I wrote this a few weeks ago, when the weather was colder – now it looks like we’re far from having a white Christmas.
But we can still enjoy the simple things, even if it is only by ignoring the difficulties awaiting us in the new year and beyond.
Silence before the Squall
Snow falls past pine trunks
Like solidified silence: almost
An extension of dawn’s tranquillity
Before squalls scream across canopy
Sending flakes flurrying down
To pale box and holly’s leaves.
As hours slowly pass, and white quietly
Deepens, the wind weakens and settles
Like drifts. Then, as evening stretches,
A strip of cloud opens to allow sunlight
Illuminate the scene before twilight,
Suffusing with diffuse golden radiance
The shifting mists along the ridges, red
Shrouding windmills. Imbuing soft sunset
With orange fire across the ice instead
Of another storm sending us scarpering
Inside to hide, it seems such gentle
Splendour shows us the scenes
Awaiting us after all our playing, and
For all our attempting to prepare
For her vagaries, in the end, we will
Flit like flakes upon her wind, for
We are but Nature’s playthings.
Happy Christmas everyone!
For those looking for a quiet read, or a nice E-reader gift, check out my books….
Some of them are on sale with Smashwords from today!
Closing up Camp
Fish flash lethargically argent in the creek,
Creeping upstream, gleaning the last
Of the caddis flies until torpor takes them.
Sun beams golden in glowing leaves but slants
Lower now, more weakly heating us, huddled
On the morning porch hugging our mugs.
We don’t swim before breakfast, only
Paddle after our afternoon nap, picking black
And other berries to boil jam and packing
Pumpkins for the car; chopping lumber
For the evening fire still keeps off falling
Chill, but within weeks we will give in to
Winter’s grip and slip away to the city.
Closing shutters against storms and snow,
Emptying water tanks and pipes from icing,
Clearing closets of anything attracting rodents
Or racoons and slowly strolling round the
Leaf-strewn lawn, taking one last long look
Out across the fall-reflective lake, then forsaking.
Still, thinking of spring keeps back sadness,
Slipping through seasons until suddenly
It’s our last, and we must shut up for good,
Or have it opened sadly in our absence,
Our passage through camp just a forest path.
I write this back in September, thinking of the camp of my friend Tamir, who would have turned 60 a few days ago. I don’t have many photos of his summer place in autumn, but I am sure right now it’s deep in snow and the lake is starting to freeze over till springtime. Thus is life, as long as we still have springtime. And memories that shine like sunlight to keep us warm meanwhile.
News at Nine, now. And our first story of course is
What everyone’s talking about today. The weather.
Yes, winter has hit, and hard. Lots of traffic
Snarl-ups this morning, with tailbacks of two hours,
Cars sliding on the icy surface after the first snowfall
Of the season. Hundreds of hub workers literarily
Frozen in gridlock on their way in from the suburbs:
Even those who left well before dawn to get a jump
On the rest forced to a slow crawl behind snowploughs
And salt spreaders – an army of which were out
All night, trying to keep the cars moving, and will be
In force for the rest of the cold snap.
Yet, it didn’t get
Any better during this evening’s commute, people
Still on the road as we speak. We’ll be taking you
Live, later to our on-site reports from a host of
Highways and byways, where there’s not much
Headway being made at all.
And what a shock
To the system; suddenly, the hot weather
We were all becoming so accustomed to, has gone
For now. The beer gardens and restaurant
Terraces, that were teeming last weekend, now
Deserted but for a few forlorn sparrows seeking
Crumbs under the drifts of their new white home.
While we’re faced with a whole lot of inconvenience
For the foreseeable future. Especially those travelling
Long distances, another thing we’ve become used to.
Wheel chains compulsory on certain routes; time to
Change to all-weather tyres and fill up on anti-freeze.
Perhaps only the kids are happy, with a delayed
Arrival at school and perhaps a free day tomorrow,
As it’s set to freeze hard again, especially in the hills
While the rest of us just shrug and get on with it,
Hoping there won’t be a power cut and we can get
The drive shovelled before our extra-hour-long drive.
Nevertheless, it’s worth reminding ourselves
That we used to be used to this, this used to be usual,
And for once we can go skiing or sledding, so get that sleigh
Out of the shed, and if you have kids make a snowman –
Making sure to film them, for they mightn’t remember
All this in twenty years, and think it a fairy tale.
Take them to the woods at least, for the first time
This year, perhaps, without worrying about tick bites
Lyme Disease and the other nasty bugs they transmit.
The flies, too, are dropping like they’re famed to, but
Have been plaguing us on our patios till now, and
The mosquitos are also finally dying so Deet isn’t needed
To keep West Nile virus and Yellow Fever at bay, till spring.
Next spring there might be fewer lines of those
Poisonous processionary caterpillars for your dog to
Get mixed up with, if this hard frost penetrates their nests,
Giving foresters a break in their pine plantations, too.
The farmers will also be happy, since the grasshoppers
Aren’t nibbling at their sown winter cereals now, and
Perhaps a crop will come up green before next year’s
Eggs are hatched and ravenous at the sprouting stalks.
As for traffic, well, better have your car buried
By snow, which at least you can dig out of, than have
It carried off down the street by a flash flood, like
We saw during last month’s devastating torrential rains.
So, before we go to our roving reporters, a quick
Recap of international news, including new warming
Recorded in the Greenland icecap, and a typhoon
Threatening the already soaked and suffering Bengalis.
While Spring officially started at the beginning of the month back home in Ireland, in Spain we are still in the middle of winter, with the next season only set to start in another month on the 21st of March.
It is, I admit, the height of skiing season, but even here, the daffodils are shooting up and will soon burst buds, the crocuses in the parks are spotting the grass, and I even saw a few daisy and dandelions the other day. The trees are mostly still bare, but showers of catkins have popped out on a few.
Mostly, though, you can just smell it. The air is different. Despite the snow that we had last week, there’s a feeling of spring that even humans living in a city still experience.
Spring is here, as far as I am concerned.
And summer isn’t far behind. For I saw the bats take their first flight of the year and it reminded me of a poem I wrote last year on the subject of signs of summer, more than spring. It’s perhaps a little premature to be thinking about butterflies and bees, but since I haven’t posted a poem in a while, here it is.
Signs of Summer
There are many signs of summer coming, here,
Starting perhaps with cuckoo calls and swallow sighting
And the return of the swifts, or
The first flight of the bats at twilight,
The scent of honeysuckle through open balconies and
The abundance of butterflies on the garden lavender,
Some are specific to Spain, like closing the blinds
Against sunlight to keep the house cool, and
Sleeping with the windows open all night
Pouring water to fill the swimming pool and others
Seen only in this city: setting up the tombola,
Putting the fences around the flowers in the park
In preparation for the festivals and digging up
The road to get it ready for the running of the bulls,
And lastly, putting up with the stench of piss
Upon opening up the street door every morning.
I’m teaching Climate Change in my first-year classes at the moment.
No matter what the topic, I always like to use examples to make things clearer to the kids – references to things in their own lives. I often refer to TV programs, movies, songs.
However, some of my references are dated – movies made before they were born, which, while classics, haven’t always been seen. In my English SL class last week, when describing the meaning of “a the height of one’s career,” I used a TV presenter, who first shot to prominence on the Spanish equivalent of Who Wants to be a Millionaire? The show was called 50 for 15, referring to 50Million Pesetas – a currency that disappeared when the kids were toddlers.
But teaching Climate Change, I was struck by the fact that I don’t have to reach back very far to come up with an example of what I mean when I talk about the changes that are happening/ could happen in the future.
For example, California – it was burning a few weeks ago; latest news out of there is a terrible mudslide. Opposite types of natural disasters in a short timeframe.
Even here in this very city, though, the oscillations are becoming ever more obvious. And rapid.
I described how Spain was experiencing a drought late last year. Reservoirs were down to 10 or 20%. On the 3rd of January, I was in a jeans and a sweater, enjoying the sunshine. I was sent a video of a snake the same week.
This poor frog was squashed by a car just outside the village that night – what the hell was a frog doing out on Jan 3?
On the 5th, it started raining, then snowing.
I posted this photo on my facebook page, joking how I’d always wanted a garden with a little river flowing through it.
It was gushing out of the gully under the rocks you can see behind the fence in this photo.
And some of it was filling the groundwater so much that I’d springs popping up in the grass.
This looks like a cowpat, but it’s actually mud pushed out of the ground by the water flow.
Pamplona was covered in snow.
The aqueduct of Noain outside Pamplona.
The reservoirs refilled past 50% in a few days.
And now it’s mild again.
So the kids get it. They understand Climate Breakdown. They can hardly not when it is staring us in the face like the barrel of a shotgun.
Question is, what can they do about it?
Because the previous generation who knew about it haven’t been able to do very much, yet.
The Rains Return
The sky weeps;
Hills soak to refill rills.
Upon the porch, we sit still.
The rain – snow in the high ground – has finally returned to much of Spain, bringing some relief to the drought we’ve been experiencing this year.
The spring that supplies our village in the Valdorba is still flowing at a trickle, though. It will take much more rain to raise the water table and refill the reservoirs.
the spring last week above, the same spring in September below…
But everyone has been happy to see the rain, despite the need for umbrellas instead of sunglasses.
This is a photo of one of the beaches in San Sebastian, aka Donostia, taken when I was there last week.
I sat on the beach and wrote this poem.
Donostia, December 2017
On the breakwater, as tide rises,
Shielding eyes to see gleaming mountain
Snowmelt trickle by.
We shouldn’t be able to see the mountain from the beach at this time of year, for the blanket of cloud that normally shrouds the city.
But what is normal anymore?
Anyway, I wrote a few poems that afternoon. It reminded me of another poem I wrote a few weeks ago, which describes a little of why I’ve written so little recently, and posted less.
But maybe we’ll get back to normal sometime soon…
Words Come Forth
They say our words won’t be kept down;
They bubble up, under pressure, like lava
Pushing through a fissure,
Bursting forth if they can’t flow.
But instead, they are drawn
Under empty sky,
Sucked out by silence,
Pulled forth by the vacuum
Of open space,
Giving them a place to emerge
Timidly into tranquilly
Like deer from the thicket at twilight.
This is what drought looks like.
Spain is currently going through a water crisis, with reservoirs drying up all over the country. It’s been on the news a lot this autumn.
Sometimes you see stuff on the news and you just go back to your business and you try not to think too much about it. Like you do with wars and the other stuff that our politicians mess up – the Dakota oil spill being a prime example.
But if you look around you can see local examples of things going very wrong.
Last weekend we went to Ezcaray, a small town in La Rioja that lives off tourism – especially skiing in winter. The skiing hasn’t opened yet. It might not open for very much this year, nor for very long in the future.
There is a little snow on the hills, but with the warm weather that we are still having in November, it is probably melting. Not that you can notice it downhill.
This is the river. It’s more like a dry canyon from somewhere down in the south, like Almeria, than a mountain river in the north.
When you search Ezcaray in google maps, this is the photo that pops up.
It’s kind of different to the one up the top of this page. Or the following one.
We were told that this is usually a waterfall. It has a fish ladder, which you can see under the cage on the left, for all the use that can be made of it this year. There are no fish in evidence in that pool, the only drop of water visible in a hundred metres. Directly upstream it’s completely dry. Just a few drops seep through the rocks. A few hundred metres upstream we saw a few small rivulets coming through the stones. But there can be little life there – not even mayfly or caddis fly – to sustain a river ecosystem.
The local council wants to put a dam upstream, we heard. The locals are fighting to save their river. A sign hung in a village said, “Water is life, save the river Oca.” I wonder if keeping the construction at bay will be enough to save it.
Waiting For Spring
Was a time when I would look for each tiny bloom
Of daisy, dog violet, Veronica and the like along paths
As if searching a stream for gold; each gleam a godsend
Lighting up my life as winter slowly died
After an icy age of snow and bare soil,C and spring sped well,
Bringing joy in the profusion of snow drops and crocuses,
Readying myself for daffodils and primroses.
However, as February begins, this year,
I think I haven’t waited quite enough;
Like a child looking forward to Easter
After only just emptying selection boxes,
It lacks lustre, seems not so sweet, even
Unto wincing when I spy a shoot protrude
Too soon, these should be delightful but
They descry the coming sickness
Like the shepherds said of red skies.
The sky outside my window…. A delight? or a warning?
Sometimes it’s hard to know.
We are having a wonderfully mild winter, when we are happy not to have to wear our woollies and have the heating on full blast… but we know spring is coming too soon to be good, and is more indicative of sickness in our midst…
I’ve not posted any poems in a while, so I decided to add a page of Haikus to my website today. Hope one or two will please 🙂
I understand that this might be a bit soon for some people – mostly those living in the Eastern US – but here in Pamplona, as the last lumps of former snowmen vanish from the parks, I was reminded of this poem I wrote some years ago, and actually sent with some others to the Atlantic Monthly. It didn’t make it in, but my rejection letter said I did get to the last round. I’d like to see it in a magazine some day – as I would all my poems, of course – but it might reach a few people right here.
Meanwhile, back to editing my new YA paranormal novel, The Soul of Adam Short….
The Snow Must Melt
She picked the boy up and sat him on her lap
His long legs gently tapping her shins
As she smoothed his unruly hair and
He tried to brush away her hand,
Leaning back against her breasts.
“Why won’t it stay forever?” he asked.
“I like it like it is.”
She smiled unseen and told him
She was sorry, but the snow must melt.
“But why? Why can’t it stay?”
“Because everything must go away:
It’s like leaves falling off the trees.
You like kicking them around, but
They don’t always stay there on the ground.”
“Where do they go?”
“They disappear,” she told him, “But don’t worry
Because next year there are always more.
They have to fall and go so that more can grow.”
“Will there be more snow?”
“Maybe, my dear. We’ll see. But tomorrow
It will probably be all gone.”
“And I can go back out on my bike?”
“Yes. You see – if it was always snowy
You wouldn’t be able to ride your bike.”
“All gone!” he shrugged greatly against her.
“All gone, love,” she replied and hugged him.