|Illustration by Caty Bartholomew|
Sometime between twilight yesterday and this windy Monday morning our swallows flew away to a warmer and brighter place.
I think maybe they departed a week early, but who would blame them after the generally bad summer season? There are glossy wise heads among them too.
Today along the western coastline we are getting a backhand slap from one of your hurricanes. The sky over the cottage and the Shannon has been swept clean of all birds, not just the swallows, branches are being snapped off the crowns of old trees, the country roads are covered with the first whispering clans of tinted autumnal leaves, the clouds high above have razor edges on them.
Winter is a-coming in. The evenings are getting shorter. Another summer gone.
There are associated pleasures for me in the fall. Before sitting down at this keyboard I found my trusty bottle of Paddy, a yellow lemon, and cloves.
I boiled the kettle and found the sturdy thick glass with the handle and made myself a mighty hot whiskey. There is a real punch in Paddy punch.
The bogfire of the whiskey melds with the exotica of the little brown cloves and the lemon juice in the most comforting and fiery fashion. I toast the fleeted swallows and summer and swig slowly, and I'm feeling grand now. Hope most of ye feel the same.
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-------------------Actually I'm very fortunate to be alive this week. Three weeks ago in my column in the Irish Examiner I noted the fact that our (broke) government spent over a half million U.S. dollars to conserve our dwindling corncrake population.
A subsequent count revealed that harsh-throated population had increased by one male corncrake! I said we could not afford him.
I said further that the last thing this country needs is another corncrake. Any of you who grew up in rural Ireland thirty years or so ago knows where I was coming from.
The meadows of our childhood and youth were filled with bull corncrakes calling out for mates and mating with the most dreadful sound in birdland.
Crek-crek, crek-crek, crek-crek! You had to go to your summer bed as a boy in broad daylight and you could not get to sleep with that bloody crek-crek. Maybe three or four of them at the same time and it went on all night!
They were ventriloquists too, those corncrakes, and they could throw their voices right up to the bedroom window. Do you remember? I will never forget.
I said mildly enough that if they disappeared altogether from the island I would be delighted. The government, I suggested, could spend the same amount of money on a national cull of the exploding magpie population.
There are millions of those in Ireland now. They not alone possess the second harshest voices in birdland -- akin to demented machine gunners -- but they also rob the nests of the eggs of our genuine little songbirds like larks and finches, the backbone of our dawn chorus.
I should have known better. There was a flood of complaining letters to the poor Irish Examiner from an enraged lobby led by BirdWatch Ireland. I got a stream of emails from folk who said they were prepared to cull me!
It was an extraordinary reaction which, however, I should have been prepared for. Anytime in my life that I have written anything about the world of fur and feather I have landed in hot water.
Once, when reporting on a hare coursing meeting in Liscannor, I said I'd counted the road kill of foxes and badgers and birds on the way to the event, and it had far outnumbered the toll on the coursing field where only two hares had died. I got a bullet through the mail a week later!
And it was nearly as intense, some years later, when I factually reported on the culling of the litters of pups bound for the famed pack of the Galway Blazers. Any pup that was weak or did not color conform to the pack was instantly drowned by the expert doing the selection. Hunting pack dogs lead spartan lives.
And I was in deep trouble even afterwards when reporting on the basking shark hunters of the Aran Islands and how they harpooned those great marine creatures for their liver oil. It was a big trade at the time.
The oil was an element of expensive perfumes and was also used for lubricating the innards of even more expensive wristwatches!
Will ye remind me please not to write any words about the world of fur and feather again! I will live longer and easier that way.
And if there are any corncrakers over there (and I'm sure there are), then don't bother responding to this because all your colleagues here in Ireland have already more than adequately defended the bird and properly castigated me for my views.
My hot whiskey is gone and it is raining outside under a swallowless sky. Can I please go back into the kitchen and boil the kettle and make myself another? Just a small one...