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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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,
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.”