Africa, June 2019, Vol. 84 No. 5

Glimpses…in the family of things
Michael Kane

June – Summertime – Roll out those lazy-hazy-crazy days of summer a hit for Nat King Cole in 1963 comes to my mind. We also remember how summers were long ago. “Don’t shed a clout till May is out”, was a timely warning not to jump into the summer too soon. “In April and May keep away from the sea, in June and July….” a warning not to jump into the sea too soon.


Let us begin today to celebrate this June with the words of Francis Ledwidge’s June:

“Broom out the floor now, lay the fender by,

And plant this bee-sucked bough of woodbine there,

And let the window down. The butterfly

Floats in upon the sunbeam, and the fair

Tanned face of June, the nomad gipsy, laughs

Above her widespread wares… 

And up the height

The cuckoo’s voice is hoarse and broke with joy.”


Bees buzzing busily, woodbines wafting aromatically, butterflies basking and fluttering. It has been said that they should have been called flutterbys. We have grass and leaves greening and flowers – wild and garden – blooming. It is a time of activity for insect and plant. Our mammals, small and large, and by and large, are taking a more indolent approach to the days that are in it. Such is Kiltegan here in June with the Meadow Brown Butterfly.


Francis Ledwidge would no doubt have heard the cuckoo more frequently than we do today. The cuckoo that comes in April, sings in May, whistles its tune in June and then away doth fly, like many of our visiting birds, is decreasing in numbers.


Again, mentioned last month, The British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) has a wonderful website ‘Tracking Cuckoos to Africa… and back again’. Some cuckoos have been tagged while they were in the UK, and so can be followed on their epic journeys from southern Africa to Europe. They travel over 7,000 kilometres each way to reach us and get back to Central South Africa despite all the hazards of such a journey. They are not helped by biodiversity loss here, there and along the way. The male cuckoo begins his homeward journey soon after mating. The female flies when she has laid her eggs in several nests – one to a nest – usually that of a meadow pipit. The young birds take off later. 


Swallows, house martins and swifts also grace our skies having found nesting sites around our college and in the buildings about. Each time I see a swift I marvel that it has travelled 22,000 kms (14,000 miles) to be there for me, and the little ones that have just taken wing will set out on that same journey in just a month and hopefully be back here in this same sky, this time next year. We talk about the Seven Wonders of the World and we are awed by them. Nature is showing us wonders every day and we can be indifferent to it.


R.S. Thomas, a Welsh poet and pastor, in his poem The Bright Field tells us:

I have seen the sun break through

to illuminate a small field

for a while, and gone my way

and forgotten it. But that was the

pearl of great price, the one field that had treasure in it. 


Like the Psalmist (139) we too can sing for all these things I thank you O Lord, for the wonder of your works and the wonder of my being.


Moses was told “take off your shoes, you are on holy ground”. Let us take off our shoes and feel the grass.


I would like to think that the psalmist, in Psalm 96:11-12, put pen to paper in June – though it could be true of any month – when he penned the words “be glad earth and sky, …be glad fields and everything in you, trees of the wood shout for joy.”


All because we and they belong to the family of things, and it is June! 

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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