The Heron

Cyclists sprint past,
Cars hurry to the ferry,
Lovers chat,
Strong youths hike along the shore road
Unaware of the heron

Standing nearby

Long legs stiff

Beside the still water

Dignified with

Long, whispy feathers

Dangling from his chest.

Slender neck outstretched

Head tilted
Eyes staring, glaring.
Yellow beak darts and stabs.
A small fish is swallowed.

Rewarded.

Head wound into his shoulders

Rest for a while

Satisfied, savouring success
He waits into the night, fishing.
He knows that tomorrow
There will be choppy waters.
He shrieks, spreads his feathers,
Like a skirt hanging from his wings,
And rises to the hills beyond,
To wait, high in a tree,
Till the storm passes.

The First Flowers of Spring.

My daughter, husband and four children came to visit yesterday. They have to make a three hour journey from the south of Ireland.  This was their Christmas visit as life was too busy for us all to see each other then.  The children have past the baby and play school stage. No buggies or car seats to contend with. Now the grandchildren are approaching the teenage years. Long legs and reaching arms need room.  They are blooming like the flowers Shann reached me.  Mark’s people carrier Jeep has served the family well.

They all poured out of the vehicle, glad of the stretch. We shared hugs, so glad to see each other. Bags of presents weren’t forgotten in the back seat. I didn’t notice their visiting student from Spain at first. She is staying with them for six weeks to improve her English. A student exchange has been working between Ireland and Spain for many years. The Spanish like the tone of the English the Irish use.

I remembered back to when we would take our children on trips in our van to the beach, the playground or a forest. They poured out of the van and ran in every direction like calves released from the stall. Brendan would whistle and they would come back when it was time for home.

We gathered in the kitchen for lunch. The children were excited to be back at Granda’s house.

“I’m sorry they’re a bit battered and bruised,” Shann said. I wasn’t paying attention as I reached a bowl from the cupboard. There was clattering of delph and cutlery as the girls set the table.
“Did Mark have to stop and deal with the children?” I said thinking it was the children Shann was talking about.  I looked up.  She was referring to the bunch of flowers she had given me.
We all had a good laugh. I love this first bunch of spring flowers.

“Did you come across on the ferry?” I asked Mark. “Yes” he said. “The attendant informed me there was a special offer on this Sunday. If you buy a return ticket we can deal with any children who have misbehaved. We throw them overboard.” We burst out laughing again. This is Irish humour. I hope the Spanish girl didn’t mind.

On the sunny afternoon all the girls headed down to the shore. Hannah arranged a competition to see who could pick the most sea glass for granny.  That was good idea because it motivated them to search all over the place. They had the extra blessing of seeing different birds, a heron, gulls, oystercatchers, Brent geese and redshanks.

Back at the house the treasure was displayed and counted. Ten points for each blue glass, five for green and three for white. The winner was announced, cheered and rewarded. They had good fun. I have the added benefit of all that sea glass to work with.

image

Meanwhile Mark, with some helpers loaded up bicycles, table and chairs he had stored with us since they moved house. He secured it to the top of the jeep. No worries with Mark. Too soon it was time to go. Mark sped off with a bigger load. I hope they got across on the ferry with no one or nothing going overboard.  A great day.

I Must Go Down To The Sea Again

imageI am inspired to write this blog after reading “Sweet Killough, let down your Anchor”,  written by Maurice Hayes.  His mother was born in Listowel Co Kerry.  Living in Killough at the other end of Ireland seemed a million miles in the 1930s.  Her mother sent her a copy of the Kerryman every week.  News from home kept his mum in touch.  She seldom got to visit Kerry.

Hopefully my experience will give you a flavour of life along Strangford Lough near my home in Portaferry, N Ireland.  For my family abroad, my friends and followers dotted around the world, please take a walk with me on this pleasant November morning.

Brendan and I decided to take a walk, soon after sunrise.  Each time we take a walk we get a glimpse of the wildlife along the seashore, in the water, in the air or on the nearby grasslands.  This morning was no exception.

In the bay in front of us many colourful buoys, all shapes and sizes bob about in the water.  They provided anchors for yachts during the summer.  The swallows have left and so have the boats.  They will winter out in the safety of some yard.  Each buoy has a bird perched on it.  The biggest buoy has the biggest seabird, ranging from a heron, cormorant to some seagulls.  They squabble for supremacy.
They rest there enjoying the rising sun and still air.

Along the road I see a small upturned crab, partly eaten.  How did a crab get stranded along the road. I believe it is the remains of a meal a crow had left behind.  There is a forest along part of the shore.  Crows settle there in the evening.  In the morning most of them head off to feed on fields inland.  Not so our resident crows.  There are a dozen of these birds that have adapted to living off food from the shore.  As I was driving one day a crow dropped a sea shell onto the road.  The shell cracked open and the crow enjoyed a tasty morsel.  Clever creature.  They have adapted to foraging along the shore: food at their doorstep.

Brendan drew my attention to two aeroplanes flying west overhead, one in front of the other, to a far off shore.  We are enjoying having our feet on the ground after our recent travels.  We are beside still waters instead, having our souls restored.

The Lord is my shepherd;  he leadeth me beside the still waters. (‭Psalms‬ ‭23‬:‭1-2‬ KJV)

We heard a honking sound from the other side of the lough.  There were large birds, I think swans, flying in formation to our right.  Brendan counted fourteen, the number of our  children.  They have flown the nest.  Gone but not forgotten.  This day forty four years ago I gave birth to our first child.  So started many years of child rearing.  A new season for us now.

A group of oyster catchers were hardly noticeable along the water’s edge.  They sprang into flight as we approached.  Herons and oystercatchers live happily together along the shore.  Gulls will try to chase herons, much to their annoyance and screech their disapproval.

A lone curlew catches Brendan’s attention.  He takes a closer look with the binoculars.  It has a distinctive long curved bill.  My Little book of Birdwatching comes in handy.  A few blackbirds dart into the hedgerows, taking shelter for the winter.  I was delighted to see a group of the Brent Geese sheltering behind Ballyhenry Island.  They had ventured down the coastline from Newtownards.  They looked fat and their white under bellies were high lighted in the low sunshine.  I can expect them soon to be feeding near the bottom of our garden.

A large bird dropped speedily into a field nearby.  It later perched on the top branch of a tree in the hedge row in the distance.  We could see markings on the back feathers.  We knew it was a bird of prey, but which one?  I looked up my Little Book.  It was a female kestrel.

The ultimate visitor was a seal diving into the seaweed offshore.  This area must be his territory.  We have met him before.

All of us were enjoying the unexpected warm morning.   Brendan and I returned home uplifted, thankful for the beauty of creation around us.  I had braced myself for a cold wind with hat, scarf and gloves.   But no, it was a pleasant, warm, bright morning down by the sea.  Unlike John Masefield’s description of his going down to the sea in his poem  ” Sea Fever”.

I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.

Thank you for sharing my walk down by the sea.

“All creation rightly gives you praise.”

Celebrating St Patrick along the Ancient Pathway

I returned to Co Down sixteen years ago.  I was born and lived in Co Down till I was eighteen.  I went to university in Coleraine eighty miles away from home and remained there to get married and rear my children.  In those days I might as well have been moving to another country.  God led us to live return to Co Down.  This scripture spoke to us,

“Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.’ (‭Jeremiah‬ ‭6‬:‭16‬ NIV)

Today, St Patrick’s Day, I am savoimageuring the blessing of living along the shore of Strangford Lough.  There is a small bay below our house where gulls play about on the water.  The water is still. A lone heron stands on a stone for long periods of time looking out for food.  A flock of Brent Geese fly in low over the water.  They come to get some fresh water from a stream nearby that flows into the lough.  My soul is at rest.

I am amazed that these Brent Geese’ only winter habitat is along the shores of Strangford Lough.  Thousands land here after a long journey from Northern Canada in September.  Most are to be seen along the sunny side of the Lough.  They feed on Eel Grass and return in April to the tundra to have their young.  The Brent Geese link me to the past.  For generations  they migrated here.  Their generations back would have been here when St Patrick arrived as a migrant.

In the fifth century St Patrick came to these shores.  The main means of transport in those days was by boat.  A boat could access inland by river.  He came to Ireland answering the call of God to go as a missionary.  He would have sailed up the entrance to Strangford Lough and up the Quoile river.  It is recorded that he settled in Saul near the river.

The tourist board of Northern Ireland has mapped out the St Patrick’s trail which helps visitors travel to areas where early Christians settled.  I have lived in three sites that are along this trail.  I lived in. Saul St,  Downpatrick for sixteen years,  one year in Bright, and now in Portaferry.  I can imagine those early Christians coming ashore like the Brent Geese to get some fresh water after their sea journey.  They could have built a shelter and fished from the sea that was teeming with fish in those early days.  No pollution or over fishing then.  They may have even built a settlement on this land where we now live.

St Patrick’s writings mention scriptures, dreams, the Father, Son and Holy Ghost.  It is interesting that the Christian denominations, Evangelical, Pentecostal and Catholic all look to St Patrick as their patron in Ireland.  At least we are united in the heritage St Patrick left us.

In Ireland we are blessed to have a Christian heritage for 1500 years.  Ireland is known as the Land of Saints and Scholars.  Many missionarys travelled from these shores into Europe, Africa, Asia, Australia and the Americas.  God is calling the Irish men and women to remember the God of their forefathers. I celebrate St Patrick today, not with green beer, leprechauns, or parades, but by being quiet on this ancient site remembering the God of St Patrick.  He is the same God I worship, 1500 years later.  Praise Him.