Dara in The Irish Times: I savour the last of the blackbird song with every rising and falling sun

Originally published in The Irish Times

I haven’t seen a cloud in days, memory clouded though by the fug of the heat, the dryness of the air. Rare here in Ireland but perhaps not so in the future. Newspapers showing misrepresented images of sun and holiday smiles and splashes.

To mitigate my intense anxiety during this period of sweltering bubbling and boiling, I have had the privilege to escape it with early morning Mourne coastal sea breezes. Long days of reading, playing video games with my friends and writing in my room. Staring out the open window, waiting for wings, thrums and buzzes.

Hikes and mountain treks will have to wait: there’s no space for us as cars line the roads to beauty spots from early morning; none of us rises that early to beat them. We’ll get our time.

I look out on our greenhouse from my desk and see nothing but the burgeoning green foliage of beans, courgettes, tomatoes and the spuds escaping through the missing panes, mimicking mini jungle.

Powdered velvet

Upon entering a few days into July, a ringlet butterfly thrashing amid the leaves, seemingly void of its navigator abilities to escape, flickered into my cupped hand. Covering it over for a moment, I could feel the powdered velvet of its wings. I held the fragility of it for moments longer than necessary before sending it out into the red valerian bush. You can spot their delicate, chocolate-spotted wings almost anywhere at this time of year, opening and closing their wings to the rhythm of a heartbeat at work.

The swallows scythe and rest on the steel frame very occasionally, the three young have now fledged the nest, and are up on high with the extended family. An arsenal of strength is needed to fill the feathers for the long journey home – many insects are needed. Their maiden voyage awaits, but for now I’m glad to have their song and shape a while longer. The delight in me at the success of the nest has most likely drawn boredom in listeners at this stage. I’m delighted because we must find joy in small moments when we can, to take the edge off the stinging brightness and the most incoming stormy darkness.

I have an internal curiosity cabinet for moments of overwhelm, filled with people, places, poetry and of course, wild things. It suspends the anxiety a little away from touching distance.

I am savouring the last of the blackbird song with every rising and falling of the sun, for soon the air will be silent, save for the all-year-round calling robin and the cawing corvids. Most birds have no need of expression when all their needs are met. They have courted, mated and birthed; the cycle will be complete, it’s time to be silent. I’m sure there’s some gleaning in that act of rest. When the sky is thick with silence, you might wonder what this emptiness is to be filled with, or it might pass you by just as the swallows do.

There is a grief in knowledge too, because there is a long wait until the airs start up again. I know what it will be replaced with; there is much to look forward to in October and November.

Horizon birds

Until then, I bring my binoculars down to the shore and just about pick out the long tail streamers of Arctic terns, their bodies hardly visible to the naked eye and all you can hear are their manic cloud cackles. Sounds that seem to rise from the sea and descend from the sky. Horizon birds. Nowhere and everywhere.

August is the time for the readying of long-haul flights and the Arctic terns will join the swallows as they chase the summer, always in the light to seek food and calmer seas. An evolutionary feat carried on the breeze to our coasts for us to marvel at, although some find their cries too piercing: I appreciate their endurance and their theatre.

As the sun climbs higher, so too do the temperatures and moving from rocks to pools to discover anemone, blenny, crabs and jellyfish is as natural as rising and falling.

My dad started out as a marine scientist and his fascination has never diminished and has been passed on to us at every opportunity. A plastic box accompanies us on our excursions, with a handle, so it can be carried back to the house, filled with sea water and creatures for us to watch and study for a while, before consciously placing everything back where we found them.

I’m on my own mostly, though, just mooching about, still touching everything and gently prodding beadlet anemones, their tentacles slowly pulling in. Studying the inner reproductive circles of the moon jellyfish through its translucent dome body. If you stare long enough at a rock pool, everything becomes visible, the small scuttles of hermit crabs, the lightning swish of fry, the spring of a shrimp as it jumps.

At some point in the morning, the footfall of the holiday home dwellers, coming down from their private beach entrances, spirals out to the beach from all directions. That’s my cue to take my leave of the revellers with their paraphernalia of blow-up kayaks, canoes and boats, making unforgettable memories, I hope.

Quieter months

Every day at our new house is like living in a holiday home. I can’t wait for the quieter months, when I can swim and rockpool all-year round. I can wait.

I traipse up the lane and across the road to the house, exhausted by the heat already and seek the cool of the top of the house where my room is. I sit at my desk to plan my day and place some feathers I found at the tide line on the windowsill. I think one is of a kestrel, another a curlew. Treasure indeed.

I’ll need an actual real-life curiosity cabinet at the rate I’m collecting things. Hag stones are becoming my favourite thing to look for, but it has to be the perfect one, the seeing hole has to be centre with no other holes around it dug in by piddocks.

I’ll keep searching. I’ll let you know.

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