Last summer the end of the first lockdown brought something great, after some very tough months.
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I am now living not far from Beckett’s birthplace. The house has a nice garden and I spent a lot of hours in it, during the summer and after the summer as well. Today, almost exactly six months later, I stumbled on a Tweet about bird watching.
Week 3. Nice to start seeing a trend. This week’s daily influx of goldfinches was a little unexpected but welcome. Our beautiful mistle thrush continues to fiercely guard the rowan tree, with its many berries @BirdWatchIE pic.twitter.com/SMpqRpwkSr
— Dr Emma Farrell (@emmaefarrell) December 20, 2020
That Tweet triggered something in me.
I ended up thinking that, maybe, a diary of my “life” in the garden could be interesting.
I will use this post for notes, observations and to give a shape to the thoughts that nature – even if it is that kind of nature that seems too close to a commodity – gave me in this last months. And, hopefully, in many months to come.
And, as a homage to that Tweet, I made a 2021 birdwatching calendar. It is a Google Spreadsheet, it’s here and below. Maybe this Google Spreadsheet birdwatching Calendar can be useful to other people.
After that spreadsheet, the one I will use for keeping track of my own observations (direct link here.)
I wanted to give to this… yoke an Italish twist, hence the three languages for the birds’ names.
After those spreadsheets, all the rest about a Dublin Southside garden…
Garden Birdwatching Calendar – English, Irish, Italian, 2021
Max’s Garden Birdwatching Calendar
A Dublin Southside garden – Diary
Summer 2020: everything started from, and with, a Cúinne an Ghiorria
I became aware of the concept of Cúinne an Ghiorria, the hare’s corner, from Colm Mac Con Iomaire’s beautiful work with the same name.
Digging deeper, I found out Colm is not the only artist who – no pun intended – played with this idea.
And I find the concept absolutely amazing. My fascination with the Irish language comes from the understanding that Gaeilge is a language much kinder to nature than English or Italian.
The moment I had my eyes on this beautiful garden, I decided immediately I would have tried to keep it as “natural” as possible. And I decided it had to have its Cúinne an Ghiorria!
The lab (Autumn 2020)
While the garden sleeps its wintery sleep of the righteous, there is something slightly different going on upstairs.
The experimental garden.
The lab, if you want.
Everything started with saving a tiny plant from the kerb in front of the garage.
Now: I am very far from being a flowers and plants expert, and I was even much worse just a few months ago.
It turns out the tiny plant was a Campanula.
I used a small flower pot for “saving” it and it’s doing grand, apparently, after struggling for a while during late summer.
As I had some more small flower pots at hand and plenty of plants around, I used some more pots for seeds.
Not far from the garage there is the big bush with yellow flowers.
Didn’t know at the time that it is Hypericum…
Apparently, Hypericum flowers become seeds. Incredible isn’t it!? ;-)
So, along with the Campanula pot, five more pots are supposed to keep the Hypericum seeds safe and warm during the winter.
So far some other, smaller seeds are taking advantage of the situation.
Smaller, with a remarkable exception: a few weeks ago a big black seed started to germinate. And well: it’s a bit a Jack and the Beanstalk situation now.
Time will tell.
Meanwhile, I realised that a spreadsheet for… plantwatching is needed as well.
Here you go!
My plantwatching synoptic chart
The original file is here.
More on Passiflora and Dandelion coming later.
As promised: Dandelion
Dandelion had a tough history.
As I said before I am very, very, very far from being a plant expert. I am very good at piling up tons of incoherent information instead, information supposed to be useful at some stage, creativity wise.
One of that information is bits of the history of Dandelion.
Once an ornamental flower then downgraded to weed.
Imagine: you are a Dandelion, people love you. They put you in your garden.
Then a f*cking garden designer decides it’s time to change. And you are f*cked.
I do love underdogs. Hence, I love Dandelion.
They are not much loved in Italy as well. Their name in Italian is “tarassaco” as it would be a remedy for a stomach bug, as ταράσσω means perturb. The Tuscan name is even worse: pisciacane, as, apparently, dogs love to pee on them.
They have nothing to fear in my garden.
I love their aesthetic schizophrenia: a day they are big daisy-ish flowers, the day after they are a ball of seeds ready to explode.
I love them, I guess, for their
let’s try somewhere else
I love them also because I am great at taking pictures of them.
Something to be uselessly proud of
Here it is something I am very proud of:
One of those revelating moments in my long and complex (complex. Not complicated: complex) relationship with Ireland was when I heard for the first time of Tim Robinson and his amazing work about mapping The Aran Islands first, then Connemara.
I had an email exchange with this amazing human being. I couldn’t meet him, and now it is too late.
Yet, he inspired me a lot. I am, proudly again, author of the translation into Italian of his Inis Mór map.
A useless pride, but pride nonetheless. Or, better: the uselessness is in the thing itself. It’s just the output of an egoistic pleasure.
If the potential usefulness, and audience, of the translation into in Italian of the map in Irish of a small Irish island is, let’s say, limited, what can the usefulness of mapping a garden can actually be?
Yet, again, I am very proud of the map of the garden I am taking care of (I wouldn’t use the word my: I have read The Lord of the Rings too many time for using such a word in connection to nature. I can’t say I am a tree shepherd – well: I am from Finglas, so I actually am, in a way, but I definitely am a plant shepherd).
Compiling the final draft of it corresponded to my first, and so far only, Gaeilge lesson.
It perfectly makes sense to me to use a language that is not mine because from Robinson’s work, and Friel’s (and from Manchán Magan work too: we’ll get back to this soon) I learnt how deep is the connection between landscape and the words you say for describing it.
While the map is not the territory, this very instance acquires, if the map is in Irish, a meaning that is quite the opposite of the instance itself.
The map becomes a higher level of the territory, as the territory becomes a story to be told.
So, yes: I am very proud of the map in Irish of the garden I am taking care of.
Cúl an Tí
If you are not familiar with the Cúl an Tí poem, you can take a look here.
I watched, it was summer 2018 (the fabulous summer of 2018, when everything was seeming possible and the sun didn’t leave the Irish sky for a long, long time), a TG4 program about the reinterpretation of old traditional poems and songs. One of them was Cúl an Tí.
If the Cúinne an Ghiorria is much wider than just a small corner (maybe a 30% of the whole garden? I should probably check better), the Cúl an Tí of the garden is a tiny corner indeed.
It’s interesting how the concept of Cúl an Tí resonates, to me at least, with the kipple one. Maybe the one between an Irish back garden and the dark future from Blade Runner is a long shot one. But this is my story, so…
A Cúl an Tí is made of kipple. But in the Seán Ó Ríordáin’s poem, the kipple waste becomes an ingredient of magic. Under the moonlight, garbage becomes something else, to the eye of the beholder.
That corner is now very different from six months ago. I spent the summer sawing the wood piled up in the Cúl an Tí down to logs for the fireplace. I got rid of the ivy which was attacking the tree. I don’t like a tree strangled by ivy: trees have to be free.
The Cúl an Tí is now a, let’s say, optimistic version of a graveyard: ashes, and dead tea and coffee are becoming new soil. The ivy learnt to behave.
It’s magic indeed, after all: the magic of life out of death.
It seems the 75% of the English language is French. Despair is; hope is not.
So you can’t have a cool title playing between the two opposite concepts.
The thing, here, is: it’s January and it’s lockdown again. Two nights ago it was -7C.
So, hope seems such a small thing, right now, and despair a big, cold, dark one.
We had a bit of snow, too. But if you go wandering in the garden, you can see that there is still a lot of life, there.
The birds are very busy in keep themselves alive.
I am busy helping a bit on that.
Plants I thought wouldn’t have survived the last couple of nights, are still there. The life out there is still a lot indeed.
The first wave of the pandemic kept us away from here. We came in summer, as you know already now, and I could grasp only bits of how a spring can be, here.
Don’t get me wrong: it was beautiful. But the beauty was already there. I couldn’t enjoy the actualization of hope.
It’s going to be different, this time. This time I will be here, after the darkness.
Blessed (or: of mallards, ducks, whatever. And a compass)
I Had a beautiful moment in the garden, earlier (January 12th, 2021).
I saw a flock of mallards, north of here. I waited for a while and I was very well rewarded.
The flock was back flying exactly above the garden. It was quite low too, I could hear the sound of tens and tens of wings. It was beautiful, the sound was the one of hope. Lots of things are going bad (not exactly well at the moment), I am just trying to stay with the positive. And there is nothing more positive than beauty.
On a more pragmatic side: were they actual mallards? Where they a flock of mallards, because they were flying, and not a sord?
I find absolutely fascinating the richness of English when it comes to collective nouns of birds, something that in Italian doesn’t exist.
I can easily remember a murder of crows and, thanks to Catherine, a murmuration of starlings. I hope to retain, from now on, sord too. From bird to fish, a school of sharks is quite intriguing indeed.
But this bit is mostly about the magic of that moment: the sound, the epiphany of that flock, or whatever, of mallards, or whatever.
Then, why a compass too?
I was very aware already of the peculiarity of Gaeilge, a language where you define your position, and movement walking this planet, in a way that is the opposite from English or Italian.
I am now even more aware about that after reading Manchán‘s book.
But the garden has its own compass from the beginning before I read the book.
The three Lavandula plants bunch are the north of the compass. The Pole star can confirm, in a starry night.
I guess I am just talking of another useless thing I am uselessly proud of, though.
Two is for joy
They are reckless, ruthless, and some other essnesses that I can’t find right now.
Yet, I am quite fond of the magpies’ duo – husband and wife, I guess? – which plays hide and seek with me.
Basically: they spy on me, knowing that I leave seeds and crumbs in the garden, they deep-dive as soon as I leave the premises, and enjoy their humans-free breakfast.
The Irish history of magpies is quite an adventurous one.
I stumbled on it while researching on Irish wolves, discovering that, like rabbits, magpies are not an autochthonous species: a flock of magpies – and that should be a parliament, shouldn’t it? – caught in a storm ended up in Wexford, in relatively recent times: XVIII (XVII, maybe? I should check) Century.
My fascination with magpies started earlier than having to deal with them in the garden.
I remember a cartoon inspired by Rossini’s La Gazza Ladra Ouverture: a Romanian, maybe Russian one. And it was sh*te, but, again: in a fascinating way.
I wanted to like it, as it was from the Promised Land, the land of the Sun of Future.
But it was utter sh*te.
RAI probably streamed it thousands of times, when I was a kid. Maybe I am still dealing with the trauma.
It’s with Kilbrack, by Jamie O’Neill, that magpies ended up on the Irish literature radar for me:
one for sorrow, two for joy.
While we can’t know what no magpies is for, and despite their recklessness and ruthlessness, I’ll stick t(w)o joy.
Two pair of gloves
My ex-colleague, and still great friend, M., used to say to me:
you have too much energy.
If energy is a synonym of fury, well: he was right.
I was furious. At myself, mainly: at me, the me continually ending up in positions where I was supposed to be someone else, something else from me. That surplus of energy that the fury was usually ending up in:
A) a manic waste recycling (nobody has ever managed the recycling of carton boxes than me. It’s not boasting, here: it’s a fact);
B) cleaning the warehouse floor.
It was a war for me.
I enjoyed using its weapon: the cleaning machine (I remember using it boustrophedon-ly, just for the sake of knowing what boustrophedon means).
I enjoyed its spilt blood: the muck, the dirty water.
I remember once M. looking at me with the same glance engineers looked at thermometers in Chernobyl:
Let’s clean the warehouse.
He knew better than me it was time to open the energy release valve.
He had learnt to “read” me very well.
Almost exactly eight years ago, I took a photo of the pair of gloves I used to use in my battles. Worn out. Dirty. I remember the pleasure of using them for picking up the last bits of dirt once the battle was over, when the war had been won.
Almost exactly eight years later, I am not at war anymore. Well, I am still pretty muck f*ed up, but nonetheless.
I often wear a pair of gloves in the garden. They are supposed to keep me safe from nettle, bramble thorns, and the young lost mouse I tried to save. I use them, mainly while planting seeds and saving plants.
I am not at war anymore.