The Tree and The Hen

Alnus glutinosa

Last year I vowed I’d plant a line of trees to screen my neighbour and improve my view. But like a lot of vows, it never happened. I also intended planting a copse in my third paddock which is the biggest and borders a huge intensively-farmed field; regularly lashed with glyphosate. There is a deep gripe between us and I’d say the run off into it is toxic. It’s a crying shame that people care so little about the environment or their own health. But they don’t. The copse I plant will hopefully stop the drift into mine.

Of course it’s too late now; they need to be planted bare root. I wanted to scatter some of dad’s ashes under this copse as well. But there is always next autumn.

So I was delighted to get a root up the you know what from a tweet I sent about ideas to remember Matt. Matt Care was an Englishman who moved to live in the west of Ireland with his Irish wife. They set up a smallholding and had their own poultry, sheep and pigs. Matt also grew a lot of his own veg and was a great man to take on tasks the rest of us wouldn’t dream of. He did his own butchery (amongst other stuff). He was in our smallholder group and regularly updated his Twitter with tales of his smallholding life. He was always in good humour and willing to help in any way he could with advice, swapping recipes, methods, ways of doing stuff or just have a good moan with.

I sent him a horseradish root as a result of a conversation we had about same. He was tickled to hear it had originated in Mayo, brought to Dublin by my mother, transplanted to Meath by me then dug up and sent back to the “wesht” to him in Roscommon. In return he painted a sign for my pigs when I had admired the signs he had painted for his own pigs.

The sign finally put up

He told me to buy him a beer at our next smallholder gathering. Sadly he never came to the last event and now I’ll never get to buy him that beer. He died on the 7th of December last, suddenly. He had been unwell and was waiting heart surgery I think. It was a shock to the rest of us. We had all got used to his banter and regular posts.

I thought of him several times over Christmas because he always decorated his Christmas cakes to a theme and he would tweet about his home-cured “hang sangwiches.” He loved the local lingo and referred to cups of “tay” and talked about “The Old Boy” down the road who he seemed to have been butler, chauffeur and cook for. We all felt we knew him as well.

Anyway in response to my tweet a suggestion was made to plant a tree in his memory – a Twitter Wood as it were. A tree planted by the person who “knew” him for him. So like Twitter the trees would be scattered all over the world.

I loved this idea. I had already planted a tree in memory of Fat Kitty and I found it really therapeutic. It somehow perpetuates the circle of life. I had spoken to the man in the nursery the day I bought his (FK’s) tree, about planting a screen and told him I’d come back to buy the other trees later but in the normal course of events that would have been put on the long finger.

This morning I woke up to another beautiful blue sky. I jumped in the car and went to buy the trees I’d discussed with him. But they wouldn’t fit. He offered to deliver them. I managed to fit one in and planted it for Matt when I got home. It’s an alder which is a native tree. He delivered the rest of them this evening. I picked out a weeping birch for dad. The other alder I’m going to plant in memory of my martini-loving aunt who died in her 98th year.

The following day I planted the rest of the trees and as I was digging I started thinking about who will benefit from these trees, who will look at them, who will sit under their shade, who will wonder about who planted them. Am I the only one who looks at trees and thinks about stuff like this?

The new hens are allowed out now and are truly free range. In the first few days you always have a few hairy evenings getting them back in. But last weekend “bet all” as they used say in Meath. The araucana was missing. Typical in that she was the one that cost me the most. I closed in the rest and went walking around looking for her. My fields are bordered by a 7 acre field beside me which has thoroughbred mares on it. I told my neighbour who owns them he could graze my last paddock. He took me at my word to open a gap, except he bulldozed a gap…….I said to him don’t go complaining to me if my pigs get into yours. He won’t. But the people at the top of his field might.


Anyway as I was walking down in the half light I could see a big bird wandering aimlessly in the distance. As I approached it didn’t fly away. It was the araucana. She was three fields away and in a neighbouring field. How she got down here on her own I’ll never know. Of course she wouldn’t let me hunt her back and flew into the ditch. So for the next 10 minutes she flew from one side to the other while I ran through the gap stumbling over big mucky tractor ruts. Then I got fed up and dived into the brambles hoping to grab her but missed. She seemed to settle in a shallow hole and stupidly instead of leaving her and making a note of where she was I tried to grab her. She scooted in further. She completely vanished. I rooted around for a while hoping she’d come shrieking out but no luck. I walked back to the house and a burnt pot. I’d only gone out to close the hens in.

I poured a glass of wine but then decided I’d go down one more time with a head torch. Lo and behold I could just about see her in the rabbit hole. Once it’s dark it is much easier to catch them as they are less likely to try and flee. I grabbed her by her tail feathers and hauled her out, much to her indignation. I have named her Mrs Mazel Topf (sic) and she reminds me of a mother in law at a wedding with stout ankles and a fascinator. She’s also the colour of a cuckoo maran that my son described as being like that of a static tv screen.

She began laying the other day and she actually does lay a bluish coloured egg. Well it’s a duck egg blue. The irony being that most ducks lay white eggs. It’s becoming fashionable now to have hens that lay different colour eggs not that it makes a “hapeworth” of difference to the taste.

Getting back to the trees. It’s a really nice idea to plant a tree in memory of someone you loved or even a beloved pet and let’s face it the environment needs more trees. Why don’t you plant a tree this weekend or if you don’t have the space for a tree – a bee friendly plant? As that horrible supermarket says “every little helps”.

In memory of Matt Care, Roscommon.