Africa, November 2019, Vol. 84 No. 8

November…in the family of things

Little grebe. Image by Jean van der Meulen from Pixabay

Michael Kane

Alice Guerin Crist (1876-1941), penned the following lines in the poem November in Ireland:

‘No primroses or cowslips now, 

But cold November rain,

No hawthorns in the hedges

Till Spring comes round again,

But roses bloom in chapels lone and cabins far apart,

Dear rosaries of remembrance said to Mary’s loving heart.


Alice was a child of two when her family emigrated to Queensland, Australia. Many things have changed since then but we can still experience the “cold November rain” and the remembrance of our dead. On the remembrance altar in our chapel here in St Patrick’s we read;


A long ancestral line of women and men

Proceed ahead of us on our journey, 

Leaving vivid traces of their history.

They mark the path with their wisdom,

Fill the air with fragrant goodness

And smile with jubilant satisfaction.

You are at the head of this long line

With innumerable people of good will.

Your light spreads through all of them,

A great love flowing from them to us.

God of Our Ancestors. Daniel 2:23


So, here in Kiltegan, while days may be cold and the nights long, there is within and without light and love that can be celebrated in the present. The year is dying but there is life yet. The last leaves are falling, carpeting the ground in browns and golds creating a living space for insects and a larder for birds. A rustling walk through the not yet sodden leaves calls a response from the creatures nearby. Some scurrying away, creating their own din and others with cries of alarm and warning. But all saying we are alive. The wood is alive and it is a good time to walk in it, whether the day be wet or dry, cold or very cold. The trees are sharing their warmth. 


When we walk quietly we become aware of the clarity that this time brings, aware of seeing things more clearly now that the leaves are gone from our deciduous trees and birds and animals are no longer veiled as they forage for food. We should, however, walk quietly and respect their space. Some of the regulars are not out and about as they take different approaches to surviving the winter. Some hibernate, having had a busy harvest time storing up their fat reserves, such as hedgehogs, bats and frogs and some butterflies – though some may venture out if the weather warms up a bit. With global warming they may be as confused as the rest of us.


Some grow extra fur or hair or feathers and birds “fluff” or “puff up” by trapping air in their feathers and so look plumper than in spring or summer. Others just head for warmer climes, e.g. the cuckoo has since long gone, as are swifts, swallows, house and sand martins and many flycatchers and smaller song birds. Most have gone to Mediterranean and African countries. Some insects also migrate. The Painted Lady Butterfly has gone to Morocco. The exotic looking and equally exotically named Hummingbird Hawk Moth has also departed. 


On the other hand others are arriving from colder areas to avail of our more moderate weather. Swans and geese are the larger of these and here in Kiltegan we may get glimpses as they fly by to their usual haunts to the Sloblands in Wexford, Bull Island in Dublin, and to lakes and ponds inland. Small grebes come to our small lake here on our grounds, and the number of our moorhens are augmented by overseas visitors. Our pair of resident swans cast a lonesome duet. This year one cygnet was hatched but did not survive its first fortnight, possibly due to an opportunistic mink. The mink, though not a native was introduced for fur farming and/or as possible pets. But having escaped, or having been freed, they are now a major threat to much of our wildlife especially bird life of all kinds, on the ground and in trees. Mink are also no mean swimmers.


It’s not all doom and gloom however as thrushes, blackbirds, robins, wrens and many others have to share their space with their cousins from abroad. Fieldfares, waxwings, wood pigeons, lapwings, curlews and others arrive in flocks and are well worth the trek outside to see them. However, with the disastrous decline in biodiversity – insects and birds in particular  – the numbers are down each year. 


Again, be sure to leave a few wild and wonderful places in your garden. Some wise person was heard to say “tidy is nice but wild is wonderful”. It is time again for feeding our feathered friends. They will appreciate it and we can enjoy their company outside our windows. And a little water helps too. The cat may have to be belled.


Have a wonderful wildlife-filled winter celebrating that we all belong …to the family of things. 

Fr Michael Kane from Co Wexford was ordained in 1968. He worked for many years in Kitui, Kenya. He is now based in Kiltegan. 

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