CONVERSATION DESIGN

We looked ahead and saw two people.

She said “We met them before”

“What did I say to them last time?”

She reminded me that I had said nothing.

As they drew closer, I felt ready and rushed through my thoughts for an opening gambit. We had been walking and talking all afternoon since before we got to Clancy’s and now we were almost back.

My eyesight been poor in reading glasses, they gradually became discernible 30 yards of as the people whose son we had met turning up the steps on the Corracloona link, as an exerciser, who has apologetically run behind, and then darted past between us as we had blocked his path, like two bullocks on their way to the mart at Arney who had bizarrely slipped up a side lane back into some field or other between Swanlinbar and Arney in the Fermanagh North Leitrim glens fog.

You have to be quick, like a Leitrim hurler, whom you read about in the paper.

They were 20 yards out and I boomed in the friendliest tone I could muster:

“Good Afternoon”, ralentandoing it to be in synchrony with the gaps between their footsteps.

“It is a wonderful day.”

They had a dog they were struggling to bring under control. I focussed on the dog breed…

“Do you know that the dog that John Steinbeck from California in Travels with Charlie was a poodle? Your dog, what is his name?…

I chanced the genderized pronoun. With poodleish dogs, they are so curly, it is hard to tell.

Two chances and the conversation design fails. They slowed like us to a standstill.

She struggled to recall the name of her dog that he had on its lead.

We learned it was in fact her daughters dog Chloe, a cross between a cocker spaniel and a poodle.

She was a dote. She became a handful biting at the lead. I picked up on his epithet, not shedding, a euphemism suggesting that the dog does not moult and leave dog hair everywhere. He must have a perfectly clean house. You have to be quick like in Hurling, as in conversational design. I started again.

“Mickey Rooney in an Arabian film in 1978 had a carpet he went flying on, like the carpet on the tiled floor at home in Corracloona with a weft of dog hair on it, which floated off into the air, as if it was from an Afghan hound.

“You like your films… there being a film club in Kilty.

We gradually learned that the daughters were at college and one was doing exams from home. They had internet.

I write and have a webpage lichenfoxie on the word press.

I am fluffing the story telling, not living by Hemingway’s maxim, write what you know, and write it as true as you can possibly make it. Listening, writing, telling a story, remembering is such a busy thing to do all at once while trying to do a themed essay on conversation design, which brings us swiftly back to the people on the walk.

Two film references, and he said… You like your films… He has also said something else but I forget it now, not that I did forget it, but I did not recall it, if you can indulge me.

Writers are a tolerated bunch, reaching out for friendship. He has said lichen pronounced in the formal way, whereas I has said lichen in the uncouth way. Being a lichen themed conversationalist, if all else fails I flailed around looking for the nearest tree for a specimen to demonstrate if the opportunity developed. Here is a Graphis scripta if necessary, visually saved. Lichen, like as living with mosses on a tree.

“You must be an engineer…

She would have opened up with a reply but I fluffed it again… not leaving enough room for silence… You must be an engineer …

I wish I had said in my best diplomatic French, I was so rude. I did not answer, I talked over your entrance to your riposte to my reply. It all got very confusing…

Good writing is like good listening, picking up with an opening question on the word that was left dangling … lichen… dog hair… engineer… Blacklion… Holey Soles, the walking group… the glens… an encyclopaedia of the area… so full of knowledge, but slow to release it, one grain of sand at a time. Slow is an understatement, like the Black River delta, dropping one grain of sand at a time on the delta… while there is swift water flowing over the Ballyshannon dam weir at Belleek.

The inquisitive nature of mine has been satisfied by meeting Kevin’s plant friend earlier before getting to Clancy’s to get internet. The Leitrim glens writers write about themselves and their neighbours… There are so many glens, and so many Glen writers, that an essay on conversation design is precisely what is needed, and like any good guru… start with a few tips.

Conjecture on the side of absurdity… Really listen… Speak slowly… Really leave gaps… lots of them… so many in fact that other people help you fill them in, unlike the potholes. There is not even one at the end of the path up to his house, this putative engineers house. Filled in. I am loosing my touch as a reporter. There were so many conversations today, the bullocks, the rams, the sheep that were loose, the internet, the dog peed ending, and other potential conversation gambits… he must have read lichenfoxie… all the while you could have picked up on anyone of the hurling moves to play long rally tennis conversations with.

You have really arrived in Corracloona a year and a half… She is, a reader is, a long conversationalist… practised on the telephone while walking, you can tell by the breathing pattern in time with the steps sonogram, of a flute player, writers cannot keep up… unlike hurlers… that walk the lanes of Corracloona perchance whom you might meet… labelled on a post box, and strike up a conversation… if the y are in the humour… vary your pace… weather… the trees… a question… arrest them with a question… may I see your licence please… the dogs… no I am not the guard… all over the place… writing, reading, talking, reporting, over-talking not over-taking, drawing people out, winkling like a newsagent from Athy, Winkles, fishing… Fishing skills for beginners.

People are vying to talk. We have a writer, not great, not bad, but a story about a midge, eating you… So now we need a guide to the conversations we are having… confessions make us busy. I could imagine a priest saying that. They do not have anything to do but reach out for a sage metaphor, and they train for seven years, not to utter a put down… about conversation design.

Not that there has been a train to the ballroom since 1950 something. Which brings me to the next conversation… Blacklion… Nevins’s Cistin.  And Ben’s Madrid waiting… and onward to find himself… Handy with livestock he is… That’s the thing Priests train for seven years… and there is the Turin Shroud in the letterbox…

Community is built with people… and conversations… free conversations… not inhibited, controlling ones… conversation design can get in the way, and that only gets you so far… out with it… tonally apposite, before you go running, tonally appropriate conversation gambits.

Conversation is a skill for the quiet ones, that all at once we do at once, and do not practice enough, in our isolation in the glens of North Leitrim. Conversational design, a subsection of a subsection of an article on offences against the person act… My… Trump is good… as a guru… His downfall perhaps… the Hippocratic oath… never do harm… with your utterance… Then you are on the correct path… shining… These ellipses, the three dots are great… my favourite punctuation, after commas, and full stops.

Ellipses an opening to allow you to sing along with an Ed Sheeran song, where if you listen and try to sing along, he leaves no room for conversation… Which is precisely the reason he is so popular, perhaps… And everyone walking with headphones must be listening to, whom are difficult to approach with a booming 20 yard opening, conversationally designed, gambit. Not that I have a tape, download, podcast, or cd of Ed Sheeran songs, apart having heard on the radio a story about a something or other lineman, mid east coast America a bit over out west. Not far from Nashville, Tennessee.

No internet is a luxury, for a writer. We go to Clancy’s or the other way into Kilty to send our e-mails. We share a computer. In the house, I have just a pencil, a quiver of them, ready to write. Corracloona style, Gan Gam. Nom nom, nom. Our organic vegetables survived the frost, as I watched over them, as the vegetables read the small print on the Irish Times, repurposed to protect them from Frost, until the morning came. Reading the Irish Times in their minds eye, plants, each plumule and radicle, frost sensitively reading the headlines, Covid 19 reports, and our reporter here in Corracloona, some cadences from lichenfoxie, like a water flea detective…

Yours sincerely

Is mise.

Lichenfoxie, the uncouth pronunciation.

P.S.

I forgot to type in page 7 from my double-sided 14 page pencil script. Now here we are.

Two mistakes, co-segmentation is a disaster… One slip in my amnesiacal memory is one thing, but over talking and inhibiting conversation is another. The dog who was a handful had stopped being one. Dogs are a great judge of character, like in wanderly wagon.

All this is too frenetic, four people, one dog being playful. You have to be stable and focus on the point of view. Jumping point of view is a disaster. The conversational design was maturing and the itchiness to get home was returning, I could see it.

P.P.S.

In reaction to other conversations, and other local readers, I need to write more, to catch up with our public written lichenfoxie persona. Had I told him about the story about the midges of Corracloona? The story with the overblown militarist reference points, not that I would not be militaristic if I was thinking like a midge and be sorrowful and resentful about all the offences against the midge by bats and their below attic house habitants, with their carbon dioxide machines, sweet as the dioxide of a deer’s breath, that lure them to bog myrtle paths on the slopes of Thur Mountain, where swallows drink the summer raindrops and where along streams we go on the hunt for sweathouses. Which is so bats, it is the normal state for a North Leitrim glen Buddhist writer, Hippocratic oath, catharsis for the reader2, and all that.

Postcard from the Edge of the Townland

This week, I met Brian, the writer.
I would never ever, ever, say this. Your text is past the point of rescue remedy. Complete Trollop’s. Never. Not ever. Always pour forth. You are getting there. I look forward to being a reader of your novel, printed and guillotined out of your mind, by Caesarian section, just in case the Manor Hamilton vet’s scan shows that there are two lambs in her uterus, Romulus and Remus. The Cotswold countryside is full of fecking fleecy sheep, Mr. Murphy.
The classroom, slow to react, was uncertain.
From Manor Hamilton mart, He continued, then sat down.
Is that paragraph good enough to pass your editor’s censorious picque.
Where the feck is the Cotswolds, again. The flautist piped up.
Let us pull out the map of Sasanach, and draw your fecking sheep on it, not on mine, your map, your hand drawn map, his teacher replied. Our understanding of their geography comes from the radio, the Cotswolds is silly mid-off when bowling from the Manchester end, wearing a woolly jumper on a scorching hot day. Overheated, he starts his run up at Hadrian’s wall. He is out, caught, by a snick to the first Cotswold. Mr Murphy the Irish Newsreader, is new to cricket commentating. He must have been left handed.
Republican lessons were going down a treat in the Corracloon School.
Brian had gone visiting over the weekend and had a new ally, receiving a book from an Alternative Ulster library on fungal taxonomy, the science of classification and the identification of the species from far flung country-sides from the Cotswolds to Barbuda.
The title of the fecking book, in a series of monographs on Humour Research had the bizarrely inappropriate title – A sence of humour. A thesis, read only once, by the poor author, so full of typos, which is so fecking funny, you cannot believe, I am serious, but I am.
Oberon, what is the problem. He is training to be the next dog in space.
Corracloona, we have a problem.
Oberon wants to go out for a space-walk.
Do not bother Mary or us.
Taxonomy is the great extinguisher of mirth, the next class, Mr. Murphy, thought ahead, almost for the first time in his life. Planning, scheming always, but thinking ahead. Never. In that stubborn, Ulster, blackberry bath of grey mould of a way, in a Penicillin prescription voice, that brings me on to Manor Hamilton, later on in the morning to return Library books, from that foetid stew that is his mind.
This week, I met Brian.
The bowl on his space ship is low in water and out of carrots, except there is a half, actually a smidgin less than a quarter of a carrot, still in his bowl, but there is no kibble.
I think we are getting there, closer to Corracloon.
The hermitage’s bedroom door is open. He puts his hand out and closes it.
The extraordinary happens.
Oberon pants vigorously after the aerobic exercise of barking continuously, while being ignored. Unlike Bran, he eats carrots quietly, in between barking.
He knows the story is not funny, and he is exhausted barking at me for offenses against the state of Oberon act. I read to him in my Richard Burton voice, as if it were Under Milk Wood. He sits by my side like a Manxian Panda, black and white with three and a half legs, settled, his gavel meeting out justice in camera in hermetic chambers. Oberon’s skill in justice extends to salami, which he found in a box of taxonomic collections left down to dry from Belmont’s picnic on Friday.
It is Monday. He looks to me to have the recess terminated, sitting, repositioned, back to the door.
‘Vivid Vivienne’s baskets from vimnalis in Vermont require Vermouth to soothe, explaining the benefit of the republic to the citizens of The States’ Mr. Murphy said. ‘The making of basket cases is our next class in Corracloon, Mr. Murphy continues. A class in home economics for your formation. ‘And Snowberry by the school yard grows native in Virginia, Symphytocarpus virginiana, continuing his taxonomy lesson, totally invasive, and unsuitable for making of baskets, but wreaths at Christmas perhaps, when it Snows on Killymanjaro.
Found your inner voice yet, Sir.
That is not funny.
Oberon, gnaws and licks in an attempt to soothe the itch of his underbelly mange, back to the door.
This week, I met Brian.
He is actually a writer. So much so, when he retired after his parents died and he bought an abandoned republican National School in Corracloon, to write in.

Corracloona,
Tuesday

Dear Brian,
Thank you for your hospitality in Corracloon on Saturday, and I trust you enjoyed your visit to our wee monastic hermitage in Corracloona by return, where our dogs eat carrots. Hope your dogs are well, especially the epileptic one. We enjoyed the homemade flapjacks and the black Earl Grey tea. Maria sends her Aubergine recipe from Manor Hamilton library.
Learning from you,
Regards,

Mr. Murphy.

800-850 words.

Oberon sounds suitable for the Angelus

He goes in the rushes. When he is done, he bursts through the tussocks, rustling back onto the path.
Come on, Obi!
He gets to the door first.
I look in the window passing, see Oberon up on the bed already, walk to the door and shutting it, the door clips home.
Oberon is now drinking in his room, lapping, a sound track suitable for the Angelus. He moved on and is now settled behind the kitchen door. His chin is on a floor mat, watching.
Five books are to go back to the Library, in the morning, to Manor Hamilton. They are laid out on the bed.
I cough and splutter. Moving, I sit on the bedside to continue writing.
Oberon repositions himself on the Leaba, watching the kitchen door, in more comfort.
I turn in, too, shedding my slippers, which might irritate him, into action.
Oberon resumes his watch, noticing my feet. He picks at the kibble spilled from the bed bound dish.
He looks over at Patricia Fitzgerald’s 2004 book From Pictures to Words, a guide to books for children, by a County Clare Librarian.
Oberon is wondering when Howard would write and illustrate a book to read to dogs at bedtime, especially for him.
He growls, now, as I type up this.
He gnaws at the duvet, grooming the sheets, a pelt satisfyingly mange free. He noses and tips the bowl and then, nose in, selects another kibble, with a deft sweep of his tongue.
My arm is like that of a right-handed swimmer, with the muscle on the back forearm, tightening with each progressing sentence.
Oberon sits. His ears follow the sound of the story on the radio, and the rubbing of my toes and feet together. Socks hang from the radiator.
Oberon descends from his perch, and I check on him, disturbing him in the process. He is nosing around my shoes and socks. He lies flat out on the tiled floor. He rises, checking on Maria sounds, emanating from the kitchen – pots moving between berths on the cooker’s ceramic rings.
Howard remembered that Mary said Jose called her a good cooker. Jose was a kid, brought over by a Spanish priest, who came to stay in Ballyanne. The priest of Rathgarogue, Father Frank had arranged for a Spanish exchange in the parish, and one of the kids in the group to stay with her, and be on his best behaviour, with his most trusted parishioner, Mary. In his gratitude, Hose’s innate Spanish humour, attempting to speak polite English, lives on in Mary’s mind.
Michael Murphy, the newsreader, another Spanish exile, writes poetry of emulating voices for the Beeb Four, with select vocabulary of perfectly pronounced language of Joanna Trollope, one could never find on Irish Radio at Montrose.
‘A Country Girl’ starts on the radio. Ah, the stage Irish …
Oberon began to breathe more regularly and dozes off. The radio reception tuning here North of Manor Hamilton leaves a lot to be desired, contrasted with kettle boiling noises … as the water temperature, and the steam pitch rises.
‘Howard’, she calls.
‘Yes’, he responds.
Maria lightly scrapes and thunks on some crockery on the cooker with a fork, as Howard imagines that she is plating up din-dins.
As the Beeb Four radio play proceeds, he ask ‘What is that tune?’
‘The Parting Glass’, she replies.
How interesting! Go on https://www.lichenfoxie.com; do the contemplation required, reflect on the meaning of …
din,
before and after din …
make a composition about din,
in a poetic mode of thought.
He awaits dinner … but cannot write for much longer.
That’s it, time is up. His arm feels that last surge to write.
Come on! She calls …
Coming …, coming …

Aubergines sliced and salted,
dabbed in cream flour,
as batter,
fried on a pan,
chilies for her,
none on his,
serving,
after swabbing in a dish …
of microwaved honey.

‘That’s the amazing thing about a recipe’, from a vegetarian cookbook from the Manor Hamilton Library, she began, ‘is that even if one might not have tried or tasted it before, when making dinner, recipes really work out, best’.
Mary’s daughter, Maria, is a good cooker.
Should we keep the cookbook out for another week, or bring it back, man yana?

736 words

Howard Fox
20th August 2019

Chewing a carrot at bedtime.

Dogs bark repeatedly and the sound fades from two farmyards away. A cow’s moo is calling attention to something unknown to me. Birds in the pine trees behind chirp and chirrup. Surrounding sounds are Dolbyesque, as the evening birdsong warbles through the air. A sheep bleats summonsing her lambs in the rushy field with the puncauns of purple moor grass.

A midge alights onto my nose and parades around a classified nostril as if it were a military parade ground, and then, without a salute or a signal, joins the air corps, and is off. The next one is curious about eyebrow hair; air force landing markings, stripes not lost on me either. The lens of my spectacles host another jump jet, as if my lens were a battleship air-craft carrier cruising through the air. My hand is drawn to my face to quell an itch; while a beetle settles on the whiter page, next for my scriptures, and draws in its underwings. Shrone sides washed with eye tear fluid soothes most irritations, except for the earlobes and inter thumb and palm skin. As I am wearing a poly tail, the back of my neck is accessible too, but not frequented by the flying squadrons, delicate hand rubs, over raspy bristle of my filtrum and cheek to chin jowls releases an itch which migrates around my core with perniciously high frequency. Hand signals, skin rubbing, hand clasping, pencil gripping writing aside, my other hand is fully occupied assuaging my forehead, inevitably disturbing stray hairs from my hair band and pony-tailed mop. One alighted up a trouser leg, the irritating bastard, and then a single hair from my head scribbled like a quivering stencil of an electrocardiogram meteing out a pattern below my spectacles on my stiff upper lip. In this Battle of Britain, nostrils, caverns of lubricosity are no deterrent to air-borne raids. My spectacles, with pads perched on my shrone, are rearranged, while the sound of the door closing warns me of the haste of my potential discovery, gallivanting, writing in pleain aeir, in the evening. The sun descends below the last cloud on the skyline, in an incandescent stripe of cadmium yellow, through a canopy of Birch above some yellow irises, green crocodile green, compared with the rushes in the foreground with their Saint Brigid’s cross florets and leaf tussocks like hedgehogs.

Nettles in the foreground too, make for wandering off-line, memorable. Now my supported leg is numb from the immobility of sitting in a captain’s chair composing this. The numb sleepy leg is immune to midges. Meanwhile a new irritation emerges between my big toe and the sandal strap, appealing for a foot massage to bleat it out of its misery. A ewe calls for sundown and her lamb bleats in response. The air squadron is thinning out. A bumble bee flies towards the sunset and irises. Thistles not yet out, and a few days short of blooming profusely, where the bumble bee flew from, he was heading, what is now upwind, as the sky darkens, and the cadmium line is expunged by a darker humid cloud.

Combs are my favourite hand tool. A body shop one graces my sporran. My thumbs and fingers massage my right foot’s toes, tugging at nails, removing stray skin flakes and otherwise soothes my anesthetized foot. Adidas striped pool slippers rest in the sheep-grazed grass, while in my right ear a battalion hisses and wing warps tiny sonic booms.

The skyline of Sitka Spruce holds a marvelous lilac clouds behind, while a droplet sensed, signals the advance of a low cloud from the west. Hairs on my skin, above my tarsals, are tugged by my sandal strap. A bugger has negotiated the boulder choke of the kneecap and joint and is now ensconced under my left hock, provoking a complete rearrangement of me in my chair. My numb foot, my numb butt, the groans of my bamboo chair in my resettling, tarsal squadrons, neck squadrons, hand pencil holding dynamic reactive squadrons clear for take-off. Ley grass with opposite florets with palea, glumes, lemma and short awns, wave in response to disturbance. A middle distance dipteran or micro-moth rises first white, and darkens as the sky becomes its backdrop.


Back at the house, Bran is incapable of chewing a carrot quietly. Meal time noises at a silent monastic refectory are politely tolerated, but Bran takes the biscuit. A midge in my ear never left the hangar, for his evening exercises. This was the last midge that lived before being rolled up into a Lake Victoria, Ugandan pate, what the dog might eat.

Kildare Snowdrops II

The tall tree casts its long shadow at dawn in weak sunlight; winter is beginning to ease. Snowdrops catch little of the hint of warmth in still air. Cool but not cold. These Galanthus nivalis could be from the mountains in Turkey, from a valley far above the Black Sea, where we have never been.

Our Snowdrops in the garden were planted by a previous owner, a different family and a different generation. Snowdrops from Crimea, from the Balkans, from the First World War. Ottoman trophies – a few bulbs brought home in soldier’s luggage – memories of friends lost in the chaos and misadventure of war.

The Snowdrop varieties here in our garden at home are the same as growing at the big houses of North Kildare. Snowdrops as a signature of social cohesion, a society within a society, traded as presents among gardeners. Snowdrops in the garden are in a white sward, just across from a granite milepost in a limestone wall, 33 Irish Miles from Dublin, marked on Taylor’s Map of Kildare in the 1770s.

During Iris’s tenure over 50 years, the Snowdrop lawn was augmented with many bulbs. The planted Crocuses and Scilla, Hyacinths and Chinodoxa, Bluebells and Snowflakes, Daffodils and Fritillaries will remain for us, as vestiges to her memory as a friend lost, as we look forward to Snowdrops, as the first signals of Spring.

The Butter in Corracloona

The new butter, when accidentally disturbed during a rummage in the fridge, slid, accelerated and then leapt out from the shelving a six-sided foil wrapped Kerrygold medal hopeful in synchronised diving. One of its corners got flattened by the floor and now it gathered itself together as a seven faced one-pound lump. Opening the foil, one could see the imprint of the packing machine on the butter surface contrasted with the bruise ripples, forming a fresh texture on the butter surface, that no professional butter carver would leave. A tear in the butter foil was the last piece of evidence before the butter carver’s toaster popped in the Cistin in Corracloona, focussed attention, not on the tear in his trousers, having been over a barbed wire fence, but rather the initial cutlery marks necessary to butter potato cake farls.

Up here in Kiltyclogher, Stella has us eating the best boxty and potato bread. All we are missing is an Andre to ask to put a bit of Butter on the spuds. French speakers are a rarity in Kilty, and perhaps our butter eating, potato appreciating, neighbours, might resume some butter smuggling.

The Monk’s butter from Glenstal, comes in rolls, so would make interesting geometric shapes in the middle of the night, during fridge rummaging accidents, if one got a hankering for some Ulster Farls with freshly melting butter after a go in the toaster. Even if the toaster goes, Stella has them too, and Kettles, all the essentials, for a Cistin, and dry socks, if your feet get wet, when the Wellington finally gets punctured, crossing a barbed wire fence, between Meenagh and Corracloona, that the deer cross, and jump over, not that Ralph, pronounced Ralf, in the box room in Kilty minds.

A walk to Meenagh and on to the Aspen

For a Sunday walk today, we decided to go to Meenagh. Rather I announced we are going to Meenagh to make a species list and get photographs for a Hedgeucation talk. I have to format the abstract book, for the meeting on Thursday online. Phytopathological strolls are the brainchild of a French scientist, Dr. F. Suffert who is presenting on Thursday, via the computer, via Backweston and the Society of Irish Plant Pathologists’ annual meeting. Like a Leitrim Hurler, one cannot tarry long. By the time we got to the turn we were up to Ascocoryne sarcoides and back to a Typhula and Propolis versicolor on an ash. Phragmidium violaceus was there. Hypholoma fasciculare, Clitocybe nebularis, and Armillaria mellea inter alia. Unfamiliar species with leaf damaging symptoms caused by something fungal were on Hazel, Rhododendron, and several other woody plant leaf types. Getting ready for a biodiversity session in the conference will take a few days concentration yet, we do it to really communicate with the public, and to swell our ranks with people who are prepared to puzzle over something external and aim to get a Latin name for the annals of biological records of Ireland.
Now about our readers, hope you have all been healthy, and the ones that read and write, have promised to write an email. I left my display book after Saturday lunch in Clancy’s Lavender in Glenfarne, in a Lavender Purple display book, All the stories, essays and poems are online on the lichenfoxie, so while it would be good to arrange recovery on Monday, we are busy in Corracloona writing full tilt, and maybe something surprising might just make its way back in the letter box in Corrocloona, While online I need to thank Jim Clancy and Raymond’s deputy for sending out 4 bags of Madra, the best dog food in Glenfarne, in the early stages of the lockdown last year. So back to the phytopathological strolls – a lockdown reaction – have a go on a lane in Leitrim near you, and see what fungally caused spots are what on leaves in the hedgerows. Dr Suffert on Twitter has guided many people into this biodiversity enlightenment, Bravo, Vive La France, Vive Leitrim, Treasure Leitrim for biodiversity, not for base metals.

Raheen’s, Castlebar Parish

Reviewing 621 photographs taken on 11 September 2021 in Raheen’s wood near Castlebar has been our exercise of the afternoon today 09 October 2021. The photographs are a mix of woodland landscape and ground flora shots and macrophotographs of tree trunk bark and the moss, lichen, liverwort and fungus species in this epiphytic habitat. They were all taken with one camera and the numbers stretch from 9110962 to 9111582.

On the day out in September, we met a wedding photographer, who fell into step and aesthetically came aboard with our agenda of woodland conservation and education. Falling into conversation, He pitched his skills as a short film maker, and in tow had an exceptionally handsome dog Gizmo with extraordinary droopy hairy ear tassles.

The camera is an extraordinary tool for scientists and for weddings. They can be used to tell the story of a day out, with some of the minutae. Reviewing digital media streams of 500 photographs from a day was predicted to become normal (Fox & Cullen 2016), and now five and a half years later, it is becoming normal for us in supporting our forensic examination of the biodiversity detail of Raheen’s wood outside Castlebar.

The roast potato dinner at our second break this evening was sublime. Vegetarian gougons and kale with soy sauce preceded apple pie and vanilla ice cream. They were rather chickeny in their appearances to my palate.

Raheen’s is an exceptional place – Lobaria pulmonaria is among the denizens of this woodland – an indicator of ancientness and ecological continuity over the centuries. The first hundred photographs have resulted in 5 pages of notation in latin of the names of identifiable species from the photography, a good yield in any case. The photograph of Lobaria pulmonaria led us to some respite from the immediate task.

At our first beak in proceedings of the write up today, I was charged with finding a name for a yellow discomycete, probably a Hymenoscyphus on a hazelnut. It turns out to be Hymenoscyphus fructigenus, first reported in Cork in 1845 on a dead hazelnut, the same microhabitat as our Raheen’s photograph and sample.

What is biodiversity has been occupying my writing for a booklet in the last two days. This exercise in documenting biodiversity in a small range of taxonomic groups for one site near Castlebar is today’s output. That there were no coral fungi on show that day at Raheen’s does not mean that they are not there, they did not surface on the day for our scrutiny, or I have not got to the ditch with Leotia lubrica and/or, perhaps Microglossum olivaceum, in Raheen’s in the photograph review.

In this vigil on life …, appears as a line elsewhere on lichenfoxie in a composition I called Cosmos Mundi. Doing what you can to document biodiversity, is to leave a trail of latin in arcs for another person’s mind to understand. To give a gist of the five pages from the first hundred photographs, my memory first deals with highlights of the day – Peltigera collina, a species which was hidden among Sticta limbata as a concept but with a thin textured Nostoc vesicled smooth upper cortex which is itself an unusual grey. Only one thallus of this Peltigera species caught our eye.

The next session goes like this: Lecanora expallens, Betula pubescens, Hypnum cupressiforme, Thuidium tamariscinum, Betula pubescens, Hedera helix, portrait 9110975 mushroom basket with orange pencil, Glechoma hederacea, Blechnum spicant, Dryopteris cristata, Betula pubescens, Thelotrema lepadinum, Arthonia didyma, Isothecium myosuroides … you will understand when you see the portrait …

Harmonising multiple people’s botanical memory of place is, as Bruce McCune put it, hard work for thought police. We have decided on a gift for our dog kennel handler in Cavan who has agree to take Bran the Irish Terrier for the weekend. It will be the late Paddy Reilly’s 2001 Flora of Cavan. We are looking forward to an event at Longueville House Hotel, and teaching and demonstrating mushrooms, with this year’s set of guests in an exploration of the grounds of this wonderful hotel. Mushrooming without dogs is a luxury.

Readers of this text have an insight into my cognitive life and the notation required for botanical activity in floristic studies on the biodiversity of a place in Ireland. I would like to encourage all interested in conservation to try and develop such sublime moments as outlined above in your own daily mental life, and really engage with the biodiversity crisis question – what plant or fungus is that here, now?

Getting ready for COP26 and caring for all life puts readings into another focus onto Laudato Si animators and what can be done around the world to maintain this … vigil on life … especially in tropical countries where the Latin names for plants are not so tip of the tongue, as it is to us, scientists in this Castlebar parish in north-western Europe.

Howard Fox

828 words.  

In a corner, in North Leitrim

I’m in a corner. As a writer It is essential that I write. Writers block is the corner that a writer who is a writer who is not free, finds themselves in. Worrying about writer’s block in pointless, doing something about a corner is of course something else. The corner of a page one starts writing on. The corner in a book, where everything changes. What if, we has a prompt, Corner.

Margaret Geraghty, the five minute writer, comes to my rescue yet again. This book is Oberon eaten, in fact, it is actually a dog bit book, with canine marks arranged like a pock marked North Leitrim road sign outside Loughan House, hit by someone practical with pellets …

The dog knows when I suffer from Writers’ block. He rushes to me and sits by my feet, and then a minute later goes traipsing back to bed. Opposite the page ‘How to plump up thin characters’, page 151, she give the prompt word corner with a choice of 7 others, which has now led to this. Lead shot, 0.22 mm on the road sign to Dowra, or is it Drumshambo.

Now, Corner has another meaning for me. The Wayside trees of Malaya and a monograph on Clavariaceae, two books on tropical botany by a chap called Corner, an Oxford Botany professor. Now for the marathon biodiversity course of a Tuesday. I like to type up from handwritten text sometimes. In fact I have not liked this activity for long, hence the break in posts. Writer’s Corner. On the Wayside trees of Corracloona, Rowan is the tree that stands out today, Tuesday 5th October. The red berries, like thrushes fodder, flop in the light breezes, readily shed when ripe, harvestable by stick, tassles infuriatingly out of reach for the Bean an Ti with rowan jelly intentions and her mushroom basket.

Corner and Harris, the latter an American lichen professor who in his self published taxonomy book that preserves the subversive intention to be contraversial gets to a better result in More Florida Lichens, where he digresses and gives a global monograph of Ditremis, which to us is Anisomeridium polypori, that would be a flask shaped pycnidial species on Elder bark, in that elderflower farm in Longford, near Corn Hill. Coconuts in Malaya might have Anisomeridium americanum on bark of their trunks.

The dog having traipsed back to bed is sound, asleep, book bitten duties having as bidden been done. This piece was supposed to be about Clavarioid fungi and I have not started on them yet. White, yellow, pink, purple, Clavaria, Clavariopsis, Clavariadelphus, Ramaria, Clavulina, are some of the groups. Outgroups include earthtongues, Geoglossum, Microglossum olivaceum, and the pine fingers, Calocera viscosa, Calocera cornea, and the Dacrymyces stillatus, the yellow on spruce laths of old wet several year old fertilizer pallets, left our in North Leitrim farmyards, and repurposed pallets, standing in gaps of old fences by gates. I am getting great value out of Seamus O’Rourke’s book too.

Ramaria formosa, is not a Malayan reference, but rather the formosa, taiwan, Paeony patch beside the Quercus suber, Cork oak, wayside tree in the corner of the Glasnevin Botanic Gardens which abounds with coral fungus in the woodchip mulches. The Ards Forest wood also has coral fungi, along the red walk with the large conifers.

It takes a decade of sightings to populate the Clavarioid fungi of North Leitrim. There is a species Clavaria vermicularis, which is in the limestone Bricklieve hills above Castlebaldwin in County Roscommon. Earthtongues grow there as well, among the waxcap mushrooms in mossy pastures of sheep.

So much for being in a corner, maybe this time the jamboard will share, and we can all become enlightened by a clavarioid type of biodiversity.

Dark Mountain sorting Sphagnum

Repertoire puts you at home

what you can recognise.

Repertoire puts you at ease,

what you can identify

Biodiversity of some choice spot,

a place to live

a place to see

life living and free

life giving to me

Repertoire for a cultures voice

for the taxonomy of the familiar

and the once off

Repertoire for an accolytes education

sounding tunes to call up

each and every part of nature.

When it gets too complicated

simplify the taxonomy as you can;

one site, one list

Sphagnum species is no substitute

for magellanicum or capillifolium

dearg’s or rua’s, auriculatum for an orange one

cuspidatum, palustre, papillosum or tenellum

ones in green, water, marsh, bog and young

on the Dough Mountain are some, harnessed in the mists

Baskerville mists, down for the day, name for the concept,

and a definition of what basis, the group is made

The capitulum, leaf apices, hanging versus spreading branches,

and where the pigment hues

Taxonomy for turbines of another sort

biodiversity investment in crowberry culture

food for ravens, and the odd lapan

a hare that a snipe might disturb

up up to the mountain again

up up and past Boleyboy

with a herd of sheep in between the rushes graze

till they walk out no more

too Sphagnumy for Aries

too pure for carrion

food for ravens

and ravenous walkers

on the Dough Mountain.

After the Heritage Week celebrated walk to Dough Mountain Summit,

some thoughts on how to approach Sphagnum

See Leitrim Observer page 11, Wednesday 25 August 2021

Memories

A red squirrel in the pines

lept from drey to branch

to another in another tree

and off and up into crowns

far above below grounds;

Creating watchers memories

for another day, a red’s.

A red squirrel too

hoarding poetry to read

and words to recite

to instill red squirrel

memories in you.

Kinawley near miss – a view from behind

Coming down the hill after Derrylin, we saw a diversion sign for Enniskillen, road closed. A red car turned off. I do not know why I advised ‘Let us go this way.’ We turned off too to explore the back roads of Derrylin, not that I really knew where Kinawley was at all.

The red car settled on the road ahead of us, but something was wrong. They were driving on the right. It was a small red 19 D volkswagen, a hire car new, with a continental driver aboard, on the wrong side of the road. They went around the bend on the right too. Maria flashed her lights and kept on the horn. I pushed the hazard lights button. Still the car in front 70 yards ahead, stayed on the right. Around the next bend a grey car appeared, and the red car driver just in time dived over to the left ditch, and regaining control of the car, drove on the left. We could see the shock in the driver by the wobbly driving line. At the next cross roads, they pulled in left, on the right. I should have said stop, but we drove on to Kinawley. They must have been embarassed too.

In the near miss, crossing the border was a contributory factor. Moving from a major road to a minor road, the evening light. They were all factors. As a safe driver for decades, I had never witnessed a links fahren error that went on so long. We did OK.

Keeping the Meadows Sweet

On the flowers of Meadow Sweet there is a pale Mirid Bug, a species in the Hemiptera, that seems to occur quite often. Facebook has recently developed citizen scientist media streams for various topics. The Insects and Invertebrates Ireland page of Facebook, has as of August 2021 almost 11,000 members.

The altruism of providing language for names of things is an action of communal education on this webpage. Giving Latin names by specialists for photograph captions is both work of recognition and taxonomic identification and new learning rolled into one. The Latin name is the standard index keyword scientists use for all species in nature that we explore for in the landscape.

Plectania laplatensis is a black bugarioid discomycete from Tasmania, that has appeared on the media stream that has puzzled fungus photographers from Hobart and surrounds. I have been aware of black discomycetes, such as Pseudoplectania sphagnophila, as I wrote about in one of my first papers on discomycetes thirty years ago, but this one, laplatensis, was new to my ken from 5 days ago, when the latin name was mentioned in a tag or a comment on a photograph in this amazing mushroom and fungus media stream on the Tas Fungi facebook page. Bulgarioid is a reference to Bulgaria inquinans, a black jelly discomycete on shed oak boughs, that is gregarious and ruptures through the bark, in places with old oak trees such as Charleville Forest in Tullamore and Longueville House near Mallow. The Tas Fungi facebook page has been moderated since 2016 and now has more than 16,000 members.

These two examples of media streams in their own way are creating a new way of doing Natural History in Ireland and Tasmania.

Ireland suffers from unsettled weather in Summer, and that has a knock-on effect on what species are out and about year on year. Through the 2000’s we all learned from Donegal Hedgerow, an epic site active from 2003 that by 2007 had collated photography of 1300 species. Each year has its own specialities and population surges.

Tasmania is in a different situation. Science there has addressed moderate to high proportion of the species that are being uncovered by photographers of nature. Fungi are difficult subjects for natural history as they putrify and rot in a few days, but that said, if dried, labelled and curated for herbarium storage, then scientific progress can be built upon. As in many places, the quantity of taxonomic guide books that have been made is still very low, and knowledge divulgation to the core set of photographers is difficult. There is a clear need for a fungus guide to genera for photographers, so that they can tag photos with genus names for computing on the cloud.

That aside, people are learning about species every day on the computer with these media streams and that must be a public good. People seldom have the energy to do a review a series of signtings of a particular species, but whenthey do, valuable comparative notes are exchanged, which increased the visibility of species in nature by describing their ecolgy more objectively that has ever been done before. Dates of photographs, species associations across taxonomic groups in photographs and so on are valuable to index.

Keeping the meadows sweet will also have to consider Data Centres and their demand of electricity and computer power. Wind farms provide some of this power.

As a society, the computer people of Facebook need to be congratulated for really taking to this task of providing a citizenship of living things, where they live, where they can be seen, when they can be seen, what conditions they make do with, and information on all sorts of other species associations.  

The myths of biology are gradually been pared back with this new 2020 narrative order of nature. Biological explanation is just that, talk of parasitism, mutualism, photosynthesis, evapotranspiration, pollination, and all these ideas. There is now mush more clarity of what species these biological ideas apply to among the general nature educated public, and people are gradually beginning to move from beyond biology to aesthetics and beauty, and ethics and conservation, via concepts of sustainability in this climate crisis and this biodiversity crisis. We all know and can now clearly demonstrate that low powered mechanical intervention is the least damaging option for nature, and that in Ireland we are learning to see nature in all its variety, and in Tasmania, bush walks are valued for providing nature to contemplate, and allowing our vigil of nature to nourish our souls.

Howard Fox

756 words

An ode for Stewart Dunlop

An ode for Stewart Dunlop

Six spotted Burnets walked on to a bar

Having been seen by a steward, called Stuart

The felt the bar with their antennae

The crawled onto tubular galvanize and sat there

Each held their six black legs akimbo

until they started grooming their antenna

with their pair of front legs.

With dashing black and red spotted wings,

they were seen by a brazen cow,

who started to lick the metal of The Gate.

Yellow Ragwort flowers in the adjacent field

swished their Buachailaun Buis in the breeze.

A Cattle Egret hopped from the cow’s back

onto the top rung and pecked.

He moved his binoculars.

No, it is not ! That is a Pied Wagtail.

This play is about five spotted Burnett’s

who walked on to a bar at The Gate.

In the Burren.

They ordered three red spots each,

and by Midleton

tucked them on to each wing

They were soon tidily …

Is this a red necked footman or what?

The whiskey made the cow red-green colour blind.

She now could not see the red spots.

It must be a Red Necked Footman, so.

She was sort of tidily too.

Friskily swishing her antennae.

And out with the Bodhraun,

And where is your cipin now.

Howard Fox

28 July 2021