I bought an old clock in an antique shop for €5. It looked Edwardian but in fact there was a slot for batteries at the back. When I installed them it still didn’t work. And I was annoyed at losing five euro. But then I noticed a wren stretched on the floor. There was no wound or trace of a cat’s claw, no bile or bulge or mark of poison. Even the tail feathers seemed beautiful in one so small. And her death put my own frustrations with the clock in context.
She probably died from thirst having been trapped in the studio for a week while I was away. So I gave her a proper send off with prayers for her little soul, and apologies for trapping her, as I dropped a handful of feather and bone over the cliff at the end of the garden.
Her fragility reminded me of a friend who died in Covid times. An elderly lady trapped in a nursing home thirsting for family members who couldn’t visit. She was so fragile at the end that her bones made little difference to the weight of her coffin.
All life is fragile, I suppose.
The clock that didn’t work was still annoying me and I thought maybe a bit of gardening would cheer me up.
But the strimmer has remained untouched in the shed since last year, hanging from a rafter and entangled in cobwebs. It took almost an hour to find the strimming line, thread it into the head of the machine, and then mix petrol and oil in the proper proportions. It was almost noon and not a weed yet cut.
Three years ago I was cutting rogue branches with a chainsaw. I wore ear muffs, goggles, industrial gloves and a protective vest. I was wary of the chain breaking, jumping or throwing the machine backwards into my face.
But I was in a very sour mood. And it was when I dropped the chainsaw to my side with the blade still running that it caught my trousers. I felt the teeth of the saw on my skin for a moment as it cut through the cloth. I managed to flick the emergency brake lever just in time.
I was lucky. And so shaken that I dropped the saw on the ground and wobbled up to the house vowing never again to bring anger into the garden when working with machines.
But the line in the strimmer wasn’t going to harm anyone. That is unless you were a frog, and the man with the machine was frustrated because his clock didn’t work, and it had taken him an hour to get the machine going, and it was almost lunchtime, and he was flying fast through the long grass without taking any account of other sentient beings in the universe; like, for example, the little green frog.
I don’t know if the frog was female. For all I know it might have been a male with a great future in the slushy drains of Leitrim
I realised what I had done when I saw the frog leap out of the grass, headless and bleeding. Two leaps. Then she stopped. Her heart bursting under the skin, until her body gave up.
I don’t know if the frog was female. For all I know it might have been a male with a great future in the slushy drains of Leitrim. But that’s beside the point.
What disturbed me as I sat on the patio trying to recover from my blunder was the shed full of killing machines. Suddenly I saw all my garden equipment as lethal weapons bringing death and destruction to whomsoever lay in the undergrowth. And that was hard to equate with the notion of a garden as a place of tranquillity and peace.
At least that is what I thought a garden ought to be. We didn’t have wicker chairs or cherry trees when I was growing up, and the lemonade was scarce, but I do remember the serenity of gardens back then, when there were no machines. Just the sound of a few old push lawnmowers coughing in the distance, and hedge clippers chewing their way softly through the escallonia.
That afternoon I went to a hardware store and bought a mechanical hedge clippers to tackle the long grass, and a slash hook for the brambles. I had finally accepted a ceasefire in my own little wilderness.
No more warfare on the ditches and no more collateral damage. I had done enough killing for one day. The poor wren was not my fault, and the dead clock wasn’t a sentient being. But one helpless frog was a frog too many.