IT WAS a lovely summer afternoon, a woman from Cromane telling me of how her children were eager ‘to go camping’ so they pitched their tent in the back garden.
The night proved rainy and damp, however, their mother believing that this would surely dampen their enthusiasm. Not a bit of it; they were just as eager as before, one of the children telling her that the sea had a different sound when they heard it outdoors at night.
Cromane has a spectacular bay, so that when the day is bright and sunny, when the mountains and the sky are blue on blue, then it is the next best thing to living in a postcard. Another child also told me of the delights of camping outdoors in the back garden. ‘We could see the stars. They looked warm and close like they mightn’t be very far away at all” she enthused.
The writer Robert Louis Stevenson would surely have identified with her sentiments for he too celebrated the joys of spending the night out of doors. The Road to Reading was the name of our English reader at school, the front piece showing a print of the cathedral cliffs, Achill, from a painting by Francis Walker RHA.
One of my favourite pieces in the book was Stevenson’s ‘A Night Among the Pines? Night, he wrote, was dead and monotonous under a rood, but in the open world it passes lightly with its stars and dews and perfumes. Then the hours were marked by changes in the face of nature, so that what seemed dark to people choked by walls and curtains was “only a light and living slumber to the man who sleeps a-field?”
He described how those who sleep outdoors can hear nature breathe deeply and freely all night long. It is a lovely idea, the idea of nature taking breaths, long green breaths, through the long green meadows and groves. He did not put it into so many words, but he was clearly saying that those who sleep outdoors do so in harmony with nature.
Of course there are many in great cities and towns who are forced by circumstance to sleep rough in doorways and alleyways and parkways. It is not a choice they make; it is something that is forced upon them, and so they deserve our support. Stevenson was not writing about such people of course, but about who choose to sleep outdoors in the summer time.
THE STARS were like jewels, he wrote, the sky reddish-grey behind the pines and a glossy blue-black between the stars. He thought of the great outdoors as a gentle, habitable place, where night after night, a man’s bed was laid and waiting for him in the fields, where God keeps an open house.
It is a lovely sentiment, and it is no great wonder that it struck a chord with me even then for I loved the countryside and everything about it: the woods and groves and meadows that were so much a part of our growing up, the black Kerry cows in the fields, the ducks and the geese in the farmyards. Even then we had makeshift tents of our own, but though we played in them in the day time, I don’t ever remember staying out in them at night.
We sometimes went ‘visiting to a neighbour’s house, however and found ourselves walking home in the early night. It might be just down the hill to hear the gramophone at Jack’s house, the sound of the old seventy eights wonderfully crackly and atmospheric, the cranking of the handle very much pit of the preliminaries. It might have been further afield to hear someone play the fiddle, or melodeon, or to sit and marvel again at the very first tv in the area.
Television, like everything else, was black and white in those days. The world of nature was a world of colour, but so much else was black and white. It was lovely to be walking home in the night, the hedges heavy with the scent of honeysuckle , the light-winged moths fluttering around them, the scent of the grasses too all green and rich and wild.
THE AIR heavy and close, the bats sometimes sweeping past over heads in the little leafy lane. If the truth were told we weren’t very keen on the bats, afraid as we that they might strike against us. Loveliest of all, the moon shining in the river. I don’t know if we thought of it then but it was like some enchanted sky boat leaving a wash of silver in its wake, a wash so soft, so still it was hard to know which was the river and which was the light.
Looking back it was as if we had a friend in the sky the moon keeping us company all the way home, the whistling of the curlews more and more resonant still in the still of the summer’s night. If only we knew, we too knew something of the magic of summer nights outdoors.
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