Mike Gallagher, an Achill Island writer, has been published and translated worldwide. He won the Michael Hartnett Viva Voce award in 2010 and 2016, the Desmond O’Grady International award in 2012, and was shortlisted for the Hennessy award in 2011. His collection, Stick on Stone, was published by Revival Press.
I suppose I have been watching him for a couple of weeks now – yes, it would have been about the beginning of April that he took up residence on the forked twig. It’s hard to miss him because the kitchen window looks directly onto the apple tree.
The weather has been changeable this April. The wind has whirled around the compass like the ball on a roulette wheel, scarcely taking time to settle in any one place. And, boy, oh boy, has it varied in speed! One minute, it would nuzzle your cheek with a passing kiss, the next, it would nip your ear as it hurtled across country. Then there were the marauding showers and the stinging hailstones – and wasn’t there something about a record-low temperature for April on the night of the black frost?
Anyway, none of this seems to deter our lad on the forked twig. He has obviously chosen this twig as his campaign headquarters. Granted, he moves to other hustings at times: on the morning of the big frost, he rose a couple of branches – I’d say that was to take advantage of the fact that his message would carry farther in the crisp air. Last Monday, when the wind was at its most cantankerous, he dropped to a bough where the tall, swaying hedge offered a modicum of shelter. Generally, though, he perches on the forked twig and sings.
The singing is incessant. It is rich and powerful. Most of the time it bubbles with trills, spills rippling phrases across the garden; sometimes, though, it seems shrill in its desperation. Even as he perches on the white mottled twig, buds are exploding into pleated leaflets. The end of the mating season is near.
Yesterday afternoon, another robin appeared. At first, it settled nonchalantly on a lower branch. For his part, the warbling diminished, in volume as well as in frequency. He looked down on the intruder with a degree of wariness. Robins learn to be careful, there being no discernable difference between sexes; this newcomer, though, had a prominent white feather on the nape of its neck. Our hero’s red breast was puffed out, his stance even more upright than usual. His head bobbed profusely; his tail flicked in sympathy.
Soon, they were flitting through the hedges, undulating through the lawn. She chased him to a standstill. Then he escorted her to the birdfeeder, a suspended log with fat-filled holes. He had spent weeks practising his approach to the feeder.
Robins cannot grip vertical surfaces as tits and finches do, so he hovered in front of it, hummingbird-style, and snatched at the fat. She did not appear overly impressed; nevertheless she deigned to accept the morsels he brought her. He led her to the back door, normally a rich source of crumbs. She spotted the dog inside the glass door and dallied demurely under the Citroen. He knew about the glass and brought her the sweetest titbits.
Again she pursued him through the shrubbery, teased him in the thistles. I lost sight of them for a time but later in the evening she alighted close to where I was digging. There was not a feather out of place. She picked a couple of easy worms and headed toward Sheehy’s meadow.
This morning, the wind is up again. In the open garden, evergreens are swirling like dervishes but the gale blows straight through the crab apple tree. He bobbles on the forked twig as he whistles into the wind, his arpeggios blown back in his face.
Ah, boys, we are such fools for love.