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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
It comes for all of us.
But some of us are waiting. And we’re not going to be made to leave so easily.
And sometimes we can see the beauty in it all.
Winter Takes Grip of Us
Clouds fall, darker as they drop down upon the valley.
Night draws onwards, quick as winter wind, whistling
Along eaves, whipping at chattering apple leaves,
Stripping trees, snapping stalks in the garden.
Bamboo poles that have supported peppers and
Tomatoes all summer bend over, while the plants
Are sapped of green, and shrivel even as ripening
Sole fruits dangle in the gusts. Only life remains
It seems in hard cabbages and cauliflowers
Curled over to cover hearts from coming frosts.
Still, we sit, after gleaning the garden for all that was
Tasty and tender, those last mouthfuls of summer
Not too damaged or dried up after stalks snapped,
Refusing to leave even though no leaves are left, and
The night leaves us bereft of light: lingering outside
In twilight until winter takes the whole, sole
Sitters separated from the stalks that once sustained
Us, supported strongly, holding up only memories of
The sunshine that once suffused the blossoming apple
Grove, and unbent seedlings sprouted all around us.
November sunlight shines at right angle
To catch leaves like stained window panes
On cathedral trees, lining riverbank, flanking
Dancing stream gleaming like black marble.
Drakes draw diamond wakes through dark
Water, songbirds call sonorous cries flying
Through timber, sweet as a child’s choir.
Marvelling at this flowing manifestation of
Nature’s majesty, I stand in reverence:
An experience as solemn as sacraments,
Holy as the spirit infusing these trunks
And tender tendrils dangling delicate
Leaves twisting daintily in the breeze.
And I wonder why those who kneel for
An invisible being in the sky, don’t even stop
To breath in, appreciate this display of
Beauty splayed out before them, inhale
Divinity in every breath of autumn
Dampness, soaked up sounds like dewfall,
Absorbed through skin as golden photons;
On shoulders felt the gentle hand of eternity.
So despite our quarantine, and shut bars etc., we can at least leave our homes so far during this second wave, and that’s a lot. A walk, a stroll, a chance to stand and smell fresh air (when you can lower the mask, of course) to stare up at the sky and relax your eyes, is not to be dismissed anymore.
And it’s a delight to know the natural world is still spinning on despite our stupidity.
I don’t have any shots of the cranes at night because I just watched rather than fumble with phone, but I have posted some shots from other days – one of the cranes going low over town during the day, and of course, our constant companions all summer in the south, Jupiter and Saturn. Mars is in the east these days. It’ll never be easier to see so look up this weekend.
Passing in the Night
I stare out from the city walls, waiting
For migrating cranes to come calling:
Glimpse against low city-glow clouds.
Bats pass but no birds; Mars my only
Other midnight companion, with
Jupiter and Saturn at my back, a
Spider spinning draws eyes down
From treeline to the damp stone:
Seeing mites crawling across lichens
White in the street light, changes
Perspective. Some comfort comes
From knowing creatures will roam
Over these stones even if crumbled;
And the bodies above me will circle
Unceasingly in their great migrations,
When neither walls nor men yet stand.
So for the last couple of months I’ve been living like Hemingway. Well, without the writing, so much.
Or the bulls.
No bulls this year. No fiesta in Pamplona.
But I have been in Spain, enjoying the sunshine, and drinking.
I’ve been getting up early, with intentions of getting lots of writing done.
I have a run, or a cycle, while it’s cool, then have a swim after cleaning the pool.
And I’ve spent an hour or two on the laptop, staring at the screen, as I scroll through my social media and read about the horrible things happening, the shitshow that is the former lone superpower, the rising death rates in various countries, and watching videos of the violent racism so many have to deal with and the violent reaction to any request for such racism to stop.
Then I get breakfast for my kids when they surface from their darkened bedroom around ten, and pretty much any chance to get writing done is gone until perhaps mid afternoon when I wake from a siesta and have another swim to get my brain restarted.
Of course, it’s a strange time to live. But we’re alive. And in the end, well, what more can we ask for?
People are worried, though. And I was thinking about this – about panic and procrastination in these times of pandemic.
Sometimes we think that when people panic they start doing things: racing around, becoming very busy.
But they don’t.
Instead it seems that they are paralysed and they do nothing.
However, perhaps their reality is that they see that given the futility of the situation, and their imminent demise, there’s basically no point in doing anything. Instead it’s best to just relax and do nothing.
Because doing nothing is in fact the best thing to do.
Perhaps it’s only when we’re faced with death that we realise that we should’ve been doing nothing all along.
The object of our existence is to do nothing.
Doing is not the important thing, it’s just being.
We should just be.
We should just watch, and chill out.
So while it seems that I have done very little in these days, and there are several books that are waiting to get finished and some to get started, I’ve decided to not worry about that because if I do get sick, I’ll probably just stop writing rather than race to get them finished.
I’ll do what I have been doing – looking after the kids, being with the family, enjoying the scenery and the flowers in the garden and the birds around the house.
At the end of the day, does it matter if the book is one third finished one half finished or three quarters finished if the book is unfinished? Perhaps it’s best to nearly finish at least, but I’m loath to spend my last days worrying about it.
Of course, I am not sick, and I hope I’m not in my last days – keeping the head down here!
So I have written some. And I will have some to show people soon.
And I never stop writing poetry.
So here’s some of that:
Where Would You Go To?
Racing downhill, skidding over gravel path between pine peaks.
Slide to a stop beside scarlet-poppy-strewn field of barley, golden
Eagles calling overhead, staring at gliding silhouettes, shielding eyes
Against glare of sun, hot upon shoulders. A lone figure, surrounded
By a chorus of chirps, whistles and warbles, sheet of susurration
Wind through poplar leaves under a blanket of blessed silence,
Among a bouquet of orchids and other wild flowers, wondering
Where would one go from here?
Eventually remounting, rolling onwards over eroded pudding-stone
Thinking this is the destination of a multitude, but home to me.
Many would trek to get here: the very idea posited as post-retirement
Plan, proposed to stretch the Mediterranean holiday eternally past
A year in Provence; sold to dozens of millions dreaming of this,
Present position I’ve stumbled upon for life. So,
Why would I want to do any more than simply be, here?
Everything I can add upon this blessing only gravy, icing.
What matter if my works are acclaimed or even hailed?
When their very creation brings my own elation, and this station
Provides all the time, and space to do so at my pondering pace.
It’s only left to me to accept this grace, riding though this pretty place.
The last few days have been busy with schoolwork. The central government and local governments have been trying to figure out how to organise the end of the school year.
Some people want every student to pass. Some want kids to go to school in July.
The instructions the dept. of Education have given schools are so vague they’re like the bible – you can interpret it any way you want. We have to decide and defend what we decide to do. To anyone who gets their back up if things aren’t the way they want. Usual shite.
We are trying to decide now, how many percent each term gets, how much up or down a kids grade can go if they don’t hand in the work we’re doing now …
But, really, there are more important things.
They’ve only now figured out how they are going to organise letting our kids out to go for a walk, to feel the sunshine on their faces, to feel the breeze on their skin, to look up at the sky and clouds, to see the trees already in leaf and flower, to run and jump and roll in the grass. Compared to that, who really gives a toss about their grades?
This is the hamster wheel.
They want us to keep worrying about the things they tell us are important, keeping up, getting ahead, cramming our days with lessons and assignments for fear others will leave us standing and we’ll loose out in the rat race.
It also stops us from pausing and thinking, what is important in life? All the consumerism and getting bigger cars, or seeing our loved ones, going for a walk?
There were paediatrics and psychologists on the TV the other day, saying kids are fine inside for a few more weeks. That they’re adaptable.
Well, that’s as maybe. Kids in refugee camps adapt to life there, but that doesn’t mean they’re not profoundly and negatively affected.
I fail to see how in 2020 these experts haven’t read about the need for kids to experience nature, to throw sticks and stones in the river, to climb trees, to pick flowers and chase pigeons, to dig (mud or sand) and build imaginary castles. To follow, and perhaps squash, ants, to interact with the world around them.
Kids who do this are much happier than kids who only see concrete and streets and screens.
We need to rewild our kids, and keeping them cooped up has been a step backwards.
Worrying about how to decide who’s passing or failing because they missed out some weeks of school is a disservice to kids, when compared to wondering what they’ve learned about life – what they’ve learned about helping in the home, being nice to one another and their family, if they’ve read books they might not have had time or inclination for otherwise. We should wonder if children have been able to use this pause in normal life to see how unnecessary some of our normal life is, how easily we take things for granted, when they actually are the fruits of many labours, trials and sacrifices (like having a public health service and unemployment payments) in the past, of their own family, of themselves now.
It’s been a few weeks. They can make up all this over the next few years without any problem. Hell, the government effectively took weeks off the school year by changing the repeat exams from September to June in the last three years. Perhaps they can fling that great idea out the window in light of this situation?
It’s not as if the Spanish curriculum wasn’t already overloaded with too much information to memorise and not enough time for understanding.
The government has a responsibility to make sure our education system works for everyone, true. They also have a responsibility to make life – not “normal”– acceptable, worthwhile, enjoyable and beautiful for us and our kids.
That’s why we have public parks and gardens, playgrounds and ensure natural amenities like riverbanks and beaches are clean and healthy to visit.
When asked about taking kids to grass, one government spokesperson said it was better not to, because cats can get coronavirus and might have shit in the grass.
I shit you not.
Where are the feral cats going to have got coronavirus from?
Denying green spaces to kids has been necessary, but the depravation of those, in my opinion, is more detrimental than the deprivation of 6 or 8 hours a day sitting in a desk listening to me and my colleagues talking about the world, however interesting we make it.
If the government wants to ensure that every kid can get their required education while we are going through this crisis, well, ensuring every family has enough money to buy a personal computer, and have decent internet access, would have been nice prior to this.
Decent wages and proper housing policies will go a long way to making everyone in society more prepared and able to adapt to these crises, and I say that in plural because this is neither the first nor last crisis to be dealt with.
We will spend the next month teaching the bare essentials of the courses. The minimum content so that kids can continue in September with the next year’s course without holes in their knowledge. I can’t see why we don’t trim down the course for every year.
As for grades. Well, I’m finally giving quizzes where the points aren’t collected. They are just for the kids themselves, their parents, and me, to see if they understood the material, what they had problems with, and what they should try to revise. The numbers 5, 6, 7 or 8 out of 10 aren’t so important. Everyone will go on to learn more stuff next year. The way it used to be.
My own kids won’t be going to school in July. They’ll be in the village, listening to the birdsong they can’t hear now, running in a garden instead of the hallway, plucking flowers they can’t now see, rolling in grass rather than the floor, looking at the clouds horses and dogs and cats and birds rather than the TV all day – doing puzzles only because they want to, and not because I’ve turned off the telly on them, reading a book in sunlight and not inside.