Blog Archives

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.

Crazy Weather… just who’s the crazy one around here?

They say you never know yourself if you’re going crazy… perhaps it seems those around you are tho ones who are really crazy.

We call this weather crazy, but aren’t we really the crazy ones for not recognising it for what it is, and indeed really basically fucking batshit crazy for letting it happen without doing anything useful to stop or slow it, and in fact being the cause of it all…. and all the time knowing that it’s going to come back and not just bite us on the arse, but beat the shit out of us, till any sense we have left will be knocked out of us.

Flowers share the branch with not-yet-fallen leaves on a tree in November in a Pamplona park….

            The Reaping of Disdain 

Pink blossoms add extra beauty

To an autumnal almond tree:

Orange and auburn leaves left

Before falling with the frost

At least formally expected 

If it arrives as it did normally in

November. 

Sun and clear sky

Seem apt background to marvel

At young walnuts dotted on a

Bare-leaved tree, wondering if we

Will get a second harvest this year.

Like the oilmen grinning as the

Ice melts for their machines to

Begin drilling without awaiting 

Spring, 

  

We reap the short-term 

Gains until the true harvest of

Our disdain, ignorance, apathy

Ripens in silent screaming of 

Ecosystems stretched to snapping.

The walnuts. They were still growing last week, even after a snow squall in between…

As Winter Comes

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.

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            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.

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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,

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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.

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The allotment at dusk, Pamplona above with the last light of sunset. Pepper plants in the foreground, cardo – pig thistle and cabbages in the background before the tree. The peppers are frost damaged now.
The tomato plants, dead and shrivelled yet with a few fruits still edible held on. Pamplona cathedral is at the top right of the photo, silhouetted against the sky.

The Winter of Our Discontent?

          

a local park in Pamplona… pondering the leaves, the pigeons, the life about the park benches and how long we’ll be allowed to look at it this fall – will the gates close before the last leaf falls?

   The Winter of Our Discontent?

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We sit and watch autumn fall upon us, daily;

The park employees still sweep up leaves,

Now the last grass mowing has past.

Pigeons and ducks tuck into tossed bread, 

Filling up for colder times, robins arrive from 

Colder climes, while we wonder whether 

Gates will weather open all the way to winter:

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A thought neither here not there for the

Twittering finches in the turning trees

Above the bench as I write, depressing

Ideas of Christmas devoid of cavalcades,

Parties or people we would gift our presence.

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To live with this disease in our midst, we need lifts:

Standing amid pines, or plans to participate,

Smiles and simple hugs: scenes to celebrate.

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While robins free to fly away in warmer weather 

Pigeons will persist on unswept seeds, 

Finches filled with felicity, we will sit inside,

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Pining, and chastising ourselves this idiocy;

Sitting watching screens instead of celebrations,

Imbibing wine in place of cherished faces.

Suddenly Spring

Suddenly Spring

 

How quickly it comes, now, this thing called spring:

Crocuses suddenly splatter bank in violet and blue

Blackbirds burst out with twilight tunes as

Bats trawl back and forth for rising flies proving

This apparent death of winter weather is true.

 

Considering I was sledding in a village near where this photo was taken yesterday on this very day last year, I only hope a blast of snow doesn’t kill the flowers unfolding, nor catch the bats too early out of hibernation.

 

 

 

Winter Poem

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.

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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.

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Winter Returns, for now.

Winter Returns

 

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.

Climate Breakdown: explaining it is easy when the examples abound

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?

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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.

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It was gushing out of the gully under the rocks you can see behind the fence in this photo.

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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.

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Pamplona was covered in snow.

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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.

Harbingers

Praying for an Early Spring

 

Sitting in shirt sleeves

This late January afternoon,

Lettuce sprouts in greenhouse,

Bumblebees in almond blooms;

Annuals keep flowering and

Geraniums haven’t faded.

Newts and salamanders swim in pools

Wondering, too, if it isn’t too soon

Despite the lack of ice and instead

Should still slumber.

 

And though we’d love to see some snow,

It would be safer to let winter go

Unannounced, unpronounced, this year,

For fear it will freeze the very things

That would bring life to the spring.

 

geraniums in snow

This photo is from the week before, but one snowfall does not a winter make: the geraniums are still as colourful, the snow melted mostly that day, the sunny sky remained. The lettuces were fine; there are cheap strawberries in the supermarkets already. Unfortunately my phone camera didn’t work when I was trying to take a snap of the almond blossoms or the amphibians…

 

 

 

The Last Post and Photos

 

 

 

Solstice sunset

As I sign off for the year (sending laptop to the apple store and myself to pen and paper for recharging) I thought I’d post a poem written before the solstice and a few photos –  as sun set before the longest night and a bright first day of the new solar year. Sunny solstice day

Hope the end of the calender year and the start of the new one is good for all of you. Thanks for peeking at the posts now and then.

 

The Reason for the Season

 

It’s yet December but I seek the heat,

While ducks dabble beak at dead leaves,

Unaware of what comes after fat has burned.

 

Though I know another spring awaits,

Right now I know why there is Christmas,

As rain falls sadly through the naked trees;

We need to see a light to smile at,

To look forward to the darkest night.

 

The snow at least would illuminate.

sunset solstice