Moss and Me

One morning I decide to lay my face upon a plump, wet mound of moss on a big rock in the woods. Being so close I can smell it deeper, so I close my eyes and let myself remember...

My mind had been silent, filled with swooshing birches and chatting birds. Then in popped one word: Microbiome, and I smiled with the realisation that this conversation, between moss and me, has been going on for a long, long time.

When did I first lay my head upon that pillow of wild kindness? When did I first invite these tiny forests to live within me?

It began with pudgy, little feet sinking into pools of multi-coloured mystery; toes descending slowly into moist trust. When my soles found the bottom, the soft, stable ground, my head was brought down to meet the mosses on their level.

So, we were together since then, moss and me, on the shores of Lough Neagh, on the edge of Cnoc Fola, and as I travelled to Paris, New Zealand, Thailand and Peru. The moss lived in me, and now I wonder did a part of me live…


There on the flat land of the lough shore we were told to stay indoors. The black cloud was heading our way and it could kill us if we breathed it in. I imagined flying up above the house, heavy heron wings sweeping the air. I could see that cloud in the distance and knew it was coming for me.

I thought hard on what had happened. There, in a far off country, was an explosion of something even worse than poison, even bigger than bombs: radiation, and it was coming for my eyes, my skin, my lungs. But it was too big to think about, too much to take in, so after a while I stored it away and forgot about it.

Thirty years later, I watch the new TV story of Chernobyl and learn things I did not know: that this accident could have been much, much wider in scope; even worse than making 1,000 square miles of the earth uninhabitable for 20,000 years...

I keep watching. I wonder when the two central characters, the nuclear physicists portrayed as the voice of reason and truth telling, are going t…

The Shops

We went down the shops every day after school. Inside, the shopkeeper was high up above glass cabinets full of colourful sweets like jewels. We each had our favourites; mine were refreshers and pink bon bons, but I liked everything really. Sometimes there was enough money for crisps too, and I always got salt n vinegar. I liked how they made my lips go numb and my eyes water.

We were housing estate kids of the 1980s, poor and traumatised by war, many dealing with equally brutal home lives. Sweets and TV were our soothers and we worshipped  them, relying on these Gods to make everything better.

Sometimes, when money was low, we took a spoonful of butter and dipped it in sugar til it turned white. The crunch of the crystals gave way to a melting creaminess that reminded me of licking the bowl at my mother's house. But here the cake never got baked, never filled the house with kindness; the bowl stayed in the cupboard.

I stand in the queue to pay for diesel and look around. The shop…

The Blossoming

The first day I feel that something is wrong, but I'm not sure what so I forget about it. Then by the second and third days, as everyone begins to droop and I find the bees, it dawns on me. These verges where I walk my dogs every day have been sprayed: bluebells and primroses at the peak of blossoming, brambles and ferns just starting. I find honeybees convulsing in the garden, not far from their hive; tongues protruding and utterly lost, having rolled about in the nectar and pollen of poisoned blooms. Over the days and weeks ahead the verges turn a shocking shade of yellow, that screams out against the lush green of the woods beyond.
I cry and apologise for humans. I get angry and judge: What kind of a person sprays bluebells?
When I was a girl I used to walk through the bog to a long lane that lead to the lough shore. It was that lane that introduced me to bluebells and primroses. Just after the barking dog, it was a stretch to linger upon and take in the sweet perfume. On the …

Bog Soft

I live on the edge of a vast expanse of bog. Every morning I walk with my dogs up and down, in and around, the undulating land. Eventually we end up in a birch woodland by a lake where they swim and I meditate.

Bog means 'soft' in Gaeilge, and underfoot the bog is a mass of softness. It pulls in all sound, soaks in all moisture, and gets crispy and crunchy like a dried out sponge.

When I was a little girl I lived mostly in a housing estate, far away from bogs. It was a place made of concrete on dense, wet soil. Water ran off surfaces fast and nothing much changed with the seasons. The sun bounced off walls, back on to us. It was a hard place.

Sometimes I lived with my mother whose homeplace was by a bog. On summer days I ran along the bog paths, feet coated dark brown, sweat holding the dust behind my knees.

Falling in a bog was like falling on a bed. Moss provided a soft landing; a cushion; an opportunity to see what was happening down below. Lying on the bog, breathing its …