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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

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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

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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.

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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

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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?

Missing things before they’re gone

            The Lilacs Have Already Faded

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We wait as children for Christmas, 

The bursting forth of buds, spread of

Poppies along bearding barley fields;

Delighting in drifting aspen down.

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But if we perchance glance away 

During spring’s apotheosis we find

The lilacs have already faded, and

Summer swiftly advances unto autumn.

.

Just as a blink allows the bastards

Take flame and machine to the trees,

Scraping drains in absence of rain,

Leaving shoots shorn dead as winter.

I wrote this last week when I was in my garden, seeing that the patch I didn’t mow the week before now sported a lovely little orchid.

But the lilac I had planted just beyond had lost its one flowerhead, having faded to brown already in the space from one weekend to the next.

And I thought of how quickly the spring passes, as usually, even when we vow not to miss it. It’s too short, even when its only summer on its way, we all know where summer leads….

Then I saw while on a cycle what the local roads authority had done, in May, to the hedges and scrub alongside the roads around the village – gone along with who knows what machinery and razed everything down to the ground. Of course, if they discovered plastic rubbish under that bush, they left that there.

The brown should be brambles and other scrub. Even the poplars got shorn, as if we’re expecting double-decker buses to come along this road…

What kind of mindset allows this to happen? Where are the leaders?

Any pretence that this was done to aid vehicle passage is demonstrably false given the destruction of vegetation many metres on the far side of the safety barrier on the road.

The locals just shrugged it off. It seems they think all this can be infinitely replaced, not that it’s a last bastion of such beauty.

The trees upon the slope on the left help slow down erosion. There used to be more underneath them.

Is it not possible to see that we are losing things before they’re lost, or are we doomed to miss only what we have completely exterminated?

if you can see the black plastic, then whoever cut this down to the stumps should have seen it too, and should have done the right thing.

The village in the north of Spain is not the only place where such destruction takes place, of course. Just last week a huge swath of Killarney National Park was burned by negligence or intentional malice.

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On the other hand, I just finished reading Anne Frank’s diary for the second time, after about a 35 year gap… and I was struck by her passages about Nature.

Just like many during the lockdowns we went through, Anne realised that joy and peace can come from looking at the sky and the trees. Of course, even at thirteen and fourteen, Anne Frank was a very self-aware person compared to most around her, even then, never mind now.

I took snaps of the paragraphs. She wonders if her confinement indoors so long has made her so “mad about Nature” which is probably true to some extent, just as it was for many others. But she sees it as a medicine, “which can be shared by rich and poor alike,” and “the one thing for which there is no substitute.”

I’ve never tried valerian or bromide, but next time you feel shit, try looking at the sky. I recommend it, too.
This was a book I recommended to my students as soon as went into lockdown last year. Things changed for them, but how much did they change? I wonder.

Let that last like of the upper paragraph sink in. This was said 60 years ago, before the shit started to hit the fan ecologically. Have we absorbed that information yet?

My question is whether that last line has sunk into our collective consciousness, or it is just that we can’t fathom our existence without Nature – even it if is out there, waiting for when we want it, after we’re released from prison, or our confinement, or we fancy a walk away from our computers? Until it isn’t.

And can we act as if something is lost before it actually is, giving us the chance to save it at the last minute.

Because we’re down to the last minute.

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Panorama of where I was when I came up with this poem

 

Immersed in Silence

 

It’s the silence that impresses

More than the open sky above

This corner of Spain, the

Distant mountains rising over

The Meseta, through the haze.

 

The windmills sometimes drone

In the Botxorno, from above, but

Unheard in Cierzo the

Traffic hidden behind hills,

Drowned by deep rocks,

 

Birds seem to keep their distance:

Hardly heard as flocks flutter

Through the hedges. No snores

From boars in hollows or barks

From roe in thickets. Alone the

 

Breeze in ears, and stopping

Let ears rest almost to knowing

Shoots growing, sensing,

Utter solitude

Uplifting.

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.

 

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Not an Irish mole, but even in Spain, it’s hard to actually see one of these children’s book favourites. This my second ever, a victim of the road like so many hedgehogs. The first one I saw was alive – I rescued it from a dog!

 

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

 

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They don’t have to be mutually exclusive…. an orchard with flowers underfoot.

 

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But sometimes farmers feel that they have to plough every patch their tractors fit into, for fear those flowers take energy away from the apples and nuts.

 

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.

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I didn’t take a photo of the empty pond, but I did help this lad across the road a few days later after some long-awaited rain.

 

 

Planting for the next Century

 

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Where Should I Plant this Sapling?

 

They say a man plants

A tree, not for himself, but

For his descendants. Well,

I agree, and have seen

The benefits of a mulberry

Planted by a man I never met,

More than a century past.

 

As the sentinel starts to sag

I’ve saved a sapling from

Between its roots and would

Take the next step for my

Generation before it falls.

 

But where would it prosper?

I fear the weather

Will not favour the same spot

As its forefather for much longer

Than half its lifetime,

And ere it gives fullest fruits

Will stand in different clime.

 

So, where should I plant this sapling

In a changing world?

 

Where its roots can anchor the eroding soil

As farmers harvest down to the last?

 

On a slope so the children of this village

Can reach the lower limbs

To stain fingers and lips on

Summer afternoons, should

Any remain after rains have

Deserted the landscape?

 

In a ditch to take some advantage

Of rich dampness as the rest

Of fields blister in the sun?

 

Or on a high knoll to stay dry

While surrounding ground soaks

Under incessant thunderstorms,

Turning this aridness instead wet?

 

It seems a bet to hedge;

I should plant a score

From hill to shore.

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.)

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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.

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

The Letter or the Spirit of the Law?

Last month the Irish Minister for Heritage, Heather Humphries, decided change the law to extend the season during which burning and cutting hedges and other vegetation will be permitted, despite the protestations of thousands.

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Heather Humphries. The fake smile is probably because she knows we know she’s not qualified for the job we are paying her for…

Before this, farmers could cut and burn during February, then they had to wait until September to any further work of that nature on their land. This was to protect the wildlife, especially nesting birds.

But this year they can wait until March before burning, or start in August again. Though considered unnecessary by and large, this has happened because some farmers were burning illegally last year – what more elegant solution than to make it legal do conduct such burning?

I watched some of the debate in the Seanad on this legislation. It was frustrating, as well as hilarious at times, as some politicians tried to claim the change was necessary because hedgerows were taking over our country roads and making them impossible to walk – I’d say the speed at which cars travel the roads nowadays might be more important. There are roads I’d never cycle, never mind walk, which I did twenty years ago.

This extension to destruction season comes just as climate change means some birds are breeding earlier nowadays. This year has been an exceptionally mild winter and spring will come soon, and even stopping in March will affect some birdlife.

But though the rules have changed on the insistence and lobbying of some farmers and landowners, it does not mean that fires have to rage this year like they did (illegally) last year.

If the weather is warmer (and perhaps dry – it could happen!) now, then farmers can get their burning done even earlier than they used to. They don’t have to wait until after March just because they can. There is certainly no need to wait to get the hedge cutting done – ti’s something that can be done very quickly nowadays with the machinery available.

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Hedgecutting in action. You don’t need months to get this done any more, but choose the wrong month and there will be a lot of bird nests getting cut in this particular hedge. Photo from http://www.dublinplanthire.ie

The farmers who care about the land (and there are a lot of them, despite how it sometimes seems) can keep obeying the spirit of the former law, rather than the letter of the new law. The law says we can drive at 100kmph in many places that we don’t even try reach that speed.

We can always do what we think is right, regardless of what the law says we can do. Plenty of anglers release their fish even when they can legally take them home. Some hunters let the fox slink away and just watch it, rather than take a shot, though they could legally shoot that fox, since it’s considered vermin (and would be asked to if the farmer was also watching).

If we are to rewild our lands and our lives, and indeed, keep alive the little bit of wildlife we have left out there, we have to rely on the good will, and good sense, of the majority in the face of the selfishness and, ultimately, as can see with climate change, idiocy of the minority.

In farming as in other matters we need people to do right because that’s the thing to do…. like avoiding paying taxes – if we all avoided paying our taxes like the elites do, every country would come to a halt.

And a majority of people wanted this legislation stopped. A majority of the senators I saw speaking were against it. But those in power pushed it through.

We can only hope that when they are gone from power, soon enough, this legislation can be reversed to rein in those few outliers who don’t give a monkeys about out, and their, environment.

 

Trees and George Monbiot

A post I had on my former google site… I wanted to repost and the recent (ongoing) floods across the British Isles made George Monbiot’s recent posting about denuded hilltops due to sheep grazing practices reminded me of this connection between a post of his and a Poem I wrote years back.

Below is the poem and the original post….

            The Secret of the Thorn Trees

Why do the hawthorn and sloes carry such barbs

Across an Irish hedgerow, as if they were scrub

Bushes upon the dry savannah? Against caterpillars,

Or our diminutive deer and domestic livestock?

Or do they betray the absence from our landscape

Of what belong: buffalo, megaloceros andmastodon?

A poem I wrote in May of 2010, when observing some thorn trees in a park in Boston along the orange-line train tracks near Green Street.

I was reminded of it just this last week when I was reading through some blogs by George Monibot, a writer I have huge respect for:

http://www.monbiot.com/2013/05/27/a-manifesto-for-rewilding-the-world/

He explains that our hedgerow and woodland trees are designed for the megafauna that he’d like to see return to Western Europe and the British Isles, rather than the roe and other deer species we have.

I can only concur with George  (I’d never claim to have had the idea first!)