The Dance of the Gnats
In slanting sunlight along hedges warmed
Hordes of gnats amass in glittering swarms
Like plumes of dust thrust up
From the ground burst open, abounding,
In an ultimate race to lay eggs ere autumn:
A bountiful sign summer rests on last legs,
Yet, at least, as the flourishing knots
Feed the gathering flocks of swallows
Ere their exodus, fill lizards left lying on
Stone even cooling, fatten bats come twilight,
An indication our Earth brims, still:
Life resides, ready to thrive when we let it.
While they fly I will delight
In the dance as long as lasts this light.
Autumn has finally arrived, with a storm, some rain and wind and now chilly foggy mornings. And very happy we are to see it, and the flies dying as they should to be born again next spring…
I wrote this poem after a recent weekend away – just a 30 min drive to a little village. It made me think of why sometimes we’re not aware of what we’re missing with our bare, biodiversity impoverished agricultural landscape, especially in Ireland.
The Pull of Pastures
This scenery spread out from the village, splashed
With sun, fills one with joy of a morning:
An unfiltered boon as we run to the pool
Through fields of wheat under the evergreen
Oak-clad steeper slopes and hearing the hidden
Mistle thrush and goldfinch from the thistles,
Tangled juniper thorns and brambles
Enticing animals excitingly close
To our gardens along such scrubbed inclines
That goats would grub but tractors cannot grade.
The grazing sheep and cattle have gone,
Without battle, deer and boar and other
Beasts browse, but when by driving north
An hour I arrive in another world, where
Fields unfold before one: green grass rolling
Up slopes to autumnal oaks or out flat past
Hedgerows – or even if there’s nothing else
To be seen but green dotted with cowpats
And sheep shit – that simple fact gives gravity,
Pulls me towards such pastures, like a string
Tied within, knotted well when life was spring.
It’s this kind of feeling that gives Ireland its “green” image… it sometimes may as well be painted green for all the life it has other than cattle and sheep. But we love what we know, and unfortunately we’ve been educated to love a barren ecosystem, and younger people are growing up even worse than us older folk.
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 Lilacs Have Already Faded
We wait as children for Christmas,
The bursting forth of buds, spread of
Poppies along bearding barley fields;
Delighting in drifting aspen down.
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.
What kind of mindset allows this to happen? Where are the leaders?
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.
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?
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.
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.”
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.
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,
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…
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.