Wednesday in the Glen Resource Centre a gathering of otter enthusiasts heard Paddy Sleeman share his knowledge and answer questions about Cork’s urban otter population, 11 have been counted by the disitillary and 8 on the Bride – they have always been here he insists, across Cork’s rivers in abundance. Their white markings may be an indication of close living with humans, not exactly domestication… but.. and these markings make individuals identifiable and trackable. Adult males can be 18 kilos and a force to be reckoned with, females are up to 8k .. they usually give birth to 2 in a litter, sometimes 3, but often all but one are abandoned… harsh living and feral survival. Otters have been hunted in Cork for centuries, their fur so prized that ground rent used to be annually 2 pelts, valuable for their heavy wear and waterproofing. We saw a photo of a Bride otter with his neck hair up like a lion, this mobility on the scruff is there for the mother to catch hold of, and once grasped in her jaws the kit’s body goes limp, and this hair behaviour remains into adulthood – I think of feline Mixa and her mobile neck flesh. We heard of Bride otters crossing the road into the Glen by the fire station, and so during lockdown there were multiple sitings of families in the park, at this time the road was quiet and they were able to access the Glen river for fish, the trout were plentiful too then – i’m remembering the strange sites of last year, fish with roe dead on the grass. Otters have a way of corralling fish Sleemann says they are gatherers more than hunters, herding and eating small fry in river pools. Otters are plentiful in Cork but mink are too. and it’s the mink who are responsible for the decimation of the coot population in the Glen of recent years. The BEES dept have been tracking otters by spraint and analysing DNA this way but would prefer hairs, thye want to find how the envrionment and pollutants are afecting them, as their populations are still strong but in one female they’ve found an idiosyncracy on the DNA x chromosome …. from pharamaceutical polutants… this may lead to less fruitful breeding patterns down the line as has occurred in the UK ..they are also looking for the presence, and effects of microplastics, and other human waste. So they aim to put up sticky patches (somebody fro the audience suggested velcro) on known ‘otter slides’ into the river to get hairs for more accurate readings.
Moorhen’s floating nest
Palest of cuckoo flower at the oil spill open to all that comes on the breeze
listening to the birds, waiting in vain for the cuckoo…?
A gentle placement at the tri-trunkular tilla cordata (small leaved lime)… an offering of sorts it seems
The Ash over the zigzag, near or far still there at the apex, willing willing willing – there will be no die back or dye back fears or dye-back pre-emptive measures of heckling saws in hands, the Ash must stay, hold sway, be generous, near far near far near always swaying, holding, sway
It has the look of an open book, this place I overlooked yesterday from on high, evidence remains, a rock and a pillow, a pillow and a hard place, a rock and a soft place, off the beaten track
looking the other way, the brassicas are the new yellow of the Western Glen
Listening and moving on up the acid yellow so different to the song of the gorse, no bees at this hour….
and Mugwort standing tall from last year, ignoring that acid blaze of brassica, courting yet the graffiti at the cage
Into the Glen after 8 dusk is falling – the bulrushes are lit up by the low light and still young hangers on at the yin yang a magpie crossing my path
I go to find the places of the cuckoo flower,
checking the sites I remember from last year – the ponds at the South side of the yellow bridge, the oil spill at the bayou, and this year’s find at the metal bridge… all there – though I find a patch at the oil spill is missing the pitch-perfect lilac delicacy, presenting wan instead, a ghost of itself, each and all the of the blooms opening their flowers to the Glen birdsong …..but no cuckoo
En route I stirr awhile under the swamp cypress, unable to resist wrapping my arms around the warm shaley bark and breathing in the air beneath the network of limbs overhead
Eastwards and there is a dog-sphynx sitting at the portal to the Fleischmann place pale and prominent, a little pal making its way down the zigzag detached from a human a few rows up, he struts passed me to one of his own.
Someone has made a bridge across the river, I saw them there last week balancing on the bendy branches waiting for a snap without a fall, two young men and a small child making impressions on one another… feeling the crunch the the ragged twist and splinter of the limbs as I passed, wishing they could be kinder to the tree they were using for their game.
…the light is creeping across the gravel making its golden presence felt in sedge and in the throats of the thrushes, blackbirds, tits, finches, goldcrests, robins, wrens, pigeons, crows, and mallards I cannot name them all but guess their songs from seeing them about the place and the intense cacophony of birdsound
There is a nest on the pond, a moorhen is in it, floating in plain sight I wonder how safe is she or her brood with heron and dogs, among others, about
I move west along to the high ground and the broom is holding out where the gorse used to be, softer and not so prickle-dry as its cousin, it has managed to keep a hold of the ground, the other hill peeping out over its golden tops
moving on, doubling back on the lower path, I go to seek my stone, picking up another along the way and the army of Bracken is making heady towards the crest of the hill where the burnt old gorse spells out its story, i see the hatch in the groin of the wishbone path, a puff of cloud hovering overhead, a kind of halo, my stone sits heartchaped on the black compost…walkin on a notice activity in the dumping ground, gestures, telling another story of Glen life, held in the branches of the dried up gorse, witness to all that happens below.
Bracken emerges scalded out of the ground, in the new shoots I see the charring reached in below ground as they were forming but the heat didn’t halt the vigour of this primordial plant making its way to the air and the sun, tanned, the unfurling forms have a fetal quality new limbs testing themselves in the new air. The brambles are moving in as the old thorny bush lies down, some still reaching for the sky, the yellow glory much diminished and sadly missed. The road home whizzes by below urging me on I pass the Engineers gates as the Crescent moon comes into view
Dusk at the engineers gate
The Alder fills the U of the sky at the hatch
and I see my first cuckoo flower on 22.04 of 2022 at the metal bridge
The lilac of the flower is said to coincide with the arrival of the cuckoo from Africa… I haven’t ever heard a cuckoo in the Glen. The cuckoo flower has just a few spots here, usually at water’s edge, I saw another one by the new yellow bench on Sunday, and last year I saw one by the old Poplar Stump, their singular presence sings out not with an audible voice but their cool clear colour Li Lah c
Sun setting on the end days of April 25.04.22
the race between Bracken and Fireweed to cover the charred ground once the region of the Gorse
Animal tracks revealed across the hill since the burning of the gorse
These days I have been entering the Glen via the ZigZag, too early for Sunview East (which is still under lock & key till the Council begin their day) It’s been some time since I walked this path – the way is lush with Winter heliotrope ruffling the borders of my descent, an audience of sorts, their generous cones beckoning the morning sun, all ears to my footsteps.
And so I make a grand entrance, stopping at the viewing balcony over the Fleischamnn ruins, the white gateposts of the empty lot and the muddy platform that was once Maeve’s place, I see the river sliding through, and the upper field still frosted; the curtains will soon be closing on this view, which will be taken over by growth, for now I suck it up, listening to the birds.
I go on down to see if the Dipper’s around, but something odd attracts my attention
There is something different about the log where the Dipper waits. Yesterday disgusted by a plastic bag trapped there I thought about returning to remove it. Today already it’s something else: an open book. Its pages wafted by the river, print not yet washed away, there is something birdlike in its wing-paged presence. I crouch closer and cannot make out what kind of book it is, the print is small and my first impression is of some kind of bible, or holy book. Now through the lens of my phone I see its more likely a novel. I make out the upside down words… ‘crumbling house’…. so seemingly apt in this place, I wonder if it has been planted. Curious I make my way over to the other bank, passing a procession of Lords and Ladies, their membrane cowls lit up in the low sun, all focused around that purple centre, standing upright, at once exposed and enclosed.
The way parts white and blue for me, anemone left and bluebell right as I entangle myself in trees to get a look at that strange book from this other side. Here it takes on a more animated role, clinging to the log, pages multiply-limbed, out of its dorsal spine, making my skin crawl in response to its creature presence.
Leaving the woods and wending past the Ragged Robin on the old stone wall I pass beyond the little white flowers in the hedgerow by the bayou, sleepy still, they are lifting their heads from the frost, too here are members of the dandelion family, still clinging are their yellow gold petals, stuck to their white-seed halos like plant life comb overs I wonder – can plants too be vain? By the ponds I pass the unzipped bulrushes puffed up, and still hanging on to their seeds in their velvet brown heads.
The concrete space for the bench is primed to for a fitting. I stop and take in the HAUNTY script, aware of it becoming a haunting of itself in the ever cumulating layers of Glen activity. A few days are compressed into one and the new bench arrives yellow, making shadows now across the already old inscription, HAUNTY 22. Here once stood a wooden bench that in the ways of the Glen got burnt and had to be replaced.
I find a clutch of feathers wafting gently by the pond, a loosely balled aftermath, waving. Nearby the 3 cornered garlic is out and freshly white.
I make my way to the high ground and crossing the overflow of the well, I find the little stick bridge has been dismembered since the last time I crossed, yesterday.
Up passed the branches of the mother oak, on to the charred hills, and ground that is now replenished by water, water from rain and frost and dew, and new growth is spurting up from the black earth
at ground level blades of grass make offerings of water droplets to the earth while Fire-weed and Bracken are racing to claim the territory… I look forward to the promise of Rosebay Willow-herb once more gracing the heights of the valley, even while I miss that little magical portal made across the track by willow and gorse. With no partner now the willow arches to nothing, parched to the ground I’m hoping she survives. The wee red fire-weed army marches up to its roots, bolstering its presence here on the heath of the Glen.
Creatures carry on
and find ways back below, the gorse still giving egress at its charred old base.
the charred growth becomes dead signs
Coming back along, the path is lit up by the rising sun and I look below and wonder at those twin trees, that pair leaning into one another like an old couple, one emergent green, the other still skeletal, I decide to go to visit The Hatch. Doubling back through the Gothic zone I pass a cluster of Hart’s Tongue fern – a name so resonant – deer’s tongue lick – hart to heart, they are emerging now from the bare ground, echoing the imprint of yesterday’s fern croziers. Just now, here in the valley I discover those twins are both Maples. I look up between their branches and see them reach for one another, a slip stream of sky between them fizzles with their approach.
The wall at the hatch is so transformed now, in its painted white surface those deeper embedded signs come forth… human carvings, letterings and text talk. So what about the lichens? They used to come here in circles of yellow and grey-greens/pale whites – live and growing – are these lichen patterns growing still, beneath the surface? or can we expect new pathways atop the paint? For now we have the Brassicas, giving their acid gold in front of the gorge-formed back drop of the ancient valley. We must be aware of the layers we create, us humans and story tellers – what we wipe and sweep – what is erased – what keeps on coming back, in ever evolving cycles….it’s hard to grasp and difficult to perceive … I feel we must be attentive….tune in
I am early to the Glen today my intention to walk the legs begins with moving fast and soon slows as the valley weaves its magic around me. I greet the Dipper in her usual spot by the Fleischmann residence, moving on without stopping so as not to disturb her hunting – but she flies under the bridge on the continuum as I pass over.
i see the ferns are showing their croziers
I stop by the Alder pool listening to the sounds of the water rushing by, moving in swirls by the tree and gurgling at the fast bank
The motion has made some froth that gathers in the gully of the Alder making mountains by the sticks, old styro-foam, and a miniature bottle keeping its message tight.
I go on up to the high ground picking up pace once again
and find the dew in a dandelion clock that someone has already kissed, blown a hole into the very heart of it
I loop the loop twice on the high ground moving too fast to linger for pictures and feeling as always indecisive about which path to take. I am, as always drawn to the Hatch – the Alders there, and the rush of the water …..now overshadowed by the burning under the flats, the earth and the rubbish looking more precarious now, and threatening to fall, somehow the big old stone seems to have predicted this moment.
I turn to go home when I notice the line of daffodils on the Rope walk, now almost all have given up their flowers, one way or another…. I have a plan to make some cordage from the dead flower stems, and so I go a gathering,…. eventually i walk home with a nice bundle…. it will take a few weeks to dry and be ready to twine.
The burnings come in cycles, looking back over 3 springs of Glen photos I see the blackening is very much an element of April and March – and always the greening follows and the re-population, shoots are emerging now, bees now passing in and out of holes and spiders’ webs now joining stone to stalk and stalk to stalk and stalk to stone, catching the dew and the sun; while steam rises out of the moist, charred ground. Today is Good Friday, 15th April ’22 and I’m looking back through the moments since my last posting, moments trapped still inside my phone, trying to remember moods and thoughts as I traced my way through the park on those days in between, then and now.
the things poised and left on the charred slopes delicate and weighty at once
Gorse making drawings, feelings of sweep sweep arabesque charcoal and ash, loose and light in the surrounds I feel my breath in the intersection where the 3 stalks rise.
The spiders have moved in, making star formations, filaments catching the dew and the captured light making galaxies of the webs.
The stones are not exactly adrift without their vegetation, they make clear constellations, I pick one up then another, feeling their weight, texture and specific density in my hand, each with its own quality, a vibration of red sandstone or quartz or other gravely stone …. usually after handling I place each carefully back on its own footprint, occasionally I will pocket one for my own Glen home universe.
The steam rising off the charred earth in the morning sun.
In the dark of the Gothic zone there is the lit up residue of animal hair gleaming in the mud, I pass over and move on and out to the blue sky of the mother oak’s arms, the charred valley sides are mere passing shadows in her presence, and I find the site of the grooming session, discarded brush left bristling in the cleft of that old felled trunk, tufts of hair spotting and drifting over the bare ground in a rhythm of its own.
Bold as Brassicas – I pass the hatch and there they are, reaching tall for the Alder.
Passing the ponds I spy Greta in the deepest water, she evades my gaze in one of the vs of in the Ys of the branches, ever watchful, clever Egret, her presence made more by the broken line of my vision.
It’s cat and mouse as usual and I catch up with her later by the bridges, perched in the top of a mangled Alder, one legged and hunch-backed, her beak signing “that way” motionless from on high.
And on the human level there are the makings of a new bench where the last of the wooden ones stood, conjuring another memory of old and burnt. More cement, a tabula rasa for new commentary – “HAUNTY”
The Glen is a place of Alders whose shapes populate the valley, darkly red against the doming grey-greens of Willow. Right now the male flowers of the Alders are dangling from all branches and strewn across the ground after the winds; these catkins, named from the dutch word for kitten. Alders produce male and female flowers at once, and on the same tree. The female flowers are more self-contained, deeply red and sticky, and they reside above the pendulous male, to avoid any accidental falling of pollen, that might be rendered useless by any dampness in the weather. In ideal conditions the dangling catkins are tickled by the wind and the yellow pollen is dispersed, flying airborne to land home and dry on the sticky female flowers, which will close up and turn woody, forming into protective cones, housing the burgeoning seeds in tight green capsules then browning, drying, shrinking back to open once again for the big release at the end of the summer. I have been picking up the dainty cones for some time, from the same ground where the catkins fall, they make a lovely slate grey ink.
opening and closing Alder
Alders mature quickly, in 60 years and their dense flesh is resistant to water, creating a timber that doesn’t split, Venice is built on alder piles. The Alder was known as the warrior tree, its flesh is white but turns blood red when cut, and it has traditionally been used in warfare for shields. I’ve been informed that It was the Alders of the Glen that were put to use for trench building timbers in the Great War – [though some accounts tell of it being the Glen Elms used for this practice – perhaps it was both] . Alder charcoal was used in the making of gunpowder in the nearby Powder Mills of Ballincollig. But Alder has been the material of choice for domestic equipment too; for bowls and vessels for safeguarding milk, and for clogs, and Alder has been used as dye material, yielding a swathe of colours, to the deepest of blacks. John Feehan talks of the Irish missionary monks who blackened their eyelids with Alder and sported bald headed tonsures with wild flowing hair down their back…following the fall of the Roman Empire
I discover that the Alder was considered an unlucky tree in old Irish folklore – people used to avoid passing under them …I wonder, if the old wild wood here was an Alder wood this might have been one of the reasons for the archaic naming of this small valley as The Glen of the Spooks. I see their silhouettes as those of distinct characters inhabiting the valley. There are the 3 Alder guardians of the hatch who I certainly wouldn’t mess with.
In the Celtic Tree calendar we are currently in the month of the Alder (Fearn). Fearn rules the fourth moon and runs from 18 March to 14 April approximately.
Fearn is the 3rd letter of the Ogham alphabet and its letter is w
The weather has been good for the last few days with blue skies and warm sun. We had a site visit for Gleann na Phúca today (Saturday 26) a pair of buzzards watch over us winging high and silent in the blue, making their elegant circles in the air. It’s good to see them in the city, and it’s good news that their population is rising here again.
And we had a visitation from a sparrowhawk earlier, she moved from Apple branch to Maple, rounding the bay tree where last year we found a wrens’ nest. Her golden eye watchful and unbothered by my presence. Yesterday I found remains of quarry, a pigeon, bones picked clean beneath the bay and a flurry of feathers up behind the poly tunnel. I am reassured by the presence of these majestic creatures, and life goes on in this small garden patch as I watch now a blackbird spend some time and effort hauling a worm from deep down beneath his feet, I watch the worm stretch and then snap out from its earthy home, in one gulp gone, into the bird’s golden beak.
I walk out as the day is waning but the sun still warms the air, there is a decaptitated daffodil head at the bend of the Ballyhooly Road, its bright yellow capturing the sun, not yet bruised, or shriveled in the slightest, it seems defiant even beyond its last stand. There are many upright lines of narcissi in the Glen, each year a few survive a picking or a kicking, and there are wee colonies of them in the lakes planted out of harms way. The Celendines are out and shiny in little pockets under trees and the wood anemones cluster at the banks of the Fleischmann place; a sign of ancient woods I am told as they take time to establish a footing.
Not so the gorse, hardy out, it survives the annual burning season which begins as soon as the sun shines beyond St. Patrick’s day. Its yellow blaze burning before the fires, sending out its heady scent, the swathes of black charred heath are still fizzing and smelling of artichokes as I walk over the high ground sad, but confident the gorse will grow back, sorry about the more tender broom and perhaps some tender sapling trees that might have been planted there by TC, these are the cycles of the Glen and I am aware once more of the traffic roaring by at this level of the valley. I pass through a group of young people by the oak, talking tik tok in the elongated drawl and swagger of Cork Youth. I descend through the gothic zone saluting the Golum and the other hooded vegetation as I pass. I look back and see the lads are setting up camp under the oak, a small blaze in the place of last year’s fire pit.
i arrive back at the bridges and daylight has given way to the eerie spill from the Resource Centre, flooding the park with its orange glow, the solitary yelllow bench an audience for the shouts of the sportsters on the pitches, invisible inside.
I step over the daffodil still there on the concrete at the bend home.
They have been man- i-curing the Glen – they on machines leaving tyre tracks, heavy in the mud, pointing to the places of decimation where limbs of branches pile up or lay strewn across the undergrowth, mashed up and ground down. There will be no more bird callings from the bare branched elms, the lumber has been carried off and parked in the council depot; we’ve been watching the neat piles rising for some time behind the palisade fencing and that new silver man-gate. The piles ebb and flow from there as the machines come in and out with their neatly cut loggings. It cuts deep this activity. On any occasion I have asked a council parks attendant worker about what they are doing I hear their mantra I’m employed from the neck down.
I remember that other time I watched a machine cut away half a pine leaving it one sided from root to tip because it had extended its branches over a bordering fence, smelling the sap that hung in the air long before I knew the extent of the cull, the piny branches were being fed into a shredder.. what are you doing? I asked. What the boss man asked, he replied. I looked at his van, tree surgeon writ large. Are you the tree surgeon? I asked. I am. Do you know the name of this tree? I know the cuts I have to make he said.
I am told the surgeon on this job in the Glen is Dermot Casey. I remember passing a sign on the roadside North towards Mallow, only this morning, Dermot Casey it read, Plant Hire.
This is a culture to which I do not belong. A busy busyness of labouring with machines for development for somebody else – the they – the they who wants to get in quick and pull out better-off, leaving a wake of small time concessions after their plunderings, lining their pockets or the pockets of the next one higher up, and trampling all that is inconsequential on the way to their goal. This is a brutal culture condoning insentient behaviours and I do not belong.
The birds are calling from other branches this dusk
Looking through the fence…beside the neatly piled up lumber are some young trees – roots balled up and exposed, they seem to have been left there in haste, my eyes reach through the metal bars
The bulrush heads are all action, unzipping on their stems, their heads somehow coming loose and scattering, along with their hollow stalks, across path and wetland. Their brown heads closely shaved and immaculate, now bursting into little brain-lets of clustering seed filaments, then stripping off into fluff and then striking off again, combed and stranded by the wind, then becoming airborne in one direction or another, the river bears them west till they find a place to rest. I gather up some of the brian-lets into a cotton handkerchief, one given for every pocket by my mother, to bring away for her pond.
Coigeal na mban sí – translates as spindle of the banshee
I leave the strangled mess of tangled trees behind, trusting nature’s urgency to reform the place, its only time, always time, that changes one shifting state to the next.