Dara’s Wild World
I run through the long meadow, the heady scent catching on my clothes. I stop at the great oak at Castle Archdale and rest my cheek against the bark. I feel the aged, rough skin, the protective layer. I hear it breathing our rhythms intertwine. I close my eyes.
We have Grasshoppers in the garden for the first time, springing up from the grass onto the arms of the swing chair, crackling in the heat. I watch one resting on the green metal and think about how amazing it is to have ears on your abdomen, tucked under wings.
Enniskillen (wood anemone):
The rhododendron we loved playing in has been dismembered, along with the cold, dark world it once covered. This Spring, amazingly, there are primroses bursting from below the stumps, visible for the first time in – I don’t know how many years. Then, with primroses, I spy a wood anemone exposed to the air like a forgotten spell.
I turn to see the widest smile on Bláthnaid’s face and a jay feather in her hand. Her whole being is shining. She’s the queen of all feathery things and has been waiting for this moment for so long. She puts the feather in her hair and skips with elation.
After dinner, song bursts from every corner of the sky and we stop to listen in the twilight. Isolating each and every melody, I feel suddenly rooted. Skylark spirals. Blackbird harmonies. Bubbling meadow pipits. The winnowing wings of snipe. And always the sound of seabirds. We are in the other world. No cars. No people. Just wildlife and the magnificence of nature.
Big Dog/Whooper Swan:
Slowly and quietly we approached the willow-shaded picnic table beside the lake, and they stayed with us as we sat in silent reverence and awe. We felt so privileged. My heart beat faster, my breath felt trapped in my chest. The birds sailed along nonchalantly, until suddenly the honking and trumpeting began. I moved to take a closer look, shielded by the bare branches of a willow tree. I sat as still as the air, watching the widening ripples made by the birds’ readying for flight: wings extended, heads dipped, their legs rotating ferociously as they rose up, ungainly webbed paddles giving them forward thrust and lift-off. Away they went, bugling, like a royal convoy. They disappeared to the north-west, perhaps towards Iceland.
Silently, stealthily, I move towards it and rest on a nearby stone. I watch as it opens and closes its veined wings, revealing ochre and night black. It’s a dark green fritillary basking in the hazy sunshine. I watch it lift and glide effortlessly over the grasses. I touch the spot it has just left behind, to glean warmth from it.
They didn’t heckle. They looked at me, listening. They asked more questions, and before we called it a day and walked our separate ways, we were making plans and talking about when to meet next, calling ourselves an Eco Group and figuring out what the aims should be. As everyone left, I could see my breath in the cold night but felt the shape of a glow around me. The herring gulls and Jackdaws had all roosted, the rooks were in the trees above. The oystercatchers piped their last notes to the dark.
Ballynoe Stone Circle:
I walk on, over grass tipped with sparkling frost that crackled underfoot, deafening, and still the string seems to tug and pull me along, fire and ashes, towards the Neolithic burial ground. In late evening light, the stones form an almost perfect circle, the entrance to which is not frosty, and you can see a bold outline, a pathway in.
We hold hands and run down the dune path in a line, unbroken. We are all warriors now. We run to the waves, wind slapping our cheeks red. We stop just shy of the shoreline and hug each other. Sometimes, it comes over us like that. An uncontrollable urge like a bodhrán rhythm, with flutes and fiddles, drifting in from somewhere else, wrapping around us. With wind buffeting, we laugh and pull ourselves apart, running this time, down the length of the beach towards mum, dad and Rosie.
I look to the other side of me and discover a ladybird, shining brightly against Xanthoria lichen, like sun bursting from a branch. Its stillness begs not to be touched and I marvel from a short distance at the contrasting colours, the bright yellowy orange frills of lichen and the tiny red sleeping spot in the middle.
I look up and squint to see a roughly made shape of what could be a buzzard nest up in the trees; I wonder if the lichen has grown here because of bird spray. The bird has stopped its squalling now and the forest is mostly silent again, save for a lone robin still singing. Always singing. I can see that Dad has found some cep mushrooms: supper for later. I take some photos of the bracket fungus and we head off, back to the castle grounds where we play at being knights and kings and queens, because I’m still a kid and need a battle to get my energy out. The biggest battle, I know, is loving the natural world and protecting it. For now, I pour out my battle cries and mock fights with Lorcan.
Red kites were the first to pull the string and lure me into the world of raptors. At age six, I started reading everything about them, learning all I could, and planning how I could get closer to them. I wanted to understand them. I wanted to help them. Red kites were once extinct in my country, but in 2008, birds were collected from Wales and reintroduced to the Mourne Mountains after a 170year period of absence owing to persecution. And now our eyes can once again see these resplendent swallow-tailed birds, and we are able to spend time watching them stream in and out of sight, diving into our imaginations.
The day is sparkling, the wind is shaking and shaping the clouds. Lorcan and Bláthnaid want to swim, so I stroll along the beach with my binoculars. Shapes out at sea stop me: a trinity of torpedoing gannets. They swoop, wheel and suddenly drop, spiralling until the last second when they transform into arrows before hitting the water. Swallows are overhead – I can see their small bodies so clearly, weightless and constantly moving. I feel myself rising with them.