Birds

Being grateful for the robin

In the longest January that anyone can remember, at a time when horrific news assails us from all sides, I’ve taken to starting my day by reflecting on three things for which to be grateful. And this isn’t an exercise in ‘mustn’t grumble’ or ‘could be worse’ or pretending that everything is alright when it isn’t; more, it’s a reminder of the eternal truth that things change, seasons move on, oceans ebb and flow, the sun is now rising higher in the sky every day. Our fortunes ebb and flow, too, but it’s hard to keep reminding ourselves of that, when the darkness seems at its most intense and never ending.

The Hawthorn and The Swift: You Have to Smile

It’s a summer Sunday morning and you’re on the road in South-East Limerick. From your passenger seat you watch the blossoming hawthorn ribbon the countryside. There’s a cycling charity event on the road and the going is slow, so you have time to enjoy the undulating view. Hawthorn enfolding fields all shapes and sizes – good land, middling land, fallow and scrub. Draping the livestock in the promise of a summer of plenty, a promise older even than the old promise of hurling’s plenty.

All The Old Feelings

I’m sitting in a Costa in Douglas on Sunday morning waiting for Cummins Sports to open and it hits me. The match approaches with all its baggage: anxiety, stress, the need to win, to be validated again by sport. All the old feelings. I can hardly drink my Cortado, my knee starts hopping. Fuck’s sake, calm down, it’s only the bloody first-round. The sunshine is harsh and bitter when I step outside, I forgot my sunglasses.

The Dingle Diaries. 5: Siúlóid an tSáis

There was a moment on the walk when I turned around and looked at the valley I was emerging out from. It was brown with dead ferns and black where gorse bushes had burned. Green in places with heather. And I was completely alone. I couldn’t see any sign of human life, I was surrounded on all sides by hills and only hills. The wind blew through the valley. A stream surged at its base, towards the sea. But I couldn’t see the sea, I couldn’t see any houses, either, or any sign of human life. The mountains, the sky, the dead ferns and gorse, heather, a stream and me.

The Dingle Diaries. 2: The Magharees

Monday is walking day. Originally we’d hoped to be walking Friday, Saturday and Sunday too, but the best laid plans etc. We decided on a loop around The Magharees (Na Macharaí, ‘the plains’) as described in Adrian Hendroff’s The Dingle Peninsula: a Walking Guide. It’s an excellent book, really well laid out and clear. The version we chose (he offers two) is about 16km, a three and a half hour walk.

Strange and Wonderful Sights in the US of A

A young man walking down Haywood Street in Asheville, NC, with a snake wrapped around his arm. He looked pleased with himself, to be shocking passers by – the man, not the snake. The snake was maybe five or six feet long and hung its head out from his hand, sniffing. I wondered what it was thinking. Mind you, the snake looked better than some of the tattoos we’ve seen on people here. Ó, mo léir.

Listen to the robin

As I write this, the robin is singing outside. The sun is slanting up over the hedge. I can hear a rook on the roof. I heard a lot of robins in Dublin too last weekend. It’s time. The days are lengthening. We have daffodils and snowdrops and crocuses. It’ll be Lá Fhéile Bríde in a few days. Listen to the robin. It’s worth your while.

The Winter of The Blackbird

This has been the winter of the blackbird. I haven’t been out and about much for one reason or another but I seem to be seeing and hearing blackbirds wherever I go. I haven’t seen a redwing or a fieldfare yet, maybe they’re not around, or maybe I need to get out more. Well, that’s definitely true, I do need that.

Four Brothers in The Ossau Valley, Day 5

They go low, so we go high. We drove south past Laruns into the mountains up to the Lac de Bious-Artigues at 1400m altitude. We were shocked, shocked I tell you, to find the car park by the lake full, with well-equipped and, worse – fit-looking – hikers setting forth. We were most aggrieved, having had the forests and mountains to ourselves the previous two days – well, except for the cattle and horses, but they didn’t clog up the paths, they weren’t smugly thin and they didn’t have hiking poles and expensive walking gear.

Four Brothers in The Ossau Valley, Day 3

We were hungry and empty when we ate on the unlikely named Col Deus Coïgts at 1068m. We’d climbed up from the villages of Louvie-Juzon and Castet on the valley floor at 400m and it took us four hours to get there. The woods around us as we ate, with tall beech trees reaching up imperiously, were a thing of inordinate beauty. A tree creeper climbed up a bark twenty metres away, doing his methodological thing.