Leitrim is being invaded by spruce trees, and they're closing in, like a slow moving army

It bothers me what will happen when the entire county has been planted

The woman’s kindness did remind him of his own grandmother, and he was laughing and joking with her in creative sign language by the time her grandchild arrived on a moped, and took him to the nearest English-speaking hotel.

The woman’s kindness did remind him of his own grandmother, and he was laughing and joking with her in creative sign language by the time her grandchild arrived on a moped, and took him to the nearest English-speaking hotel.

 

A boy from Leitrim went to Indonesia recently. He was very excited because he hadn’t been so far from home before. But Bali welcomes a lot of surfers, and he felt it would be a fairly safe place to visit, having learned his surfing skills in Bundoran, and so he was relaxed when the plane landed.

So relaxed that he hailed a taxi at the airport and directed the driver to head for his hotel. But the driver took him in the opposite direction and dropped the young lad on the side of the road in an area he did not recognise. A misunderstanding perhaps, but as the taxi moved away, the boy panicked. There was no sign of a hotel, a shop, or an internet cafe. Not even a police station. 

The battery in his phone was flat, and he had no clue where he was.

He stood with his backpack, attempting to engage with passersby, but eventually he sat down and cried. 

An old lady was passing, and she noticed his tears, and took him by the elbow and beckoned him to follow her.

She led him down the street to her own porch. She sat him on the step, and brought out a live chicken and dropped it in his lap. He held it with some difficulty because the chicken was very agitated by his strange hands.

But as he grew calm he realised that the chicken was a trick. It helped to settle him. The more he tried to calm the chicken, the more calm he himself became.

It’s not a technique he would have experienced in Leitrim, although the woman’s kindness did remind him of his own grandmother, and he was laughing and joking with her in creative sign language by the time her grandchild arrived on a moped, and took him to the nearest English-speaking hotel. From the back seat of the moped, he waved farewell to the old woman, thinking how lucky he was that Indonesia was full of people every bit as good-natured as his own Leitrim granny. 

Leitrim people are also lucky enough not to be tormented by tsunamis, despite the fact it rains so often. Leitrim’s real tragedy is more about trees than water.

I’ve been watching the dense forests for four decades, creeping slowly around the lakes and hills and small towns of the county; closing in on me, like a slow moving army

Not the beautiful leafy hardwoods, the oak or the apple that once grew in the parklands of big houses, but the new soft sitka tree that is grown on an industrial scale across the little farms where folk once lived and loved, and danced half sets, and reared chickens.

In fact there’s so much Government aid for people to plant soft-wood sitka trees in Leitrim that it bothers me what will happen when the entire county has been planted. 

Dense forests

I’ve been watching the dense forests for four decades, creeping slowly around the lakes and hills and small towns of the county; closing in on me, like a slow moving army. Little villages get surrounded and neighbours whisper to each other about how their view might be taken away and how there is nothing can be done about it. I have seen grown men weep as their land is transformed from humble fields of daisy into great walls of dense spruce.

The trees appear where and when you least expect them. First as little grey saplings in straight lines, sown as neatly into the earth as stitches in the elbow of an old jacket. Gradually they evolve into what could be mistaken for a thousand little harmless Christmas trees. But finally they rise up, like a foreboding darkness, when you round a corner where a lake used to be, and you find it’s gone.

I suppose everyone in the hills above Lough Allen will eventually be pushed out and I may end up on my own; an old man lost in a forest.

There will be no one to remember the neighbours who loved apples, and played polkas, and danced the Tennessee waltz, and braced the winter sleet with fodder in wheelbarrows for animals they loved. 

I am already surrounded, as the sitka warriors march onwards towards Arigna, in a phalanx that swallows deserted houses, and extinguishes the life of birds and small animals that were once my friends. I have already bade farewell to the hen harrier. And my beloved curlew no longer breaks the silence of a summer’s morning. Soon I will bid farewell to the boys and girls with surfboards under their arms as they go out to wander the earth, in the hope of finding other folk in distant lands, as warm and kind-hearted as their own grandmothers.

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