Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Towards Ireland's Island Zoo

 by Anne Alcock © 2014

I love this journey! Five minutes on a shaky bridge above grimy house-backs of old red brick and the two-carriaged train has left the city behind. Now we seem to be gliding across a vast marshland lake, silver-sky reflected in the water to right and left, until another bridge sets us down on a small island.
"But why are you taking the train?" Friends ask, "When there's a perfectly good road and car-park?"
No! NO! Forget the car! If you relish the questing sense of being the first creature upon a landscape, you definitely take the train, and preferably the early morning one. Because just ten minutes from the initial electronic slam and squawk (as distinct from the old hiss, steam and shudder of olden trains) and you are that first creature. From one window-glance to the next, and the cluttered city river has almost magically widened into horizon-filling estuary, which, being tidal, always presents as new.
 This morning's shining lake will sink later into an ooze of chocolate mud, smudged with grey-green shapes of half-drowned hawthorn and bisected with the raised, metalled track, until another eel-rich tide rises to bring back the silver. Or, within minutes, it could suddenly be reflecting the brightest blue! "It's like Naples!" Visitors might say.
But it's Ireland, and we have arrived at "Fota" (Fod – "warm soil" in Irish).  Here is Cork's animal conservation area, with its arboretum and seventy-two acre wildlife park.  This last  has it's own tiny station, and, with delightful paradox, this means we arrive by the Back Way. Which, as so often, is also the Best Way; for here is that transitional moment when you step out of the train, into ….. Utter Silence. 
No cars, no traffic, only one short hoot from the disappearing train. It is just a moment to acknowledge arrival, where the journey was actually its own destination. You realise your inside silence is now meeting an outside silence (which is actually bursting full). No longer technology, but Nature is all around and all alive. Thousands of leaves are responding to the funnelled wind, and every invisible bird seems determined to prove its existence.  And are those squeaks and yelps really monkeys? Yes, you are here. You are earthed. Take a breath. The air is very fresh. 

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