So for the last couple of months I’ve been living like Hemingway. Well, without the writing, so much.
Or the bulls.
No bulls this year. No fiesta in Pamplona.
But I have been in Spain, enjoying the sunshine, and drinking.
I’ve been getting up early, with intentions of getting lots of writing done.
I have a run, or a cycle, while it’s cool, then have a swim after cleaning the pool.
And I’ve spent an hour or two on the laptop, staring at the screen, as I scroll through my social media and read about the horrible things happening, the shitshow that is the former lone superpower, the rising death rates in various countries, and watching videos of the violent racism so many have to deal with and the violent reaction to any request for such racism to stop.
Then I get breakfast for my kids when they surface from their darkened bedroom around ten, and pretty much any chance to get writing done is gone until perhaps mid afternoon when I wake from a siesta and have another swim to get my brain restarted.
Of course, it’s a strange time to live. But we’re alive. And in the end, well, what more can we ask for?
People are worried, though. And I was thinking about this – about panic and procrastination in these times of pandemic.
Sometimes we think that when people panic they start doing things: racing around, becoming very busy.
But they don’t.
Instead it seems that they are paralysed and they do nothing.
However, perhaps their reality is that they see that given the futility of the situation, and their imminent demise, there’s basically no point in doing anything. Instead it’s best to just relax and do nothing.
Because doing nothing is in fact the best thing to do.
Perhaps it’s only when we’re faced with death that we realise that we should’ve been doing nothing all along.
The object of our existence is to do nothing.
Doing is not the important thing, it’s just being.
We should just be.
We should just watch, and chill out.
So while it seems that I have done very little in these days, and there are several books that are waiting to get finished and some to get started, I’ve decided to not worry about that because if I do get sick, I’ll probably just stop writing rather than race to get them finished.
I’ll do what I have been doing – looking after the kids, being with the family, enjoying the scenery and the flowers in the garden and the birds around the house.
At the end of the day, does it matter if the book is one third finished one half finished or three quarters finished if the book is unfinished? Perhaps it’s best to nearly finish at least, but I’m loath to spend my last days worrying about it.
Of course, I am not sick, and I hope I’m not in my last days – keeping the head down here!
So I have written some. And I will have some to show people soon.
And I never stop writing poetry.
So here’s some of that:
Where Would You Go To?
Racing downhill, skidding over gravel path between pine peaks.
Slide to a stop beside scarlet-poppy-strewn field of barley, golden
Eagles calling overhead, staring at gliding silhouettes, shielding eyes
Against glare of sun, hot upon shoulders. A lone figure, surrounded
By a chorus of chirps, whistles and warbles, sheet of susurration
Wind through poplar leaves under a blanket of blessed silence,
Among a bouquet of orchids and other wild flowers, wondering
Where would one go from here?
Eventually remounting, rolling onwards over eroded pudding-stone
Thinking this is the destination of a multitude, but home to me.
Many would trek to get here: the very idea posited as post-retirement
Plan, proposed to stretch the Mediterranean holiday eternally past
A year in Provence; sold to dozens of millions dreaming of this,
Present position I’ve stumbled upon for life. So,
Why would I want to do any more than simply be, here?
Everything I can add upon this blessing only gravy, icing.
What matter if my works are acclaimed or even hailed?
When their very creation brings my own elation, and this station
Provides all the time, and space to do so at my pondering pace.
It’s only left to me to accept this grace, riding though this pretty place.
While every week practically, there is some good news from somewhere around Europe or further regarding the rewilding of our environment, it seems Ireland is sadly lagging behind. The golden eagles we restored to our landscape are struggling, and might go extinct again.
Irish golden eagle chick; photo taken from Golden Eagle Trust, credit Laurie Campbell
In the Italian Apennines, bears are making a comeback. A recent article said that bears, and other predators need some understanding, and the goodwill of the locals. If not, they’re doomed. The bears have this goodwill, though, and prevention is better than compensation. Electric fences keep bears out of bee hives and chicken coops, and sheep folds. The sheep have to be brought in closer to the farmhouses and protected. This makes it more expensive, but considering how much money could be earned by small towns and villages providing wildlife viewing opportunities and tourism as farmers get older, and their children leave because they don’t want to farm, that’s not considered an unwise investment. And the bears have always been around, if a little higher up the mountains.
As the reintroduction of lynx to Great Britain rolls forward, people ask if this predator will target sheep. The answer, from other countries, is that it’s very unlikely, as long as the rest of the ecosystem is functioning and the sheep aren’t in the forests – where really they’re not supposed to be.
These forests are, in fact, the reason lynx are needed in the environment – to help rejuvenate them. Over-population of deer is preventing regeneration, and lynx are designed to hunt deer. This article on CNN indicates that lynx reintroduction has support of 90% of Brits, and the effects on the environment are expected to be significant, if it follows the pattern of cascading impacts wolf reintroduction had in Yellowstone National Park.
The article also states that returning predators is “not a quick fix for long-term decline” because “the removal of predators for decades causes changes in a system that make it resistant to the effects of reintroduction.”
One of these changes is the attitude of humans, especially those who work the land. While the Apennine farmers have always lived with bears, and European farmers with lynx, and farmers in northern Spain with both bear and wolves, farmers in Ireland and Britain have had it relatively easy. The idea of changing their practices on a livestock that already loses money and only subsists because of EU payouts is rather daunting. “When projects do not have public support it can prove fatal for returning species.” As it is, we know how much goodwill predators have in Ireland.
It can be done, though. In China, where the tiger was extirpated 65 years ago, a few breeding females have recently been spotted. And rehabilitated Amur tigers have been released back into former haunts, one of which has given birth to two cubs.
Apart from ensuring that the predators are not overtly killed by those opposed, the habitat has to be suitable. Rewilding Europe helped rewild Dutch rivers penned in by dykes and canals, and only then could forest return enough to allow beaver recolonisation. The Amur tigers have thousands of square kilometres of birch forest still intact despite logging, and the lynx in Britain will only be released in forested areas.
Irish forest cover is still very low compared to the rest of Europe, with sheep still grazing in woodland, on top of whatever deer population is there. The land has been so changed that there is a debate as to whether the Scot’s Pine survived and can considered native. Some think it is an invasive on peat bogs and should be removed. It’s hard to be angry at Scot’s Pines at the best of times, though. A recent Economist article says it’s a waste of time and energy trying to eradicate even the bad ones, but considering that the bogs are not necessarily the best environment in terms of providing habitat for as wide a variety of species and a robust environment, I think we should give the Scot’s pine a free pass and let it get on with growing. It will help rewild the landscape, providing habitat for more species than the bogs do. As I said before, and George Moniot said yesterday in an interview, rewilding is not an attempt to turn any clocks back.
Having any trees grow might be hard, though, unless the sheep are reduced. Making our environment suitable for reintroduced predators will involve keeping such targets out of their way, and reducing the destruction they and their husbandry is responsible for.
The predators we’ve already reintroduced might die out again if we don’t.
In Donegal, a place as wild as we can claim to have in Ireland, the constantly overgrazed and burned bogs are not producing enough food for the golden eagles to breed. Instead of getting fat on hares and grouse, like they do in Scotland, the poor eagles have to hunt badgers and magpies.
News like that makes even the most gung-ho Irish rewilder pause and wonder, if the golden eagle can’t clasp a foothold on our island, what hope will the wolf have?
It will only have a hope if it finds the goodwill of the rural community. And George Monbiot said yesterday, the countryside is not inhabited only by farmers. If 90% of Britons favour having lynx in their forests, there, then we can hope a majority of Irish will also approve. And when sheep inevitably disappear from out hillsides as the payments propping them up are removed from EU legislation, and in some places to help the much-loved golden eagles, the forests can return to provide a home for them and many other species.
I just watched a very good documentary about wolves and the other wildlife around Chernobyl nuclear reactor, which as most people know, discharged enough radiation in 1986 to make the area around it uninhabitable for humans (in any safe way). I recommend everyone watches it but to reveal a big spoiler: there are absolutely no mutations of any kind in the wolves , much less dangerous. In fact, though there is a still certainly a lot of radiation in the soil and indeed the animals, the populations and vast majority fo individuals are extremely healthy. The area now is a wildlife haven, with all types of native fauna represented after the reintroduction of European bison from other parts of Belarus (the area is split between that country and Ukraine) and primitive horses – though the horses are being poached by locals.
There are the same density of wolves and other wildlife as in any other radiation-free national park or other refuge. What matters most is that there are no humans – except soldiers patrolling the border, researchers and forest rangers, and no intensive farming any more.
And it made me wonder, what if there were more such accidents? It would actually be a boon for wildlife, not the disaster we all assumed Chernobyl would be. And then I further pondered: what if we could create such places without the need for a nuclear reactor meltdown?
What if we decided that some areas should be strategically retreated from – just everyone relocated, so that all that was left were a few rangers? That would mean some upheaval for some people – but the residents of Chernobyl and its surrounds were accommodated in other communities outside the danger-zone.
Of course, we would pick places to retreat from which were already sparsely populated.
Achill Island in the west of Ireland. (Photo from flickr commons: https://www.flickr.com/photos/chb1848/1919551432/)
Since there would be no radiation, people could actually come and go fairly freely. In fact, many could stay. If the area was sparsely populated enough to begin with, they would probably not even have to leave. All that they would have to do is not farm intensely, not improve the land, drain the wetlands etc. Let the trees return, leave meadows to go through their natural transitions, remove livestock and let populations of wildlife resurge – and reintroduce a few species that are missing.
That doesn’t mean that they have to live on nothing. Such an area would be a haven not only for wildlife, but for all the people who love to watch wildlife, but haven’t the opportunity to travel to Alaska or don a radiation suit and mask to enter the fallout zone. The residents that decide to stay could open up a hotel or have visitors stay in their houses for bed and breakfast. Locals would probably be invaluable guides to visitors, as they’d know the best hangouts, the places where white-tailed eagles nest, where wolves like to hang out, where the deer graze.
This is, basically, rewilding.
And I wondered what kinds of places might be considered disposed/amenable/suitable.
Already, one has been identified on the border between Portugal and Spain where the locals are actively embracing a change in land use – to actually hold on to their dwindling populations by creating more economically beneficial endeavours, than farming.
There are a few parts of western Scotland, of Ireland – already the one of the least densely-inhabited areas of Europe – where farming is at best marginal and mostly restricted to grazing sheep, at a low economic return. Certainly there are many regions where intensive farming of the scale of the state collective farms of the former USSR is infeasible,
In the long term, some of these areas could be connected with densely inhabited but wildlife-amenable corridors to let wide-ranging animals like wolves travel between them.
But in the meantime, they could be pockets of landscape like the rewilded Pripet marshes: islands of wilderness in seas of farmland.
What’s to stop the Scottish islands and peninsulas of Mull, or Kintyre, or Islay becoming rewilded? They’ve already considered adding wolves to Rhum. Why stop there? Why not bring them, and boar, to Islay and Mull, let them roam the woods of Kintyre? Forestry, fishing, hunting and other tourist activities could be continued unchanged. Just a perhaps slower rotation on trees, using native species and a cessation of sheep grazing and large-scale farming – garden plots and such would be fine: tourists love to eat local… as for local lamb etc. well, local venison is a whole lot better….
Imagine a tour of western Ireland, where after visiting the Cliffs of Moher and Connemara, you could drive out onto Achill Island (disclosure: I have only been there once), and instead of seeing sheep out on the bog, see red deer (and the feral goats), and wolves alongside the foxes and pine martens, with perhaps a few boar amid birch woods and copses. Imagine the Inishowen peninsula of Donegal (disclosure: I haven’t gone there yet, but I have seen the video), or Belmullet in Mayo? Now that is a Wild Atlantic Way! These are areas of comparable size to the exclusion zone around Chernobyl, and could, in theory, hold several packs of up to 100 wolves. Bantry or the ends of any of the West Cork or Kerry peninsulas would probably be able to hold a lot of wildlife while still being the tourist hotspots they are today; just with added attractions… And without the irrational worry about golden and white-tailed eagles etc. killing lambs – aside from the benefits to these from wolf kills – our birds of prey, which attract many tourists to the west, would have a much greater guarantee of success in the future into the bargain.
I was just wondering….
And ironically, I am far from the first to wonder this: Sir Harry Johnston (yea, never heard of him either) had the idea of “a British Yellowstone Park” back in 1903…..