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September Still acts like Autumn after all

We have finally got some decent days of rain – and who’d have thought we’d be saying such words even a couple of decades ago?

September has returned, and the swimming pools have closed – an important part of the end of summer even in this cooler part of Spain.

So here’s a short poem inspired by the last dip a couple of weeks ago…

These clouds didn’t produce any wanted rain, but a few days later we got some good wet days to soak the soil, and the heat has gone from afternoon.

            September Again

Chill seeps through skin and up 

Legs creating a repelling shiver

Shaken off at last, reluctant leap,

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Sweeping sweat away in one

Stroking refreshing lengths of

The clear water, vibrant, energized,

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Once out, heat resting upon

The village becomes welcome again.

Soaking afternoon sun

Seems summer holds yet

Tight to the terrain. Still

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Leaves left lying upon pool tiles

Tell a different tale:

September has returned;

Trees not dry of drought turn,

Blackberries shrivelled on brambles

Sloes fallen from thorns, walnuts

Weakly cling to limp twigs;

Chestnut spikes lie scattered

On forest floor, surprisingly, as if

We’d somehow forgotten 

Autumn would come, and

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Somewhat disconcerting,

At first, as evening chill envelops – 

Our inertia preferring to ignore it.

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Yet, when jumpers dug out of drawers,

We’ll embrace the breeze:

As bracing as this latest bathe.

Here the trees yet green, flowers yet in bloom, though bracken has been harvested in some of those fields for winter and chestnuts (small this year) are on the forest floor.

  Drought Triggers Fall like Frost

            Drought Triggers Fall like Frost

This river valley is not so dry, but up above the shallower scree slopes are dropping those leaves down.

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The forest climbs either side of the valley

Up from the river gulley, glinting pools and 

Protruding rocks, grey against green,

Except where steeply narrows, now

Auburn, gold and orange like autumn 

Came in August as trees let their leaves 

Fall on the shallow soil rather than farther 

Toil for little gain under the strain 

Of such a fiery glare all summer long.

A Bird’s Eye View…

          A Bird’s Eye View of Dearth

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A kestrel watches from its perch aloft

Through the wheat stalks, sunset yellow,

A cat to the corner, treading soft,

Seeking game in shadowed hedgerow.

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It’s fur gleams golden in the sun,

Sleek lines lie wide by several ounces:

Fast as the raptor flies, it couldn’t run,

But furred predator prefers pounces.

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A lizard flickers in crinkling grass.

The hawk would swiftly clutch the prey

To feed last nestling, but alas:

The cat clenches its quarry today.

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Blinking as the fed feline bites,

The bird scans the straw for insects

Sooner left for lesser hawks and shrikes;

Still, scant life of any size it detects.

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Turning attention to the trees,

Tinged brown by fire fuelled by snow

Fall felling boughs, then heavy heat,

Finds as few pickings as down below.

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Frogs diminished by the dryness

Since even before spring arrived:

Only two eggs laid, to cry less

As sibling ensures one survived.

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Now, itself barely clinging to perch,

The raptor would wonder, as declines,

How only scorched earth left to search

Seems still to fill so litters of felines.

  I write a lot of poems, and a lot of my poems are inspired from what I see outside in Nature.

However, I rarely take a photograph of what inspires me – if I am thinking of the poem, it usually never occurs to me to take a snap. I don’t think of posting the poem at that stage, and then I realise I’ve no photos to illustrate it. Of course, going back to get a photo of a kestrel along the wire where I saw it is next to impossible, though I do see them when I’m driving in and out of the village.

So the two photos in this post are clearly not of a kestrel. One is a bird of prey, yes, but the other is a bee-eater, a species which I’ve been trying to get a decent snap of for years, because they really don’t hang around when human’s are near, despite the fact that they are to be heard over head delighting with voices as colourful as their plumage, which is to me, the best in any bird in Europe.

Both were taken while cycling near the village, where there’s still a huge abundance of birds of prey, such as hen harriers, booted eagles, red kites and golden eagles, to name just the ones I can identify!!

And there is an overabundance of feral cats, too…

Humanity’s Mark

Been reading this book,

It’s pretty informative.

And it inspired the following poem…

Along with this little guy…

            Humanity’s Mark

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My youngest child, holding his newest toy,

Up overhead, like a talisman: a soft doll

Sewn in the shape of a turbaned genie, 

Pronounced his wishes would the words

Only carry the power of the fable. 

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“I would have Geniousious – its given name –

Kill Putin, and make it not be able

To have any animal in danger of extinction.”

A sad assertion for a six-year-old.

Which sunk my soul deeper into my bowels.

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From reading an outline of human history

From the fall of the Roman Empire to 

The fall of the Third Reich, I could 

Summarise the centuries of papal succession

Crusaders and invaders swaying

To and fro, back and forth over the soil,

Staining with flesh and blood the Earth,

Sweeping millions to their massacres,

In thrusting, thirsting, for supremacy, 

In short sentences: shit happened 

That never should have, had we only

Stayed on the savannah with mere spears.

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The bastard causing my son such sadness

And the statement bringing me to tears

Is just the latest in a long list, I insist:

He is not alone. Regardless of their tone

The rest of the pantheon are playing

As if the planet is actually replaceable 

Or simply a stepping-stone to the next

Star system they can subjugate.

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Too late to save those of the second wish

From their fate: the genie would have to

Hold the secret of time, to travel back

To the time of tribes seeking new lands,

Stop seafaring, sledding, steel science…

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The systems we created to control

Have slipped from our own, and seem

Destined to deliver us back our destiny:

We shall stumble, back to our beginnings

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As just another species on a rock

Awash with water and organic molecules

Transforming from one shape to another

As all are eaten, even the ones with weapons,

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Until our form of life dies out, along with lots

Of other sorts, and some others evolve, I surmise, 

We shall suffer, I am grieved to say, son, for

We are already, sliding, and, Jesus wept,

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Seem inept at dodging, not just bullets aimed at us,

But oncoming steam engines of our own devising,

From far off with a blinding light beckoning at us.

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We sleepwalked into a new disease creation,

Let it clutch enough of us so it shall cling on

Like a long list of poxes yet to appear, but near.

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The heat waves and fires washing over white houses

Have had no effect on our behaviour any more

Than the waves of refugees fleeing from its results:

Even now the crisis erroneously seen as rideable 

Rather than a rising tide set to swamp. 

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The swimmers so far stamped upon by standers, yet, 

Littering the sand, shall pile up like plastic:

Become numbers on an ever longer set of statistics,

Of deaths, in the desert resulting from our

Immoral immigration legislation, letting

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Famine fell far more than the virus, multiples

Of anything we’ve seen over the millennia

Of Mongols and Huns and Hitler’s gas and guns.

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The lessons of History seem serving only to

Prepare some for the suffering to come:

Send us into the trees yet green to gather up

The tiny glories all around us while we can;

Create a wealth of memories with one another which

Might help us weather better our dour destiny,

Hoping we’re able to die a natural death

From mere bad health before it all dissolves.

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And if there’s a third wish left upon the table,

Let it be this: that my children stay off such lists,

And choose to spread ideas instead of seed:

Leave poems, not progeny, for words 

Do not suffer such as sentient beings shall.

July 2022.

I haven’t even finished reading the book…

This is the page I am on now – coincidentally in a chapter on the Spanish Civil War….

I read this headline today in my local newspaper. It translates to “the Navarra shop owners are against Sanchez’s measures to save energy. Some foresee insecurity if the shop windows have no lights after ten pm.”

The photo caption reads “Complaints about the heat in the market.”

This photo here is some storm clouds gathering over the dry dry (and, as you know, quite extensively burnt) landscape I stare out over every evening as I sit and write.

I’ve posted this photo because there is a fucking storm brewing. The actual storms come stronger than ever, and they do little to help the thirsty land compared to the rain we used to have in Spain.

But also, it’s very beautiful.

And soon enough we might only see beauty up above the landscape, because the landscape will cease to be beautiful by itself.

That newspaper headline tells us how quickly that might happen…

We can not even turn down the AC. We can’t even agree to turn off the lights, the ones that aren’t even being used… (I wrote a poem about that, actually, which I must post some time.)

And that’s to just lower energy use by 15% so we can help the rest of Europe, which will have a colder winter than we will in Spain.

In a war.

How can we hope to avoid the worst of Climate Change in light of this kind of stupidity?

I, as you can see from the poem, fail to have much hope at all.

Enjoying Spring?

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            The Enjoyment of Spring

February leaves light frost on the park grass,

But the birdsong cutting the chill silence belies

This skin of sparkling crystals; harkens from 

Recently breakfasted birds animated to action 

As the era of excitement approaches, already 

Cold soil broken by budding narcissus prepared to 

Perform their demure golden pouts and beside

The warming morning rays upon me shows

The strengthening sun will soon scatter the ice

And afternoon will even induce disrobing, thus

Dallying in sun-drenched dales. 

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Yet, still, I feel

Almost ill at enjoying these delightful days when 

We know elsewhere gale forced storm surges 

Swamp grasslands with salt, wind whip trunks

Down like twigs, just as most we need them 

Growing. The mountain slopes are bare of snow:

Instead several fires on-going, and a bushel

Of other evils await. 

Even here, these trees 

Are leaving too soon; petals, peeping weakly

Into shape shall feed few bees this spring,

And we fear for their fruits come summer.

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For the grass beneath the white seems damp,

But even the soil is dry, and blades soon scorched

As we wait for rains, disappeared more than delayed,

During a drought seeming set to last till March.

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The rain came, finally, to wash off the delicate petals from these early-flowering trees, in early March. And record rainfalls in some places, like Alicante, with highest ever 24hr precipitation on March 4th… not so good for the fields at all.

I wrote this poem after a pause in the park on the way to work, the same day I saw this video of the storm surge back in Ireland where they were hit by several named storms while our farmers in Spain were desperate for rain.

Late Rains

            Late April Rains

The rain makes everything all right,

Like blessed water flowing over lips.

Birds sing sweeter as if assured

Life will hang on in for spring,

As insects emerge from dry refuge

To delight in the damp leaves.

Eardrums encounter drips gently

Caress the mind into peaceful ease:

Merged in memories of seasons spent

Naïve as nestlings of summers to come.

sf

It’s a rainy day today, which reminded me of a poem I wrote a month or so ago, about how the rain is welcome when the land is parched. At least in imagination it staves off the drought to come and we live a little longer.

Climate Breakdown: explaining it is easy when the examples abound

I’m teaching Climate Change in my first-year classes at the moment.

No matter what the topic, I always like to use examples to make things clearer to the kids – references to things in their own lives. I often refer to TV programs, movies, songs.

However, some of my references are dated – movies made before they were born, which, while classics, haven’t always been seen. In my English SL class last week, when describing the meaning of “a the height of one’s career,” I used a TV presenter, who first shot to prominence on the Spanish equivalent of Who Wants to be a Millionaire? The show was called 50 for 15, referring to 50Million Pesetas – a currency that disappeared when the kids were toddlers.

But teaching Climate Change, I was struck by the fact that I don’t have to reach back very far to come up with an example of what I mean when I talk about the changes that are happening/ could happen in the future.

For example, California – it was burning a few weeks ago; latest news out of there is a terrible mudslide. Opposite types of natural disasters in a short timeframe.

 

Even here in this very city, though, the oscillations are becoming ever more obvious. And rapid.

I described how Spain was experiencing a drought late last year. Reservoirs were down to 10 or 20%. On the 3rd of January, I was in a jeans and a sweater, enjoying the sunshine. I was sent a video of a snake the same week.

This poor frog was squashed by a car just outside the village that night – what the hell was a frog doing out on Jan 3?

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On the 5th, it started raining, then snowing.

I posted this photo on my facebook page, joking how I’d always wanted a garden with a little river flowing through it.

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It was gushing out of the gully under the rocks you can see behind the fence in this photo.

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And some of it was filling the groundwater so much that I’d springs popping up in the grass.

This looks like a cowpat, but it’s actually mud pushed out of the ground by the water flow.

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Pamplona was covered in snow.

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The aqueduct of Noain outside Pamplona.

The reservoirs refilled past 50% in a few days.

And now it’s mild again.

So the kids get it. They understand Climate Breakdown. They can hardly not when it is staring us in the face like the barrel of a shotgun.

Question is, what can they do about it?

Because the previous generation who knew about it haven’t been able to do very much, yet.

The Drought Breaks

 

The Rains Return

 

The sky weeps;

Bent low,

Hills soak to refill rills.

Upon the porch, we sit still.

 

The rain – snow in the high ground – has finally returned to much of Spain, bringing some relief to the drought we’ve been experiencing this year.

The spring that supplies our village in the Valdorba is still flowing at a trickle, though. It will take much more rain to raise the water table and refill the reservoirs.

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the spring last week above, the same spring in September below…
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But everyone has been happy to see the rain, despite the need for umbrellas instead of sunglasses.

This is a photo of one of the beaches in San Sebastian, aka Donostia, taken when I was there last week.

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I sat on the beach and wrote this poem.

 

Donostia, December 2017

 

On the breakwater, as tide rises,

Shielding eyes to see gleaming mountain

Snowmelt trickle by.

 

 

We shouldn’t be able to see the mountain from the beach at this time of year, for the blanket of cloud that normally shrouds the city.

But what is normal anymore?

 

Anyway, I wrote a few poems that afternoon. It reminded me of another poem I wrote a few weeks ago, which describes a little of why I’ve written so little recently, and posted less.

But maybe we’ll get back to normal sometime soon…

 

Words Come Forth

 

They say our words won’t be kept down;

They bubble up, under pressure, like lava

Pushing through a fissure,

Bursting forth if they can’t flow.

 

But instead, they are drawn

Under empty sky,

Sucked out by silence,

Pulled forth by the vacuum

Of open space,

Giving them a place to emerge

Timidly into tranquilly

Like deer from the thicket at twilight.

 

 

This is what drought looks like

This is what drought looks like.20171118_122735

Spain is currently going through a water crisis, with reservoirs drying up all over the country. It’s been on the news a lot this autumn.

Sometimes you see stuff on the news and you just go back to your business and you try not to think too much about it. Like you do with wars and the other stuff that our politicians mess up – the Dakota oil spill being a prime example.

But if you look around you can see local examples of things going very wrong.

Last weekend we went to Ezcaray, a small town in La Rioja that lives off tourism – especially skiing in winter. The skiing hasn’t opened yet. It might not open for very much this year, nor for very long in the future.

There is a little snow on the hills, but with the warm weather that we are still having in November, it is probably melting. Not that you can notice it downhill.

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This is the river. It’s more like a dry canyon from somewhere down in the south, like Almeria, than a mountain river in the north.

 

When you search Ezcaray in google maps, this is the photo that pops up.

https://plus.google.com/photos/photo/100661991213780414719/6429638250127263666

It’s kind of different to the one up the top of this page. Or the following one.

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We were told that this is usually a waterfall. It has a fish ladder, which you can see under the cage on the left, for all the use that can be made of it this year. There are no fish in evidence in that pool, the only drop of water visible in a hundred metres. Directly upstream it’s completely dry. Just a few drops seep through the rocks. A few hundred metres upstream we saw a few small rivulets coming through the stones. But there can be little life there – not even mayfly or caddis fly – to sustain a river ecosystem.

 

The local council wants to put a dam upstream, we heard. The locals are fighting to save their river. A sign hung in a village said, “Water is life, save the river Oca.” I wonder if keeping the construction at bay will be enough to save it.

 

Saving Salamanders etc.

Among the things I’ve done this summer, is take part in the village festivals. It’s a very small village, but very village has its festival, even if it’s just a dinner for the one family left there. During ours, one of my jobs is to help with the kids game where they’ve to break a flowerpot with a bat, to get at some sweets inside.

botijo

 

It’s called a botijo. It’s like a piñata, but more heavy duty – hence the bike helmet. The older kids are blindfolded to make it interesting. And to spice things up, in one of the pots, instead of candy, lies a creature of some kind – usually a frog or a toad.

It’s been my job to catch said amphibian for the last few years.

This year, instead of a frog, we’d many. And salamanders and newts into the bargain. About twenty or so animals all told (very small, on the whole – there was plenty of room in the flowerpot!).

I’ve no photo of that pot or its contents, because I’m too busy running the event to take photos, and the one above was sent to me since it’s my own daughter knocking the pot to pieces. However, when the pot was cracked open, there was pandemonium.

As you’d expect.

But not for the reason you’d expect.

There were kids everywhere, trying to catch the fleeing animals. And catch them they did, much more eagerly than they’d gathered the sweets that had been scattered for them earlier (in the pot piñata, they know that the sweets are for the kids who breaks the pot, so they hold back).

Once they’d caught them, some of the older kids wanted to keep them. We didn’t allow them, of course, but it shows how starved these kids are for such experiences, and how enthusiastic they are to have them. Another example of the urge to rewild ourselves that George Monbiot describes.

And yet, some of the adults (parents of these delighted kids handling the amphibians) were critical of me and my fellow amphibian catchers for capturing the creatures

It is good that they were concerned for the animals, but at the same times it’s easy to criticise from a position of ignorance. These were mostly people who would scream if they touched one, and who wouldn’t know where to go to see one if it hadn’t landed on the lawn in front of them.

I find that those who can catch such animals are usually the same people who love them, and would not harm them.

The simple reason we’d so many amphibians this year was because we’ve not had rain for over a month and there were scores trapped in a disused swimming pool that had dried up. Only a layer of pine needles in the bottom provided any moisture to keep alive those that were still alive – most of the big frogs and toads had died. Only a week before forty salamanders were rescued from their certain death, and a couple of fat snakes which had had easy pickings. We had collected the remaining animals we could find.

So, while we’d some fun giving the kids a new experience with the animals, we’d not gone and collected scores of salamanders from their pools, but saved them from certain (and unknown, unremarked) deaths, and as soon as they’d been collected, set them free in a 2-metre-deep pool fed from the village spring and never let dry up – and filled to the brim so any which wanted to leave could seek pastures new.

Which was what I saw happening later, when, ironically, I went to that pool to capture a frog again – a much more difficult exercise, I can tell you!

The salamanders, and some frogs, were on their way out of the already busy pond, no doubt to find less congested environs where competition for insects is less.

I’d been asked to get a frog by a Montessori teacher trainer, who’d a course two days later on how to teach the five classes of vertebrates to kids. She’d never used a frog for the course, despite the fact that the course material uses a frog as an example, and had always had to rely on a fish provided by a colleague who’d a pet goldfish in a tank at home.

She’d never know known how to go about getting a frog before….

I showed her. It required patience. And man, was it hot in the sun that afternoon.

But these are the things animal lovers do to spread the word about the creatures we care about.