Alder….Saturday 9.04.2022

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.

John Feehan waxing lyrical about the Alder

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

birds of prey, burnings and blue skies 16 -26 March

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.

watchful sparrowhawk

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.

Camp fire under The Oak

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.

manicuring the Glen – culling the elms – adieu adieu 1-16.03.2022

blackbird blue sky perch

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.

Findings and leavings in the first week of hedgerow protection Monday 7.03.2022

It’s a greyish morning early as I stroll down Sunview East into the park. I am appreciating the bareness before the promise of Spring growth, it’s the first week of hedgrow protections and from now until September is the official time of respect for nesting birds and animal life.

On the way to the Fleischmanns I spy an odd thing nestling into the bare edging by the wall, a square of tupperware…I imagine one of the Glen river Fisherman has lost, or planted his bait box and I am torn between the temptation to pry it open and giving it a miss. I walk on by and go on to the stone walled banks to see how the brown silt has left the the river, hoping I will be lucky enough to say hello to the Dipper in her place by the bridges. There and then not there, I am pleased to see she is around – her usual flicker presence. The wood anemones are emerging on the banks and, as I pass back westaways, I see some of the bug motels are still hanging, it’s this kindness that gives me the courage to go back and open the box.

I find some clues – a bus ticket from Youghal and a date, I add an ivy leaf and re-incapsulate this little time machine, replacing the box, willing it to be engulfed once again by this season’s growth.

I remember to take a photo of the pipe that runs alongside the metal bridge, we were talking about it – “is it ceramic or concrete or steel?” asks GO’B , either of the former two could be sewer conduits, and only the latter, water. I think it is concrete with shiny steel fixings … odd to think of this charge running across the river coming from the hollowness that resounds all about us here in the Glen valley.

I walk on and find the wind has picked up even at ground level, buffeting the seeds of a decapitated bulrush that crosses my path

blowing in the wind

The Heron is out fishing, a picture of patience, still and intent on the water, as focused as I am – being in stealth for a shot of him up close – it’s a game, balancing and sensing a hyper awareness that at any moment might trigger flight and a missed breakfast, we both know the stakes. I pass by not knowing. On again, and I see there are offerings on the empty pedestal, a child perhaps has left an arrangement, a lingering mark of some other kind of intention, a kind of blessing it seems, so tender, to one who comes later, feeling the touch possibly even the next day and beyond.

There are other markings, these are of machines. I have been warned about their presence in the old orchard. Sickening brutality, here at the well, so opposite to the tender stroke I’ve just passed by at the pedestal alter. This is the first week of the hedge-cutting ban and I imagine the orders were to get in quick with the machines. The apple tree seems to be still hanging on by a thread, we’ll see – while the turkey tails have been chopped from their habitat and are left abandoned in the wake of those heavy clay tracks, the truncated trees call out like silent sirens calling from their claggy terrestrial abyss. I pass on up to the high ground and am comforted by the mother oak, stepping over a stone in the path with its quartz seam lined up in my direction. There are machine markings everywhere and as I realise they have chopped the ‘dead elms’ I am charged with an image and the sudden loss of their lightening branches reaching so beloved on blue sky days.

au revoir dear old Elms

There are heaps of neatly stacked branches in the dumping ground, no machine to do this job, though the smear of sawdust is a reminder. I must pass the S wall and feel the gap of the witchy tree that is missing since last year in another felling bout. As I leave I peer through the grill at the depot, and see again the careful stacks of limbs that rise and dwindle across the seasons.

After the storms…14-24.02.2022

Dudley was only whispering as he passed overhead but Eunice reached us howling, bringing down trees and gusty Franklin buffeted in her trail, all shape shifting their ways through the Glen and beyond.

This morning we have snow, the warm earth kisses away the cold white touch as blue skies open and close letting in the sun’s warm gaze, a dizzy blinking rhythm beats out between dazzling and occluded sun brought almost to touch with the sweeping snowfalls.

The river runs brown again in the Glen today and yesterday, a building development up stream is leeching earthworks into the passing watercourse, seemingly unperturbed by the opacity its activities are creating in the water… and undisturbed by their effects on aquatic life.. .. I see the ducks swirling about on the surface and wonder what is happening below. Looking more closely from the land I see the particles borne along in rivulets within the water’s body. Where stiller, the water’s silty borders lap the parkland’s claggy edges. Still the watercourse hurries those brown particles relentlessly through, wherever the dust eventually settles, it is for now waterborne.

still brown 22 Feb

Here rivers have no rights. In 2011 a provincial court in Ecuador set a precedent when it ruled in favour of the rights of The Vilcabamba River over damaging road construction. In 2012 The Whanganui River on New Zealand’s North Island was the first in the world to be granted legal personhood. The Ganges and Yumana these rivers, already Hindu deities, became India’s first living entity in 2017.

Canada in 2021 granted personhood to The Magpie and, based on native Innu customs and practices, the river was accorded nine basic rights :

The right to flow

The right to respect for its cycles

The right for its natural evolution to be protected and preserved

The right to maintain its natural biodiversity

The right to fulfill its essential functions within its ecosystem

The right to maintain its integrity

The right to be safe from pollution

The right to regenerate and be restored

The right to sue.

glen river brown

Russia has invaded Ukraine

onto the 13th day of February – pink skies, brown waters and the appearance of strange quiver like objects 13.02.2022

My walks in February have been sporadic yet each one yields a new drama… and in between there have been postings about the brown waters running through the Glen despite the lack of rain.

on Saturday the fifth I was one of a booted group of water warriors/worriers looking on as Simon from UCC demonstrated the tools of his trade. As we watch It emerges that we are semi-circled around a small hummock, which has only became pre-emeninent since Simon bows over it with tweezer in hand, and lifts from its crown a greyish, gritty and mucousy matter – Otter Spraint he informs us – which does not smell at all of violets as i have heard, but sweetly salty. We sniff it in turn and cheer for these elusive leavings as evidence of riparian life.

The water bed is covered in a greyish silt, even as the water rushes over it…none of us want to go there as the tweezers extract a delicate fragment of tissue. He does a river bed shuffle, raising the life from its sunken place and casts his net, allowing the swift flow of water to feed into it, the disturbed elements. He does this 3 times hopping and riffling into the one netting before depositing its load into the white sample tray. We are hopeful and not hopeful in equal measure, greedy for sightings of indicating species either/both good or/and bad, we want it all. We find a leech, its sucker glueing it to the plastic base, there is a tiny snail leaving its faintly drawn trails on the plastic … both bad, and the third bad is a waterlouse, with its feelers and legs… I feel for them, poor enemies of clean water indications, always the bad guys, just living their lives in the conditions given… Out of two scoopings we get 6 minuses – the maximum in our test – and 0 plusses, no innocent caddis fly larva, no delicate mayfly or sensitive stone fly, we are at optimum water pollution. We should do one more scooping nearby but it seems fairly conclusive and this is a demonstration situation, we get the drift. I am partially pleased , this is ammunition for action, and the Otter Spraint is evidence for another argument to clean up.

Later in the week begin the postings of the brown water, my memories of healthy rivers after the rain are dashed, as we have had none; it’s been a dry February. The water is brown from another kind of disturbance – machines and earth moving for construction, a development up-stream. In the same week IF has persuaded the chief council environmental engineer to go drain hunting, and they have found in one visit two sources of sewage seepage, leaking into the river near to its source: one is feeding into the storm drains and another is caused by a blockage, just a stone’s throw upstream. There are promises for fixings afoot. Even if it’s a long haul.

There have also been some of those renowned Glen pink skies

And there has been some activity in the Fleischmann place at the bottom of the zigzag – plastic drinks bottles topped and tailed into quivers bearing leaf feathered cuttings of bay and other snipped branches. These are hoisted, suspended and otherwise dangling in trees and bushes, their fancy harnesses taking carefully poised positions, over water, tucked into the growth and suspended from branches… each visit I make bringing more… there might soon be a proliferation

..later I am informed these are… bug motels, possibly put there by children.

Last week of January 28.01.2022

The weather has been dry and perfect for kicking up a leaf storm. There is one of those futile piles of leaves still in evidence – I go into the pile –

into the leaf pile

Dusk is drawing in as i circle the ponds and as I arrive at the zig zag I see the sllhouettes of a couple out walking their dog and the flashing of the green glowing collar doubling and tripling the loops of the stone bridges at the Fleischmanns, her joyful skidding scattering the mulch and raising the brown-black scent of decay in the dampening air.

And the swamp Cypress arches her back to the changing shift of the night sky.

The river endlessy flows west in the glen valley groove while on the upper outskirts the night call sirens swirl

Towards the end of the week the wind picks up and the creaking of the trees add another dimension to the descent into the Glen

Up on the heath I take the high road East towards the end and I pass the wizened puffballs…along the gorse hedge and through the hawthorn gateway to the party place where the cans and prophylactic wrappers remain, bobbing ivy berries hover and beckon in time with the passing traffic and I think of the unicorn headdress I picked up at the beginning of the month.

third week of 2022 15 – 24 January 2022

The Glen is on the turn, hardly a winter, a handful of frosts since Samhain and sensing the fingers of spring already, trees barely bare and their leaves litter the ground a fallen ivy burning its flame red veins and golden among the deep tannin browns, their leafy edges still precise. There was a sweeper here during the week making up piles of leaves under the trees, it seemed like an utterly pointless task, a job to keep a man busy, and unusual enough to see one from the council on foot… the puff balls clench their thin and withered cheeks around a black breath and I can’t resist a poke to see them exhale… up on the heath I find I’ve missed the juicy stage too… of the witches’ butter

Heading through the kissing gate at Sunview East with the tags of the clean up posters still fluttering yellow, and so witches butter yellow that I haven’t been inclined to cut their jute strings – they claim their place on the rails, tickets to the circus of birch and hawthorn.

I pick up a stone almost every day from the highland and bring each lump home, like teeth A says, I like the way the numbers form, clustering from one to six, and here masquerading somehow as a five; there is something of the constellation of Orion in it… my thoughts play of swivelling the extremities to capture the feel of the hunter’s shoulders, and i see now I need at least a seventh not just to make up a full week.

The first stone I picked had a seam aligned with the stripe of the path where it lay, magnetic pulling along the Glen axis of East West, attracting my attention. Here at home, the way it has landed points the other way North (to the way it came) catching the afternoon light on its Western cheek, while the group are holding their shadows on the kitchen counter.

thrown pink jacket now faded clings on, becoming vegetation

The thrown Pink jacket has faded to blend with the colour of the old man’s beard that spreads over everything on this side of the Glen, now incorporated into the vegetaion

honey fungi corsage on fresh stump

the line of felled elms now show individual corsages of honey fungi like stump debutantes presenting to the ghosts of their fallen silhouettes

the Swamp Tree Key

i am not sure why this tree conjures lock and key, but it seems to me it does, especially now when the birdsong makes the space around it.

Second week of 2022 10- 14.01.2022

There is an abandoned jumper at the hatch, it is has been there a while, and I find it today laid out white on the mossing conglommerate, that place for the belly connection with the river, as it rushes over the mill race below. There are a scattering of crusts which animate the arm into one of the Winter Feeder. The hairy textile is collecting in its fibres offerings from the alders, and other matter released from the winter vegetation of the Glen; the scene presents a sense of a surrender and exchange; histories and micro worlds are being made constantly, here among the concrete-moss-paintskin-bread- knittedgarment, the water gushes beneath.


The next day – Wednesday morning – there was a hard frost, one of the few we’ve had this winter, the white jumper has stiffened into a cold embrace of the hatch, the crusts have been claimed, but the seed heads remain

Thursday 14th January

Walking the Glen with TC and the tree officer, and a small gaggle, looking at spots from TC’s map for planting trees. The council officer has been involved with many planting experiments in the city, and many attempts have been torn down by local people, she knows the hotspots and the hazards. We ask about the hedgerows and she explains, indicates the 2 metre border caused by using just the ‘one arm’ of the council path clearing machines…. its not just the machines, she says, all public walkways must have this edge for visibility and access…our minds fill, and we don’t speak of the attack and murder of a young woman runner mid afternoon mid week after her teaching day in her small town park.

ElRi and I mischievously speak of ditching the machines for scythes …and why not? it is not beyond the powers of imagination to envisage The Glen as a project for hand tools only…it is small enough for an experiment like this…getting bare knuckled with nature might then be a contact sport, and not a struggle for domination..

Rambunctious, twice today this odd word popped up, ElRi is reading a book on garden philosophy and she spoke of The Rambunctious Garden and then later today, while soaking in an orange bath, powered by a Vesuvius bomb I read about the wild old woman, in Martin Shaw’s Courting the Wild Twin, here, she is incarnate in flamenco dancers:

‘They bring the wayward nobility of aging clackerty-clackerty-clack on to the creaking wood of life’s rambunctious dance floor; a hundred horse skulls underneath to improve the acoustics’

on page 30

ram·​bunc·​tious | \ ram-ˈbəŋk-shəs marked by uncontrollable exuberance : unruly

this is what I want for the Glen, it’s there in the Willows, the Alders, the Oaks, the Gorse, the Brambles and the Bracken, the Buddleia, the Rosebay willow herb, the foxgloves, the Bulrushes… the Elders, the Hawthorns, the Hogweed, the Queen Anne’s Lace, the Yarrow, the Jelly ears and the Oysters all jostling and dancing their moments, and with a little help from her friends, gleann na phúca can keep being that way, if we go there seeking it.

I visit the jumper again, now waving submerged under the rippling shadows of the guardian Alders.