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Planting a Flag on the Shifting Baseline

There are realities and there are coping mechanisms.

My six-year-old is a big nature fan. And I am faced with the task of explaining the fate of nature in addition to its wonder. And sometimes it’s too hard. Thus the poem.

My son on a recent trip to the wilds of the Burren, looking for flowers and insects. He found an alpine gentian and a few orchids.

            Planting a Flag Upon the Shifting Baseline

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Passing an afternoon in the local park

Beyond the playground with youngest 

Child exploring our natural world around

Appears bare over and above weeded beds

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The park hosts ducks and if lucky a few 

Unseen moles given away their holes in

Tight mown lawns . The pond produces 

Not a dragon nor damselfly these days;

Frogs do not call nor drop from Lilly pads.

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Starlings must suffice for birdsong in

The absence of other sopranos. Sparrows 

Tweet where warblers once had trilled.

Cherry blossoms bloom only for humans it

Seems: no bees now humming about branches.

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But the sun still burns as the Earth turns,

And instead of telling tales of yore;

The beings which beautified our world before,

I plant my flag upon the shifting baseline

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And allow my boy appreciate the birds and

Insects that are left: ants on the rocks,

Grasshoppers blending into the too-late left

Unmown blades; daisies and dandelions yet

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Lovely even if aren’t orchids and goldfinches

No longer glorify the scene as they seek seeds.

The ducks are enough to look at despite there

Once being more dainty denizens in the reeds:

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For thus we seize upon the joy we need,

The only hope for wonder left clinging

After the stupid, searing, sundering of greed.

There are no insects evident here despite the huge amount of chestnut flowers begging for bees, but it’s good for the soul anyway to get here from the city.

Enjoying Spring?

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            The Enjoyment of Spring

February leaves light frost on the park grass,

But the birdsong cutting the chill silence belies

This skin of sparkling crystals; harkens from 

Recently breakfasted birds animated to action 

As the era of excitement approaches, already 

Cold soil broken by budding narcissus prepared to 

Perform their demure golden pouts and beside

The warming morning rays upon me shows

The strengthening sun will soon scatter the ice

And afternoon will even induce disrobing, thus

Dallying in sun-drenched dales. 

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Yet, still, I feel

Almost ill at enjoying these delightful days when 

We know elsewhere gale forced storm surges 

Swamp grasslands with salt, wind whip trunks

Down like twigs, just as most we need them 

Growing. The mountain slopes are bare of snow:

Instead several fires on-going, and a bushel

Of other evils await. 

Even here, these trees 

Are leaving too soon; petals, peeping weakly

Into shape shall feed few bees this spring,

And we fear for their fruits come summer.

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For the grass beneath the white seems damp,

But even the soil is dry, and blades soon scorched

As we wait for rains, disappeared more than delayed,

During a drought seeming set to last till March.

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The rain came, finally, to wash off the delicate petals from these early-flowering trees, in early March. And record rainfalls in some places, like Alicante, with highest ever 24hr precipitation on March 4th… not so good for the fields at all.

I wrote this poem after a pause in the park on the way to work, the same day I saw this video of the storm surge back in Ireland where they were hit by several named storms while our farmers in Spain were desperate for rain.

The Attraction to Sheep Fields

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.

Sheep pastures rolling up the hill. A delight to look at, despite having few thing worth looking at in them.

            

The Pull of Pastures

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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.

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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.

the village of Oskotz not too far north of Pamplona, but a different climate to the village where I normally go, which grows wheat while this grows sheep.

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.

End of 21, start of 22….

        Well, another year’s over, and a new one, just about to be begun…

And what have we done?

Well, we hung on in there, I hope. It’s been pretty crappy. There has been a flood of shit news, and it’s not getting any better, nor will it anytime soon, if it ever does.

I know it’s not nice to think of depressing things this time of year, but after the floods in Pamplona (and then downstream in the days afterwards) a few weeks back, I wrote this poem….

I don’t hope you enjoy it, but do read it.

And watch Don’t Look Up while you are at it, this new year’s break.

the floods before they receded.

    It’s Only Getting Worse

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The recent flood recedes from fields;

Ducks return to the river, magpies 

Scan the sodden banks for stranded

Shells of drowned snails and worms

About the larger flotsam: scarves of

Polytunnel plastic wrapped round trees,

Piles of pallets and branches, miscellany.

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Detritus, with the magpie foraging just in front…

The older bridges have weathered well,

While barrier walls and fences will

Have to be mended. The stench of

Fetid faecal matter mulched in mud

Hovers over the flood plain as men

Spray down streets, machines sweep

Up debris, sewers are pumped clean.

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pump truck working on the sewer lines.
washing away the mud

The greatest flow of water recorded,

The worst flood in living memory; but

Just another on a list occurring during

One news cycle – Bolivia got battered

And a mile-wide stream of tornadoes

Thrashed six US states, leaving deaths

In its wake as well as destruction of wealth.

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And it’s never getting better, as a

Song says: the slippery slope we sang

About is beneath our soles now, and

We’ll slide ever faster, repeating wreckage,

Building back broken bridges, other 

Constructions lasting less time until

The next deluge or other artificially-

Exacerbated natural disaster.

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The things we counted on for

Christmas will be dependant on

Whatever’s already arrived: the

Shipping and chips yet pending

Slows supplies perhaps until a 

Year passes, but the shortages

May last till we die; living again

With scarcity, like our ancestors

In times past we thought we’d 

Superseded, but let ourselves slip 

Up, back, due to too much greed.  

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So these scenes we’ve seen recently

Are those to keep upon our screens:

Fond memories of former times

When our world was right, and we 

Never accepted the sun was setting

Till we saw nothing but dark night.

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I know we have just too many things on our minds, and that it’s easier to stick to the day to day, but this is going to be our day to day soon enough if we don’t drag our so called leaders into the daylight.

What Would We do Without Wooded Banks

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.

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            What Would We Do Without Wooded Banks?

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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:

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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? 

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And only 

When darkness descends over thoughts do I 

Give up on the hunt and head home.

when the banks are well wooded, there’s plenty for beavers to eat. and for everything else

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.

It’s for the Kids!

            Saving the Next Generation

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Wherein comes the urge to chastise

Children chasing chaffinches, ducks;

Picking wildflowers for bunches just 

To steep in water and later pour it out?

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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.

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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

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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.

Getting close to the Geology of Ireland in the Dargle

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.

On our way to the Sally Gap. Saw a sika hind into the bargain!

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 view from Killiney Hill might be slightly different towards Shankill in the future if we’re not pro-active to prevent it.

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.

Sun Set Sun Day

Happy Summer!

Though I’m Irish, and for me Summer started in May, making this MidSummer’s Day, logically, it seems that the astronomers around me disagree. Whatever.

Here’s a short poem I thought of a couple of Sundays ago, to make you think of the joy of these short nights.

A sunset that makes you want to stay till every last ray and photo has faded away…

            Sunday Sunset

Other days we rush inside 

From the porch, to prepare

Dinner, drinks and sit upon

Sofa to see a movie or TV; or

Drive to the city for dusk, but

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Sunday is when we want to stay 

Watching sunset and slipping 

Off to bed when the bats and 

Owls calling have taken over

From twilight blackbirds and

Nightingales, the last rays of

Sun replaced by moonbeams,

The gleam of glow worms when

Cicadas are silent to let crickets

Sing, as peace settles like aspen

Cotton in the stillness between

Breezes. Then sleep suggests itself 

Until we rise again to catch the dawn.

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.

Loch Ness Mystery Solved! Perhaps

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…

skynews-loch-ness-scotland_4751570

Spot the eel? Neither do I…

 

Really?

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.

The_Ecology_of_Lonesomeness_by_David_OBrien-500

 

 

 

Things you learn from reading books

It’s amazing what you can learn from books.

Sounds silly, that sentence…

I love when I’m deep in a book and something stops me halfway through a paragraph and makes me say “Holy shit!” out loud – I never knew that! Or, “Wow. Who knew?”

And sometimes it’ll send me off to investigate further.

There are some writers, editors etc., and I suppose readers, who don’t like this. They don’t anything that makes you interrupt the story, that keeps your nose in the leaves.

But for me, a really rich book is one that makes you pause every now and then and think about what you’re reading, ponder the meaning of what you’ve read, assimilate the knowledge this piece of writing has given you over and above an entertaining read.

This is why people read fiction. This is why science indicates that people who read fiction are more empathetic.

Here are three examples:

homo deus.jpg

I started reading Homo Deus, a recent non-fiction book, the sequel to Sapiens, which you might have heard of.

But before I go deep into it, I wanted to read a similarly titled novel – Men Like Gods, by HG Wells.

men like gods.jpg

An interesting book. We are clearly still in Wells’ Age of Confusion, with our population soaring way, way past what Wells worried was too many (2000m), and our world yet being pillaged by the rich.

But what really amazed me, in a book about a crossing dimensions into new universes (where the telecommunications department knows where every human is at all times but the knowledge can only be used for the good of the individual!) was the fact that the main character commented on the fact that there were thrushes singing in July – that he knew these birds stopped singing by June.

This is a character who writes for a liberal paper in the centre of London.

I’m a zoologist – sorry, I have a doctorate in zoology (there are picky fuckers out there in twitterlandia who like to point out that there’s a difference if I no longer gain employment from zoology except by teaching biology, who I hope die when they’re on a plane and a retired doctor tells them he’s no longer qualified to give them first aid while they suffer cardiac arrest, but I digress) – though not an ornithologist, but I had no idea.

He also commented on the fact that nightingales could be found in Pangbourne and Caversham, both in Reading just outside London were great places for nightingales (I wonder if there are any there now) which was amazing knowledge for an average Joe, too.

Why don’t we all know such things now? Where is our general knowledge of the life of other species around us gone? I was only familiar with the Blackbird and Robin – aside from the magpies and seagulls – back home in my hedgerow.

 

How much we have lost, even from such busy, hedonistic, polluted and poverty-stricken times as 1920’s London.

point counter.jpg

Another book I recently read, and commented on in my facebook feed, is Point Counter Point, by the contemporaneous Aldous Huxley, who only predicted the future in this particular novel by talking about the fact that the world would run out of phosphorous, and other important raw materials and minerals due to unhinged addiction to progress, while politicians fucked around with petty, inconsequential nonsense that they hoped with get them elected over someone equally competent – or in competent, as the case usually is – while the problems that really affect us only snowball.

 

The third novel was Meridian, the second novel by Alice Walker, the author of The Colour Purple.

meridian.jpg

 

 

At the end of the book, Walker describes the main character in the following paragraph:

“On those occasions such was her rage that that she actually felt as if the rich and racist of the world should stand in fear of her, because she – though apparently weak and penniless, a little crazy and without power – was as yet of a resolute and relatively fearless character, which, sufficient in its calm acceptance of its own purpose, could bring the mightiest country to its knees.

And I couldn’t help but think of Greta Thunberg – a beam of light in our own dark times, who seemingly powerless, is nonetheless, so resolute in her purpose that she has an immense effect upon countries.”

It is so often the person who seems weakest who can stand the strongest.

I only hope that in contrast to how people treated people like Meridian in the era of civil rights, that we will appreciate Greta for the positive influence she is on global justice and the survival of our society, and protect her from the evils we know some amongst us would wish her.