Gary Whitehead, a mouse and Covid19

Glendalough

Carpark in Glendalough during Lockdown

Monday morning Week 2 of Coronavirus lockdown.

Spring is upon us and the weekend discarded its shroud of rain and wind and blessed us with some sun for a change.  Here in rural Tipperary we were released to walk the quiet country roads.  Dublin was somewhat different.  Given a sniff of good weather Dubliners all collectively head for the same spots:  Glendalough, the Sally Gap, Howth Head, Dollymount Strand, Bettystown, the Phoenix Park etc.  As a result you get crowding, traffic jams, queues for the coffee truck or the chip van.  The opposite of social distancing.

As a result the council steps in and shuts down car parks, exacerbating the problem in the ones that remain open.

Huge cities are not human places.  Now that many of us can work remotely what is the point of crowding millions of people into boxes of glass and steel? So much valuable time is lost commuting too and from the workplace.  Today that time is being used for exercise.  A fit workforce is a productive workforce.

If Covid-19 teaches us one thing it is that we can reverse the flow of people from country to city.  In the modern world it is not necessary to cram your employees into a factory where you can supervise them.  Technology can do that for you.  I predict that many of those working from home today will continue to work from home long after the crisis is past.

 

Mouse In The House; by Gary Whitehead

For two nights now it’s wakened me from dreams
with a sound like paper being torn, reams

of it, a scratching that’s gone on for hours.
Blind in the dark, I think of my father’s

letters, the ones composed but never sent.
They were addressed to his sister, my aunt,

a woman I never met but whose voice,
slurry and calling from some noisy place,

introduced itself one New Year’s eve, late,
before my mother came and silenced it

with a click. She was one of many things
we never spoke of. But when the phone rang

at odd hours, I’d wonder if it was her.
That voice had resurrected the picture

in the silver frame, my parents’ wedding
day: on the church steps the woman throwing

rice, blond and beautiful, showing no trace
at all of malice in her youthful face.

Now the awful sound, waking me again
like a secret, calls to mind the poison

I left out, and my mother on their bed
tearing a box of letters into shreds.

Call it out

Image result for rain ireland november

Late November and we have hit a relentless spell of misery, dark cold rainy weather.  It is at times like this that the blues can creep in.  People who suffer from depression struggle to get the mental gears engaged.

One thing I have learned over the years is that it is important to engage with your emotion even if the emotion is negative.  When you call out your emotion you can confront it, if you are the confronting type, or you can embrace it if you are not the confrontational type.

When you have the blues its time to listen to the blues.  At least for me.

So here is BB King with an ode to the love of his life:

Lucille; by Donal Clancy

BB holds Her in his arms

when the rain falls cold and wet

he pulls all the right strings

when he sees her fret

one arm around her body

his fingers stroke her neck

& when she sings to BB

he’s ensnared in her net.

The blues are gone,

the blues are gone.

Badger Day

DawnGroundhog

Here is a photo from my house this morning.  As you can see the sky is clear, promising a clear dawn and a sunny sky.  Which according to Pensylvania Dutch tradition is a disaster.  Because today is groundhog day, and if the critter sees his shadow he goes back into the burrow and winter lasts another 6 weeks.

Yesterday was Lá Féile Bríde here in Ireland, St Bridgets Day, which sits upon the older pagan feast of Imbolc, the first cross quarter day.  Imbolc marks the beginning of the Celtic spring and involved various fertility rites.

In Ireland we don’t have groundhogs so we don’t actually celebrate groundhog day.  Of course before they arrived in Pensylvania the Dutch did not have groundhogs either.  But they did have badgers.  So apparently you can celebrate badger day.

Sadly there is little cute or cuddly about what happens in Ireland and England to Badgers.  Badger baiting is considered by some to be a “sport”.  They train dogs to fight with badgers, often rescue or kidnapped dogs, because the dogs are damaged in the fights.  They would not risk a valuable animal, so these dogs are considered to be “disposable” and are treated accordingly.  The poem below by John Clare is a pretty fair description of the practice in all its cruelty.  Clare was born in 1793, son of a farm labourer.  He is an important 19th century poet because he gives us a view of life at the bottom of the social divide.

At the bottom I will include some photos from modern badger baiting.  It is an abhorrent practice that serves no purpose but to entertain the foulest of people.  If you are a sensitive type you will not want to look at those photos.

 

Badger: by John Clare

The badger grunting on his woodland track
With shaggy hide and sharp nose scrowed with black
Roots in the bushes and the woods, and makes
A great high burrow in the ferns and brakes.
With nose on ground he runs an awkward pace,
And anything will beat him in the race.
The shepherd’s dog will run him to his den
Followed and hooted by the dogs and men.
The woodman when the hunting comes about
Goes round at night to stop the foxes out
And hurrying through the bushes to the chin
Breaks the old holes, and tumbles headlong in.
When midnight comes a host of dogs and men
Go out and track the badger to his den,
And put a sack within the hole, and lie
Till the old grunting badger passes bye.
He comes and hears—they let the strongest loose.
The old fox hears the noise and drops the goose.
The poacher shoots and hurries from the cry,
And the old hare half wounded buzzes bye.
They get a forked stick to bear him down
And clap the dogs and take him to the town,
And bait him all the day with many dogs,
And laugh and shout and fright the scampering hogs.
He runs along and bites at all he meets:
They shout and hollo down the noisy streets.
He turns about to face the loud uproar
And drives the rebels to their very door.
The frequent stone is hurled where e’er they go;
When badgers fight, then every one’s a foe.
The dogs are clapt and urged to join the fray;
The badger turns and drives them all away.
Though scarcely half as big, demure and small,
He fights with dogs for bones and beats them all.
The heavy mastiff, savage in the fray,
Lies down and licks his feet and turns away.
The bulldog knows his match and waxes cold,
The badger grins and never leaves his hold.
He drives the crowd and follows at their heels
And bites them through—the drunkard swears and reels.
The frighted women take the boys away,
The blackguard laughs and hurries on the fray.
He tries to reach the woods, an awkward race,
But sticks and cudgels quickly stop the chase.
He turns again and drives the noisy crowd
And beats the many dogs in noises loud.
He drives away and beats them every one,
And then they loose them all and set them on.
He falls as dead and kicked by boys and men,
Then starts and grins and drives the crowd again;
Till kicked and torn and beaten out he lies
And leaves his hold and cackles, groans, and dies.
Some keep a baited badger tame as hog
And tame him till he follows like the dog.
They urge him on like dogs and show fair play.
He beats and scarcely wounded goes away.
Lapt up as if asleep, he scorns to fly
And seizes any dog that ventures nigh.
Clapt like a dog, he never bites the men
But worries dogs and hurries to his den.
They let him out and turn a harrow down
And there he fights the host of all the town.
He licks the patting hand, and tries to play
And never tries to bite or run away,
And runs away from the noise in hollow trees
Burnt by the boys to get a swarm of bees.

 

Badger1

Badger2

Badger3

Badger4

Earthrise

Earthrise

The photo of the Earth taken by Major William A Anders from the Apollo 8 capsule slingshoting around the Moon is called “Earthrise”

It changed the way we look at the world.  Captured in the lens are the lives, loves, dreams, hopes and worries of all but 3 of the entire human race, on that day, Christmas Eve 1968.

To see the Earth as it truly is, small and blue and beautiful in that eternal silence where it floats, is to see ourselves as riders on the Earth together, brothers on that bright loveliness in the eternal cold – brothers who know now they are truly brothers.” ….Archibald MacLeish

Seen in this way, a delicate ark of humanity, an oasis of life in the vastness of space really makes you think.

What is to be gained by man waging war on man?  We should be working shoulder to shoulder to reach out to the stars.

How can we exist on such a vulnerable sphere and allow it to be polluted, abused, over-expolited and poisoned by our own activities?

Why do short term greed, selfishness, personal ambition and crass materialism drive a society which should be planning for the long term survival of the human race?

If you need a resolution for 2019:  work in what small way you can to reduce the impacts of mankind on Planet Earth.  Badger your politicians.  Reject plastics and chemicals.  Eat less meat.  Opt for energy from renewable sources.  Invest your pension in ethical funds.

You, Andrew Marvell; by Archibald MacLeish

And here face down beneath the sun
and here upon earth’s noonward height
to feel the always coming on
the always rising of the night:

To feel creep up the curving east
the earthy chill of dusk and slow
upon those under lands the vast
and ever climbing shadow grow

and strange at Ecbatan the trees
take leaf by leaf the evening strange
the flooding dark about their knees
the mountains over Persia change

and now at Kermanshah the gate
dark empty and the withered grass
and through the twilight now the late
few travelers in the westward pass

and Baghdad darken and the bridge
across the silent river gone
and through Arabia the edge
of evening widen and steal on

and deepen on Palmyra’s street
the wheel rut in the ruined stone
and Lebanon fade out and Crete
high through the clouds and overblown

and over Sicily the air
still flashing with the landward gulls
and loom and slowly disappear
the sails above the shadowy hulls

and Spain go under and the shore
of Africa the gilded sand
and evening vanish and no more
the low pale light across that land

nor now the long light on the sea:

And here face downward in the sun
to feel how swift how secretly
the shadow of the night comes on …

To poets: Learn to sail!

Good poet, bad sailor Percy Bysshe Shelley was born August 4th in 1792 and died a month short of his 30th birthday leaving a stunning legacy of poetry.  How much richer would the world have been had he practiced decent seamanship?

The Gulf of La Spezia is known locally as the Golfo dei poeti in commemoration of the disaster.

Rusticated is an obscure word used almost exclusively in Oxford and Cambridge universities.  It means to be expelled, or “sent down” from the college.  There is no higher accolade for a great artist, to break free of the bounds of established academia and be expelled for radicalism.  In Shelley’s case it was for publication of a pamphlet on Atheism.  If you look up a definition of the word “Rusticate” it almost invariably comes with an example which references the expulsion of Shelley.  In a sense he is responsible for the preservation of that meaning of the word.

From The Arabic, An Imitation :by Percy Bysshe Shelley

M.pngy faint spirit was sitting in the light
of thy looks, my love;
It panted for thee like the hind at noon
for the brooks, my love.
Thy barb, whose hoofs outspeed the tempest’s flight,
bore thee far from me;
my heart, for my weak feet were weary soon,
did companion thee.

Ah! fleeter far than fleetest storm or steed,
or the death they bear,
the heart which tender thought clothes like a dove
with the wings of care;
in the battle, in the darkness, in the need,
shall mine cling to thee,
nor claim one smile for all the comfort, love,
it may bring to thee.

 

Imagine being a pea?

Syria

An evacuated Syrian girl looks out of the broken window of a bus.

In this summer heatwave I appreciate the sentiment of Robert Graves, born this day 1895.  An English writer, son of an Irish poet of the Gaelic Revival.  Robert is best known for his novel “I, Claudius”.

 

Give us rain; by Robert Graves

‘Give us Rain, Rain,’ said the bean and the pea,
‘Not so much Sun,
Not so much Sun.’
But the Sun smiles bravely and encouragingly,
and no rain falls and no waters run.

‘Give us Peace, Peace,’ said the peoples oppressed,
‘Not so many Flags,
Not so many Flags.’
But the Flags fly and the Drums beat, denying rest,
and the children starve, they shiver in rags.

Eternal sunshine of the Irish Summer

Athlassel Drone

The above photo is a drone shot taken of Athlassel Abbey in Golden Tipperary.  On the left of the shot is the river Suir and on the right you can see the green area that is what remains of the fish ponds built by the Monks as a fish farm.

In between the grass is burnt dry as a bone, the effect of weeks of a heatwave, unbroken by the rain that usually falls in July in Ireland.

Elsewhere the dry conditions have been turning up interesting archaeological findings.  At the world famous Boyne valley site of Newgrange the perfect outline of an entirely undiscovered Henge has magically appeared due to ancient post holes holding just a little more moisture than the surrounding ground.

Newgrange 2 2

Usually invisible; the combination of a long dry summer, and the widespread availability of drones have brought a whole new set of possibilities to the Newgrange site.  At first guess the henge is thought to date from 2,500 years ago, some 500 years after the construction of the passage tombs.

The finding is an incentive to drone fliers to get out there and exploit the conditions.  There are more sites waiting to be discovered.

In the meantime we will sit here and swelter, and wish we were more used to coping with this weather.  The Spaniards are better prepared as you can see.  Photo from the Guardian this week of a girl cooling off in a fountain.  With a hosepipe ban in place and dire warnings from Irish Water for the coming September we can only look on jealously.

Fountain

Ramona Street on a Hot Summer Day; by Betsy Franco

You can hear the whack
of a tennis ball against the plastic bat.
You can smell Ms. Lowry’s
honeysuckle bush
that grows along her fence.
You can lick an ice cold popsicle
from Petey’s ice-cream truck.
You can feel Joey’s sprinkler water
tingling on your skin.
There’s no place I’d rather be
than Ramona Street
on a hot summer day!