Talking of the trees and the bees by the pale moonlight
Sometimes at night, in the garden, I talk to the trees. I reassure them that we are on high ground and there is little danger from a disease that is wiping out ash trees all over Europe.
I have two ash trees. One with barbed wire sunk into its trunk, and another near the house, to bring good luck, which is something I thought I needed when I planted it.
Now all I need is a new pair of swimming togs. The ones I have are too big. They would wrap with ease around Finn McCool’s arse, and they flap like a flag around my knuckled knees.
It’s not that I want every woman in the jacuzzi to swoon over me. But when I see them exit the sauna like a swarm of demented bees as I approach, I know there’s something wrong.
In the old days, women used to chase swarming bees, running behind them with a frying pan and pot stick until they dropped. It was considered lucky to make bees drop, and lucky to plant ash trees near a house, and luck was important in lives that otherwise felt as random as flotsam on the ocean.
I was saying this to Anna, my Russian friend, a tall woman with porcelain skin and ice-blue eyes. We were having dinner. Everyone was there. The young Albanian man who catches pike in Lough Ennell, and Little Lotus and the two Russians, mother and daughter, who haven’t forgiven me for the time I compared the Irish Government to Azerbaijani donkeys. They thought I was insulting the donkeys.
Little Lotus was saying that it’s hard to get chicken feet in Ireland. Apparently the claws of Irish hens are exported to China, and chewed, as a condiment with beer. I suppose it’s all a question of taste. For example, the soup Little Lotus makes from the offal that the butcher throws out is amazing. And her freezer is full of crubeens. And a friend phoned her one night to say that he saw dog meat in Tesco, which surprised him since Europeans don’t eat dogs. “It was on the shelf,” he said, “in small tins.”
She explained that it was not dog meat, but rather meat for dogs, and suggested he stop eating it.
I never thought I’d end up in such company; an Albanian, two ladies from
St Petersburg, a Chinese family, an Irish shop owner, and my own beloved, all around the one table. It’s as if life comes and goes like ocean tides, and we get washed up in different places and can do nothing about it. And the recession has forced everyone to care more for each other.
I remember walking on a Donegal beach years ago in the light of the moon, with a young woman, when the pub had closed. We walked in silence, and she turned her nose up into the wind, closed her eyes and sniffed the air as if she might foretell the future.
Being old and male, I kept my head down, ashamed of everything, until we got back to the chalet at 2am. We left the lights off and moved about by moonlight that came in the patio door. When my boots were off I felt a sudden urge to kiss her, but it vanished almost immediately like a tide going out.
Over the years, I have come to realise that there is a tide everywhere in the affairs of men, and it comes and goes with utter indifference to human saying.
Two weeks ago a cloud came and stretched itself on the top of Sliabh-an-Iarainn. Every night it gathered itself beneath the clear moon, a cloud as dense and white as cotton wool, or floating snow, or creamy yoghurt.
“You never know when it will reappear,” I said to a British soldier, who was in the garden admiring the view. He too had come for dinner. Of course he was not in uniform. He’s not even in the army now, and it’s a long time ago since he was a teenage squaddie patrolling the laneways of Fermanagh for enemies, and I was trying to avoid checkpoints on my way home from various pubs.
But we don’t discuss politics now. We know that we are flotsam, victims of the tides that ebb and flow. Our moments of joy or sorrow, elation or emptiness are all accidental, and of no consequence compared to the white frost on the mountain or the terrible tragedy of the dying and luckless ash trees.