Thursday, 30 July 2009

The Sally Gap

View from the pass through the Wicklow Mountains.

Emer O'Siochru at the FEASTA conference

I won't be posting every talk from the conference, but at least the most interesting ones.

Emer O'Siochru - Proximity Principle in Rural Planning and Development from Feasta on Vimeo.

Wednesday, 29 July 2009

FADA's new web site

For months my group, FADA, has beeen working on a web site, and now we are officially live in cyberspace. Feel free to check in. Contributions are welcome.

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Chris Vernon of The Oil Drum, in Dublin

I'm posting selected talks from the FEASTA conference one by one -- apologies to all those who don't have broadband.

Chris Vernon – Net Energy, Energy Scenarios & Climate Change from Feasta on Vimeo.

Monday, 27 July 2009

Bia Linn

FADA held the grand opening of our community garden last Saturday, and everything went well. I had done a radio show, press releases and a lot of phone calls to spread the word about this, and I think it paid off – crowds of people came, our network of interested people increased, and everyone seemed to have a great time.

Local poet Des Egan unveiled the wooden sign saying “Bia Linn” (“Our Food”), hand-carved by one of our members. One of our members, a mushroom farmer, gave a presentation on growing your own mushrooms, while another, a nun who has worked in Africa, spoke about Fair Trade. Still another spoke about edible flowers, and I spoke about permaculture. Photographers came from the local newspapers, and The Girl got her picture in the paper.

I was especially pleased with The Girl – as soon as other children started arriving, she led them around the garden in a hand-held chain, telling them, “These are peas – I’ll show you how to take them out of the pods. These are tomatoes – don’t eat the leaves.”

Finally, two musicians set up in the middle of the garden and began playing a mix of traditional and modern folk music and couples danced in the middle of the garden. Picture a young woman singing an Irish-sounding version of Tracy Chapman’s “Talkin’ About a Revolution,” surrounded by greenery, as children laughed and chased each other between the garden beds. That was our day, and it was good.

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Monday, 20 July 2009

We were there

I didn’t realise until tonight that this was the 40th anniversary of the Moon landing,* which risks being remembered in the same way we remember other anniversaries like the Woodstock festival, or the “malaise” speech, or even the Berlin Wall coming down.

This event holds an altogether calibre than any of those things, or indeed anything else in history. This was the first time that humans – or any species on Earth, or anywhere else that we know of – travelled through space to land on an alien world. That world may be barren and uninteresting, but that only makes the footprints we left there eternal, a reminder to anyone coming by in a million or billion years from now, “We lived here, and we made it this far. That was the kind of people we were.”

Sorry if this sounds melodramatic, but I’m serious – there was never anything like it, and may never be again. That deserves a moment of remembrance.

I hope that we can pull together enough energy to reach further -- to go to Mars, cast CFCs or some other greenhouse gas into its atmosphere to warm it, and introduce life, if there is none there already. I would love to not see our species keep all its genetic eggs in one planetary basket. Or, those few trips to the Moon might be all there was.

For some reason, even before I remembered the date, The Girl asked me about this very thing:

“Will you and I go into space someday, Papa?”

Oh, I wish, I said, but it takes a lot of work to get someone into space, and we’ve only been able to do it a few times.


Well, I said, it’s quite far to go, and it’s straight up. You know how tired you get even after climbing all the steps. It’s much farther up than that, and there are no steps.

“If I could go, I would want to take a candle, because it’s so dark.”

It is dark, but there are stars, I said, deciding not to go into the issue of air in space.

“I’d like to meet some aliens!”

So would I, I said. But even if we can’t meet them, maybe someday we’ll talk to them.”

“How can we do that?” she asked.

Well, I said, the same way we talk to people on a mobile phone – we can send signals.

“But we don’t even know their house number!”

True, I said – we'll have to call different stars, and see if there's anyone home.

“How will they even know what we are saying?”

Good question, I said. They probably don’t speak English – but two plus two is four everywhere, and everything in the universe is made of the same stuff we are. So we have something in common.

“Do you think someone is listening?” she asked.

I suspect someone is, I said. Maybe someday we’ll hear from them. I hope so.

Moon rise over Australia. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.

*I started to write "moon walk," but ... um ... no.

Thursday, 16 July 2009


We saw this and other islands from a boat in Lough Corrib, near where "The Quiet Man" was filmed. We were told the island, large enough to support a few people, has lain abandoned since the 1930s and became forested again.

It occured to me that all Ireland, and much of Europe, Asia and North America, was covered with dense forests like these. I was also struck by how quickly everything returned to normal.

Wednesday, 15 July 2009


I've been swamped lately, so posting will continue to be less-than-daily for a while. In August, I will be visiting loved ones in the United States, and have been asked to give a few talks as well, so the blog goes on hiatus for a few weeks.

Orlov speaking at Feasta's New Emergency Conference

Dmitry Orlov – Seizing the Mid-Collapse Moment from Feasta on Vimeo.

I like this far less than his other talk, but this is the one for which FEASTA has video.

Saturday, 11 July 2009

Gorse hedges

Gorse is one of the commonest scrub plants here -- thorny, tough, and inedible to almost everything, so it is rarely trimmed by grazing. On the Curragh, the rolling plains a few kilometres from us that has been used for horse racing since the Romans, giant gorse clumps rise like mushrooms four metres tall over the fields.

On the other hand, it has lovely yellow flowers all year long, and it makes an effective barrier for animals, so it's a popular hedge. Although I've never tried it, I'm told you can make it into a nice wine as well.

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

Still Life with Four-Year-Old

Tonight as I put my daughter to bed, she looked out her window and whispered, “Papa – look! There is a boy robin in the garden, on the rocks.”

I see him! I said, as our faces gazed out the window together. I think his missus is in the trees back there.

"Why doesn’t she come out?"

She takes care of the eggs, while he looks for food. He’s bright red so predators will see him instead of the missus.

"And there is our neighbour – he is smoking! That is bad for you," she said, pulling out the lung page of her children’s book about the body and showing me.

Yes, you should never do that, I agreed, thinking of the Nicorette I still chew on bad days.

"And what are these?" she asked, pointing to the book’s pictures of red and white blood cells.

Well, the red blood cells carry oxygen to the … um … the red blood cells are lorry (truck) drivers, I said, and they take air door-to-door in your body like milkmen. The white blood cells are gardai (police), and if a germ tries to sneak in, they pounce on it.

She asked to play red blood cells for a little while -– I swear I don’t make these things up -- knocking on each cell door and announcing they had an air delivery. Then she wanted to play white blood cell, creeping up on a naughty germ and saying, "I’ve got you now!"

After a while of this she asked, "Papa, what would happen if there weren’t trees?"

That would be very bad, I said. Trees make the air that lets us breathe – they are why the sky is blue. The sky is made by life.

"And they grow fruit," she said.

Yes, and nuts, and many other things to eat. What else can you eat that comes from a tree?

"Linden leaves!" she said.

Yes, and you could even eat sap and some bark, I said.

"Wow!" she said in delighted disgust.

It doesn’t taste good, but you could eat it if you were hungry in an emergency. What else can you eat in an emergency? She cheerfully rattled off the list she knows from songs, and we talked and read a bit more before I kissed her good night and came downstairs.

I have often written here about my four-year-old, and the responses have allowed me to meet many kindred spirits far beyond my circle here in County Kildare. A part of me looks forward to someday losing my day job, to spend time with her beyond a few hours a day, to post daily four-year-old stories for years to come. But she will not wait for me, and today she is five.

Of course a yearly marker does not change her. But time does, and too quickly for me to do anything but run behind it, calling for it to stop. Perhaps it is because I am in my thirties now, and my clock was set long ago – like most middle-aged people, I feel a year go by when two or three have passed. Perhaps it is because the world events that I study have accelerated in her few years, their harlequin abandon unsettling even those of us who try to prepare.

I only know that each moment flickers by like passing traffic out the window, too swift to observe as it happens, but only to remember dimly after it has gone. Part of me wants to live in a painting – Still Life with Four-Year-Old, a golden moment in amber. A part of me winces to see my toddler grow lanky and coltish, tapping newfound reservoirs of defiance and negotiation, her once-giant eyes occasionally rolling in the first fetal signs of adolescent ennui. I want to throw a hook into the blur and reel in the moments, pore over them, plead with each of them … stay. Please, don’t go. Linger.

But they won’t. She will be six soon enough, and ten, and fifteen, each age attended by its own moments of comfort and joy, its own arguments. I can try to be a good escort into her future and linger over the moments, knowing their blurred passage is all I will ever have. I cannot extend my life’s length, but you, my girl, allow me to extend its depth.

Thank you.