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Another Spring

 

I took a trip to the river some days ago and sat down and thought of how different this spring is – much drier or course, but simply because we can go outside and see it the way we weren’t able to last year.

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           Another Spring

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The soil thirsts for showers, but still

Seeds sprout green and buds flower.

Warblers and mistle thrushes whistle

Busily from the bramble bushes.

Upon thermals, raptors stall, surveying

Below, from distant forests, cuckoos call.

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I sit upon a stone wall, watching

Wagtails bobbing below a waterfall,

Remembering, last year, the view

Of a robin, a tree, we then held dear,

And our feelings thence unfree

Behind our self-made fence

As we waited to leave impatiently,

Even as news came to grieve.

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A brace of ducks take flight as slowly

Afternoon descends to night,

Slapping away the tiny silence, sweetly;

The air is filled with blossom scent,

And as the ducks take wing, I swear,

I shall never miss another spring.

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the small picture view – how wonderful it is just to see this instead of concrete or our own bare walls inside. Long may we leave our houses and be greeted with life.

Shifting Baselines

            Shifting Baselines

I read a story, set in a strange place

But setting off from London in the

Last century, and the strangest fact 

Was the act of dating time: not using

Newspapers, which was his job, but

From the nightingale’s mating song.

Nightingale
Nightingale – a bird once heard in London

How stark the shift from this to

Today’s sad state of scenes: the lark

Sings aloft, a lone clarion upon the

Empty sheep-shorn heath, and yet 

Nobody knows him, nor hardly hears.

From counting skylarks to European Hamsters - LIFE+ Alister - Grand Hamster  Alsace
skylark. still common where there’s only grass…

Our knowledge of the shifting seasons,

The timeless turning of life around

Us, fell away in the meantime: lost

To ever-speedier spinning, electrons

Taking attention from the tunes and

Stories sewn in sinews, to those 

Traced ephemerally on screens, stacked

Up operas in boxes, serial sameness,

Lines listed, twisted until too seems

Our lives, left less sane, tracks too tame

To take notice of what, without, from us 

The gamers have already taken.

The Earth Dances

Thus, Shall we Dance

 

We shall dance, as the waters rise to sweep us under,

Clinging to one another as the cold creeps up.

 

As the fires near, burning all before them, we shall dance, locked in our final embrace, and thus they shall find us, as in the ashes of Pompey.

 

We shall dance, when the soldiers bang upon our doors, to take us away to the place nothing leaves except than screams and dead bodies.

We shall dance, to remember the disappeared, to hold their souls in our hearts, to follow their footsteps forward.

 

We shall dance the rains down upon the parched soil, the grass up into the sun. We shall dance the acorn out of its shell, the herds through their great circles,

We shall dance the great dance of the Earth, to the thunder and the birdsong, the cascade and the pulse of blood.

 

We shall dance our dirge to the tiger, the rhino, the great and diminutive wild brothers we have lost.

 

We shall dance to the Great Spirit, who sees all these deeds, all this destruction in the name of what you can not eat, what does not sustain, to sustain ourselves.

We shall dance, as we have done, for that is what we do. Thus have we always. Thus has it always been.

 

And if we live long enough, we shall dance upon your graves, and those of your ancestors, drumming them into dust for all this.

 

 

I wrote this poem during quarantine, when my family had a writing challenge to keep us entertained – we had to write something beginning with the phrase “we will dance” but in Spanish. I of course, wrote it in English and translated it for the zoom call! But it wasn’t quite the happy story everyone else wrote to cheer us up and pass the time.

But time passes, and little changes. Some things we want to change and some we don’t. And the things that stay the same seem to be the ones we want to change and those that do are sliding away from the wonder we have before us.

But we will go on.

A delayed St. Paddy’s Day post…

I started writing this last week, but incredible as it might seem from quarantine, I’ve been crazily busy in my little box!

so here’s what I wrote,

Happy Saint Patrick’s Day, everyone

It’s a strange one. Hopefully just a blip on our normality, one we’ll remember for being the odd one out rather than the first year of a few way of doing things, a new way of life.

It’s a day to think about all the Irish around the world – which in turn makes us think of all the other migrants, emigrants and immigrants of every other country and culture that venture out into new lands and mix and mingle to make a more united world.

Some of those would like to be home now. Because they don’t know if they’ll get home soon, or when, or if ever.

And there might be loved ones they’ll never see again. Some who won’t be there when this is over, and whose last goodbyes we won’t be able to attend, either in the hospital or over a grave.

That’s a hard thing to say, though everyone is thinking of it – and if not, well, they’re really not aware of what we’re facing here.

And that reality of death should drive home to us – and definitely drive us home, where we all need to be right now, staying a good distance from those outside our immediate family/friends circle with home we’re sharing air and surfaces – the important things in life.

These are those same friends and family, both whom we can touch and not right now.

The simple things we never think of, like simply going for a walk.

Fresh air, exercise.

Sunlight.

The sight of a tree, of a sparrow, a butterfly.

A smile from a stranger, a neighbour we’ve never talked to, the cashier at the supermarket.

 

And the unimportant things. Like hedge funds. We need hedgerows, not hedge funds, someone said.

We could simply stop trading for a few weeks, and we’d all be better off.

If they’ve closed the bars, and the shops, why not the stock exchange? How vital is it, really? What’s needed now is work, willingness, good faith and a calm comportment. Not overabundant in Wall Street.

 

Meanwhile we’re all inside, life is busily going on outside without us, glad for our absence. Songbirds can be heard now the traffic has gone down, the air is cleaner – for those blessed with a dog and an excuse to get out, but also for the rest of us with windows open to the spring – and I can only hope that the park maintenance has been reduced to unnecessary and the personnel redeployed to cleaning tasks (the street cleaning machine still trundles down past our house first thing in the morning though I doubt there’s much rubbish to pick up) so the grass and wildflowers can grow a little more unruly and insects can have a boon from our misfortune.

I only know that the first place my children and I will visit when we’re allowed out of our flat will be the park, to run in the grass and fall down in it and pick daisies and blow dandelion heads.

Till then, we’ll survive on our houseplants and fish tank and the tree outside the window and the birds that visit it.

Paddy's day.

 

And the knowledge that every day we stay inside the air quality improves, planes stay on the ground, and people realise they can survive perfectly well without buying plastic trinkets and clothes to fill their closets and that the water in the tap is good enough without having to fight over bottled water.

 

Stay safe, stay home, stay well.

 

Suddenly Spring

Suddenly Spring

 

How quickly it comes, now, this thing called spring:

Crocuses suddenly splatter bank in violet and blue

Blackbirds burst out with twilight tunes as

Bats trawl back and forth for rising flies proving

This apparent death of winter weather is true.

 

Considering I was sledding in a village near where this photo was taken yesterday on this very day last year, I only hope a blast of snow doesn’t kill the flowers unfolding, nor catch the bats too early out of hibernation.

 

 

 

Things you learn from reading books

It’s amazing what you can learn from books.

Sounds silly, that sentence…

I love when I’m deep in a book and something stops me halfway through a paragraph and makes me say “Holy shit!” out loud – I never knew that! Or, “Wow. Who knew?”

And sometimes it’ll send me off to investigate further.

There are some writers, editors etc., and I suppose readers, who don’t like this. They don’t anything that makes you interrupt the story, that keeps your nose in the leaves.

But for me, a really rich book is one that makes you pause every now and then and think about what you’re reading, ponder the meaning of what you’ve read, assimilate the knowledge this piece of writing has given you over and above an entertaining read.

This is why people read fiction. This is why science indicates that people who read fiction are more empathetic.

Here are three examples:

homo deus.jpg

I started reading Homo Deus, a recent non-fiction book, the sequel to Sapiens, which you might have heard of.

But before I go deep into it, I wanted to read a similarly titled novel – Men Like Gods, by HG Wells.

men like gods.jpg

An interesting book. We are clearly still in Wells’ Age of Confusion, with our population soaring way, way past what Wells worried was too many (2000m), and our world yet being pillaged by the rich.

But what really amazed me, in a book about a crossing dimensions into new universes (where the telecommunications department knows where every human is at all times but the knowledge can only be used for the good of the individual!) was the fact that the main character commented on the fact that there were thrushes singing in July – that he knew these birds stopped singing by June.

This is a character who writes for a liberal paper in the centre of London.

I’m a zoologist – sorry, I have a doctorate in zoology (there are picky fuckers out there in twitterlandia who like to point out that there’s a difference if I no longer gain employment from zoology except by teaching biology, who I hope die when they’re on a plane and a retired doctor tells them he’s no longer qualified to give them first aid while they suffer cardiac arrest, but I digress) – though not an ornithologist, but I had no idea.

He also commented on the fact that nightingales could be found in Pangbourne and Caversham, both in Reading just outside London were great places for nightingales (I wonder if there are any there now) which was amazing knowledge for an average Joe, too.

Why don’t we all know such things now? Where is our general knowledge of the life of other species around us gone? I was only familiar with the Blackbird and Robin – aside from the magpies and seagulls – back home in my hedgerow.

 

How much we have lost, even from such busy, hedonistic, polluted and poverty-stricken times as 1920’s London.

point counter.jpg

Another book I recently read, and commented on in my facebook feed, is Point Counter Point, by the contemporaneous Aldous Huxley, who only predicted the future in this particular novel by talking about the fact that the world would run out of phosphorous, and other important raw materials and minerals due to unhinged addiction to progress, while politicians fucked around with petty, inconsequential nonsense that they hoped with get them elected over someone equally competent – or in competent, as the case usually is – while the problems that really affect us only snowball.

 

The third novel was Meridian, the second novel by Alice Walker, the author of The Colour Purple.

meridian.jpg

 

 

At the end of the book, Walker describes the main character in the following paragraph:

“On those occasions such was her rage that that she actually felt as if the rich and racist of the world should stand in fear of her, because she – though apparently weak and penniless, a little crazy and without power – was as yet of a resolute and relatively fearless character, which, sufficient in its calm acceptance of its own purpose, could bring the mightiest country to its knees.

And I couldn’t help but think of Greta Thunberg – a beam of light in our own dark times, who seemingly powerless, is nonetheless, so resolute in her purpose that she has an immense effect upon countries.”

It is so often the person who seems weakest who can stand the strongest.

I only hope that in contrast to how people treated people like Meridian in the era of civil rights, that we will appreciate Greta for the positive influence she is on global justice and the survival of our society, and protect her from the evils we know some amongst us would wish her.

 

 

 

benegori panorama.jpg

Panorama of where I was when I came up with this poem

 

Immersed in Silence

 

It’s the silence that impresses

More than the open sky above

This corner of Spain, the

Distant mountains rising over

The Meseta, through the haze.

 

The windmills sometimes drone

In the Botxorno, from above, but

Unheard in Cierzo the

Traffic hidden behind hills,

Drowned by deep rocks,

 

Birds seem to keep their distance:

Hardly heard as flocks flutter

Through the hedges. No snores

From boars in hollows or barks

From roe in thickets. Alone the

 

Breeze in ears, and stopping

Let ears rest almost to knowing

Shoots growing, sensing,

Utter solitude

Uplifting.

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?

 

 

 

Leave off the Light

A little poem as we note the start of spring here.

The bats indeed did come out that night and now, a week later, there are lizards and frogs about, as well as cranes coming back north and storks reclaiming their nests.

 

Leave Off the Light

Leave off the lights

At least until the light leaves;

Let us feel it while it lasts,

Catch sight of birds flying to roosts, crying

As it dies, and perhaps bats will wheel past.

Let night descend inside, too, before

Filling our night with brightness,

Let the life outside touch our lives a little,

For at last there is light as twilight arrives.

First Birdsong

This is a little embarrassing to post.

As a wildlife enthusiast, I should not admit to not taking my kids out into the wild often enough that my son has heard his first birdsong only after he’s been walking for three months…

But life is hectic with a one-year-old and a five-year-old doing dance and swimming lessons in winter, and even though Pamplona is a small city with wildlife all around (including BEAVERS in the river not 200 yards from my house as the crow flies) it’s damn hard to get out of the brick and concrete on a daily basis.

We do go to village on the weekend, where there’s plenty of birdlife (kites and bee-eaters etc…) , but the evening birdsong is not something I’ve experienced with the kids recently.

 

First Birdsong

 

I consider myself privileged

To see hills at a distance from

My window over the garden,

Graced by more than mere sparrows;

 

But my son has just heard birdsong

Today, for the first time, I had time to

Take him to city’s edge and embrace the

Twilit twittering of tits and thrushes

Scolding one another in the gloaming,

And experience, absent the ubiquitous din,

A blackbird’s sonorous cry to spring,

And say, “listen, hear the birdies sing.”