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.
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.
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.
It’s been a while. It’s been busy.
But I’ve been doing a bit of writing.
I have a few poems to share, over the next few weeks, as the summer proper hits us.
Meanwhile, if you want me, I’ll be on the porch….
The House Stands Built, the Garden Lies Laid
If we needed lumber, I’d gladly go into the wood,
Cut logs and split them all afternoon.
Were there a shelf to put up, a cupboard fixed,
A picture to hang, I’ve no problem lending a hand.
Should the lawn need mowing, or the hedge trimming,
The garden path cemented, a fence erected,
Bicycle mended, stone wall constructed, a pond dug
Or a border weeded, you can count on me;
I’m always happy to go to work.
But the house is built, the garden laid,
There’s left little to do but watch the grass growing
So if you want me, I’ll be on the porch.
(This is a short video of what’s in front of said porch….)
An Absence in Abundance
Lavender lays sideways under the weight of wind and blossom
But the bees clinging to the swaying stalks are few and far between.
An exuberance of blooms festoon the garden; from geraniums to clover,
But the butterflies are almost all white. Where is the abundance?
The humming profusion we should see before us?
The insects are ever scarcer on the farm – apart from houseflies –
And sparrows are ousting the house martins.
Those looking closely can see the cracks and give voice
To our misgivings that something’s got to give.
A colourful afternoon in the countryside.
Northern Spain, April 24th, and though breezy, a bright and sunny day.
Spring seems to have come early after a very mild winter.
But there’s something missing….
The oil seed rape is in full flower.
The barley heads are already up, and the wind is sending waves through it.
Thyme splashed pink along the banks and slopes between fields
The orchids are blooming.
Back in Pamplona, the lilacs are out already.
But there were no bees.
No Butterflies, on any of all these flowers.
It might have been the cold breeze… but there was an apiary not far (50 yards?) from that huge field of colza, and though I don’t like to get too close, I couldn’t see any commuting bees from that corner.
And it was disconcerting.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
This is a new park in Pamplona. I cycle past it everyday. They took down the temporary fence a couple of weeks ago.
When I noticed the poppies growing in the grass, I smiled.
I was glad the company responsible for maintenance was a bit slow to get the lawnmower onto the newly seeded grass.
A few days later, I was glad that the recent rain must be keeping them off the soft sod.
But then I saw other flowers. Beautiful wildflowers I’d never seen before.
And I stopped my bike on the way up this very steep hill.
But you know how when your worldview doesn’t include something, it takes a while to see it.
I’d never seen this shit before.
But it was true.
And I took a photo to prove it.
There was no grass…
They’d sown wildflower seeds.
In a new park.
Not lawn. Wildflowers.
My mind is blown.
Rewilding is possible. It’s simple. It’s easier and lower maintenance than keeping wildlife cut back.
And it will be beautiful.
That feeling you get when you’re writing a novel and you finally get to the point where you can see your way out of the middle of the book and know there is an ending….
You’ve been trashing around the marsh that is the book’s middle for weeks and now, though you’re covered in mud and still have a slog through boot-sucking bog holes ahead, at least you know what direction you’re going, where the dry land is ahead, and that glimmer of hope you held for so long turns to confidence you’re not, in fact, going to sink into the middle of all this shit without even a story to show for it.
I got that today.
That means I deserve to start outlining the next project, right? Right? Oh…. oh well…
let me just get this boot back on…
Meanwhile, here are a couple of poems: one for easter, the other for spring. Yes, already distracted…
A Watcher on Calvary
A man named Barabbas was once heard sighing,
From an alley on the path to Calvary, upon spying
A raucous crowd, carrying crosses to the top, go by,
And saying, “There, but for the grace of God, go I.”
Lured, like a bee to the bloom,
The scent of narcissus arrests my senses,
Dancing swallows draw eye away
From swirling script, distracted by the act;
Evening singing wins me over,
Dawn chorus charms me from my slumber,
Calling cuckoos invade my concentration.
The flowering pulls me from my room;
Sucking from the soil such beauty,
So I wish to sit before them, soaking
All they display, watching every form unfold.