The Dance of the Gnats
In slanting sunlight along hedges warmed
Hordes of gnats amass in glittering swarms
Like plumes of dust thrust up
From the ground burst open, abounding,
In an ultimate race to lay eggs ere autumn:
A bountiful sign summer rests on last legs,
Yet, at least, as the flourishing knots
Feed the gathering flocks of swallows
Ere their exodus, fill lizards left lying on
Stone even cooling, fatten bats come twilight,
An indication our Earth brims, still:
Life resides, ready to thrive when we let it.
While they fly I will delight
In the dance as long as lasts this light.
Autumn has finally arrived, with a storm, some rain and wind and now chilly foggy mornings. And very happy we are to see it, and the flies dying as they should to be born again next spring…
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.
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.
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.
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.
So I haven’t been all that unproductive, really. It’s taken many months to write – actually more than a year, which is pretty sad for a novella! – but I have completed a dystopian novella set in our future – sixty years down the line.
It’s called The Logical Solution.
It’s something I think is appropriate to our own time – as in all the best dystopias! – so I have decided to self publish it, on Kindle Direct, and have it out there asap for everyone living through this crisis – the pandemic: let’s take things one step at a time, but there are more crises to worry about later (and that’s everyone on the planet, bar the bastard politicians and the rich who pull their strings) – can have a look and see how much worse things could get!
Seriously, it’s supposed to be funny, too. Things might not get that bad…
It’s on pre-order right now, for 99 cents! a steal. and it will come out on September 1st.
You can hit me up for a review copy if you can’t wait that long – but the review needs (please!) to be ready by publishing day so you can post it on Goodreads and Amazon and anywhere else you reckon the readers of the world will see it!
And since the novella talks about computer algorithms and whatnot – a small heads up: if everyone I know buys this book before Sept 1, then it will become an automatic best seller on Amazon. Seriously. It’s that simple to fool the computers. Then it gets on adverts from Amazon and more people see it and buy it. And then you get to say you know a best-selling author, instead of saying that one of your mates writes books, but you’ve never read any of them (yet).
Take a peak at the blurb here:
Well, it didn’t take the New Zealand Scientists very long to reveal their findings after all.
But then again, it wasn’t very exciting, or inspiring, so why hold back?
Their DNA sampling of the water of the lake showed no sign of genetic material from a Jurassic era reptile, or a shark, or a sturgeon – the latter being my guess…
But there were lots of eel DNA, so they reckon the mysterious creature might be a giant eel…
Not very impressive deduction, in my opinion. Of course there was lots of eel DNA, just like there was lots of trout DNA if they were looking for it. Eels are common fish in such catchments. But do they grow to the size where people might see one from a great distance?
I’ve no idea how long a freshwater eel can actually grow, but this story shows a near-record size, caught in Australia, and it’s less than two metres long. So the adjective giant is hard to be precise about….
So, if there is one or two really huge eels in there, they might leave their DNA, but so would all the small normal sized eels we expect to find there with or without any giants or monsters….
The findings haven’t really found anything, other than they’ve not found anything. You can’t prove a negative, as they say.
It does add one more plank to the argument that there is nothing big enough, at least not a population numerous enough, to produce the quantities of DNA that makes it simple to find in the mass of water that is Loch Ness…
Still waters run deep, as they say, and Loch Ness is one very deep lake.
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.
I sit upon a hotel terrace,
Gazing out at grebes
Diving between white and yellow
Water lilies, trying to grasp our universe.
This Dark Matter they say
Gives gravity to our galaxy
Must mingle with us here on Earth,
Else why do I feel such linking
With other species, the lake life teeming?
I am entwined with these trees
More than merely exchanging molecules.
Reincarnation is reality. A part of me
Exists outside myself, with which I can commune;
Fragments of my former lives abound in this pond,
Fine portions of prior bodies populate the forest.
There’s a strand of me in that serene swan
Stately sliding, signets drawn behind like magnets.
These geese gliding in on the twilight and I
Share atoms. The stones under our feet,
Still throb with the vitality of ancient seas;
Our electrons once spun in the same shells
And yet retain the memory of those orbits.
Since the energy of starbursts vibrates on in ourselves,
These connections are impossible to erase,
We are one: our earth, the stars and empty reaches,
Really only fractals of an elementary existence.
I wrote that a couple of months ago while staying in this hotel, having breakfast on this terrace. Just to show there are positive poems going round my head too!
It was in the Netherlands, and the lake was man-made, created when dredging to make higher land elsewhere in town. The motorway went past behind those trees, but it was still wonderfully quiet and peaceful, and the waterfowl didn’t care how their home was made. It shows that nature can come back strong when given a chance, even in the midst of our habitations.
Here’s another in the same vein, one of a few I was inspired to write that week…
As you can see from the photo at the bottom, it’s hard not to be inspired in that light.
Twinned with an Egret
They say every electron has a twin;
In space and time, while even atoms
Exist in two separate places at once.
Well, that would explain this affinity
For egrets and owls and willow trees.
Motes might not have the energy to
Escape gravity, but bits of bodies split:
My twins vibrate in other entities.
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…