Well, this is a little victory in itself.
This book took a long time to get here.
I had the idea way back when I published The Soul of Adam Short, thinking about a YA novel set in Ireland, and the part of Ireland I know best is obviously South County Dublin and North Wicklow.
The problem of fires and farmers and the protection of nesting birds was something that started back then, and of course has kept going years later….
It merged with an idea I had when I was around 17….
The characters came separately, from a different inspiration.
It took a while to get the pen to paper, but my first typed document has a date of June 2015.
Then the first draft was done in 2018.
Yes. I can be 3 years on a book that’s only around 60k words!
I gave a copy of the third or fourth draft to my family – the younger ones – asking for feedback.
For a couple of years.
I got on with writing my long novel, Paul and the Pyramid Builders.
Then I asked my ex-publisher of Adam Short to have a look at it, and see if it was for the drawer.
She says it’s not.
So here it is. Edited and proof-read and ready for reviews.
Here’s the blurb….
Nicky and her two new friends, Mark and Ash, spend spring racing their mountain bikes through south Dublin – both down hillsides and hitching rides from HGVs – and exploring their feelings towards one another. They’re aghast to one day find an illegal fire on the mountain, just set by a farmer. When the police say they can do nothing about it, the three determine to catch the culprit red-handed. But life is as complicated as love, and as Nicky comes to terms with this, she discovers that sometimes you have to accept whatever little victories come your way.
It’s dedicated to my good friend Phil, no longer with us, who was a great man for the biking round south Dublin and Wicklow, though more on a road bike than mountain bike.
It’s on Pre Order now, and will be published before my birthday – Paddy’s Day to be exact.
March is when this novel kicks off, when the fires that beleaguer the Dublin and Wicklow mountains should be stopped rather than started.
Anyone who’s interested in a review copy can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Happy St. David’s Day, everyone.
Don’t forget, if you see a brush fire in Ireland from today, it’s illegal.
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.
The beaver is a creature few people dislike. Many think they’re cute. They’re clever – making their dams and their lodges with such craftbeavership, that anyone who’s played with sand on the beach is impressed.
I’ve been trying to spot beavers for almost thirty years, since I spent a summer in Colorado and had a pond up the road. I visited it, and later others in Massachusetts and New Hampshire while I lived there for 7 years.
Always, I was disappointed to find the builders hidden from view in their lodges.
The ponds, though, like this one, were always full of other life: birds and dragonflies, fish and pond skaters. And I saw a whole lot of muskrats, which are pretty cool in their own right, I have to say.
In Pamplona I’ve seen their signs in the River Arga. But despite photos in the paper of brazen beavers crossing bridges, I’d never seen a ripple I could deem a rodent from the banks and bridges I lingered on.
But this summer I found that a pair of beavers have set up home on a very small (usually…) river very close to our village, and right beside the road, to boot, making it possible to spot them without hardly a trek, and since they’re used to the road noise, they don’t spook too easily.
I’d spotted the pond, but just assumed it was a deep gouge created by the huge floods a few years ago (we’d been swimming ourselves in these during the summer of Covid restrictions..) and this year of drought and very little flow, had been kept from drying by someone with time on their hands making a dam…
When I’d realised what the pond actually was, I was back next morning, but saw no beavers – though I did see their lodge entrance – built into the bank rather than in the middle of the pond, like I’d seen in North America.
I’d been told that European beavers don’t make dams, but that’s clearly not true. Perhaps those seen so far in Spain had not because they’ve been on large rivers – there’s no need for a dam on the Arga, I can tell you, though the beavers have been actively felling fairly large trees there (several older trees along the river park are now protected by chickenwire to dissuade them from taking away the perambulator’s shade!).
Which brings me to the title of this post – Beaver Spread.
Beavers are spreading.
These two are descendants of eighteen animals that were illegally released in the Ebro near the Aragon tributary, back in 2003. They’ve been moving up the rivers since then. With mostly no reaction, as most folk don’t notice them – until they started eating large trees in the middle of Pamplona (though that didn’t make anyone call for their removal, as far as I know.) There were some complaints, and, in fact, some animals were removed by the local governments, though, strictly speaking that was illegal, as once reestablished, they should be considered a protected species under EU law.
Anyway, they’ve spread now to smaller rivers, where their positive effects should be a lot clearer. At least to me in this particular brook, it’s plain as day.
This river drains a long valley which is usually very dry in summer, but gets a fair few heavy storms (our house was flooded just from rainfall in the field above us), one of which gouged out that bank in the first photo. Above this pond a bridge was washed out because it got clogged with trees and stones during the flood, and below it, the local town was devastated with huge economic losses when the river flooded houses and businesses within minutes of the storm.
At the time of the flood there were calls for better drainage – in the way of cutting the poplars and other trees along the bank – to let the water flow without slowing down at all. This came from farmers, and I have to say it’s either in ignorance or apathy of the effects it would have had on the town if that bridge and the trees and culverts had not led the water to spread out across their fields and slow its pace…. it would have washed away houses rather than just fill them with mud, and cars would have gone down like corks in the flow – and a lot more people would have died than did, without time to get out of harm’s way.
We all know that it’s cheaper to compensate a farmer for loss of a crop than a whole town for all their broken windows and destroyed merchandise etc…
But here, despite what I see as large erosion problem, they still dig drains into the fields so they can get the heavy machinery in after the rains they often (more often nowadays of course) wait (and possibly pray) for.
Which brings us to the drought.
We had a forest fire upstream of this pond this spring, and there are worries that the next storm (still waiting on rain) might wash down huge amounts of ashes and soil that’s no longer held in place by vegetation.
But meanwhile the river is down to a trickle. And it’s ponds like this one that are keeping the river alive. While I sat there waiting on the beavers to emerge I was entertained by a plethora of dragonflies, pond skaters, ducks, a heron, and even a nightjar that came down to drink before setting off to hunt. I can’t see, but I assume there are some fish in the murky water, too. And crayfish – European ones – are in that river, as well as European mink.
There is nothing but benefit to beavers – they keep the river alive in drought and they stop the river washing away everything in flood.
What’s not to like?
In Britain they have been reintroduced in a few places, with positive reaction in general. They’ve sorted out flooding in the places they’ve made home, and you’ve probably already heard of these cases.
In Ireland, there are some calls to introduce the beaver to have these same positive effects there. I support this, even if the beaver was never actually officially a native species. Most of Ireland’s fauna was not native. At least this one does some good. We have feral goats allowed to graze the vegetation to nothing in many places simply because it was there for a few hundred years, for goodness sake.
The only problem I see is the same a for so many other species we’d like to see (back) on our island – there’s not enough trees. We need to let scrub grow instead of burn, and get forest cover back in the simplest way possible, and then we have habitat for trees, and then the ugly as feck drainage and flood schemes that beset our lovely towns and villages would not be half as necessary.
Meanwhile, this pair of beavers, and I hope their offspring, are one of those little glories we can enjoy while they last.
Been reading this book,
It’s pretty informative.
And it inspired the following poem…
Along with this little guy…
My youngest child, holding his newest toy,
Up overhead, like a talisman: a soft doll
Sewn in the shape of a turbaned genie,
Pronounced his wishes would the words
Only carry the power of the fable.
“I would have Geniousious – its given name –
Kill Putin, and make it not be able
To have any animal in danger of extinction.”
A sad assertion for a six-year-old.
Which sunk my soul deeper into my bowels.
From reading an outline of human history
From the fall of the Roman Empire to
The fall of the Third Reich, I could
Summarise the centuries of papal succession
Crusaders and invaders swaying
To and fro, back and forth over the soil,
Staining with flesh and blood the Earth,
Sweeping millions to their massacres,
In thrusting, thirsting, for supremacy,
In short sentences: shit happened
That never should have, had we only
Stayed on the savannah with mere spears.
The bastard causing my son such sadness
And the statement bringing me to tears
Is just the latest in a long list, I insist:
He is not alone. Regardless of their tone
The rest of the pantheon are playing
As if the planet is actually replaceable
Or simply a stepping-stone to the next
Star system they can subjugate.
Too late to save those of the second wish
From their fate: the genie would have to
Hold the secret of time, to travel back
To the time of tribes seeking new lands,
Stop seafaring, sledding, steel science…
The systems we created to control
Have slipped from our own, and seem
Destined to deliver us back our destiny:
We shall stumble, back to our beginnings
As just another species on a rock
Awash with water and organic molecules
Transforming from one shape to another
As all are eaten, even the ones with weapons,
Until our form of life dies out, along with lots
Of other sorts, and some others evolve, I surmise,
We shall suffer, I am grieved to say, son, for
We are already, sliding, and, Jesus wept,
Seem inept at dodging, not just bullets aimed at us,
But oncoming steam engines of our own devising,
From far off with a blinding light beckoning at us.
We sleepwalked into a new disease creation,
Let it clutch enough of us so it shall cling on
Like a long list of poxes yet to appear, but near.
The heat waves and fires washing over white houses
Have had no effect on our behaviour any more
Than the waves of refugees fleeing from its results:
Even now the crisis erroneously seen as rideable
Rather than a rising tide set to swamp.
The swimmers so far stamped upon by standers, yet,
Littering the sand, shall pile up like plastic:
Become numbers on an ever longer set of statistics,
Of deaths, in the desert resulting from our
Immoral immigration legislation, letting
Famine fell far more than the virus, multiples
Of anything we’ve seen over the millennia
Of Mongols and Huns and Hitler’s gas and guns.
The lessons of History seem serving only to
Prepare some for the suffering to come:
Send us into the trees yet green to gather up
The tiny glories all around us while we can;
Create a wealth of memories with one another which
Might help us weather better our dour destiny,
Hoping we’re able to die a natural death
From mere bad health before it all dissolves.
And if there’s a third wish left upon the table,
Let it be this: that my children stay off such lists,
And choose to spread ideas instead of seed:
Leave poems, not progeny, for words
Do not suffer such as sentient beings shall.
I haven’t even finished reading the book…
This is the page I am on now – coincidentally in a chapter on the Spanish Civil War….
I read this headline today in my local newspaper. It translates to “the Navarra shop owners are against Sanchez’s measures to save energy. Some foresee insecurity if the shop windows have no lights after ten pm.”
The photo caption reads “Complaints about the heat in the market.”
This photo here is some storm clouds gathering over the dry dry (and, as you know, quite extensively burnt) landscape I stare out over every evening as I sit and write.
I’ve posted this photo because there is a fucking storm brewing. The actual storms come stronger than ever, and they do little to help the thirsty land compared to the rain we used to have in Spain.
But also, it’s very beautiful.
And soon enough we might only see beauty up above the landscape, because the landscape will cease to be beautiful by itself.
That newspaper headline tells us how quickly that might happen…
We can not even turn down the AC. We can’t even agree to turn off the lights, the ones that aren’t even being used… (I wrote a poem about that, actually, which I must post some time.)
And that’s to just lower energy use by 15% so we can help the rest of Europe, which will have a colder winter than we will in Spain.
In a war.
How can we hope to avoid the worst of Climate Change in light of this kind of stupidity?
I, as you can see from the poem, fail to have much hope at all.
Planting a Flag on the Shifting Baseline
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.
Thoughts on War
Although on this blog I mostly post poetry, it’s usually poetry inspired by events that have been happening to me or around me, and I have often posted my thoughts on political events in the past.
These events have always been about places I know, from having lived there, or at least visited and know enough about to have formed an opinion. Thus I haven’t written about the Arab spring uprisings, nor the civil war in Syria, nor, despite the horror of it, the war in Yemen.
In some instances I’ve been reticent because it’s hard to say much without offending som people who I’d rather not. As an author, I don’t want to alienate my readers, nor nail my colours to a mast in full sight of the world when there are many colours and many masts, all of which may (or may not) be valid, when it’s not my place to get into, for example, US politics. I wasn’t a fan of Trump’s, but I know that millions there were, and I know some of these personally. I’d rather everyone read my books, not just people of one persuasion, and I hope they’ll find something in my books that might sway them to think the way I do.
In the present case, however, it’s impossible not to opine.
Although I don’t know much about Ukraine, and the nearest I’ve been is Prague (or Leningrad – not sure which is closer), it’s Europe.
I’m a European.
I’ve said many times that my family is fully committed to the European integration ideals.
My kids have two passports and speak three languages and have a mix of many cultures. Tell them to decide what they are and the only answer is European. They can’t split themselves into any single country or culture. Nor should they have to.
If Ukraine wants to be part of the EU, then they should be welcomed. And we in the EU should not worry about losing our identities if we have a stronger union – just as being Basque doesn’t mean you can’t feel Spanish too, or more correctly, being in a country called Spain does not mean you can’t be Basque, so being in Europe doesn’t mean we’ll be less Irish.
The invasion of Ukraine is so clearly wrong that it’s uncontroversial to condemn the actions of Putin and the generals who obey his orders. The poor bastards doing the fighting are not to blame, nor the Russians, and Belarusians who’ve had to live with corrupt and psychotic megalomaniacs running their lives for the last twenty and more years.
As an Irishman (I do only have one passport and my 4 languages are really 1+ fractions) I’m sensitive to the questions posed on social media about what one would do if it were our country being invaded.
Well, that’s an interesting question.
Ireland had an invasion a long time ago.
We didn’t completely succeed in getting rid of them. Some would say we’ve not quite finished with that task.
It’s a complicated situation.
And at least in the place I lived in, it was not encouraged to involve ourselves in anything about it, though we knew of people who did.
The point, in the case of Ireland, a part of Europe – as the recent Brexit debacle has clearly shown everyone, even those people who had as much idea of our place in the world as they had of that of Ukraine until Mr Trump’s impeachment – we don’t solve such conflicts with tanks and bombs and guns (like the song laments).
The cultural connection between Russians and Ukrainians are very probably similar to that between British and Irish. We’re not the same, but sometimes outsiders mix us up, and that’s because we’re closely tied, which should make us allies rather than enemies, who can solve our differences peacefully.
To return to the question, however, of whether the citizens of the Republic of Ireland would take up arms to defend our country if the British (to use the obvious example – the Scandinavians are hardly likely to take to their boats again) came over the (so far invisible, but who knows what might happen if they leave Johnson in charge of the place) border.
The answer at least for me, is yes.
We aren’t going back to that shit again (a sentiment probably felt by the Ukrainians after eighty years of control by the USSR, I suppose, though we suffered ten times longer).
In my case I don’t want to be in a war zone with the supply of insulin – and electricity needed to keep it cool – gone while we’re besieged (not that Dublin has a metro where anyone could take shelter from falling bombs to begin with). I’d rather die swiftly by lead poisoning during the fight than slowly succumbing to diabetic ketosis. If the war could be ended faster by my actions, if my daughter could survive on the insulin I’d thus not need, then it’d be worth it.
But I’ve lived a good half a life, and most of the people called to their country’s defence are those who have plenty to live for, in any place they can find that will take them in (often hard to do – look at the poor bastards who’ve tried to get into Europe from Morocco in the last few days, as Spain says one thing looking north with open arms while speaking volumes by actions as it turns its back on the south).
The Irish “put up with” the “English” for so many centuries because they’re inclined to grumble and get on with life – the bastards at the top all alike in their eyes. Even when we had our periodic revolutions, those that took part were not necessarily admired by the general populace, never mind emulated.
Again, it’s complicated, and nobody has any good answers.
I read a twitter feed yesterday about battalions of Chechen soldiers who have joined the Ukrainians, having been exiled (for whatever reason – forced or chosen) from their homeland after Putin’s war there. Some were saying they were traitors to their homeland (since Chechnya is still officially part of Russia), and other’s that the Chechen soldiers fighting for Russia (for whatever reason, too – money, lack of alternatives, etc.) were the traitors. This reminded me of the controversy of the Irish battalions who fought for the UK in the First World War and the opinions of the general public towards them – varying from heroes to traitors, too.
One must go with one’s own conscience in this respect, but I think at the least we have respect the choice of each to fight or not, as long as it’s not for the wrong side. And if someone is forced to fight for the wrong side, simply encourage them to do what they can to resist in any form they can – on a scale from simply being nice to the civilians to proceeding as slowly as possible without being court-martialled, to direct sabotage.
So, in conclusion, we should all do what we can, and in some cases that means big steps forward, in others it means putting on an extra jumper and turning down the heating.
To each their own, and all forward in the right direction. Too many around us, though, are dragging us backward. Only by mass movement can we catch them and sway them our way.
The Enjoyment of Spring
February leaves light frost on the park grass,
But the birdsong cutting the chill silence belies
This skin of sparkling crystals; harkens from
Recently breakfasted birds animated to action
As the era of excitement approaches, already
Cold soil broken by budding narcissus prepared to
Perform their demure golden pouts and beside
The warming morning rays upon me shows
The strengthening sun will soon scatter the ice
And afternoon will even induce disrobing, thus
Dallying in sun-drenched dales.
Yet, still, I feel
Almost ill at enjoying these delightful days when
We know elsewhere gale forced storm surges
Swamp grasslands with salt, wind whip trunks
Down like twigs, just as most we need them
Growing. The mountain slopes are bare of snow:
Instead several fires on-going, and a bushel
Of other evils await.
Even here, these trees
Are leaving too soon; petals, peeping weakly
Into shape shall feed few bees this spring,
And we fear for their fruits come summer.
For the grass beneath the white seems damp,
But even the soil is dry, and blades soon scorched
As we wait for rains, disappeared more than delayed,
During a drought seeming set to last till March.
I wrote this poem after a pause in the park on the way to work, the same day I saw this video of the storm surge back in Ireland where they were hit by several named storms while our farmers in Spain were desperate for rain.
The Attraction to Sheep Fields
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.
What Would We do Without Wooded Banks
The Arga along the edge of Pamplona’s older parts just outside the old walls. A flock of cormorants roost just around the bend here.
What Would We Do Without Wooded Banks?
Walking a dammed riverbank, autumn evening,
Scanning still water for a hint of beavers,
Seeking signs of these elusive animals,
Watching for ripples in the reflection of the gloaming.
See a shimmer sent out to midstream but
Just a wind eddy as aspens shiver overhead,
Their yellow leaves tied tenuously to baring branches.
Below, a pale place in the gloom of the bank shows
The scene of beaver eating on a poplar bole,
But no body approaches, so I pause and pad across
A footbridge to pause and snap a photo of autumn:
The trees arch out over deep water, and I wonder
What life could live in a river without the banks
Well wooded? Where would these cormorants aloft
Alight for the night? The herons roost? Dropping
Guano to recycle. Kingfishers eye the minnows below
Before dropping down to snatch the flashing fish,
Well fed on fallen leaves and dung. What would become
Of them? What would hold the water when it rises,
Hold holts for otters to hide within? How would
We hope to halt in our walks, to take in these
Scenes of such reflections, all glittering and glinting,
Hinting at the invisible, holding hope?
When darkness descends over thoughts do I
Give up on the hunt and head home.
Sometimes I see a tweet from home of the destruction done unto rivers and the shredding of any foliage along their banks. Here, there are beavers back from past extinctions, and it can be a nuisance if they bole an old poplar on a part of the riverbank well-frequented by walkers and with few other trees to shade us, but a bit of chicken wire protects the most important and moves the beavers off towards this end, where there’s plenty to eat and a few trees felled will only add to the diversity of the river.
It’s for the Kids!
Saving the Next Generation
Wherein comes the urge to chastise
Children chasing chaffinches, ducks;
Picking wildflowers for bunches just
To steep in water and later pour it out?
These innocent actions seem almost
Painful for some of us to see, since
It seems every seedling, even insect, is
Particularly precious in this sinking era.
Now we need to encourage kids to
Lie down on a lawn, plucking daisies
As they please, ripping leaves and
Flicking petals to the breeze, immersed
In the verdure that surrounds us. Thus
They will in turn appreciate the wonder
Of these tiny treasures of orchids, clover,
Cornflowers as especially as do we mourners.
I’ve been offline to a certain extent so far this summer. But I’ve been outside a lot, enjoying the nature left to us, as you can see from these photos ( I don’t publish anyone’s face in this blog), and with my kids in Ireland.
But I have republished Peter and the Little People, and it’s out in paperback!
It’s for the Kids!
Of course, anyone of any age can enjoy it, so go ahead and pick up a copy. It’s perfect for reading aloud, too.
Like everything we do, it’s for the kids who will have to visit places much changed and degraded unless we stop what we’re doing.
I don’t let my kids pick some wildflowers, like orchids, but then the local roads authority or the farmers come along and strim or spray the ditches and hedgerows…
The news this summer is of course pretty depressing, with the IPCC pretty much saying we’re in big trouble unless our so-called leaders act like we need them to…
So have a read of Peter and the Little People, and then help your children write some letters to the Taoiseacht or whoever supposedly leads your government telling them they’ll have a place in history – good or bad is up to them.