St. Brigid’s Day

The rooks were flying above us—a dozen or more. The first scouts had arrived at the rookery. Each had a twig or a bit of moss in his mouth. The din they made was deafening.

“Quite the caw-cophony,” I said to Sara.

She rolled her eyes; she’s well used to me I suppose.

We were just past the old lady’s cottage at the end of our lane, where the tall trees loom over her stone shed. The trees are topped with twenty or thirty untidy nests. The scouts gather each year in late winter ahead of the fledging season to repair the nests before the rest of the flock arrives. In a few weeks, dozens of pairs will be in the rookery awaiting the new chicks.

The noise of their cawing was unrelenting.

It was St. Brigid’s Day, February 1, traditionally the first day of Spring in Ireland. Clear and cold. We hurried past the rookery, eager to get home to our fire.

“It doesn’t feel like Spring, does it?” I said. “But I suppose the rooks know more than we do. Let’s get home. I have a few chores to do, then we can settle into our own little nest.”

As we walked back down the lane, robins hopped along the pavement in front of us and wrens darted in and out of the hedgerows. But there were no primroses peeking out.

I took advantage of the clear day to screen my compost pile and deposit the dark rich humus in the garden. In a few weeks I will work it into the bed and prepare the soil for planting. I shivered as I worked.

Will Spring really come? I thought as I shoveled.

I carried a few armloads of wood into the house to fill the timber basket in the lounge to feed our stove. We get our timber that keeps us warm all winter —seasoned ash and hickory—from Thomas down the road. It looks like we’ll need one more load this year, I thought as I reached to the bottom of the bag. I’ll text Thomas this week.

My final chore is to straighten up the shed—stacking the boxes of Christmas decorations, splitting some timber for kindling, moving the peat briquettes back into the corner, and sweeping the floor.  As I worked, I watched our resident blackbirds hopping across the fresh humus tugging on worms and scratching for insects. I hoped they would reward us later in the day with a song. 

Back in the house, I lit the fire and settled into my chair.

The next day was colder still, and cloudy. 

The Met Éireann forecast was typical for this time of year:

“Cloudy,” it read, “with high temperatures of 7 °C to 9 °C. There may be periods of heavy rain, hail, and sleet with occasional sunny spells, and fresh to gusty winds with intermittent gales.” That about covers all the bases, I thought.

I decided to take my walk through the “forestry that is no longer a forestry,” as the locals call it. Just past the three bungalows down the lane there is a gate. I let myself through it and closed it carefully behind me. The path follows a rutted bohereen through meadows and paddocks and bits of uncut pine that stretch from our lane almost to the long road that runs between the townlands Gallain and Barra, north of Mullenaglemig. Part of it follows a fast rushing stream with watercress hugging the banks. I pause to listen to the roar of the water and admire the bright green of the cress. There are no houses in sight or animals in the fields. It’s a good walk for thinking.

As I walked, the wind blew and rain began to fall. Then hail pelted me, stinging my face. To the north, the mountains—Cnoc Bhaile Uí Shé and the Brandon Range behind it—were covered in new snow. I zipped my waxed cotton jacket tighter around my throat and said a prayer of thanks that I had pulled on my waterproof trousers before setting out.

Will I ever be warm again? I thought as I trudged along.

But the blackbirds sang last night, I told myself. They know.

A Beatles song ran through my head:

         “Blackbird singing in the dead of night

         Take these broken wings and learn to fly

         All your life

         You were only waiting for this moment to arise”

In the distance, in the trees behind the old lady’s shed, beyond the “forestry that is no longer a forestry,” I heard the rooks cawing as they prepared their nests for the arrival of new chicks. They know.

I walked down the long straight bohereen that leads to the road to Thomas’s farm. Tall pines on either side shelter the bohereen and me. Clumps of daffodils were just starting to poke their heads above the grass.

Be patient, I told myself. Wait for the moment. Spring will come. Spring will come.

I reached the gate, closed it behind me, and turned down the lane for home and a warm fire.