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  • Writer's pictureDearbhla

The Island Wood

“Bertrand the bat couldn’t understand what was wrong. All he did was go to China. He was beginning to feel somewhat ostracised hanging by himself in what was quite a busy cave.” – My father

When we are not kowtowing to dictatorial golden retrievers or manoeuvring around my father’s latest pandemic projects, we fend off boredom by taking walks in the nearby Island wood. As someone who has spent most of their adult life in cities, it has been an amazing experience to witness the new growth since the start of spring. The woods have come alive with all the little animals awakening from their winter slumber, the green buds now springing up from withered branches. Little wrens hop about in the undergrowth, gathering various fallen debris for their nests, side-stepping the bees forging their way across the various dandelions and sprouting flowers. My favourite part has been the emergence of the magical bluebells, which always remind me of stooped old women in blue bonnets.

A white orb spider

The leafy canopies are a welcome change to the crackled sun-baked earth of Bahrain, where my parents lived for 40 years. Yet, walking with either of them isn't exactly an exercise in fitness, as both my mother and father dawdle in their own way. My mother stops at every flower, taking photos for her flower app, reciting each name as she passes from forget-me-nots and St John’s Wort to celandines and campions.

My father, laden with his giant camera and gimble stick, is usually wearing some garish ensemble more in line with the movie ‘Cocktail’ than rural Cork. His sense of fashion used to be a source of great embarrassment to my brother and I growing up. During the summers spent in Cork, he would frequently leave the house wearing hip-hugging rugby shorts, flip flops and a Hawaiian t-shirt. One particular incident he has never quite lived down was when Cork were playing Kerry in the All-Ireland GAA Finals and my father (being very British and oblivious) walked into the local shop wearing a bright-green rugby jersey and gold and black shorts. He still hasn’t really learned anything from that experience.

He got one!

On one particular afternoon, he set off understatedly camouflaged to photograph native Irish wildlife in a Hawaiian t-shirt and bright blue shorts. Looking more rainbow lorikeet in the Amazon than European explorer, he plods along loudly with the frison of a toddler, crunching pebbles with his hiking boots, alerting all woodland creatures to his presence. He stops at every tree, fidgeting with his camera staring up at the branches in search of red squirrels to photograph.

We walk along the river, accosted by May Flies hovering in the breeze like drunk dementors. My mother makes the usual remarks on how low the river is after the ‘fine weather’.

My father sniggers and asks, “I wonder do baby brooks learn to babble?”

“And do old creeks, croak?” my mother laughs hysterically.

“Just go with the flow!” they both turn to me as I groan.

At the same time as the great squirrel hunt, we are lucky enough to spot four young does carefully peering out from behind the trees. All four of them crossed our path, one behind the other, nervously glancing around them, and I am reminded of the Beatles' Abbey Road cover.

My father, now the avid deer stalker, fills the silence by wittering:

“Hello there, let’s have fun
You’re very fast
But I have a gun-

Unsurprisingly, the deer prance off into the bushes.

Leaving my father lagging behind reciting haikus to the departed deer, we are struck by a magnificent grouping of Alder saplings whose leaves are a vivid spring green, popping out against the darkness of the bark on the larger trees, which look like gnarled old men. The light trickling through makes the leaves look translucent and ethereal. I imagine this is the kind of scene Gaudi got his inspiration from for the Sagrada Familia.

The beautiful birdsong begins to gradually grow louder and louder behind us. We turn to see my father gleefully walking over, tripping over twigs, holding his iphone up to the trees like an offering. He is playing the Birds of Northern Europe app loudly in a bid to communicate with, or irritate, the birdlife. “That’s a robin’s alarm call. It's really pissing them off!” he informs us happily.


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