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Winter, as it Should Be

A view of the distant pyrenees, with a little snow, and a forest still sporting spots of orange, in mid December.

            Somewhat as it Should Be

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Frozen fog has shut off any sights without the vale:

Only a few fields below the road and trees along:

Ash still green but paling, poplars rising glorious 

In gold and rowan orange glowing. Goldfinches flee 

But return easily to glean seeds to fuel against the cold

Ice clad grass banks and crown clods in shaded corners.

Chilled fingers fumble at the pen with these words, so I

Turn to the house, for use in clutching logs, and later,

Thawed to type by the fire, stopping by the spring

To fill the water bottle for a dram. The flow has not

Yet been helped by the recent rain and snow, I see,

But we’ve returned, somewhat, to winter as it should be.

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I wrote this a few weeks back, when the weather was a little different. It’s clear that this Christmas is not white in much of Europe, but it’s whiteout in much of North America…. neither exactly what anyone wants…

Well, anyway, happy Christmas. Hope you’re warm wherever you are.

Some News on Novels

It’s been a while since I published a new novel.

I hope to have a YA set in Ireland out in the new year.

Meanwhile, some news: I’ll shortly be getting my copyright back on the five novels published with Tirgearr Publishing.

Once I do, I will do my best to get them back up for sale on Amazon, first as Ebooks. I am considering publishing them in print as well, and I have to admit I am in two minds – if you have an ebook, then it’s best to just download them. But if not… well, I hope there are folks out there who’d love to read them in print… I will get back to you on that. If anyone wants to comment either way, feel free.

As we see the fall of Twitter, and the fact of Meta failing and the Facebook basically falling also into disuse by at least a large proportion of folks in my friends lists, I am thinking of where to actually connect to readers and friends, apart from just here.

It’s true that the life of a writer is always hard, and getting readers to pick up our books never easy. The social media space has made it possible for some of us to sell some of our work.

And yet, at the same time, the whole selling scape is not often our favourite space. I personally rarely go on Facebook now – and I am one of the few people on the planet who legitimately need such a space to stay in touch with all the lovely people I’ve come to know over the years in my real life travels round the world. I feel the threads tying us together getting slacker, though, thinner. And in some respects this is inevitable, It would happen faster without the internet, but eventually it will happen anyway, as the years stretch on and we all get older.

In other respects, writing is something I will do regardless of who reads the work, and I will do it (am doing it because of constraints of real life) in my own time, despite the marketing mantra of getting new books out in front of folks’ eyes and having series to pull them in.

If anyone reads my poems you’ll see that it is out in the real world of Nature that I am happiest, and the writing comes when I am not there, from ideas I get while I am.

Those writings will come, as long as I live, and if the history of art has taught us anything, it’s that fame and life are not necessarily concurrent. We can only enjoy the work, and worry about everything else after. Nor is financial return any indication of merit.

I will continue to post my blogposts to Facebook, but you’ll not find me there much otherwise, so if you want to get in touch the best is to comment on these posts here on WordPress, and to write me at davidjmobrienauthor@gmail.com

For when Twitter dies, I have joined Mastedon, and I here’s my page for anyone to follow: @David_J_OBrien@mastodon.ie

Meanwhile, here’s a poem I wrote a few years back. I think I might have posted it before, but it came to mind while writing this.

Enjoy

            Threads

As we walk our world, we weave

A kind of tapestry about us:

Threads spread out, linking our lives 

With those we meet.

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Wonderful, a wheel of whirling strands

Swirling about us like glinting gossamer

Whipped on morning breeze across sunlit fields;

The thoughts and talks and memories

Shared and cared for across continents 

Over centuries.

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But ultimately bitter-sweet,

For they inevitably wear thin over time,

We often fail to keep all attended to

To stop them breaking,

Trailing, frail, forgotten in the tangle,

And even the strongest spun silk can snap:

Stretched taut across landscapes,

When we walk too far.

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Those we best attend to, too,

Weaken, and fade to invisibility

Eventually, severed, taken from us 

When their own weaver leaves this ether.

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How long will our own cloth survive,

When we’re not here to hold it?

As those that know us no longer 

Hold memory of what we told them,

About our many connections, never

Mind our own names, and actions,

Faint after just a generation.

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No wonder some strive to stencil

Their names in stone set into cathedrals,

Or indelibly upon a novel, poem or play

Which will carry on without us

When we’ve gone upon our way.

Glorious

This is a shot I took in a different place than I had the inspiration, when I had the time to stop and shoot it. It’s not quite as glorious, but it’s damn lovely all the same. Autumn took a while to arrive, but it’s great to see it.

            And It’s Glorious

The storm has eased, eventually.

Though cold, trees still, dripping yet,

Leaves left, strewn upon the street:

Sheets of gold and ochre. Streams of

Sticks and twigs clog the gutters,

Grown to spreading pools, reflecting 

Gorgeous tempest survivors overhead.

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And it’s glorious: a rare, raw, glimpse 

Of our world without the concrete.

At least until the sweepers resume,

Scouring nature with their plastic brooms.

A Few Seconds of Eternity

            A few Seconds of Eternity

A hubbub surrounds several idling cars:

Kids running between house and driveway

As the gang gets ready to leave on Sunday,

Carrying bags and banging shutters closed.

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Asking, “Have we left anything behind?”

“Well, here it stays till next weekend,” replied,

For we’ve baths and dinners to have this evening

If we ever get on the road home.

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Eventually, the door locked and all packed in,

Bar me, standing in the garden as the cars

Reverse out, waiting to close the gate, taking in

The scene surrounding us as every evening:

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Silence settling o’er the vale as the breeze

Slows to swing round from afternoon heat

On the southern plains beyond the hills,

Set in scarlet, under clouds tinged pink.

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The sparrows have ceased squabbling

In the hedges for roosting spots, chirping

Softly as crickets; the sky turquoise east,

Glowing golden west; the oaks go on growing

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Under Saturn and early stars starting to shine,

As they have for eons, breathing in, quietly,

As the gate squeaks shut; all is mine,

For a few seconds, immersed in an eternity.

Often ‘Tis the little moments that make this life wonderful.

Last Dance

            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:

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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,

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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…

September Still acts like Autumn after all

We have finally got some decent days of rain – and who’d have thought we’d be saying such words even a couple of decades ago?

September has returned, and the swimming pools have closed – an important part of the end of summer even in this cooler part of Spain.

So here’s a short poem inspired by the last dip a couple of weeks ago…

These clouds didn’t produce any wanted rain, but a few days later we got some good wet days to soak the soil, and the heat has gone from afternoon.

            September Again

Chill seeps through skin and up 

Legs creating a repelling shiver

Shaken off at last, reluctant leap,

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Sweeping sweat away in one

Stroking refreshing lengths of

The clear water, vibrant, energized,

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Once out, heat resting upon

The village becomes welcome again.

Soaking afternoon sun

Seems summer holds yet

Tight to the terrain. Still

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Leaves left lying upon pool tiles

Tell a different tale:

September has returned;

Trees not dry of drought turn,

Blackberries shrivelled on brambles

Sloes fallen from thorns, walnuts

Weakly cling to limp twigs;

Chestnut spikes lie scattered

On forest floor, surprisingly, as if

We’d somehow forgotten 

Autumn would come, and

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Somewhat disconcerting,

At first, as evening chill envelops – 

Our inertia preferring to ignore it.

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Yet, when jumpers dug out of drawers,

We’ll embrace the breeze:

As bracing as this latest bathe.

Here the trees yet green, flowers yet in bloom, though bracken has been harvested in some of those fields for winter and chestnuts (small this year) are on the forest floor.

  Drought Triggers Fall like Frost

            Drought Triggers Fall like Frost

This river valley is not so dry, but up above the shallower scree slopes are dropping those leaves down.

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The forest climbs either side of the valley

Up from the river gulley, glinting pools and 

Protruding rocks, grey against green,

Except where steeply narrows, now

Auburn, gold and orange like autumn 

Came in August as trees let their leaves 

Fall on the shallow soil rather than farther 

Toil for little gain under the strain 

Of such a fiery glare all summer long.

Of Plastic and Plasticity

         

   Of Plastic and Plasticity

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Peering out over open water: green wash,

No spot of black to mark a seal, nor sight

Of white to indicate ice upon which to strike,

The bear turns about, towards dry land,

And trundles away from the shore,

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Following a novel scent, not so sure

To signify a meal, but more appealing 

Than sterile saline. The stench of humans

Almost overpowers hunger, pull of putrefaction,

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But cautiously the bear pads across scraped

Gravel and strands of soft stuff –not snow – and

Colourful lumps, shiny hard strips and bits.

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A sharp set of claws upturns tins and other

Things the bear has never seen, and finds skin,

Bones and shreds of flesh of prey never tasted:

Not even raw; changed in a way it can’t fathom.

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Other animals abound – gulls and foxes and

Neighbour bears. But she fights for her share

Of the spread-out spoils of some unknown

Carnage, scavenging scraps of flesh amid debris,

Some of which is stuck with string, some

Clinging to wrappers – has to be eaten also –

But are surely shed easily enough 

As would be ingested seal skin and bone.

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Some men with glasses from a far observe

The animal with consternation, as it with

Relish ingests the refuse: Earth’s greatest

Quadruped predator reduced to such. But 

Others shrug at suggestions of contamination,

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Considering the data and the sea state – 

Since even artic snow and summer rain contain

The same chemicals as the landfill, and

The seals are a dish equally intoxicating

From fish swimming in poisoned brine.

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What use, they wonder, a pristine scene

Without seals within reach of a beach,

Other than to produce a perfectly clean

Bear carcass: healthy except for hunger?

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The bear, on the other hand, now on land,

Is pulled by the wind past the dump, to 

More varied carrion. Carcasses lie in woods:

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Caribou, moose, deer and musk oxen;

Moving, the quarry could become new prey

Replacing seals, if bears become plastic enough.

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The pinipeds themselves, if they are to survive,

Shall someday have to haul up on a shore to pup;

Walrus, too, must beach for calves to breach.

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Eventually, perhaps, an adaptation to such crap

From our waste, awash in any water, solid or not,

They encounter, can give a chance for all species

To scarcely subsist somehow in a new balance.

But such hopes fast melt in plasticity’s absence.

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Not the most up-beat of poems, but in some way a tiny bit optimistic for the predator if not species of large mammal facing the most precarious future of us all….

A Bird’s Eye View…

          A Bird’s Eye View of Dearth

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Frogs diminished by the dryness

Since even before spring arrived:

Only two eggs laid, to cry less

As sibling ensures one survived.

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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…

Beaver Spread

This looked like just another pond made by the floods a few years ago, which you can see from the severe erosion on the far bank. But it’s not.

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.

When I first cycled past, I assumed this had been made by some local humans who’d wanted to keep the pond for swimming in our hot May before the pools open, because it was so perfectly straight!

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.

The beaver swimming out from the lodge, which entrance is clearly marked by the sticks.

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!).

This was taken with my phone as the low light made my other camera refuse to take the shot with the zoom. Just 4m away, though, so in real life it was very exciting!

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.