Magnificent display of mother nature on a spring morning

Teal drake, vivid in the winter light on Courtmacsherry Bay. Flotillas of the bird can be seen along the bay. Picture: Damien Enright

These days, the woodland floor is greening over with the shoots of ransoms and bluebells pushing through the leaf mould, writes Damien Enright. The trees are full of bird song and, on bright days, the paths are dappled with sunlight.

I am fortunate in having a bayside walk almost on my doorstep. At low water, it takes me along a beach pleated and shining from the outgoing tide and, when the bay is full, I walk through the village with its Georgian terrace and brightly painted corporation houses backed by woods and fronted by the sea.

Beyond the village, a concrete pedestrian path on the sea side of the road takes me past flotillas of teal and shelduck bobbing on the water.

The teal are very small, and the shelduck considerably larger than the familiar mallard.

The sun strikes their colours, glancing off the deep chestnut heads of the teal drakes, with their green stripe like an Oriental eye, and a brilliant, yellow patch on the tail. The ducks, too, are lovely, the modest grey of their plumage deeply marked, and a sliver of iridescent blue shining among the wing feathers.

Out beyond them, the shelduck cruise, white shining blobs on the deep blue water but, on closer inspection, they are one of the most striking of all the duck tribe, with black heads and scarlet beaks, chestnut-brown collars and glossy black feathers running along the length of their backs.

There are shovellers too, perfectly named for their broad, heavy, shovel-like bills custom-made to hoover the surface of the mudbanks, capturing sand-tiny crustaceans to mix with a diet of small aquatic plants. They too are gloriously plumaged, with dark green heads, white breasts, brown underparts and chestnut sides.

All the birds are at in their best at this time year, as the breeding season quickens. From the tiny stonechat, indigent of the coastal hedges and gorse bushes (now in brilliant flower) to the mighty swan and elegant heron, all are in spring array and, when we get those ‘intermittent patches of bright sunlight’ between the rain or hail showers, they are surely inspiring to behold.

Speaking of the rain and hail showers, it would seem that every drop of the blessed rain from heaven that, via lakes, rivers, reservoirs and treatment plants, passes our lips is laced with not only the usual fluoride but copious doses of extra chlorine. There is so much chlorine in our tap water that it makes the kitchen or bathroom smell like a science lab. We are becoming chemical repositories ourselves.

When I phoned my local water treatment plant at Jones Bridge, Clonakilty, to ask what was going on, I was told that chlorine is always there, but because the weather is especially cold it doesn’t vapourise away as it normally does, and so it comes through the taps with full potency.

It is the Environment Protection Agency, the EPA, that dictates the amount of chlorine to be added to water. The local authorities just follow orders.

Large doses are introduced where there is the possibility of contamination due to leaks or extraneous matter entering the system. Had header tanks been a feature of our household system, the water would ‘stand’ for some time before use, and the chlorine partially evaporate.

We have had colder winters than this one, but haven’t experienced the same chlorine effect. While EPA vigilance is very welcome, the blast of chlorine from the shower first thing is the morning is almost overpowering, while the fumes from the washing-up water in the sink sting the eyes and, I am told, give one a headache. I report this secondhand.

I am not averse to washing-up — in fact, as I once noted long ago in this column, “Standing there, sponging the dishes in the warm, amniotic fluid of soapy water, I watch the come-and-go of sunlight, birds and breezes in the garden, or the antics of testosterone-fuelled buck rabbits chasing their lady does around the next-door field.

“Adrift in this Wordsworthian idyll, I dream 15 minutes away, eyes glazed, hands dipping and rinsing automatically. No wonder women are so calm and farseeing, given that they can enjoy such simple therapy four times a day!”


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