Somewhat as it Should Be
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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:
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.
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
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.
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…
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…
Chill seeps through skin and up
Legs creating a repelling shiver
Shaken off at last, reluctant leap,
Sweeping sweat away in one
Stroking refreshing lengths of
The clear water, vibrant, energized,
Once out, heat resting upon
The village becomes welcome again.
Soaking afternoon sun
Seems summer holds yet
Tight to the terrain. Still
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
At first, as evening chill envelops –
Our inertia preferring to ignore it.
Yet, when jumpers dug out of drawers,
We’ll embrace the breeze:
As bracing as this latest bathe.
Drought Triggers Fall like Frost
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
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,
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,
But cautiously the bear pads across scraped
Gravel and strands of soft stuff –not snow – and
Colourful lumps, shiny hard strips and bits.
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.
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.
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,
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.
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?
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:
Caribou, moose, deer and musk oxen;
Moving, the quarry could become new prey
Replacing seals, if bears become plastic enough.
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.
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.
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….
Holding Gold Dust
The kids are in the river, scooping up fry in the shallows,
Squashing half as they let them go again as we leave.
We try to release them alive, all the time remembering
When once, we could, well, afford to kill them
In their hundreds: seeing thousands more teem between
The rocks of even city rivers and streams.
Like we did with insects: snatching ladybirds and bees,
Finding moths and crane flies in bathrooms, woodlice
By the dozen, catching starlings, titmice and sparrows,
In traps and jars and crabs in buckets on the beach.
Such abundance we scattered shells like sand;
But soon, when the water is sterile if not dry
We will shake our heads and cry, understand,
When we were young we held gold dust in our hands.
I have no photos at all to illustrate this – I could post a photo of the gravel beach where the kids were scooping the minnows, but the city council have cleared away that beach now, to free up the stepping stone bridge before the winter floods, which had deposited the huge load of stones. The fish seem happy in the shallows now.
Anyway, you’ll either be familiar with the former abundance, and thus perfectly able to picture what I’m talking about, or you won’t…. in which case, I’m really sorry, but no photo I can post would do justice to what’s gone. Well, at least at the beach, most of us are able to spot a few crabs, and perhaps catch one or two, for a while to show the kids before letting them go again…
The title comes from a song by Tori Amos, who I’ve listened to since I was of an age where there was yet abundance! I heard of her from a friend just after Little Earthquakes came out. This is one of my favourite songs of hers, and one I wish we could all be mindful of – the things we had, the things we yet have in our hands, and we should care for like fallen nestlings.
A Bird’s Eye View of Dearth
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Frogs diminished by the dryness
Since even before spring arrived:
Only two eggs laid, to cry less
As sibling ensures one survived.
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…
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.