Blog Archives

February means it’s Spring in some places

            They’re Only Daisies

Spring mildness brings blooming back

A splash of buttercups, daisies

And dandelions, and my

Heart soars to see these

.

As if the summer burst forth 

In fullness of fuchsia, orchids,

Roses and hydrangea,

Even though they’re only daisies.

.

Perhaps such sights would send

Soul soaring to much higher delight,

But little low pleasures enchant me

Easily, and I find myself exultant

To discover thus elation on a daily basis.

Well, we’ve survived the first month of 2021, which clearly hasn’t turned out as groovy as we’d hoped, so far.

I am patiently waiting, like the rest of the world, on a vaccine to be offered to me. I hope to get one before summer and be able to travel home to see folks.

Besides that, my life is pretty normal, apart from wearing masks all day.

School is still in session presidentially in Spain, and we’ve had few problems since we’re masking and gelling all the time.

My son’s swimming lessons restarted! other after school activities are going on without problems, too.

The bars were open at 30% occupancy, but are now only open for outside seating, but we can have a pincho on a Saturday afternoon with the kids now that the snow has melted and milder weather has returned.

I know it’s not spring here in Spain till the second half of March, but there are flowers out there, and I always stick to my Irish seasons anyway. Except for August. That’s still summer!

And I am feeling hopeful we won’t be kept inside during spring the way we were last year. Just a walk outside the city walls is all I ask.

I’ve written a fair few poems since Christmas, and I am slowly working through my WIP, Palu and the Pyramid Builders – last third of the manuscript, with 200k written so far.

I’ll be looking for beta readers in a year or two!

Meanwhile, I hope to post more poems this spring, and if you’re looking for a quick read, my novels are all still available for the time being, including my newest novella, The Logical Solution.

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.

 

Wildlife… it’s just too much work.

In light of the UN report on species extinction just unveiled, many people are talking about how worrying it is that we have so many species close to the brink of annihilation due to our activities.

And at the same time, it’s hard to move people towards doing very much in the way of helping reverse the trend.

Nature is seen as something outside our own environments, nowadays. It’s an abstract idea, or at best something we visit. We’ve become used to not having it especially present in our daily lives. Even a fly entering a classroom is viewed as an event.

And because we’ve gotten used to living without nature, we don’t value it very much, and often see it as an inconvenience.

Where we do allow it to exist in our city, it must be controlled and tidy.

Pamplona is a very green city, with plenty of parks and farmland around us, and mountains visible from almost every street, yet even here, wildlife must conform. The ducks in the park have few places to nest because any undergrowth is cleared, the scrub needed to house any other birds than pigeons, sparrows, magpies and a few blackbirds is practically non-existent outside building lots left abandoned until the apartments pop up in new neighbourhoods.

Take a simple city lawn. As soon as the dandelions bloom it’s time to mow. Citizens complain if the city is slow to mow, since the seed heads look untidy.

I passed a lawn full of dandelions, daisies and clover yesterday.

There wasn’t a bee to be seen. The horse chestnut trees are blooming right now, their scent amazing. But there are very few bees to be seen or heard pollenating them.

 

IMG_3879

a large copse of horse chestnuts full of blooms, but I saw more trees than bees in the five minutes I stood watching. Note the absence of any undergrowth.

Coincidentally, upon arriving home, my neighbours warned me of a swarm which had just settled on the Persian blinds of a nearby (empty) flat, and were going to call the city council to come and remove them. It’s all right having some bees up high in a tree, but down here amongst the houses, they induce fear.

I don’t know where bees used to live in cities, but there were more of them, and they must have lived somewhere. Now, though most people appreciate the work of bees, a hive is only acceptable outside our daily surroundings.

IMG_3859.jpg

the dark patch on the very top of the blind is a swarm of bees slowly moving into the space for the Persian blinds to roll up into.

The local newspaper has been busy talking about a bear recently released in France which has the temerity to enter Navarra and attack some sheep flocks. The bears have declined in the western part of the Pyrenees to such an extent that only two males, father and son survive. Two females from Slovenia are hoped to start saving the population, but bears are only tolerated if they stay well away from humans and their buildings.

IMG_3861.jpg

There might be some basic understanding that bears should not go extinct in the Pyrenees, though they are close to that right now. Bears are still tolerated in the Picos de Europa, further west of Navarra, but here the local farmers’ union is opposed to this attempt and recovering/rewildling/conservation/call-it-what-you-like-putting-bears-ahead-of-sheep.

IMG_3860.jpg

The first photo is today’s back page of the local paper. I will translate the last few lines… the farmers union call on the Navarra Government to ….. “demand the French authorities cease their actions of reintroducing a wild species in a humanized terrain. “We are not in Yellowstone,” they conclude.

IMG_3862.jpg

What else can one say about that?

Nothing comes to mind that I could print in that paper.

Bears, you might say, are a pretty big nuisance when they want to be.

They kill sheep, which, whatever one’s personal opinions of them, are the basis of a type of farming that some still cling to. And I will grant that, despite my immediate question as to how they’re alive and thriving in Asturias and Slovenia – surely they’re an inconvenience there, but a tolerated one, by farmers who are used to doing a bit more work to look after their stock.

And yet, another iconic species is also slowly disappearing in Navarra, according to the same local paper.

Storks.

Now, doesn’t love storks?

They bring us babies, they don’t attack sheep…

And yet, their population is declining in Navarra, too.

Why?

Because they are annoying, inconvenient.

Or at least, their nests are.

So nests are destroyed in the towns and cities where they’ve traditionally nested. Some have made nests in large trees, where these are still available – it’s common for mature trees to be heavily pruned in cities, and really old ones are felled as soon as they show signs of rot for fear of falling and causing damage or injury.

And a pair that can’t build a nest is a pair that has to go elsewhere, or doesn’t breed.

There are seven fewer pairs than last year, for a total of 939.

storks

This photo is from the linked article, taken in an abandoned factory. When this is demolished, where will the storks nest?

There are many reasons for our ecosystems collapsing. Wilful destruction, wilful ignorance, and wilful rejection of any inconvenience it might mean to our lives. The last is what most of us will be guilty of.

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.

 

20180213_111544

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.

20180213_111548.jpg

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.

Rewilding my garden, as long as the rabbits eat the right plants….

So I have this garden in the country. It’s not quite mine, in that I don’t own the house, but it has befallen to me, more and more, to look after it.

It’s big. There are a dozen young trees, a long hedge, grape vines, shrubs, and there’s a lot of grassy area to mow.

I say grassy area because it’s far from being able to be called a lawn. More like a playground for moles.

But I don’t mind the moles. I prefer daisies and other wild flowers to grass in any case. It’s great to have moles, and it would be even better to see them once in a while.

Even better than moles, are rabbits. And we have them, too.

Unfortunately, in the case of the rabbits, I do have a problem at the moment.

I’ve planted a new hedge. It’s to hopefully block the wind that sweeps down from the pyrennes – the call it the Cierzo. When a wind has it’s own name, you know you’re up against it. Anyway, the new hedge, once established, will help, I hope. And it will cover the chain link fence that goes along the low back wall (put up to stop the cows coming in to graze the garden – picturesque till one of them breaks your windscreen while trying to swipe a horn at the herding dogs, and the farmer never owns up.)

20170402_112456.jpg

20170402_112437.jpg

But to get established, the hedge has to not get eaten by rabbits.

And for some reason, the rabbits have decided it’s tastier than all the grass and dandelions and everything else growing right beside it.

20170413_174514.jpg

the bottom half of the plant is nibbled to nothing…

 

So I had to take action.

Now, I didn’t stand watch with a shotgun at twilight. Even if I had time for that lark, I’d rather a rabbit in the garden than ten up the hill where I can’t see them from my bedroom window.

I haven’t seen the rabbit yet, but given the circumstances (plants nibbled at the bottom, a stone wall with a hole under one of the stones where a rabbit could get through the fence, and grass grazed on the other side) there’s no other culprit.

 

20170413_174612

This photo is sideways, but you can see the easily accessed holes and the nibbled tuft of grass.

 

So I covered the damaged plants to let them recuperate, blocked the hole and hoped the little gits can’t get in any other way.

 

20170413_174459

Eat your way through that, rabbit!

I feel bad, in a way, but there’s lots of other stuff to eat, and once the hedge is big enough, after this first summer, I’ll unblock the hole and let them nibble to their hearts content. After all, rewilding should always apply to our own gardens, and a few rabbits will mean I don’t get asked to strim the bank so often, making it win-win for everyone.

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.

Flowers verge

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.

flowers verge purple

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.

flowers photo

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.

 

petals maia.jpg

collecting conkers.jpg

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

Poem for Spring – my most distracted season

            Listening to Spring

Dandelions in little city lawns,

Until the mower docks them

Days before they can scatter parachutes,

Lend life to tidy tulips in brown soil

Of council border floral designs,

Screaming the spring in spattered gold

As loudly as frog-full vernal pools,

As eloquently as the yellow-eyed

Blackbird that would defy the traffic

As if in silent rural evening.

Leaves flash delicate green on trees,

Catching each twig like licking fire,

Requiring only light and sky for life,

Sun settles on skin like a mother’s touch,

Leaving one watching, lingering,

Wishing this was all life relied on,

As if the roads meant little to us either;

Bringing back a faith in the seasons,

In the circle, once again,

Making us believe in the idea of eternity.