“…one doesn’t have to travel to places like the Galapagos to experience the wonders of nature.”
When I wrote of the richness of the natural world in suburbia in my recent book, A Natural Year, I didn’t expect to be cocooned in our own garden for weeks, or maybe months, on end. It’s been a good test, however, of my suggestion that one doesn’t have to travel to places like the Galapagos to experience the wonders of nature. Our garden is nothing special, but we have been particularly enjoying it in these surreal lock-down times, seeking the exotic of the nearby, or, as the poet Michael Coady put it, spending time ‘sifting the extraordinary from the ordinary, plucking the lyrical from the everyday’. The Roman philosopher Marcus Tullius Cicero, forty years before the birth of Christ, suggested to a friend ‘if you have a garden and a library, you will want for nothing.’ We are fortunate to have a good library, assembled over four decades, so we can appreciate the concept, and much of our time is divided between the two. The ‘enforced deep leisure’ of these times has allowed me to finally delve into works that have graced my bookshelves for years, and have only been, up until now, browsed through, such as the complete works of the naturalist William Burroughs, which I swapped a first edition of Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea for a few years ago. I am also greatly enjoying re-reading the late Tim Robinson’s wonderful Connemara books, and in between, we have a healthy diet of thrashy thrillers.
On sunny days, however, we enjoy the garden. I have to admit that we do very little actual gardening work: most of the time we just sit quietly, enjoying the perfumes of the flowers and observing the birds and the insects that are in full flight now in a frenzy of mating and producing young. The reduction in motor traffic and passing aircraft has meant there is more to listen to now, comparing the buzzing of the hoverfly with the drone of the bumble bee, and guessing which blackbird’s song will attract the most mates. Yesterday, hearing the faint cries of seagulls, I managed to spot them high up in the blue sky, mobbing what was unmistakably a slowly circling buzzard. A buzzard overhead in suburbia is, for me, an exciting sight, but as we live five miles from the coast, I can’t say the same, I’m afraid, for seagulls.
I make brief, desultory forays into non-essential gardening activities such as trying to get various plants to grow on my rather dull garden wall. I have been successful with a few species over the years, and delight in our thriving valerian, which reminds me of the ancient garden wall of the house where I was born, and an unidentified succulent found in the lime mortar of the eleventh-century Romanesque arcading of Much Wenlock abbey in England years ago, which has miraculously thrived on my concrete blocks.
While in the past we have only grown very small crops of potatoes and tomatoes, in our cocooning situation we have, for the first time, ventured into growing plants from seed obtained by post. My wife Teresa and I are ignorant and a little mystified about this intricate skill, but we have our own particular ideas, and are enthusiastically competing to produce the best results. Ignoring the old saying ‘a watched pot never boils’, every day we carefully examine our separate trays for even the most miniscule increase in leaf length in the tiny plants that have appeared over the last week. It’s great fun, and it’s beginning to look like we will have plenty of such days ahead.
A Natural Year: The Tranquil Rhythms and Restorative Powers of Irish Nature Through the Seasons (ISBN: 9781785373183) by Michael Fewer is available now in paperback (RRP €17.95) from Merrion Press.