The Secret of Summer
By: Patrick O`Sullivan

Search County Kerry

It was one of those lovely summer days that you read about in books, or remember from long ago. 

I was bringing my two dogs for a swim in  the river, the bluish-violet flowers of the meadow cranesbill in full bloom by the wayside, echoes of the days when they were firm favourites in the little cottage gardens of yesteryear.

Our neighbour, Mary Hanahoe, loved them in her garden, where they were the perfect complement not just for the deep musk roses, rich and red, but for the old tea rose, the softest peach that hugged the wall.

There is something wonderfully summery about the meadow cranesbill, which was why it was lovely, so lovely, to see it by the wayside still.

Further on, another garden escape, common stork’s bin, the leaves finely divided and feathery the soft pink of the flowers perfect for summer again, the fruits long and beak-like, hence the name of the plant I stood to admire the flowers, my dogs, my two black Labradors, looking at me curiously all the while, as if to say they could hardly fathom the reason for the delay.

The farmers were making the most of the good weather, the smell of cut grass sweetening the air, the twisting, twining woodbine in the hedge adding to the sweetness too.

There is nothing so evocative of summer as a green and lean’ lane full of the scent of woodbine, the creamy creamy yellow trumpet- shaped flowers, sometimes flushed with red.

The flowers were carried in generous sprays all along the hedge, echoing as they did the generosity of summer itself. It was no great wonder then that it was one of my mother`s favourite flowers. There was nothing she liked better than having a few little sprays of it in a jar on the window sill, the sunlight glinting in the water so that the jars and the flowers seemed more beautiful still.

The river lay still and tranquil before the ruins of the old thatched house where my father and his siblings were reared so many moons ago, the ash tree in the foreground wonderfully green again for summer.

The ash is one of the last of the native trees to come into leaf; it is almost as if it waits for summer when meadow and lane are teeming with riches again. Further upstream, three men fishing for salmon in the fabled pool of Poll Dubh, where generations have fished in the past.

Bed and Breakfast Kerry

I stood a while and watched fishermen making a haul, the sun still making glitters in the water, the cliffs of old red sandstone garrisoned nearby. It was one of those idyllic summer days that stirred the memories again, the mirror of the river reflecting the blue of the sky and the deeper blue of the mountains, two shelduck going by with loud quacking call.

They looked black and white in the distance, but closer views reveal the bottle-green head, orange chest band and red bill. The cliffs are a favourite haunt of theirs, nesting as they do in disused rabbit burrows where eight or more large creamy eggs are laid in the season. This was why, according to an old period book, they were once popularly known as the Burrow Duck.

The dogs revelled in their swimming, sweeping in and out for the sticks which I tossed in the water for them, and bringing them back with gusto.

This is always their way; they seize the moment and make the most of it. Sometimes I think we could learn from them, unconcerned as they are with the baggage of the past, undaunted by the prospect of the future.

Two swans could not resist the impulse to come and have a look at the swimmers, sometimes scolding them as if to say the river was theirs, and was not meant for canines at all.

I was on the way back from the river, however, then I caught sight of a bullfinch clinging to the feathered grasses by a rusty gate, his pinkish-red under parts setting him apart at once, his duller companion on one of the bars of the gate itself. It was the loveliest thing to see him sway on the grasses, his gait nonchalant, casual as if nests and eggs were the furthest thing from his head. On impulse though, I found myself peering into the hedge, the latter a mix of privet and elder and more.

It took some time to adjust to the fusion of light and leaf and shadow but it brought back echoes, such echoes of childhood days when bird- nesting was a favourite pastime.

In a little while, I spotted the nest, a wonderful weave of twigs and roots with a cup of finer rootlets and hair. The eggs the deepest of blues but speckled and blotched with hints off grey and lavender and brown. The sight of the nest, so neatly tucked away in the hedge filled me with delight for it was like a reunion, a reunion with all those long lost summers of yester-year.

Then nests and eggs and young were very much part of the stuff of summer days. If it was a reunion though, it was a rediscovery too, a rediscovery of the secrets of the hedge, the very same that struck a chord with me when I was young.

I did not linger too long though; the nests and the eggs, the leaves and the light barely a moment’s pleasure, the bullfinch and his mate still at the gate nearby. I had not gone too far, however, when I saw them disappear into the hedge, the sense of companionship between them palpable again. I was glad of my find, the dainty little nest and the eggs like the secret of summer that meant so much to me still.

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