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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.

My son on a recent trip to the wilds of the Burren, looking for flowers and insects. He found an alpine gentian and a few orchids.

            Planting a Flag Upon the Shifting Baseline

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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

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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.

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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.

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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

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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

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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:

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For thus we seize upon the joy we need,

The only hope for wonder left clinging

After the stupid, searing, sundering of greed.

There are no insects evident here despite the huge amount of chestnut flowers begging for bees, but it’s good for the soul anyway to get here from the city.

Enjoying Spring?

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            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. 

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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.

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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.

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The rain came, finally, to wash off the delicate petals from these early-flowering trees, in early March. And record rainfalls in some places, like Alicante, with highest ever 24hr precipitation on March 4th… not so good for the fields at all.

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.

Sheep pastures rolling up the hill. A delight to look at, despite having few thing worth looking at in them.

            

The Pull of Pastures

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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.

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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.

the village of Oskotz not too far north of Pamplona, but a different climate to the village where I normally go, which grows wheat while this grows sheep.

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.

End of 21, start of 22….

        Well, another year’s over, and a new one, just about to be begun…

And what have we done?

Well, we hung on in there, I hope. It’s been pretty crappy. There has been a flood of shit news, and it’s not getting any better, nor will it anytime soon, if it ever does.

I know it’s not nice to think of depressing things this time of year, but after the floods in Pamplona (and then downstream in the days afterwards) a few weeks back, I wrote this poem….

I don’t hope you enjoy it, but do read it.

And watch Don’t Look Up while you are at it, this new year’s break.

the floods before they receded.

    It’s Only Getting Worse

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The recent flood recedes from fields;

Ducks return to the river, magpies 

Scan the sodden banks for stranded

Shells of drowned snails and worms

About the larger flotsam: scarves of

Polytunnel plastic wrapped round trees,

Piles of pallets and branches, miscellany.

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Detritus, with the magpie foraging just in front…

The older bridges have weathered well,

While barrier walls and fences will

Have to be mended. The stench of

Fetid faecal matter mulched in mud

Hovers over the flood plain as men

Spray down streets, machines sweep

Up debris, sewers are pumped clean.

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pump truck working on the sewer lines.
washing away the mud

The greatest flow of water recorded,

The worst flood in living memory; but

Just another on a list occurring during

One news cycle – Bolivia got battered

And a mile-wide stream of tornadoes

Thrashed six US states, leaving deaths

In its wake as well as destruction of wealth.

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And it’s never getting better, as a

Song says: the slippery slope we sang

About is beneath our soles now, and

We’ll slide ever faster, repeating wreckage,

Building back broken bridges, other 

Constructions lasting less time until

The next deluge or other artificially-

Exacerbated natural disaster.

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The things we counted on for

Christmas will be dependant on

Whatever’s already arrived: the

Shipping and chips yet pending

Slows supplies perhaps until a 

Year passes, but the shortages

May last till we die; living again

With scarcity, like our ancestors

In times past we thought we’d 

Superseded, but let ourselves slip 

Up, back, due to too much greed.  

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So these scenes we’ve seen recently

Are those to keep upon our screens:

Fond memories of former times

When our world was right, and we 

Never accepted the sun was setting

Till we saw nothing but dark night.

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I know we have just too many things on our minds, and that it’s easier to stick to the day to day, but this is going to be our day to day soon enough if we don’t drag our so called leaders into the daylight.

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.

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            What Would We Do Without Wooded Banks?

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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:

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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? 

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And only 

When darkness descends over thoughts do I 

Give up on the hunt and head home.

when the banks are well wooded, there’s plenty for beavers to eat. and for everything else

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

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Wherein comes the urge to chastise

Children chasing chaffinches, ducks;

Picking wildflowers for bunches just 

To steep in water and later pour it out?

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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.

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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

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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.

Getting close to the Geology of Ireland in the Dargle

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.

On our way to the Sally Gap. Saw a sika hind into the bargain!

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 view from Killiney Hill might be slightly different towards Shankill in the future if we’re not pro-active to prevent it.

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.

Sun Set Sun Day

Happy Summer!

Though I’m Irish, and for me Summer started in May, making this MidSummer’s Day, logically, it seems that the astronomers around me disagree. Whatever.

Here’s a short poem I thought of a couple of Sundays ago, to make you think of the joy of these short nights.

A sunset that makes you want to stay till every last ray and photo has faded away…

            Sunday Sunset

Other days we rush inside 

From the porch, to prepare

Dinner, drinks and sit upon

Sofa to see a movie or TV; or

Drive to the city for dusk, but

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Sunday is when we want to stay 

Watching sunset and slipping 

Off to bed when the bats and 

Owls calling have taken over

From twilight blackbirds and

Nightingales, the last rays of

Sun replaced by moonbeams,

The gleam of glow worms when

Cicadas are silent to let crickets

Sing, as peace settles like aspen

Cotton in the stillness between

Breezes. Then sleep suggests itself 

Until we rise again to catch the dawn.

Late Rains

            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.

sf

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.

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.

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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.

Another Spring

 

I took a trip to the river some days ago and sat down and thought of how different this spring is – much drier or course, but simply because we can go outside and see it the way we weren’t able to last year.

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           Another Spring

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The soil thirsts for showers, but still

Seeds sprout green and buds flower.

Warblers and mistle thrushes whistle

Busily from the bramble bushes.

Upon thermals, raptors stall, surveying

Below, from distant forests, cuckoos call.

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I sit upon a stone wall, watching

Wagtails bobbing below a waterfall,

Remembering, last year, the view

Of a robin, a tree, we then held dear,

And our feelings thence unfree

Behind our self-made fence

As we waited to leave impatiently,

Even as news came to grieve.

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A brace of ducks take flight as slowly

Afternoon descends to night,

Slapping away the tiny silence, sweetly;

The air is filled with blossom scent,

And as the ducks take wing, I swear,

I shall never miss another spring.

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the small picture view – how wonderful it is just to see this instead of concrete or our own bare walls inside. Long may we leave our houses and be greeted with life.