Of Plastic and Plasticity
Of Plastic and Plasticity
Peering out over open water: green wash,
No spot of black to mark a seal, nor sight
Of white to indicate ice upon which to strike,
The bear turns about, towards dry land,
And trundles away from the shore,
Following a novel scent, not so sure
To signify a meal, but more appealing
Than sterile saline. The stench of humans
Almost overpowers hunger, pull of putrefaction,
But cautiously the bear pads across scraped
Gravel and strands of soft stuff –not snow – and
Colourful lumps, shiny hard strips and bits.
A sharp set of claws upturns tins and other
Things the bear has never seen, and finds skin,
Bones and shreds of flesh of prey never tasted:
Not even raw; changed in a way it can’t fathom.
Other animals abound – gulls and foxes and
Neighbour bears. But she fights for her share
Of the spread-out spoils of some unknown
Carnage, scavenging scraps of flesh amid debris,
Some of which is stuck with string, some
Clinging to wrappers – has to be eaten also –
But are surely shed easily enough
As would be ingested seal skin and bone.
Some men with glasses from a far observe
The animal with consternation, as it with
Relish ingests the refuse: Earth’s greatest
Quadruped predator reduced to such. But
Others shrug at suggestions of contamination,
Considering the data and the sea state –
Since even artic snow and summer rain contain
The same chemicals as the landfill, and
The seals are a dish equally intoxicating
From fish swimming in poisoned brine.
What use, they wonder, a pristine scene
Without seals within reach of a beach,
Other than to produce a perfectly clean
Bear carcass: healthy except for hunger?
The bear, on the other hand, now on land,
Is pulled by the wind past the dump, to
More varied carrion. Carcasses lie in woods:
Caribou, moose, deer and musk oxen;
Moving, the quarry could become new prey
Replacing seals, if bears become plastic enough.
The pinipeds themselves, if they are to survive,
Shall someday have to haul up on a shore to pup;
Walrus, too, must beach for calves to breach.
Eventually, perhaps, an adaptation to such crap
From our waste, awash in any water, solid or not,
They encounter, can give a chance for all species
To scarcely subsist somehow in a new balance.
But such hopes fast melt in plasticity’s absence.
Not the most up-beat of poems, but in some way a tiny bit optimistic for the predator if not species of large mammal facing the most precarious future of us all….
Holding Gold Dust
The kids are in the river, scooping up fry in the shallows,
Squashing half as they let them go again as we leave.
We try to release them alive, all the time remembering
When once, we could, well, afford to kill them
In their hundreds: seeing thousands more teem between
The rocks of even city rivers and streams.
Like we did with insects: snatching ladybirds and bees,
Finding moths and crane flies in bathrooms, woodlice
By the dozen, catching starlings, titmice and sparrows,
In traps and jars and crabs in buckets on the beach.
Such abundance we scattered shells like sand;
But soon, when the water is sterile if not dry
We will shake our heads and cry, understand,
When we were young we held gold dust in our hands.
I have no photos at all to illustrate this – I could post a photo of the gravel beach where the kids were scooping the minnows, but the city council have cleared away that beach now, to free up the stepping stone bridge before the winter floods, which had deposited the huge load of stones. The fish seem happy in the shallows now.
Anyway, you’ll either be familiar with the former abundance, and thus perfectly able to picture what I’m talking about, or you won’t…. in which case, I’m really sorry, but no photo I can post would do justice to what’s gone. Well, at least at the beach, most of us are able to spot a few crabs, and perhaps catch one or two, for a while to show the kids before letting them go again…
The title comes from a song by Tori Amos, who I’ve listened to since I was of an age where there was yet abundance! I heard of her from a friend just after Little Earthquakes came out. This is one of my favourite songs of hers, and one I wish we could all be mindful of – the things we had, the things we yet have in our hands, and we should care for like fallen nestlings.
The beaver is a creature few people dislike. Many think they’re cute. They’re clever – making their dams and their lodges with such craftbeavership, that anyone who’s played with sand on the beach is impressed.
I’ve been trying to spot beavers for almost thirty years, since I spent a summer in Colorado and had a pond up the road. I visited it, and later others in Massachusetts and New Hampshire while I lived there for 7 years.
Always, I was disappointed to find the builders hidden from view in their lodges.
The ponds, though, like this one, were always full of other life: birds and dragonflies, fish and pond skaters. And I saw a whole lot of muskrats, which are pretty cool in their own right, I have to say.
In Pamplona I’ve seen their signs in the River Arga. But despite photos in the paper of brazen beavers crossing bridges, I’d never seen a ripple I could deem a rodent from the banks and bridges I lingered on.
But this summer I found that a pair of beavers have set up home on a very small (usually…) river very close to our village, and right beside the road, to boot, making it possible to spot them without hardly a trek, and since they’re used to the road noise, they don’t spook too easily.
I’d spotted the pond, but just assumed it was a deep gouge created by the huge floods a few years ago (we’d been swimming ourselves in these during the summer of Covid restrictions..) and this year of drought and very little flow, had been kept from drying by someone with time on their hands making a dam…
When I’d realised what the pond actually was, I was back next morning, but saw no beavers – though I did see their lodge entrance – built into the bank rather than in the middle of the pond, like I’d seen in North America.
I’d been told that European beavers don’t make dams, but that’s clearly not true. Perhaps those seen so far in Spain had not because they’ve been on large rivers – there’s no need for a dam on the Arga, I can tell you, though the beavers have been actively felling fairly large trees there (several older trees along the river park are now protected by chickenwire to dissuade them from taking away the perambulator’s shade!).
Which brings me to the title of this post – Beaver Spread.
Beavers are spreading.
These two are descendants of eighteen animals that were illegally released in the Ebro near the Aragon tributary, back in 2003. They’ve been moving up the rivers since then. With mostly no reaction, as most folk don’t notice them – until they started eating large trees in the middle of Pamplona (though that didn’t make anyone call for their removal, as far as I know.) There were some complaints, and, in fact, some animals were removed by the local governments, though, strictly speaking that was illegal, as once reestablished, they should be considered a protected species under EU law.
Anyway, they’ve spread now to smaller rivers, where their positive effects should be a lot clearer. At least to me in this particular brook, it’s plain as day.
This river drains a long valley which is usually very dry in summer, but gets a fair few heavy storms (our house was flooded just from rainfall in the field above us), one of which gouged out that bank in the first photo. Above this pond a bridge was washed out because it got clogged with trees and stones during the flood, and below it, the local town was devastated with huge economic losses when the river flooded houses and businesses within minutes of the storm.
At the time of the flood there were calls for better drainage – in the way of cutting the poplars and other trees along the bank – to let the water flow without slowing down at all. This came from farmers, and I have to say it’s either in ignorance or apathy of the effects it would have had on the town if that bridge and the trees and culverts had not led the water to spread out across their fields and slow its pace…. it would have washed away houses rather than just fill them with mud, and cars would have gone down like corks in the flow – and a lot more people would have died than did, without time to get out of harm’s way.
We all know that it’s cheaper to compensate a farmer for loss of a crop than a whole town for all their broken windows and destroyed merchandise etc…
But here, despite what I see as large erosion problem, they still dig drains into the fields so they can get the heavy machinery in after the rains they often (more often nowadays of course) wait (and possibly pray) for.
Which brings us to the drought.
We had a forest fire upstream of this pond this spring, and there are worries that the next storm (still waiting on rain) might wash down huge amounts of ashes and soil that’s no longer held in place by vegetation.
But meanwhile the river is down to a trickle. And it’s ponds like this one that are keeping the river alive. While I sat there waiting on the beavers to emerge I was entertained by a plethora of dragonflies, pond skaters, ducks, a heron, and even a nightjar that came down to drink before setting off to hunt. I can’t see, but I assume there are some fish in the murky water, too. And crayfish – European ones – are in that river, as well as European mink.
There is nothing but benefit to beavers – they keep the river alive in drought and they stop the river washing away everything in flood.
What’s not to like?
In Britain they have been reintroduced in a few places, with positive reaction in general. They’ve sorted out flooding in the places they’ve made home, and you’ve probably already heard of these cases.
In Ireland, there are some calls to introduce the beaver to have these same positive effects there. I support this, even if the beaver was never actually officially a native species. Most of Ireland’s fauna was not native. At least this one does some good. We have feral goats allowed to graze the vegetation to nothing in many places simply because it was there for a few hundred years, for goodness sake.
The only problem I see is the same a for so many other species we’d like to see (back) on our island – there’s not enough trees. We need to let scrub grow instead of burn, and get forest cover back in the simplest way possible, and then we have habitat for trees, and then the ugly as feck drainage and flood schemes that beset our lovely towns and villages would not be half as necessary.
Meanwhile, this pair of beavers, and I hope their offspring, are one of those little glories we can enjoy while they last.
The End of the Rainbow…
Peter and the Little People republished!
And a poem that the Little People would understand from a longer term perspective than humans seem able to take…
I hope summer is going well for everyone and the new (for us fifth) wave of infections is not affecting you.
I have some news: I have republished my children’s novel, Peter and the Little People, since the original publishers have sadly closed recently. I took the opportunity to re-edit it, so it reads a lot smoother, especially in the first chapters.
It’s available on pre-order now, and will download automatically onto your kindles etc. on the publication date which will be August 15th!
AND it is available in Paperback! So you can pre-order it now and it will pop in the post for you, too.
Till then, here’s a poem that was inspired by a different book written and set in Ireland.
Children of the Rainbow is a book from decades ago, but it’s well worth reading if you have any connection with the Island.
At the same time, I was reading Barry Lopez’s Horizon, which was quite impactful, too.
So the poem that came out is not quite as hopeful as Peter and the Little People regarding our planet. But I hope it’s still beautiful.
For there is yet beauty all around us if only we appreciate it and preserve it.
The Fading of the Rainbow
Our grandparents grew up under the bow of wonder
Shades of beauty forty-fold and more, so vivid
The colours were within reach, like the hand of God,
Life bursting out of every bud and bloom, butterflies
And bees humming just one tune in Nature’s symphony
But today, we stare across a broad sweep of fields, all
Furrowed into one with faint lines left where once
Grew hedgerows; rooks caws accompany cows now,
Gone the curlew call and corncrake, cuckoo only
Heard on distant hills: a sound of childhood, half
Remembered. The skylark leaves a faint line upon
The heart where before flew nightingales and chorus
Of dawn songbirds, silenced like the wolf and other
Wild animals swept away before the sheep browsing.
Now even that centrepiece of pristineness, poster
Child of evolution in isolation and archipelagos lies
Lessened, the frenzy of breeding becoming bare as
Feral goats graze the spare seedlings, dogs attack
Basking iguanas, cats and rats run riot, into ruin
One of the last remaining untouched outposts upon
The vast planet, pinched a little smaller each season,
Swept into sameness, as only colonisers cling to barren
Land. If these distant places are as doomed as our city
Streets, what place has hope this side of the rainbow;
Faded, bleached, and ragged, can it even hold any
Hidden at the end, like a crock of leprechaun gold?
The Hedgehog and the Tiger
My son is three and a big fan of animals. We read a lot of animal books… He’s seen lots of animals on the farm and in the zoo. But others, well, let’s say we haven’t bumped into them yet.
The Hedgehog and the Tiger
Flipping through children’s books, each
Bucolic page fairy-tale picturesque:
Rare as hen’s teeth to see a hen in
The same frame as a cow or pig;
More common to see the cage. A
Cow in a sunlit meadow would
Count its blessings if it could ken
Cattle mass confined in feeding pens.
Yet, becoming just as false are
Pictures of our wildlife: brilliant
Butterflies and ladybirds, snails
Spiralling, to lions and giraffes,
Explaining to our children, the
Tiger and elephant, zebra and gnu,
Knowing at least they’ll watch the
Lion King, and visit the zoo, where
These species might cling to existence
In spite of our infantile delight in
Destroying our environment. But
What of furry foxes, squirrels,
Badgers and newts, other cute
Denizens of our hedgerows and
Fields? How do we describe these?
Who’s seen a hedgehog in a decade,
Or ever encountered an otter
Of an evening? May as well have an
Irish mole on the page, a polecat, or
Mink, for all the meeting and greeting
Our kids will have with these as
They disappear from all around us,
Unseen and unobserved, unremarked
And impossible to explain when asked.
I wrote this poem a few weeks ago. I was reminded of it the other day when my wife read an headline about Barcelona Zoo, which is going to change after the city council decided it would have to end reproduction of animals not endangered nor capable of being released into the wild. The number of species will dwindle as individuals die or are moved out. Considering the above, perhaps some wild animals that we citizens never bump into any more would be useful for the folks of Barcelona to become familiar with. Perhaps soon enough those once familiar small mammals will be endangered themselves…
A Poems about Farms and Wildlife
Thoughts on seeing a recently-cleaned water pond on Saint Patrick’s Day
On a Sunday, the seventeenth, I went for a walk in the countryside about the village.
I walked along the hedges, trimmed now in March before the birds came come along and put a fly in a farmer’s plans.
I paused over an old walled water pond, for the vegetable plot, to perhaps look upon a frog, or salamander.
It was scrubbed clean. The concrete pale below the clear water reflecting the crystal blue.
Not a boatman stroked across the surface, ne’er a leaf lay upon the bottom to hide a frog or newt.
For what would a farmer do with silt? A streamlined machine these fields, these springs,
And cleanliness is next to godliness, of course. The wild world was sterilised of sprits in favour of clean sheets.
The dragons were already gone before Saint Patrick stepped upon a snake.
A day will come when none of us will see one, no matter where we seek.
Of course, the day seems to be coming faster than we feared, with the new UN report about to come out today, Monday, declaring that a million species are about to go extinct if we don’t turn this shit, sorry ship, around toot sweet, as they say.
Which is terribly hard to tell your kids when they ask at the age of eight.
“From a Distance…”
In my last blog post I said that we need government to get us out of this crisis we are immersed in (it’s 20˚C in Pamplona today, the 26thof February, while the kids in my school are supposedly up in the Pyrenees skiing for the week).
The problem is that governments are only interested in keeping their economies going full steam ahead on the coal of capitalism.
Of course, some of them are so fucking shit that they’re doing the opposite of what their puppet masters would have them do. It’s possible that they might help the planet by fucking up our society… something pondered in this next poem.
What would another species say
About our world?
Watching these tiny actions,
While the worst barely awaits,
Each effort hardly abates.
Indeed, we are bathers
Intent upon our piece of sand,
While the wave rears up behind.
The idiocy of some, the ignorance
Of others, ill intent and greed of
Thirds all add up to cancel out
The efforts of all the rest
To avoid the coming destruction and
Yet, in cold chemical analysis, knowing
The decimation imminent for so many
Might an outsider smile at
Inflicted by despicable people if that
Also impedes the current trajectory:
Disruption of our good government,
The usual business of bustling populations
Slowing down the business as usual
Which we aren’t wont to stop
But must if we are to have
Any business being on the planet
In the usual way we’ve been since
First becoming people.
The course needs altering, if not
Halting. The actors less relevant
Than the actions: Evil instead of
Well-intentioned will still be better
Than acting not at all.
No points for guessing who is the main person I had in mind for this clusterfuck.
Good News and Bad
We have good news and bad news.
No, not that Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump won the New Hampshire primaries, though for the natural world, and the rest of the world, it might be very significant in the long run.
I’m talking about things much closer to home, to Ireland and Europe.
First, the good news.
The European Parliament has voted to approve a report on the Mid-term review of the EU’s Biodiversity Strategy, which calls for the protection of the Birds and Habitats Directives.
They did this on the back of a huge public movement to urge their MEPs to protect the habitat, which shows the power of people to get the word out to their elected officials to do the right thing.
(Of course, we have to compare that to what happened in Ireland the other week, when the will of the people lost out to the vested interests of the farming community.)
The bad news is that protecting our wildlife might be too late for some.
It’s possible our efforts to save species are, in some cases, doomed to failure, due to past pollution we can’t turn the clock back on. Whales and dolphins in some areas will go extinct, including in Ireland, where despite our shores being a cetacean sanctuary, no orca calf has been spotted in twenty-five years.
Though the adults seem okay, the high load of toxins they carry from pollutants that have been banned for years seems to have rendered them unable to breed.
Orca pod off Ireland’s coast. Credit: Lt Alan O’Regan, XO L.E. Clare
This reminds me of what might have happened to any real animals in Loch Ness, waiting for that last example of a long-lived species to die. Will we have some Lonesome Fungi, an old lone dolphin, or an orca, like we had Lonesome George on the Galapagos? Even worse, when we go whale watching will we stare into the eyes of an animal who knows that their numbers are slowly dwindling, and they are destined to die out?
My Seventh Son might be an Angry Young Man…
So I’m working on edits to my novel, Peter and the Little People. This will be my seventh published book, none of them seem to be in the same genre – this one way different to the rest; my first children’s novel. I think it might be my last children’s novel. At least, I assumed it would be when I wrote it. The idea seemed perfect for a children’s book, but whether I am a children’s novel writer, I am not at all sure. I wish I could put my books in a handy category, but I can’t yet. Only the characters’ awareness, and love, of the natural world around them unites these very different stories. In that, they are all my children.
I also assumed I’d never write another young adult book when I finished The Soul of Adam Short, but I’m in the middle of writing another one now. I got the idea for a new one when I watched the profusion of gorse fires across Ireland last April, and it seemed an issue that teenagers might be likely to tackle rather than shake their heads and get on with their day.
Readers will know I’ve pledged to donate 10% of my royalties to WWF, the World Wildlife Fund. For Peter and the Little People, I also plan to give a further 10% to IWT, the Irish Wildlife Trust, which advocates for wildlife on the island of Ireland, and whose work Peter, and the Little People, would most certainly support. The Little People remember the animals with which we once shared our island, and are dismayed when Peter tells them they’re gone from every corner of it.
I don’t want to reveal too much about the story, but it is for kids and as long as you promise not to tell them before they get a chance to read it, I can tell you that there is a happy ending which is open to a sequel – which I never envisioned until my editor mentioned she’d like to see how Peter grew up.
Instead of the work to rewild Ireland, and return those missing species to it, for the benefit of the ecosystem, the delight of the Little People, Peter, Gemma and all the rest of us, which I might have the pleasure of writing about, it seems that some humans are not quite finished exterminating as much wildlife as they can.
Our native red deer of Killarney National Park, one of the very few symbols we have of wild Ireland, of the wildlife people come to Ireland to see, the image of which was put on our Punt coins when we had our own currency, are under attack from a group of Kerry politicians.
They are calling for a cull of an already tiny population for dubious reasons, and just yesterday, the IWT released a press-release describing how this is an indication of a move to treat wildlife as vermin, to depreciate their value and blame them for any perceived problems we may encounter with them. (http://www.iwt.ie/press-release-deer-culls-symptomatic-of-increased-verminisation-of-our-wildlife)
Photo: By Ken Billington (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
One Kerry senator has since declared that just the sika (an introduced species that is found in more parts of Ireland now than the native – and park escaped – red deer) should be culled, despite the fact that no evidence exists that the deer have caused any problems, and the fact that these deer are harvested every year both inside and outside the Killarney National Park. He also wants to fence in a section of the national park to restrict deer movement across a road that traverses the park, rather than ask motorists to cease speeding along that section.
How can we hope to rewild our island when this level of hatred of wildlife exists among our elected officials, when our representatives are so ignorant of the realities of wild animals, and are absolutely unwilling to give an inch in any real or perceived conflict, but instead prefer to bulldoze the wildlife out of the way. How can any children’s book have a happy ending when they are so willing to make vanish from our land the very things that children love – the wild animals and plants that we all know make life so much more worth living than any book we can read them or give them for Christmas, or any video game or toy they could get either.
If Peter does grow up under the tutelage of the Little People, I can see him becoming a very angry young man…
A Darwin Award for Everyone in the Audience?
This image has been doing the rounds for a while.
I have saved it for a time when my mind is so fucking boggled that this is the only expression of it I can use.
I called the file ReEvolution, as in evolving again – if only we could do it twice. But like all things to do with evolution, if you fuck up you are fucked. Game over. Darwin awards – when someone takes their dumbness genes out of the population – are dished out left and right in our modern world. And yet, it looks like we might deserve our own collective Darwin award – like that time they put a mirror on the Time person of the year cover.
We are facing the sixth extinction. Racing Extinction is a new documentary about it that is as important as An Inconvenient Truth is. We’ve lost half of our wildlife already in 40 years and 50% of the species on the planet are expected to die out if we don’t turn around like the dude in the picture above.
If that many die out, our environment will “not be pleasant” (my quotatiosn: I can’t acutally imagine how horriblly bad it wil be). Ecosystems will collapse. It’s the big ones that die out first, so if you are wondering how life will be like with half the animals and plants you normally see, scratch out oak trees and deer and keep rats mice and dandelions (conflict alert – I love dandelions).
It’s like when the dinosaurs died out.
With a big fucking exception.
The dinosaurs were done in by some catastrophic event (possibly a huge meteor impact).
We’re doing it ourselves.
It’s like the dinosaurs died out because one group of about a thousand brontosaurus decided they wanted to control all the shit in the world, and in the process made the land uninhabitable for themselves and everything else.
And everyone else just stood around and let them do it.
Imagine how stupid that would be.
Now imagine what’s happening now. The world is being fucked over for the cash flow of a few thousand assholes who have more money than they can imagine – they own it, but they can’t get their own minds around it, just like I can’t really imagine what it would be like to sell the same number of books as Stephen King or JK Rowling. And they want more, will kill people to get more. Will kill entire species to get more. Will fuck up everything around them to get more.
People say the Dodo was dumb. Fuckers didn’t even run away from people, the myth is.
Perhaps there’s a bit of truth in that – since plenty of other species have no innate fear of humans.
However, the Dodo didn’t fucking understand that humans were a danger.
We have this glorified consciousness. We can anticipate the future, conceive of our own deaths, imagine an afterlife, and all that other good shit. But we can’t get out of our own fucking way. We’re just standing still, waiting for the metaphorical club to come down on our heads.
Even fucking hedgehogs have figured out that they need to move the fuck off the asphalt when they see a car coming.
We’re just curled up in a ball of shit TV and stupid sports (disclaimer alert – I like some sports, sometimes. I watch good TV).
Prominent scientists have publicly stated their worry that humanity might be destroyed by our own creations. They think we should be careful in developing Artificial Intelligence, because the computers might take over.
Sorry, but we’ve already made the entity that is right fucking now raining self-destruction down up on our heads. We’ve endowed them with human characteristics, given them rights and never bothered to give them responsibility – bar one: to make as much fucking money as possible, doing whatever the fuck they like as long as they can get away with it. And we’ve made them immortal. We call them corporations.
Yes, we have made corporations have all the power of a human, but they can’t get sent to prison when they break the law. They are disengaged from their owners, so that their owners don’t get sent down half the time when they purposefully, yes, fucking, on purpose, kill people – dozens or hundreds.
A guy with a remote controlled plane would be responsible if it crashed into one person. A dog owner has more responsibility over what is actually another real life-form, with self-determination.
Corporate CEOs only get richer as they leave one boardroom and waltze on to the next.
I’ve just read Russell Brand’s book, Revolution, which he slants towards Re-Love-ution. It’s a good read. Buy it. One of the things he talks about is bringing an end to corporations: they should be created with one goal and then closed once they’ve completed that function.
I agreed with that.
But that was before the latest glut of corporation atrocities that have been perpetrated came to light and just fucking boggled my mind …. Johnson and Johnson selling dodgy drugs to kids despite the FDA saying it was dangerous, Volkswagen just shitting on clean air laws (and the CEO claims he didn’t know and is not being investigated in Germany….) , Exxon knowing for decades that we were facing climate catastrophe but not giving a fuck, that prick of a hedgefund CEO price gouging AIDS patients.
Now I think its time we started fucking clamouring for the death penalty for these things.
Break the law? End of that company. CEO on trial. Minimum sentence: can never own or operate a company for the rest of his or her natural – go work for someone else who owns a company which acts a bit more responsibly.
People (usually pricks in political office) say we can’t just get rid of Volkswagen or some other big company (same old too big to fail bullshit). What about all the car factory workers?
Don’t believe that.
There is a market for cars. A bigger market for cars made responsibly than for cars made to break the law so they can pollute us. There will be places for those workers to go as other companies take up the slack in the market.
And in any case, the jobs they say might be lost are inconsequent compared to the lives that will be lost as a result of their activities.
It has literally come down to that.