Outside, the clinging chill of an Irish winter.
Inside, the warmth of an Irish winter’s hearth.
Wrapped in Gold
No matter driving rain, howling gale, bitter cold, or blazing sun, walking the length of Dun Laoghaire Pier I am conscious no one values the very unique brilliance of my thoughts and words as much as Muffin does. Behaves gracefully in all situations and circumstances. She never asks why, just sniffs the ground to keep abreast of where we are, wags her tail and pulls forward. Wonderful!
“…beauty without vanity, strength without insolence, courage without ferocity; and all the virtues of man without his vices.“
– Lord Byron, ‘Epitaph to a Dog’ (1808)
Outside yields to Winter’s evening grip.
To the right, a steaming mug of tea; to the left, the Sunday newspapers.
Behind me, the wall mirror, gold, spreading wide, reflecting the reflected, flickering shadows playing the end of the day.
In front of me, the Fireplace; a framed oil of shaded Capri on a hot summer’s day mounted above a mantelpiece counted with decorative jugs, and that plate.
Coals in the fire hug together keeping the flame aglow: deep-burning, unquenchable.
The spluttering logs near enough to keep each other warm and far enough apart for breathing room
More shimmers of light on the old brass handled assortment of fender, poker, tongs, shovel and brush.
The curtains are drawn. An evening beside the radiant fireplace beckons. The all-calming quiet stillness of the flames: Mesmerised.
The simplicity of the fire-side chat: “Blow on the coal to keep it alive”.
Any one who knows what the worth of family affection is knows there is no greater happiness than spending evenings by the fireplace: Snug.
A Visit from St. Nicholas
“Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care, in hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there.
The children were nestled all snug in their beds, while visions of sugar plums danced in their heads.
And Mama in her ‘kerchief, and I in my cap, had just settled our brains for a long winter’s nap.
When out on the roof there arose such a clatter, I sprang from my bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash, tore open the shutter, and threw up the sash.
The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow gave the lustre of midday to objects below, when, what to my wondering eyes should appear, but a miniature sleigh and eight tiny reindeer.
With a little old driver, so lively and quick, I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.
More rapid than eagles, his coursers they came, and he whistled and shouted and called them by name:
“Now Dasher! Now Dancer!
Now, Prancer and Vixen!
On, Comet! On, Cupid!
On, Donner and Blitzen!
To the top of the porch! To the top of the wall!
Now dash away! Dash away! Dash away all!”
His dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly, when they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky so up to the house-top the coursers they flew, with the sleigh full of toys, and St. Nicholas too.
And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the roof the prancing and pawing of each little hoof.
As I drew in my head and was turning around, down the chimney St. Nicholas came with a bound.
He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot, and his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot.
A bundle of toys he had flung on his back, and he looked like a peddler just opening his pack.
His eyes–how they twinkled! His dimples, how merry!
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow, and the beard on his chin was as white as the snow.
The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth, and the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath.
He had a broad face and a little round belly, that shook when he laughed, like a bowl full of jelly.
He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf, and I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself.
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread.
He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work, and filled all the stockings, then turned with a jerk.
And laying his finger aside of his nose, and giving a nod, up the chimney he rose.
He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle, And away they all flew like the down of a thistle.
But I heard him exclaim, ‘ere he drove out of sight, “Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night!”
–Clement Clarke Moore (circ. 1822)
All the odds seem stacked against the red fox, which is hunted for its fur, chased for sport, shot, poisoned, snared and trapped by the thousand as an “agricultural nuisance”. Add the pressures of urban development and the cloud of doom covering this cunning medium-sized mammal is thick indeed.
Having never observed a fox in the wild, imagine my surprise when what first emerged as a reddish-brown splash of fur parked on the grass down at the end of the garden wasn’t Muffin, the cross Irish Red Setter / Golden Retriever family dog, but a red fox. This brazen little vixen (well she does look female) looked perfectly at home in broad daylight washing herself and marking out her territory for other foxes.
Foxes are considered to be nocturnal mammals. Amazing to be so close and personal with what I always considered to be rural wildlife, especially in your own back garden.
A little research soon reveals that the flexible fox has adapted very well to the onslaught of population expansion, in fact it is thriving. In urban Dublin, for example, fox densities average around 1.04 fox families per square kilometre, as, thanks to us urbanites, it has a more regular source of food! (See pics below)