last couple of weeks and seemed appropriate for

the weather and the midpoint of the month…

 

Lived or not

 

If we don’t stop to watch the sunset,

How do we know we’ve really lived that day?

 

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Listening to the Birds and Bees

 

Perhaps people no longer

Stop to listen to the birdsong

Because they’ve taken all the birds away

And only sparrows in the traffic stay.

 

 

 

They Doth Protest Too Much

 

Pensioners protest;

They did their bit and are owed.

What have they left us?

 

 

 

Tea Leaves

 

Tea, thinking each leaf

Left China for Ireland, then

Here, I use bags twice.

 

 

On the Death of Bowie

 

For some, no matter how old they go,

They’re gone too young, too soon.

And all we have left to hold is a song

That we can’t help but sing out of tune.

 

 

Haikus and other short poems.

Here are some more short poems and haikus that I said I’d post.
I will add them to the poetry page, too.

I haven’t posted recently becuase I’ve been away at home in Ireland, where I don’t get much of a chance to write, or read.
Mostly, I drink tea and beer and chat.
And that’s great.
Of course, afterwards it would be nice to be able to have a holiday alone and catch up on stuff. But summer with the children is on the cards, so only a few hours a day to myself and my pen will be my lot.
I will get a few poems and some chapters of my work in progress, done, though. I swear!

Snowdrop

Early Snowdrop
Still Bows
To the braver bee

Speed

Cyclist careening down
Mountain, crouching under wind
Ignoring the sky.

Daisy

Dark lawn lays an extensive frame
For a tiny dot of pink:
First brave daisy bursting forth
To herald the blooming March of spring.

Drifting

April afternoon
Aspen seeds
Drifting.

Bedtime

Ignored, strangers sight excite –
Wife’s sleeping form,
Pulls powerfully, still.

Saved by Death

High on the corner of a Midwestern cornfield
A family cemetery stands firm, the last
Testament to a town wiped from memory,
Like the soil that once stood below it.

Spring Park, Pamplona

The hinds abide,
While the cockerels cry,
Drowned out by the peacocks.

deer abide

Encapsulated

Narrow country road,
Hedgerow arches over,
Birdsong encloses.

The Birds of Summer

Swifts have disappeared,
Swallows are soon to follow;
Cuckoos long silent.

Rooks

Caged,
Crows’ calls
Echo
Open fields.

Sea Greeting

Surging up the sand,
Touching toes:
Gentle hello.

Original Sin

Originally,
Maybe our sin was seeing
Shame in nakedness.

On a Hilltop

Across silent landscape
Sounds
Reveal their source.

The End is Nigh

That feeling you get when you’re writing a novel and you finally get to the point where you can see your way out of the middle of the book and know there is an ending….

You’ve been trashing around the marsh that is the book’s middle for weeks and now, though you’re covered in mud and still have a slog through boot-sucking bog holes ahead, at least you know what direction you’re going, where the dry land is ahead, and that glimmer of hope you held for so long turns to confidence you’re not, in fact, going to sink into the middle of all this shit without even a story to show for it.

I got that today.

That means I deserve to start outlining the next project, right? Right? Oh…. oh well…

let me just get this boot back on…

 

Meanwhile, here are a couple of poems: one for easter, the other for spring. Yes, already distracted…

 

A Watcher on Calvary

 

A man named Barabbas was once heard sighing,

From an alley on the path to Calvary, upon spying

A raucous crowd, carrying crosses to the top, go by,

And saying, “There, but for the grace of God, go I.”

 

Spring Unfolds

 

Lured, like a bee to the bloom,

The scent of narcissus arrests my senses,

Dancing swallows draw eye away

From swirling script, distracted by the act;

Evening singing wins me over,

Dawn chorus charms me from my slumber,

Calling cuckoos invade my concentration.

 

The flowering pulls me from my room;

Sucking from the soil such beauty,

So I wish to sit before them, soaking

All they display, watching every form unfold.