It was one of those lovely June mornings that reminded me so vividly of the summers of long ago.
The thrush was singing to his heart’s content in the cover of the old apple trees at the bottom of the yard. I tried to pick him out among the greenery, but could not do so, his rich repeated phrases carrying far in the stillness of morning.
The last of the apple blossoms, pink and white lay scattered on the grasses underneath the trees, the bell of St. James in Killorglin pealing out across the river. It is the river, the fabled river Laune that gives the peals an added resonance, an added clarity so that they seemed more beautiful still. It was as if they were filling the whole place, resounding from the lowest of the glens to the very top of the sky.
On the chestnut tree, the showy spikes of flower were giving way to the little green spiny husks in which the fruits, the chestnuts themselves would slowly develop and mature. The swallows meanwhile were flying in and out through the open door of the shed, the little blue- black birds carrying the sun on their backs as they revelled in the freedom of morning.
So much happens in nature that e are scarcely aware of at times, but when I thought about it later it was almost as if the work of summer were going on secretly, quietly all the while. This was the time for footing the turf in the old days, putting it together in little stacks so that it would dry more readily in the sun.
There was nothing our old neighbour Mikey Joe liked better than to reminisce about days in the bog. He never denied that it was hard work, but associating it as he did with his young days it filled him with longing and nostalgia too. He talked of the fine fresh smell of the bogs, green and heathen’ and wild, a smell more potent still when the air was warm and close and thundery or when the rain had cleared, the heather and the gorse winking with shiny drops.
He talked of the men with the sleans, their pride in their craft palpable time after time when they cut another sod from the bank, their deftness of touch almost legendary so that the sods were neat and shapely and smooth.
Then there was the tea, the water boiled in some old black kettle, years and years old, the taste of the tea smoky and sweet in the long afternoon, the mountains shouldering the sky in the middle distance.
Wrist watches were unheard of in those days, pocket watches comparatively rare so that those in the bog told the time from the passing of the train on the Farranfore-Valentia line.
“We’d see the train, the old steam train heading south for Valentia, smoke puffing from the engine, the way it would make you think the train was glad of the summer too,” Mikey Joe sometimes recalled with delight.
There were times when it seemed that his memories of summer and the bog and the train were so bound up together they could hardly be told apart at all. It was almost as if there was an affinity with the train in those days, its constant comings and goings bringing their own reassurance.
I loved exploring in the bogs when I was young, looking out as I did for linnets or stonechats among the gorse, the latter yellow and golden running in great brakes here and there. The scent of the gorse was like honey in the heat of the afternoon, everything about it evocative so evocative of all that was good and wonderful in summer.
Of course summer would not have been summer without the larks, little sandy brown forms endlessly soaring and fluttering, forever pouring out songs into the radiant blue. It is surely one of the most memorable sights and sounds of summer, to see and hear the larks at their song, the latter wonderfully rich and warbled and full of the joys of the hour. It is a performance full of spirit and energy too, as if the little birds are revelling, rejoicing in the gift of the summer’s day.
There were so many things to see and explore in the bogs, swathes of fluffy bog cotton growing wild, and soft so soft to the touch; lacy dragonflies skimming over peaty pools, the light changing colour in their wings; honey bees humming to their hearts content in lines of foxglove by the wayside.
The foxgloves too were emblems of summer, their purple thimbles the very essence of the season but it was the finding of the wild duck’s nest that filled me with the most delight of all. There was something marvellously secretive summery about such finds so that they struck a chord with me at once, the eggs like treasures lying in the nest or the little ducks so lovely they might have been pictures in storybooks.
All of this comes back to me when we walk in the bogs again and sometimes in fanciful mood I think that even the sun remembers. It too remembers the long lost summers of yesteryear when life was young and full of promise and everyday was like some new adventure waiting to unfold.
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