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.
A Bird’s Eye View of Dearth
A kestrel watches from its perch aloft
Through the wheat stalks, sunset yellow,
A cat to the corner, treading soft,
Seeking game in shadowed hedgerow.
It’s fur gleams golden in the sun,
Sleek lines lie wide by several ounces:
Fast as the raptor flies, it couldn’t run,
But furred predator prefers pounces.
A lizard flickers in crinkling grass.
The hawk would swiftly clutch the prey
To feed last nestling, but alas:
The cat clenches its quarry today.
Blinking as the fed feline bites,
The bird scans the straw for insects
Sooner left for lesser hawks and shrikes;
Still, scant life of any size it detects.
Turning attention to the trees,
Tinged brown by fire fuelled by snow
Fall felling boughs, then heavy heat,
Finds as few pickings as down below.
Frogs diminished by the dryness
Since even before spring arrived:
Only two eggs laid, to cry less
As sibling ensures one survived.
Now, itself barely clinging to perch,
The raptor would wonder, as declines,
How only scorched earth left to search
Seems still to fill so litters of felines.
I write a lot of poems, and a lot of my poems are inspired from what I see outside in Nature.
However, I rarely take a photograph of what inspires me – if I am thinking of the poem, it usually never occurs to me to take a snap. I don’t think of posting the poem at that stage, and then I realise I’ve no photos to illustrate it. Of course, going back to get a photo of a kestrel along the wire where I saw it is next to impossible, though I do see them when I’m driving in and out of the village.
So the two photos in this post are clearly not of a kestrel. One is a bird of prey, yes, but the other is a bee-eater, a species which I’ve been trying to get a decent snap of for years, because they really don’t hang around when human’s are near, despite the fact that they are to be heard over head delighting with voices as colourful as their plumage, which is to me, the best in any bird in Europe.
Both were taken while cycling near the village, where there’s still a huge abundance of birds of prey, such as hen harriers, booted eagles, red kites and golden eagles, to name just the ones I can identify!!
And there is an overabundance of feral cats, too…
There are realities and there are coping mechanisms.
My six-year-old is a big nature fan. And I am faced with the task of explaining the fate of nature in addition to its wonder. And sometimes it’s too hard. Thus the poem.
Planting a Flag Upon the Shifting Baseline
Passing an afternoon in the local park
Beyond the playground with youngest
Child exploring our natural world around
Appears bare over and above weeded beds
The park hosts ducks and if lucky a few
Unseen moles given away their holes in
Tight mown lawns . The pond produces
Not a dragon nor damselfly these days;
Frogs do not call nor drop from Lilly pads.
Starlings must suffice for birdsong in
The absence of other sopranos. Sparrows
Tweet where warblers once had trilled.
Cherry blossoms bloom only for humans it
Seems: no bees now humming about branches.
But the sun still burns as the Earth turns,
And instead of telling tales of yore;
The beings which beautified our world before,
I plant my flag upon the shifting baseline
And allow my boy appreciate the birds and
Insects that are left: ants on the rocks,
Grasshoppers blending into the too-late left
Unmown blades; daisies and dandelions yet
Lovely even if aren’t orchids and goldfinches
No longer glorify the scene as they seek seeds.
The ducks are enough to look at despite there
Once being more dainty denizens in the reeds:
For thus we seize upon the joy we need,
The only hope for wonder left clinging
After the stupid, searing, sundering of greed.
Late April Rains
The rain makes everything all right,
Like blessed water flowing over lips.
Birds sing sweeter as if assured
Life will hang on in for spring,
As insects emerge from dry refuge
To delight in the damp leaves.
Eardrums encounter drips gently
Caress the mind into peaceful ease:
Merged in memories of seasons spent
Naïve as nestlings of summers to come.
It’s a rainy day today, which reminded me of a poem I wrote a month or so ago, about how the rain is welcome when the land is parched. At least in imagination it staves off the drought to come and we live a little longer.
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.
Yes, it was about the potential problems of the shrinking population it predicts will happen before the end of the century.
I listened to it, and there was some pushback from a UN demographer saying that it wasn’t going to contract so quickly, and in fact a ballooning population would occur first.
But even if it does happen, if we don’t go to 11 billion – I can’t believe that we are even saying that when we have so many problems already with 7.
What’s the problem?
People talk about population reduction as if we are going to suddenly disappear from the face of the planet.
We won’t disappear
The world wasn’t empty when there were a billion humans. There were enough for a fucking world war or two. The worst flu epidemic in history killed tens of millions and the world kept going on, with hardly a blip on our population.
The world wasn’t empty in the nineteenth century and we were inventing cars and telephones and all that stuff.
Some of the drastic effects outlined here are about one country losing population while others don’t – a kind of population arms race fear in my opinion.
Our cultures will survive.
No country needs multiple millions of citizens to keep its culture alive. Look at Ireland. It lost half its population in a few decades and still we know what it is to be Irish. There are fewer Irish per square km of Ireland than there are of Spaniards to square Km of Spain, or any other country practically in Europe – 4 million compared to 16 in the same area of the Netherlands.
And within that relatively small population, let’s be honest, how many people do Irish dancing, play the bodhrán or uilleannpipes, or even speak the language very well? (Hint, I do none of these things.)
In our globalised (mostly Americanised) world, most of us watch Netflix, shop in Zara and dance to techno., not to mention eat pizza and curries.
But that’s okay.
It only takes a handful to keep a culture alive.
Many Native American’s have kept their language and customs going despite being nearly wiped out by European invaders.
The highlanders of Scotland kept their Gaelic, kilts and tartan going, despite the crackdown on them in the 1700s.
The Basques were prohibited from speaking, too, yet now my kids speak only Basque in school, and they learn the culture of many villages and towns in the region – carnival means making a different costume every year in my house!
People tend to think that the way the world was when they were young is the way it should be.
That’s why some of us don’t notice that the insects are vanishing, that the seas are empty, that sheep are not supposed to be eating every tree seedling that tries to sprout.
We are used to having billions of people, used to hearing that there are more than a billion people in both China and India.
But it doesn’t have to be that way.
A billion human beings is quite enough for Planet Earth..
If we want those folks to live in any way approaching the wonderful lives we are (could be if we tried) living in the western world, then we would be better off with even fewer.
A planet emptier of humans would be able to become one full with the other denizens of our ecosystems we have pushed out during our population explosion.
And, for those who only care about seeing the same species, perhaps this lower density will help us appreciate the other humans around us
For our fellow citizens have become mostly background noise to us: moving furniture and to our lives.
We sit on metros and busses surrounded by others without even catching their eye. We go to coffee shops and bars and exchange few words. The supermarket customer now hardly needs to acknowledge the existence of the cashier, if there is one. Our elevator journeys are a gauntlet of greetings, goodbyes and trying not to look at one another in between.
If we were less tightly packed, perhaps we could become more personable (note the word) and talk to one another, chat with our neighbours, smile on the street as we pass, like people did in the past when they lived in villages, like they still do in small communities.
Remember when we all laughed watching Crocodile Dundee deciding New York must be the friendliest place on Earth, with seven million people all wanting to live together?
I see only advantages in such reductions. The only problem is how to get there – and it’ll be most probably abruptly by climate devastation and the loss of biodiversity.
Malthus always gets a bad rap, but as Naomi Klein said, Climate Change changes everything.
Turning on a mountain track
We stumble upon a lepidopterist’s dream:
Butterflies abounding, bouncing from
Bramble to buttercup, clover to cornflower;
A dancing profusion of colour in heat
Haze of August morning amplified
By the addition of dragonflies, damsel
Flies, hoverflies and bumblebees, with
A host of other insects humming and
It occurred to me, that there were once
Such sights in my own suburbs, along
The hedgerows down below and beyond.
That once everywhere outside the city
Centre was an entomologist’s dream, and
The countryside the same for ornithologists
Now they lament the stark scenes
Silent callows empty of corncrakes, and
The bees barely seen in park trees,
Moths no longer litter windscreens
Of a night drive, and these hills, though
Still roamed by pigs and roe, seems so
Similar to those of South Africa, they should
Also hold antelope, lions and leopards
And once they did, until all were lost,
Along with the bison, auroch, and rhinos.
As for the sea, it also should be teeming
They say in the seventeenth century,
Thrashing tails were seen from shore.
Now trawlers roam for days, and only
Coral reefs this century remain, as
The bramble banks of the sea. Yet
How long can its rainbow dance continue?
We watch their wonderful choreography
Holding on to those tiny joys to keep going
But the world is crumbling, we are bumbling
While the coral is bleached clean. Unless we care
More than before, these brambles will be as bare.
if you zoom in, you should be able to see some of the hundreds of butterflies up along this track. I took a video, but it wasn’t very steady…
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….)
As I get back into the swing of things after summer, first thing I have to do is congratulate David Devins of Co. Leitrim and Damian O’Sullivan of Co. Cork, who both won copies of my children’s novel, Peter and the Little People in the summer IWT Irish Wildlife Magazine’s book competition.
As you might know, I have pledged to give 10% of my royalties on Peter and the Little People to this NGO (if you’ve read the book you’ll know why) to help the great work they do.
At the moment a new battle has emerged for them, and us all, to tackle – the possible introduction of more destructive insecticides in Ireland, which threaten bees and other useful and important insects.
It seems that the fight to protect bees, like the fight to stop much environmental destruction will be continual, as companies try to introduce more chemicals.
It’s similar to George Monbiot’s post this week, that though the TTIP agreement seems to have been abandoned in the face of so much negative public opinion against it’s implementation, there are other similar treaties in the works, all designed to take power to legislate international companies from government – and thus public – hands. At the end he suggests we can never let our guard down, for the corporations and their cronies are always working against us and our environment, and they only need to succeed once, while we have to beat them every time.
Similarly, the bees and other insects only have to be erased from the planet once, and we have to save them every year, every week, every day.
Do your bit – join the IWT or whatever similar organisation operates in your country. And be vocal, even through the internet. It’s not quite the direct action that seems necessary to protect the Dakota water supply, but it’s effective when there are enough of us.
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.