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This is an extract from a novel I am working on. I hope it gives ideas on using kinetic energy and descriptive words in a battle scene. It is a battle between 500 of The Suicide Legion against the Vulgates, many of whom are berserkers, not caring whether they live or die. Black Jack is the main character and my two previous posts gave an insight into Gaban and Quentin, his very skilful comrades. I hope you enjoy it.
The morning mist swirled like the devil’s milk: soundless, voiceless and soulless. It glided away in shreds of white as the rabbit-light got brighter. The men of the Legion waited under the shadow of the hill, their lungs stung by the icy air. Over the mountains, the low-slung moon flung one last, despairing spear and died.
Eventually, even the moth flutter faded and the shadows shifted and opened up the dawn. The creak of leather and the screak of the Commander’s sword being drawn crept into their ears.
Then the enemy spilled out of the pine forest. Some were howling, others yelling insults in their foreign tongue. Blood was dripping from some of their axes. It was rumoured that the berserkers worked themselves into a frenzy before fighting. So much so, that they would often kill each other before a battle. Jack could see for himself it was true.
He got his first close look at them now. The men were all pop-eyed, wild of beard and had deep, bullhorn voices. They were Vulgates, the men of the south: brazen, stupid and smelling of cave bear. He hated them for their sweaty hands and clammy skin. He hated them for their bogman roars and lice-infected hair. Most of all, he hated them because he hated everything and everyone when he was fighting, including most of the men on his own side.
The Legion lined up against them in three rows of 140 and kept their backs to the high, grassy hill. On the hill, the 80 slingers waited for the Vulgates to come into range and the Commander’s permission to fire. There were at least two thousand Vulgates after spilling out from the forest and more were arriving. Black Jack looked up and saw that the sky pressed down upon them like a giant shield. It was as dark as a witch’s soul up there and, in the distance, lightning wriggled and hissed. The soldier’s called it a widow’s sky because it was grim and weeping. The sunless sky would make this a long day, he thought to himself.
None of the Legion had fought against the Vulgates before. What was that the King’s Investigator used to say?
“When you make first contact with the Vulgates, strategy dies and it’s down to guts, willpower and luck.”
He never said how to win, of course. Any fool could give advice like that. Hell, even he could come out with that one if he thought about it enough. He was an interesting man, that Investigator, but he wasn’t worth a king’s copper as a soldier.
His eyes narrowed as they kept pouring from the forest and Jack hoped that the smell in the air wasn’t their recruits emptying their bladders and bowels. Fires were lit by the enemy and the waft of oil drifted towards him. It’s thick, tarry smoke filled their vision and the Vulgates were lost for a moment in its bat-black haze. Their shouts could still be heard, low and violent, a grit-and-gravel mix of threats and curses. Then they broke into a run, pouring out from the oily fumes of their fires.
Every Legion soldier took note of the weapons they carried: clunky war hammers, cruel battle axes and broadswords as long as Legion spears. Other weapons hung from their belts: scalp-hatchets, heart-daggers and bone-maces among others. The belts held the after-battle weapons and it made them even more determined not to lose to these savages. Curiously, not a few of them carried Andan swords and daggers.
When they got to a thousand yards, the commander gave the order.
“Slingers!” was the cry and the lead weights screamed through the air.
Grunts, curses and snarls came from the Vulgate ranks as the lead balls ripped through flesh and cracked bone. The slingers got five volleys in before the Vulgate archers at the front came into bow range and let fly their oil arrows.
Then the hail came down upon the Legion.
The Vulgate fire-arrows whistled first, hung in the air, wailed down and began plunking and bouncing from the Legion’s armour. Burning arrows screamed above them, sizzled over their heads and thunked off the shields, hitting stray bits of flesh. They glinted and fizzed, their shafts causing the air around them to frizzle and crisp. They were like little pins of hissing silver and struck like cobra-spit, scorching the skin. Black Jack watched through a tiny gap in the turtle of shields as another volley began.
A few grunts and cries of pain rose up into the cellar-black sky and were swallowed.
Twelve Legion men didn’t get up again. The ranks re-formed as the men were dragged out of the lines.
A lot of the Vulgates were carrying their shields in front of them. The weird ones, the ones with the spittle-flecked lips and the rolling eyes of a wild horse, didn’t use shields at all. They galloped naked towards the Legion, bellowing curses and shaking their axes and penises. Berserkers. Jack’s lips curled up in disgust. Didn’t care if they lived or died. Minds addled by mushrooms and wine. Barbarians. The whole stinking lot of them.
The garlic breath of Gaban crouched to his right was overpowering and Jack threw up his shoulder. Seven tours with the man and he still smelled like a baboon. Gaban’s head clattered into the shield wall above them and most of the men laughed. The tension eased.
Quentin smiled and looked up at the storm of clouds rolling in. Thunder boomed and clashed so hard it stun-clapped the sky into silence for a moment. A scar of light opened up and veined lightning squirmed through to singe the earth. A pregnant silence hung in the air. Quentin’s voice broke it.
“The hunting hounds of hell are coming to get us, lads, and the trumpets of the damned follow in their wake.”
“Hell is everyone else, Quentin. You should know that by now,” Jack said in response.
Jack could see the Vulgates had enough of firing arrows and were tensing for a charge. They threw away their bows and blasted the air with a battle cry.
“Shields down!” was the cry that carried down the line. “Formation two!” They changed formation just as they had done a thousand times in training.
The last two ranks pulled their shields down from above them and the 2nd row poked their metal spears through the wall. The slingers changed to bows and targeted the berserkers. None of them wanted to see these madmen crashing into the lines and causing carnage.
One by one, the berserkers at the front were picked off by the archers. They killed a lot, but not enough to make Jack comfortable. He dipped his right hand into the bag of pine resin he had on his belt. He smeared it on both hands and waited for the bedlam to come. He took three lung-chilling breaths. Then he was ready. When the Vulgates hit the fifty-yard mark, the same voice called out again:
The bows were discarded and the javelins were hurled by the slingers and the 3rd row. They aimed for the Vulgates with shields and most hit their mark. The angry Vulgates dropped their useless shields once they discovered that the javelin head couldn’t be removed. It didn’t slow them much and Jack could feel the tension in the front rank. The noise was unholy and the sky belched out a dragon’s cough to add to it.
“Pig-stickers!” roared the commander, trying to be heard above the din.
Jack had two spears at his feet. He gathered one, rose up from his knee in a fluid motion and threw it. The first caught a berserker through the chest. The force of it blasted him backward and into the men behind him. He hurled the other spear through the mouth of a hairy brute and raised his shield.
He crouched again and two more volleys came from behind. Every spear-storm was designed to wither the Vulgate front line, making the men behind them either vault over the corpses or tumble to the floor.
“Shield wall!” was the cry that went up from their commander.
The shields came together with a clang and a row of wicked spears bristled in front of them. Jack was up and ready, locking his shield to protect Quentin on his left. If Jack’s shield failed, Quentin was dead. If Gaban’s shield to the right of him failed, Jack was dead. Those were the rules. They lived or died but the rules wouldn’t change.
Within seconds, the Vulgates smashed into the wall, impaling themselves on the spears. Grabbing his broadsword, he stabbed the exposed side of a Vulgate on his right. Then he brought his sword down again, targeting the Vulgate directly in front of him.
He felt it smash through the shield of his target, shattering the centre-boss and breaking the man’s huge paw. As the Vulgate howled with the shock of the blow, Jack whipped his sword through the gap and pierced his stomach. He dropped slowly to Jack’s feet, blocking the Vulgates behind from gaining any leverage to push against the shields.
He could smell the stench of the Vulgates’ armpits as they hammered into the wall, weapons upraised. It was the sickly smell of old pork, rotten roses and salt. They hit the wall like a thunderclap and Jack’s feet slid back two feet with the force of the impact. The Vulgates crashed upon their front line but they couldn’t force a breach. The line held fast with only a few dented shields to worry it.
The Legion shoved back the moment the call came from the Commander. As one, the front line took the pounding and pummelling on their shields and bent their shoulders into the Vulgates, casting them back. Their own shield-bosses were causing maximum damage. Although the Vulgates were reckless, they found it difficult to shove against the metal spike of the boss. Even if the shield bosses didn’t hit the face and scar the enemy, they made it uncomfortable for the Vulgates to push against. Those involved in the first attack were all dead now and clogged up the progress of those behind.
The Vulgates cunningly used the corpses as launching pads instead, leaping into the air over the 1st row and trying to punch holes in the 2nd and 3rd rows. For the time being the spears were doing their job, skewering them and hurling them back into their line. Some of the men cursed as the force of the heavy Vulgates in the air sprained wrists and snapped tendons.
This was the time the younger soldiers would get the cold chills and the body shakes. Vomiting, feeling as weak as a lamb and feelings of unreality came after the first charge. That’s why the soldiers in row one were all older. Jack would love to say they were all veterans but most of them had been wiped out fighting in Heartfall Forest.
Jack’s hand felt sore as a Vulgate axed his shield, hammering blows on it. They were strong, these Vulgates. Strong, stupid and stinky. Their hair smelled of campfire and their breath was worse than Gaban’s. As if to prove his point, he could see through a gap that the Vulgate attacking him had only one eye.
His wife must have gouged it out because of the way he smelled. Jack wanted to take out the other one to give him another lesson.
Instead, he stabbed his sword out, running it through his thigh. As the Vulgate reached down by instinct, Jack’s sword was already out and cutting his hand off. A final jab through the heart and the Vulgate fell back without making a sound.
Another bull of a man took his place, as naked as a skinned deer and screaming his hatred at Jack. His eyes were ‘shroom-crazed and glassy. Jack could see his neck-veins throbbing as the man’s huge war hammer clobbered his shield. His arm numbed up from elbow to shoulder as his shield took the force of the blows. With gritted teeth, Jack flung his shield upwards in a violent motion, catching the berserker under the jaw with the metal rim. He heard the crack as the bull man was lifted off his feet. The jaw became unhinged and dangled uselessly almost to his chest. Jack’s shield came back down in the same motion in order to keep Quentin protected.
He was sorry when he saw his opponent shake his head and renew his attack. He should have followed it up with his sword but there were too many Vulgates trying to break the Legion lines.
“Curse you to hell, Jack” Quentin growled at him. “Keep your shield on me.”
That split-second was enough to cost Quentin a gash on the cheek from a broadsword. It was mayhem in the lines now. There was a constant battering of axes and hammers on shields. Slashing broadswords tried to stab or carve through gaps in the shield wall. Jack did the only thing he could with bull man. He stabbed down through his foot and felt his sword pierce the soft earth.
“Where’s my spear protection?” Jack bawled at the same time. The new recruits were becoming a pain in his arse and the one behind him must have the brain fog.
Bull man yowled but didn’t go down. He swung his axe harder from bottom to top in a wide sweep, coming right under Jack’s shield. Jack was lucky the Vulgate couldn’t swing it in a full arc because of those behind him. As it was, it still catapulted him three feet into the air. Quentin dropped his broadsword and clung to Jack’s cloak in a desperate attempt to keep him in the line. Jack had a clear swing at bull man and took his chance. He lunged at him and plunged his sword through those pulsing neck-veins.
Bull man dropped his axe to clutch at his throat. As Quentin pulled him down, Jack could feel a meaty hand grab him by the neck. Bull man was still coming at him, trying to lift him up and fling him back into the Vulgate ranks. Quentin’s hands held both shield and Jack so he bit bull man in the shins instead. Bull man gave a screech of outrage.
Quentin’s distraction was enough. God bless his savagery, thought Jack. Jack’s sword was pressed against his body but he managed to twist the point up through bull man’s chest from a difficult angle. It sliced through the skin, slid through flesh, hit bone and came out just below the man’s broken jaw. Jack rammed it up with a last effort of strength and he could see it going through the jaw, returning it to its original position.
Bull man squeezed tighter.
Jack could feel his air supply being cut off. Bull man roared, broken jaw and all, and sprayed Jack’s eyes with a jet of blood as he did so. Jack took the only option left. He launched his head forward, feeling his forehead smash the nose cartilage and drive on through to the cheekbones. Through blood-spattered vision, he saw bull man shake his head but he felt the hand constrict his throat even more. What does it take to kill them? Jack thought.
He felt his smallest neck bones begin to crack. As black stars danced in his head, he heaved his sword up with all the might he could muster. The sword tip went through the jaw, through the roof of the mouth, through the mangled nose and into bull man’s eye. Bull man gave one final bellow of rage and kicked at Jack’s shield with his left knee. Quentin was still gnawing on his right leg and flung the bull man back into the Vulgate ranks while he was unbalanced. A spear came from behind and poked weakly at bull man as he fell away dead. Jack cursed at the irony of it.
The grip around his throat was gone and Quentin’s strong hand drew him back down until his feet were back on the ground.
“He was a crusty one”, Quentin roared, trying to be heard above the din.
Jack’s throat was too sore to respond. Another naked gouger took his place and Jack’s shield came up again, ready to defend Quentin’s. The Legion lines had quite a few holes punched into them and it was getting ragged. It was time to try something else or they wouldn’t last another hour, thought Jack.
“Advance!” came the call from behind.
Not before time, Jack said to himself. This was where the Legion shield wall could do the most damage; taking the fight to the enemy. Still outnumbered by at least three to one, they could do with a change of fortune. They formed into two lines for the advance and the Legion men moved quickly to fill the gaps caused by their fallen. It had been a brutal first contact and Jack was beginning to change his mind about the Vulgates as opponents. They weren’t stupid. They were just stinky and ugly.
I hope to have it published by January and I may upload some more extracts at a later date. Thanks for reading and ‘bye for now.
You can access any of my books by just clicking on the images below.
Here is the second profile of a character from ‘ The Black Golwroth of Karaganda’ as promised. I hope you enjoy it. Cheers for now. Liam.
Gaban. He does not have a nickname as he would kill any man who tried to apply it to him. Quentin refers to him as The Widowmaker when he is out of earshot.
Report compiled by Commander Johnathan Sakrom after completion of service training by the above mentioned: updated after tour 7. Description for the Death Squad:
Eyes: mamba-black and shiny when fighting, joyless and nut-brown when at rest.
Hair: undetermined as he dyes it with blackroot.
Nose: a falcon’s nose.
Physique: above average height, standing at just over 6 feet and one inch. No scars or other identifying features. Imp-thin and has a complexion burnished bronze by the sun.
Other attributes: Gaban is one of those rare beings that you may hear about but never meet. He is an amoral, a one-of-a-kind emotional desert. He is sinister, deadly and cannot be controlled by others. He carries a deep-seated hatred of all men around with him and does nothing to disguise it. He dislikes the company of others so much that he regularly eats a clove of garlic to keep them away. His speed is the subject of much chatter among the officers. He can fight just as well with his left arm as his right and both are whipcord-quick.
He has broken three records in the Legion, two of which were over a thousand years old. He is the deadliest man I have ever seen with knives and darts and constantly twirls them in his fingers. His fatal flaw is his discipline. Whenever the battle seems to be going against the Legion, Gaban will break ranks and wade into the middle of our opponents’ lines. This can have the effect of breaking the spirit of our enemies but it is not Legion practice. On all seven tours, he has done this at the ‘death zone’ phase of the battle when the result could have gone either way. When this happens, he is a force of nature and will only re-join the lines when the man known as Black Jack physically goes in to remove him.
Although it is good for Legion morale to have a soldier of his ability, many a veteran has died because he walked out of the shield wall. He has been disciplined for it on numerous occasions but seems to enjoy the loneliness of the stockade as much as Quentin.
Gaban arrived to the Legion just before Jack. They never acknowledged a connection but it is my belief that they were known to each other. It is curious that rumours of two assassins killing rich merchants and nobility from Vulgate to Andan stopped when they joined the Legion.
The circumstances of his entry to the Legion are interesting. He is what is known in the Legion as a ‘walk-in’. This means he did not commit any crime but still sought to join our ranks. When informed that he would have to be a criminal in order to be admitted, he slew four recruits on duty at the gates. He then sat with his back to the wall waiting for reinforcements to arrive. He had planned to kill these also as he later admitted in the court.
I fear the casualties would have run into much higher numbers had not one level-headed training officer arrived on the scene. He assured him he had done enough to gain entry to the Legion if a judge ruled it so. Gaban then laid his weapons against the wall and surrendered. There were two swords, twenty death stars, fifteen throwing knives, ten darts, a filleting knife and two ankle-knives in his possession. The judge determined that he was mentally insane and that the Legion might cure him one way or the other.
Gaban gets fixated on anyone who is better than him with a particular weapon. He will observe a warrior who impresses him, for weeks if necessary, and befriend him. In this phase, he can be quite charming and will deliver compliments. When he has acquired the knowledge he seeks, and surpasses that warrior, he is as liable to kill him as talk to him. I feel sometimes that he is on a constant search for knowledge on how to improve his battle skills. He is incapable of forming emotional attachments. It is my belief that Black Jack is seen by Gaban as an ally rather than a friend. Although Gaban sparred with many of the Legion soldiers, normally inflicting life-threatening injuries, he has never cut the flesh of Jack.
In the initial battle training, he reminded his instructors of a spider more than a man. Sometimes he would toy with his opponent, other times killing him with a swift stroke. Although Quentin killed thirteen men, Gaban killed twenty-seven. He is as cold and chilling as a moorpool in winter. Eventually, the Legion made the decision that he be banned from fighting the other men in death combat. He wasn’t just culling the weak. He was starting to cull our entire herd. There is a touch of the night about that man. If I didn’t know better, I’d consider him to be a warmonger. That would result in his immediate death.
Although a Legion commander recommending execution is uncommon, I found myself in this position twice. One was for Quentin and the other for Gaban. Discipline is paramount when dealing with the calibre of men sent to the Legion. To this end, I do not understand the refusal of the king to respond to my orders regarding these two. They undermine my authority and are disdainful towards the highly-skilled training officers. They refuse to comply with the most basic of orders and possess a wild spirit that is against everything the Legions’ foundation represents.
Were it not for the presence of Jack, I would have rid myself of these two quite some time ago through other means. He has a hold over them that is strange.
Perhaps the Investigator has some purpose for them that I cannot fathom. He appeared to display a keen interest in these two and the man known as Black Jack. If so, I would ask that they be removed from the Legion on king’s orders forthwith. I see a bad end to all this if the present situation remains unchecked. The last few battles have grown in intensity to a level we have not seen before. Our opponents were better organised than is normal, motivated by starvation, and nearly undid us with their force of numbers. Only Legion discipline and order can sustain us in the face of such odds.
It would help considerably if the soldiers at my disposal were loyal to the Legion more than to their ego’s. At least then we might all die an honourable death.
I trust I shall receive a response to my dilemma.
Report to be updated after tour 8.
This is an extract from a fantasy novel I am working on. It will be called ‘The Black Golwroth of Karaganda’. It centres on 3 men who fight in the Suicide Legion. This Legion set up by the king to act as a disposable force who fight against his enemies. If you commit a heinous crime, you get 3 choices- death, the Coliseum or the Suicide Legion. About 4,000 men every year take the choice of the Suicide Legion. Only 500 make it through to fight with the Legion. The rest are killed in training. It’s a dog-eat-dog world but there is hope. If you survive 9 tours, you are set free. In 2,000 years, only 17 men have survived 9 tours. Quentin, Gaban and Black Jack have already survived 7. The only problem is that famine is ravaging the land and the last two tours have nearly annihilated the Legion. Can they survive the next two? It’s unlikely, but in this blog post the commander of the Legion gives his psyche evaluation of Quentin. With an attitude like his, maybe it’s just possible…………
Tomorrow night I will give the psyche evaluation of Gaban and the following night I will upload an extract from their battle against the savage Vulgates.
I hope you enjoy the post and the following 2.
Thanks to all those who follow my blog. I think you will enjoy the battle scene in 2 nights time. It’s different from what I normally post, the beauty of the world.
Cheers for now. Liam
Suicide Legion Psyche Reports
Quentin, commonly known to the men as The Town Bull.
Report compiled by Commander Johnathan Sakrom after completion of service training by the above mentioned: updated after tour 7. Description for the Death Squad:
Nose: squashed and pulped like a mushy plum.
Physique: tallest man in the Legion standing over 7’ tall. Hands covered in tear-tracks of scarring. One identifying tattoo on his right forearm; a dagger with a writhing serpent around it. Has a hulking physique with a spade-shaped beard and a gladiator’s biceps.
Other attributes: Quentin is a sadist who gets pleasure from inflicting pain on others. He also causes anarchy with his utter disregard for normal social boundaries. He has great physical strength and stamina and is particularly effective in the shield wall against a superior force. His preferred weapon is the axe but the Legion doesn’t allow this. More of a brawler than a soldier, he has nonetheless proven effective against a variety of foes. He uses his powerful voice to great effect, both as a means to undermine and overpower his opponents. It booms out like a boarhorn and can stun someone who is unprepared for it. Quentin also has the greatest range of insults I have witnessed. Behind my back, he refers to me as The PORG, a moniker which the men find hilarious, apparently. It has yet to be established by myself what that means. I suspect he is cleverer that he pretends to be but his weakness is his temper. Sometimes I wonder if he is not two different men in one hulking shell.
The best clue to Quentin’s behaviour lies in his nickname. It was given to him after he killed eight townsfolk in a barroom scrape. During this altercation, many of Quentin’s attackers ended up in a heap on the floor with him.
One of the attackers was heard to roar: “Who let out the town bull?”.
Some of the men relaxed their guard with Quentin, finding the comment either ludicrous or funny. While the patrons in the bar were laughing, Quentin managed to thrust a dagger into three of his foes. He then regathered his feet, grabbed an axe from the wall and butchered anyone who didn’t run for the door. One of those who escaped testified to a ‘swivel-eyed loon with a bloody beard and a tombstone voice’. ‘Possessed’ was another description. In the subsequent court case, it transpired that Quentin himself had made this remark about the town bull in order to buy time. He was given the option of death, the Coliseum or the Suicide Legion. His response was:
“The Legion, m’lud. At least there I can kill ‘em all legally- harder than this lot proved.”
The relatives of the dead townsfolk then tried to overwhelm the marshals guarding Quentin. Reinforcements were called from neighbouring villages. Quentin had to be locked in his cell for two days until a contingent of the Legion came to requisition him. A Legion veteran made remarks to my person that it was the first time he had seen a town hostile to the Legion. He told me Quentin had the manners of a yard dog and the morals of a wharf rat.
The average soldier in Quentin’s unit killed four men while in training. Quentin killed thirteen. This caused some bitterness with the other soldiers as they detest a man who dispenses death in such a brutal, unforgiving fashion. Over 4,000 men are required before a new Legion can be formed. A fraction of these make it into the Legion proper. In our legion, Quentin and Gaban were by far the most hated of those men.
Initial training for the Legion requires hand-to-hand combat, known as death combat, without rules. It is a time-honoured tradition and weeds out the weak and the unsuited. It is the decision of the victor whether to take the life of his defeated opponent in these contests. In all cases, Quentin showed no mercy to the vanquished, whether they were brave or not. He insults even the training officers and doesn’t appear to have any room for flowers in that ploughed field of a mind of his.
It is obvious that he had been given some formal training in combat before his time in the Legion. He is equally competent with fist, axe or sword. We are forbidden by oath to ask each other about our pasts. Having assessed his battle patterns, my theory has always been that, in his previous life, Quentin was a mercenary fighting for coin. His methods of attack are crude and brutal but ultimately successful. He combines this style with an ability to goad an opponent into making a mistake. Quentin is a braggart and a bully. He sees power as a food pyramid of predators and prey. Consequently, he will always try to get to the top of the pyramid- or destroy it. He lives only for the moment and gives no thought for the consequences of his actions. If he were to meet a priest in a tavern, it is my firm belief that the priest would try to kill him before the candle wicks were doused at last call.
Final Assessment: In short, Quentin is the only man I have met whose inner voice is the same as his outer voice. This tends to inflame the baser emotions of those in his orbit. Without the safeguard of Jack and Gaban to keep him in check, he is a dangerous, undisciplined, snail-brained maniac. He is not to be trusted in any social situation involving alcohol, aggression or arrears of coin. He loves the grape and the leaf in equal measure but desires conflict above all else. The mad blood is in that man and it’s not coming out soon.
I have gone on record with my superiors to this effect. I have also recommended that he be executed for a litany of serious offences committed while Legion training. As I have yet to receive a reply, I can only conclude that his God is greater than mine. Quentin’s biggest problem is that his mind and his mouth travel with him wherever he goes. If they could be left back at the barracks, he would make a fine soldier. He spent more time in the stockade than he did training. This man is never to be left near a flagon of ale or a pitcher of beer.
Report to be updated after tour 8.
Hello all. School is back and my break is over. I’ve been working on a new book that’s not as advanced as ‘Blue-Sky Thinking’. It’s the prequel, so to speak. Tonight, I’m uploading the solutions to the book for teachers to use.
Over the next week, I will upload the ‘fill-in-the blanks’ workbook. This is a book I would use in class myself and might be useful for Ist years in secondary school (i.e. 11-12-year-olds).
I hope it may give some ideas on descriptive writing as a ‘platform’ book for students.
Hopefully, you may find some of the ideas in it interesting. Apologies in advance if pages or words are thrown out in any way. I find the new Windows will put in errors where they shouldn’t be.
Thanks to all those who follow my blog and I will also put up an extract from a fantasy novel I am working on in the next few days. I hope to have it finished by Christmas.
Just click on the link below to access the book.
Cheers for now. Liam.
Blue-Sky Thinking 1
Describing Ireland in 8,000 B.C. has proven a difficult task. The information is scattered and it takes many websites to compile an accurate picture. There is a short descriptive essay at the end of this assignment. Questions can then be posed on whatever topic you decide. This is a post for teachers, mainly, so bear that in mind please. It should suit students aged 11-15. I hope you enjoy the post and any of my books can be viewed by just clicking on the images at the end of this blog post.
ANIMAL SOUNDS OF AN IRISH FOREST
|Ice Age mammals
||brown bear-1,000 B.C.
||wild pig (greyhound pig)
||wild boar? (rewilding)
||black panther? (escapes)
|NOW PUT IN THE
||SOUND EACH ANIMAL
||bank vole- rustling
||wild boar- snorting
There are 26 land mammals in Ireland. A land mammal is taken to be any animal that has existed in the country since 1500 A.D. The animals on the left MAY have been in Ireland during or before the Ice Age. Write in true or false on the right if you think they were.
|polar bears (bred with Irish brown bears)
|Aurochs (huge wild bulls)
Timeline for the First People to inhabit Britain and Ireland
2 million years ago: The first humans appeared in Africa.
800,000 years ago: Humans entered Europe, probably from Africa. England is connected to Europe by a land bridge and a footprint dating to this time is found in Norfolk.
700,000 years ago: 32 flints are found in Suffolk. Early man is successfully living in Britain.
480,000 years ago: The earliest bone found in Britain, a shinbone, is found in Suffolk.
250,000 years ago: The Neanderthals leave evidence of their migration into Jersey island. They are the most successful species in Europe at this time. They go extinct circa 30,000 B.C.
40,000 years ago: The first modern man, Cro-Magnon, arrive in Europe. They are one of the reasons the Neanderthals go extinct. There was probably inter-breeding between the two races at some stage. Cro-Magnon man came from the region of Lebanon/Palestine/Israel originally, spread to Siberia and made their way to France. They followed mammoth and reindeer herds in order to survive. They played music (with bone flutes), drew cave art and made tools and weapons from bones, flint and antlers.
33,000 years ago: Cro-Magnon man arrives in Britain.
26,000- 19,000 B.C: An Ice Age hits Britain and Ireland, Northern Europe and as far south as Northern France. All these areas become no-go zones for humans. They may have ventured in to hunt for mammoths and reindeer but the snow and ice are too hostile to live there.
15,000-14,500 B.C: Humans return to Britain and Ireland. There may have been as few as 3,000 people hunting in Britain at this time but 80% of the DNA of British people comes from these hardy few. Ireland may have had as little as 500 people in the same period. Ireland is still connected to Britain by a ‘land bridge’ from Cornwall to Waterford.
11,000 B.C: The juniper tree is the first tree to colonise Ireland after the Ice Age. Giant deer and Aurochs may have crossed into Ireland at this time. Look at the last grid to see the list of animals who may have crossed over at this time. Ireland at this time is a land of open meadows, lakes and sparkling chalk rivers.
10,000 B.C: The land bridge disappears with rising sea levels. Ireland is cut off from Britain forever. Britain today has 43 land mammals. Ireland has 26, as the south of England was always much warmer, enabling animals to survive. Agriculture reaches Europe from the Middle East. There are no wild cattle in Ireland or England and no-one is able to farm.
9,000 B.C: The climate warms rapidly. Birch, willow, pine, hazel, elm, oak, beech, alder and lime trees colonize Ireland. It becomes a land of vast forests. These forests are now bogs.
8,100 B.C: Evidence of the 1st humans in Ireland is found at Fermoy, Co. Cork. They are hunter-gatherers and they burn forests to clear the way for small, temporary shelters. Their huts were made of sticks and clay (i.e. wattle and daub) and covered with animal skins. These people may have brought animals like the brown bear with them. They kept dogs for hunting and protection. They tended to hug the coasts and fished for salmon, trout and eels in the rivers. They ate lots of shellfish and crabs and hunted flounder and bass from the sea. They ate wild boar and deer and set fish traps in every location. A full list is provided below.
||animal fat cakes
||fox and otter stew
These foods are the best guess from researching more than 30 websites on prehistoric Ireland. One example is the nettle. Who knows if it existed in Ireland back then? The Ice Age wiped away a lot of evidence and information is hard to come by. If it did, it is a certainty that they made soup from it in February or March when the leaves were green and without the barbs. These would have been extremely resourceful people, probably a lot cleverer than us. The ancestors of these people were making bone flutes 10,000 years before this and drawing magnificent cave art in France and the Czech Republic. It is very likely that this wave came from France and Spain, in particular the Basque country. To this day, people in the fishing village of Bermeo in the Basque country look very like the Irish themselves. Some have red hair and freckles.
6000 B.C: The first pike colonize Irish rivers.
5600 B.C: Britain gets separated from mainland Europe due to rising sea levels.
4300 B.C: The first cattle arrive in Ireland. The new wave of immigrants are farmers. They are very religious and seem to worship the sun, the moon and the stars.
4000 B.C: The first dolmen is built in Ireland.
3100 B.C: Newgrange is built 1,000 years before the Great Pyramids of Egypt. Newgrange may have been built as an exact replica of the galaxy as it was back then. It may have been strictly for religious festivals. It was probably a form of communication and social control with other counties also.
- Make a list of the foods you would and would not eat from the grid above. Is there any food you would not eat under any circumstances? Explain your reasons for this.
- How would early man have brought bears over to Ireland?
- Describe Ireland as you imagine it in this time. Would you like to have lived back then? What do you think the average age and height of males and females would have been?
- How many areas of the world are still unexplored? Can Google provide the answer? Type In: ‘5 of the most crucial skills for surviving the Stone Age’. Take a look at the foods and skills they needed to survive and make a mini-project on it.
Describing Ireland 8000 B.C: The First Humans Arrive
When we first arrived, the first thing we noticed was the clean air. It smelled of peppermint and fresh herbs. Vast forests of jade-green covered the land yet there were plenty of lush meadows too. The trees were tall and rod-straight and cast a lake of crab-claw shadows onto the ground. In the dark depths of these lonely forests, wolves howled and pigs grunted and snuffled. They were places of great danger if you ventured in too far so we always brought our hunting dogs with us.
The most dangerous creatures were not what you would expect. Only the largest hunting parties could go in search of the Giant Deer. Not being used to humans, it would attack us on sight. I have seen six dogs and many spears hanging from its flesh and yet it would not go down. I have seen men flee to the trees in fright when it charged and see the same men getting impaled on its antlers as the deer butted them from their perches. And yet it was not our greatest enemy.
We realised soon enough that we were on an island of sorts. We had crossed the small land bridge during a drought and saw it close behind us with the first of the heavy rains. We could not see a single footprint or trace of a fire, and after the first few years, we knew that we were alone. It was both a blessing and a curse. There were only 48 of us and we longed to see others join us so that our tribe could multiply and prosper. There was so much food available that, in those first few years, we never felt the hunger cramps in our stomach. We were happy and content except for our two greatest foes: the weather and the bears.
It was a damp climate and many times we were forced to seek shelter in caves. Imagine the night closing in with clouds of tar-black boiling in the sky above. Sheets of lightning flashed in the sky and the noise was like a dragon’s cough repeating over and over again. We would send the dogs into the cave and wait outside with our heavy bear-spears and heavier hearts. Never have any of us felt closer to death than at that moment. Time and again, the most dreadful howls and roars would come from the cave and a blur of brown would attack us with fang and claw. We would always kill it, thanks to the dogs distracting it, but some of us would never hunt again after. I tell you now that if ever a demon-creature of the forest was created, it is the brown bear. May the curse of disease and starvation lay on its head forever.
You may ask, reader, why we felt the need to rest up in caves when we could have built shelters and settled in one place. We tried it more than once but found that if we stayed, all the big game left soon afterwards. The wild horses would roam far away, the deer would retreat to the high ground and the boar would flee during the night while we slept. Trying to feed a group as large as we were on a diet of nuts and fish proved impossible. We also took care of our elderly as best we could and they needed to be out of the dampness. It may surprise you, but you can’t light a fire in a shelter. The sparks can take hold and burn it down.
And so it was that we could rest up in summer and autumn, when the salmon and sea trout filled the rivers in great shoals of silver. We made fishing nets from strips of bark, built great fish traps with boulders and wooden stakes and the women and children used harpoons for the fish that escaped us. We would even hang quartz rocks from the trees so that the fish would think it was the moon and gather around it. By day and by night, we hunted them down. Those nights were the happiest, when we sang around the campfire with a steaming fish stew packed with herbs. The stars would flash like water-fire and we would wonder if they were the souls of our ancestors. We had no Gods but ourselves, we would laugh, and think no more on it.
When we came at first, some of the herbs confused us as we had not seen them before. We had a simple system for testing if they were poisonous. First we would place them under our armpits and walk a while with them there. If there was a red rash, we threw them away. If there was not, we would then place them on our lips for a short time. If our lips tingled, we tossed them aside. Finally, we would chew them for about five minutes. If nothing else happened, then they were safe to eat. Because of this, we discovered varieties of cabbage, fennel and black mustard that we had not seen before.
When late autumn came, we would find ourselves once more patrolling the shores for razor fish, edible seaweed, crabs, mussels and barnacles. The bravest of us would wade out into the rocky parts and try to dig out the lobsters and octopus. The women and children would go into the forests with the dogs and collect crab apples, hazelnuts, beechnuts and mushrooms. The men built light rafts in case the mackerel decided to come into shore. When they did, they broke the surface chasing small fish, and I have never seen such armies of fish. They stretched to the line where the sea met the sky and made us feel good about being alive. They were such a greedy fish, sometimes they jumped onto the rocks in their excitement and we could scoop them up with our hands.
Winter was our most important time for hunting. It snowed nearly every year and turned the ground into a carpet of snowcloud-white. The prints of the animals were easily followed and we split into many parties to hunt the smaller game. This was the season of the fox and the badger, the beaver and the stoat. We also pursued the hare, the otter, the pine marten and the squirrel. We set game traps everywhere and waited for the arrival of the huge flocks of birds: ducks, geese, swans, golden plovers, oystercatchers and the cormorants who would return to the lakes and rivers. We hunted everything, we ate everything, but we always gave thanks for what we received. When the dark nights closed in, we would sit in the caves, making weapons from bone and flint. The women would scrape the blood and muscle from the animal hides and the children would play at being great hunters.
I can’t remember any of us living past 40 winters. We picked up disease from the earth, infections from animal bites, the lung-rot from caves and smoke and the laughing-cough from the screeching winds. Our children died young from eating poisonous mushrooms and sometimes they were born dead. We fought against the weather and the wolves, the boar and the bears. We fought the rain, the snow, the lightning and the sun. The one thing we never did, however, was fight each other. No matter what the problem, the tribe came first. No-one would betray the tribe.
It was a tough life, but it was also an earthly paradise. The world was young and fresh and many more beasts roamed the earth. We climbed snow-wreathed mountains, crossed Jurassic meadows and heard the piano-key tinkle of a thousand rivers on our quest for food. We saw blood moons and pale suns. We saw fire-rocks blazing across the sky and even saw days where the whole world was plunged into darkness and we were afraid. We saw many things when the world was young that can no longer be seen now. And though I am long gone, I urge you to enjoy the world for what it is. For one day, this world too will be gone. Someday you shall look back and wonder at the innocence of it, this world of problems and conflict, but a healthy and exciting world full of promise for its youth and peace for its elderly.
This is a blog post aimed at 11-12-year-olds. It is a 3-class comprehension exercise that explores the most shocking extinction of an animal in recent times. By the end of the exercises, it may lead into higher order debates about whether we should bring back the passenger pigeon through genetic coding and the risks that entails.
It is from my new book, ‘Blue-Sky Thinking 1’, the prequel to ‘Blue-Sky Thinking’. I will be uploading the full book free on my blog sometime around February or March. It is a fill-in-the-blank workbook with a heavy emphasis on descriptive writing exercises. The solution workbook will be posted separately on the same site on the same day.
I hope you enjoy the post and that it inspires the disbelief and wonder in your students that it did for me. It really is a sad tale in many ways. I also hope the grid at the end of the exercises comes out properly. Forgive me if it doesn’t.
Exercise number 1
“Children screamed and ran for home. Women gathered their long skirts and hurried for the shelter of stores. Horses bolted. A few people mumbled frightened words about the approach of the millennium, and several people dropped on their knees and prayed”.
This quote is based on a true story. The full story will be revealed later in the book. In the meantime, answer these questions. They will require imagination and creativity, and perhaps some of the key words in the text will give you clues. Do not be afraid to be wrong. Not in your wildest dreams could you imagine what took place on that strange, strange day…………
- What do you suspect might have caused such panic that day? Think about it for 5-10 minutes and write down 10 possibilities. The best, imaginative answers, as agreed by the class, should get homework off.
- What country did this event take place in?
- What year and century did this event take place in?
- Write a story based on this event starting with the passage at the top of the place. Include some of the vocabulary you have learned from the book already. Make sure to use paragraphs in order to give your story structure.
- Can you quickly write a paragraph on the strangest story you’ve ever heard? Then be able to relate the story to the class tomorrow as the narrator. A narrator is a storyteller.
Maybe you could use ideas from this template to help you structure your essay:
Introduction: Describe the scene in the town or village. What are the buildings made of? How many people are there? What century is it? What type of clothes are people wearing? Can you describe some of the activities in the town or village?
Paragraph 1: Add a splash of colour and the clang of sound. What is the colour of the fields surrounding the town? Is there a meadow or mountains in the distance? Can you picture a forest in your mind’s eye?
Paragraph 2: Describe what you think made all these people run for their lives. Your imagination is limitless so any answer you come up with is bound to be great. Make sure you take your time planning the best answer and writing down ideas about how your story will unfold. Was it a man or a group of men? Did it come from the sky or was it some type of unknown monster? Was it a weather event? Whatever it was, describe it well and in detail.
Paragraph 3: Describe the panic in the town. What was the expression on people’s faces? Where did everyone run to? Did anyone save the town? Were you there? If so, you will be writing in the first person, which is you. If you take a ‘bird’s eye view’ of the story unfolding, it is in the third person.
Conclusion: Did someone or something save these people? Did they all die? Wrap up your story with an interesting twist for the reader if you can.
1st person storyteller: Uses the words ‘I’ and ‘me’ in a story.
2nd person storyteller: Uses the words ‘you’ in a story.
3rd person storyteller: Uses the words ‘he/she’ or ‘they’.
Exercise number 2: part 1
“Children screamed and ran for home. Women gathered their long skirts and hurried for……”
This is an account of a flock of passenger pigeons who flew overhead. It happened in 1855 in Columbus, Ohio, in the United States of America. The flock was described as a “feathered tempest” and a “growing cloud” that blotted out the sun as it approached.
To fully understand the impact these huge flocks had on the people below, and the wonder and awe they inspired, let us look at some of their features. A French soldier who explored America in the 17th century said: “The Bishop has been forc’d to excommunicate them oftner than once, upon the account of the Damage they do to the Product of the Earth.”
This quote refers to the pigeons eating the crops of the early settlers in America. They even attacked the fields of one of the first English colonies in America 100 years later, nearly causing the colonisers to starve. This colony was called the Plymouth colony.
The American Indians had always hunted the passenger pigeons when they could. They would use the flesh as food and burn the squabs (young pigeons) for their oil. The oil was then used as butter. They could never depend on the pigeon arriving, however. Each year, they moved to a different part of America, depending on where the most food was.
The pigeon was a truly remarkable bird. It’s average flight speed over huge distances was 62 miles per hour if there was no wind. It could have flown from America to Europe in 3 days if it was a migratory bird. Putting it in simpler terms, the island of Ireland is 302 miles long. They could have overflown it in 5 hours. Today, only the great snipe, who migrates from Sweden to Central Africa, can match their speed and endurance.
These pigeons had huge roosts, or nesting sites. Their chief source of food were chestnuts, acorns from the oak tree and beech nuts (called beech mast). They had great eyesight, so they could spot if a forest was bountiful or not from the air. If it was, they would swoop down with a frightening sound, terrifying the wild boar and birds and animals that fed on them.
The pigeons could eat about 100 grams of acorns or nuts in a day. After eating their fill, they could store at least 17 acorns or 34 beech nuts in their crop, a sort of pouch in their throat. Much like the way cows have four stomachs to digest their food, the pigeon would let it digest in its crop over the next 12 hours. If they were nesting, they would feed it to their young. It came out as a sort of paste, like toothpaste, even though it is called ‘pigeon milk’.
A roosting tree averaged 80 nests in each. One tree was counted and held 317 nests. Tree branches cracked and entire trees crashed to the ground with the weight of the birds. One roosting site measured 850 square miles and held 136,000,00 nests. That’s bigger than the county of Kilkenny. It’s also bigger than any of the smallest 18 counties in Ireland.
In 1860, a flock estimated at 3,700,000,000 flew over Wisconsin. In 1866, a flock 300 miles long and 1-mile-wide, took 14 hours to pass. By 1878, only one large nesting site was left.
By 1890, they were rare. By 1900, the passenger pigeon was extinct in the wild.
Martha, the last one in the world, died in Cincinnati zoo in 1914. In her final days, she lived alone. Her wings drooped and she trembled. Visitors kept throwing sand at her to make her move. Her keepers had to rope off her cage to stop them.
The most plentiful bird in the world was gone forever and would never return.
Exercise number 2: part 2
- “Believe none of what you hear, and only half of what you see.” Benjamin Franklin
Based on that proverb, do you think all of this story is true? Why? Why not?
- What surprised you the most about the information in this passage? Explain why.
- What happened to eliminate the passenger pigeon so quickly? How long did it take?
- Are there any lessons for the future to be learned from the passenger pigeon?
DESCRIPTIONS OF A PASSENGER PIGEON FLOCK
John James Audobon, naturalist, autumn 1813:
“The air was literally filled with Pigeons. The light of noon-day was obscured as by an eclipse, the dung fell in spots, not unlike melting flakes of snow; and the continued buzz of the wings had a tendency to lull my soul to repose.”
3 days later, the pigeons were still flying past John James Audobon.
Simon Pokagon, a tribal leader, May 1850 (writing in 1895)
“… an army of horses laden with sleigh bells was advancing through the forest towards me. As I listened more intently, I concluded that instead of the tramping of horses, it was distant thunder; and yet the morning was clear, calm and beautiful. It came nearer and nearer. While I gazed in wonder and astonishment, I beheld moving towards me, in an unbroken front, millions of pigeons, the first I had seen that season.”
He described how the flock would swoop and plummet to avoid hawks and “pour its living mass” hundreds of feet into a downward plunge.
“I have stood by the grandest waterfall in America, yet never have my astonishment, wonder and admiration been so stirred as when I have witnessed these birds drop from their course like meteors from heaven.”
The Commonwealth newspaper, reporting the experience of a group of hunters in Wisconsin in 1871. The hunters came upon the pigeons leaving their nests in the morning to seek food. The noise was so loud, most of them dropped their guns.
“Imagine a thousand threshing machines running under full headway, accompanied by as many steamboats groaning off steam, with an equal quota of trains passing through covered bridges- imagine these massed into a single flock, and you possibly have a faint conception of the terrific roar.”
Aldo Leopold, ‘On a Monument to the Pigeon’, 1945.
“Men still live who, in their youth, remember pigeons: trees still live, who, in their youth, were shaken by a living wind. But a few decades hence, only the oldest oaks will remember, and at long last only the hills will know.”
Exercise number 3: part 1
Reasons for the Extinction of the Passenger Pigeon
The history of slaughter doesn’t explain it: In 1771, 50,000 pigeons were shipped from a town in one day. They may have been used for human food or pig fodder. In 1822, one family killed 4,000 pigeons in one day. The feathers were valued for pillows and bedding. Big tunnel nets could take 3,500 at a time. Even gun clubs got in on the act. They were trapped and shipped live. Perhaps this is where the term ‘clay pigeon’ comes from. One competition for shooting released pigeons took 30,000 kills to win the 1st prize! Even still, there could have been as many as 10 billion left by the 1850’s. The pigeons could double their numbers even in a bad year.
The way they flied: Sometimes the passenger pigeons flew just 3 feet above the ground. This might be because they were flying over a river or because there was no wind above. People would use clubs, poles, rocks and nets to catch them. These ‘super flocks’ hardly noticed the people trying to kill them as they were all massed together.
The way they nested: The passenger pigeon nested in ‘super roosts’, as we have seen. In the 1878 roost, 50,000 birds were killed every day for 5 months. One shotgun blast into a tree killed 61 birds. The trees were burned down to make the young birds fall out of their nests. Burning sulphur was used to choke them and they would fall to the ground with a fizzling sound and crack open.
The population boom in America: For centuries, people from around the world had been emigrating to America. From Ireland alone, there could have been as many as 2 million in the time of the Great Famine and its aftermath, 1845-1855. People fled religious persecution, wars, overpopulated countries, and to live a better life. This meant that isolated areas the pigeons depended on for food were being cleared for farmland. The era of the ‘super roost’ was nearly over.
The railroad: The first railroad opened in America was in 1830, from Baltimore to Ohio. By 1861, there were very few parts of America that people couldn’t reach by rail. The amount of timber required to build the lines, melt the iron, house the workers and set up new towns was staggering. Whole forests were burned to feed the need for progress and civilisation.
The telegraph: The first commercial telegraph was established by 1845. It was called the Electric Telegraph Company. By 1861, a network stretching from the East coast to the West coast was complete. Professional hunters, as many as 3,000 of them, now followed the super flocks wherever they went. They would get a telegraph telling them where the pigeons were and descend on the roosts. In the last great roost, 50,000 pigeons were killed every day for 5 months. Technology was killing the pigeon. Combined with human greed, it was a lethal mix.
Other reasons: By the mid-90’s, a few small flocks remained. Maybe it was the stress of being constantly hunted and witnessing their chicks burned out every year that finally did it. There was still plenty of food. Perhaps a disease not known to us helped to kill them off also. No-one to this day can be certain how a breed of bird with one flock numbering 3.7 billion could be extinct in the wild within 40 years. Maybe mankind finally put paid to them. The passenger pigeon is a valuable metaphor for how we look after the planet and its species. Whether we like to think about it or not, we are the caretakers of this magnificent planet of ours. Nature will have its revenge on us if we keep destroying it. TI: ‘Why the Passenger Pigeon went Extinct’ to Audubon.com and look at the comments for more information.
Exercise number 3: part2
Description of a Passenger Pigeon Flock by an Eyewitness: 1st person narration
They say they are gone now, the flying ants of the air. They say there was a time when they could block out the sun and send men and women screaming for the Lord to save them. They say they killed them with pitchforks and potatoes and poisoned them with whiskey-soaked corn until none were left. I can’t comment on such things but I can, in the winter of my life, tell you about the day I saw it for myself.
I could never forget that day. Even now, with the brain fog swirling in me, and my loved ones long passed away, I can never forget. It is burned in my mind’s eye the same way the autumn sun shone that day. I remember it so well for I have never seen a sun like it, since or before. It hung like a pale globe in the sky, giving off ore-gold lines of light. The very air shone like earthlight and I felt like I had stepped into the pages of a fairytale.
The forest was full of sound when I entered it. Far away, I could hear wild boar munching and champing on the seasonal feast of acorns and beech mast. There was an opera of birdsong coming from the tree’s canopy. It was an old, old forest, a sleeping soul long before man had first stepped onto its soil. The trees were rust-brown and spread their arms high into the Babylon-blue sky. The once-green leaves had all burned into hot-oranges and bonfire-reds. There was a carpet of mulch on the floor and it smelled organic and musty. When fingers of light poked through the trees and hit it, it sent a phantom-grey mist up in the air.
I inhaled deeply, enjoying the earthy cologne of the forest. My lungs were young and mint fresh back then. I could sniff out a crop of acorns or a blueberry bush from quite a way out. The forest was full of such scents, even though the first thumbs of frost hung in the lightless shadows. Sitting on a log by the river bank, I let the tutti-fruity smalls wash over me. The river chattered in its ancient tongue, the voice of bells and water. Scooping a handful of its bounty, my teeth tingled with its tundra-cold taste. I lay back, enjoying the melody of the river.
I must have fallen asleep, for when I awoke, the forest was womb-silent. Nothing stirred, nothing sang, nothing sounded. Then I heard a trembling in the air. The last of the leaves fluttered and flapped to the ground, as if an unseen hand had pushed them there. A whirring sound came to my ears and the droning of a million bees’ nests filled the forest. Deer, boar and bears ran past me, in fear of their lives. I heard a flapping sound then. If I was asked later, I described it as the sound of a winter wind chasing a bird down a chimney, but loud enough to make me cover my ears. It came in a mighty rush and I thought it must be either a forest fire or the End of days.
Then the fingers of light disappeared and a mighty cloud plunged the forest into darkness. I heard a pok-pok-pok sound and my head was hit twice by unknown objects. When I reached up and felt for it, I thought I was indeed injured. There was a mercury-red stain, but it was white also. When the first pigeon came into my sight, he was followed by a hundred of his fellows, then a thousand. They filled my vision, more of them than the stars in the night sky, blotting out the world as I knew it. The sound was worse than the greatest hurricane I have ever walked through and my eardrums were ready to burst. They cooed and flapped, purred and pooped, gorging on the acorns and beech nuts.
Never considered a wise man, this day I believe I was. I ran. Like the boar and the bears, I ran through a blizzard of poop and the world’s greatest legion of pigeons.
They didn’t even move while I dashed through them. I couldn’t hear the sound of their wings snapping or their necks cracking. I felt it through my moccasins, though, and the feeling sickens me to this day. Feathers flew in front of my face and I lost all sense of direction as the sky was no longer a compass for me. There was no sky! The only sensations I had were the splatter of poop on my face and how it burned my skin. I know not for how long I ran, but it was the longest race of my life.
Finally, I made it to the fringe of the forest and burst into a clearing. I could see the foreheads of the mountains in the distance and how they were creased with snow. My lungs were still heaving like a bellows and my face felt like there was a layer of lava on it. I rubbed off the grime with water from my canteen and kept moving. The noise from the forest was still a crescendo and it was not until I had raced a mile away that I felt comfortable.
Looking back, I saw that they had taken their fill from the forest. Rising into the air like the breath of a dragon, they wheeled and looped in the sky. Then they straightened and flew over my head at an astonishing pace. I could see that they had slate-blue bodies and a coppery underside, for many dropped to my feet if I but lifted my arms. I stood there for hours, marvelling at their numbers. Never have I felt so alive as in that moment, with the thrumming of wings washing over me like the rumbling of thunder.
A thought came to me then that if the End of Days really did arrive, these would be the last creatures left alive on God’s great earth. Such were their numbers. Such was their power.
- Looking back at the full module on the passenger pigeon, what are your thoughts on it?
- Did you think this was an accurate recreation of what it might have been like to see them? What do you think the passage might have missed in its description?
- Write down your favourite 5 sentences from the passage and say why you liked them.
- There are attempts to bring back the passenger pigeon through genetics. Would you support such attempts or do you think it is ‘playing God’ like Jurassic Park?
- In the 1st column below, write in the rarest birds, animals or amphibians in your country. Did you know that 13% of birds, 25% of mammals and 41% of amphibians are under threat of extinction worldwide? If they are under threat, put them down as human failures.
- Write out a list of ideas (with your partner) that might help save endangered species.
- Are there any success stories about saving or re-introducing animals in your country? Write them into the 2nd column. The 3rd column is for alien species that destroy the environment. The 4th is for a list of animals you would like to see re-introduced (re-wilding).
I hope you enjoyed the post.
This is a short post describing one of the oldest Irish estates. In a way, it is my first personal post, but I hope others will take the time to visit this serene and special place.
I recommend that everyone visit it once in their lifetime. At 2,500 acres, it is the largest private demesne in the country, I believe.
Waterford is a place of stunning beauty and Curraghmore is probably the jewel in its crown. Recently open to the public, I had the pleasure to walk around it and got the guided tour. I will be returning early next year to repeat the experience. I hope you enjoy the post.
Curraghmore Estate, Co. Waterford- Heaven’s Hideaway
If you ever want the sunshine to dance from your eyes, take a visit to Curraghmore Estate sometime. It’s not so much an estate as it is emotional blotting paper. All your worries and cares will drain away under the gaze its broadleaf trees and the brooding power of the ancient walls.
Like a sea sky, Curraghmore doesn’t just appear; it slowly unfolds, rolling out with a latent majesty designed to clobber your senses and stun-clap you into submission. The French called this mirage of the eye ‘delayed gratification’ when building their great estates. The De la Poers came from Normandy to Ireland in 1167. One can see why it took 18,000 men to build the Gardens of Versailles and wonder in awe at how many Curraghmore employed.
It is gatehouses that strike you first. Cockerels the size of ostriches graze freely around them, half hidden by the Jurassic grass and tangled undergrowth of the forest. The gatehouses are hobbit-like and quaint in their appearance. They speak of a time when people believed in the Other because they could not trust the self. As if to apologise for their homely size, vast fields flank you left and right as you drive in. They’re so big, you’re half expecting to see The Wild Bull of Cooley roaming in them. Instead you get the pheasants.
First comes one, then two, then a dozen until, finally, you understand that you’re in nature’s womb. Their raucous clucks, witch-croaks and cheese-grating caws freckle the air and the trees above them leak out with an uncommon greenery. A louche river ribbons through the world-weary fields and time-chiselled forests. It flows like a robe of constellation-blue between wide, stone-walled banks. From the mortar-crumbling bridge built in 1205, you can watch salmon wriggle upriver and dance through the river weed. The leaves of the overarching great oaks seep with such mellowness local legend has it the salmon pause to eat them on their final journey upriver.
Then you see something that makes you rub your eyes. Darting under the whiskers of whispering moss are white birds of great size. Are they egrets, you wonder? They are not. They are the famous white pheasants of Curraghmore, as bold as brass and as rare as iridium. Brought in centuries ago from the Caucuses, they can only be found in such numbers in Curraghmore and can’t be seen anywhere else in the wild. The Sitka Spruce that leans over the bridge is 160 feet of heaven-touching wildness but because it’s in a hollow, it’s not the tallest tree on the estate. It is a fitting guardian to these beautiful birds.
Finally you come to the house itself. On one side, it can be approached through a yawning courtyard lined on each side by neat stables. The gravel is courteous to car tyre and tread of paw and hoof. The house, though large, doesn’t loom over anything much. It lingers there like a trapped memory of something it itself can’t quite remember. It is inoffensive and gentle yet it remains the pulsing soul of this great estate. The rear of the house hosts a lake in the manner of the grandest abbey and its ivy-clung walls glint with richness in the riparian light. The lake is vow-silent and the house seems tattooed onto its gin-clear skin.
Inside its walls is magic; rare treasures, tales of derring-do and rooms seemingly untouched by the endless swirl of ancestors and industrial change. The portraits, a Reuben’s here, a you-know-who-there, are a living reminder of the people who lived and died under this broad roof. Basil, the genial host, will guide you around with a dulcet voice to crack the hushed silence the house inspires. The tick of a clock, the rustle of cloth, the sigh of a door; you feel that the house should not have to endure any more decibels than this. It has seen and heard too much already.
After the house tour, you are taken outside to a marvel of imagination. The Shell House was built in 1754 and took 261 days to complete. One can see why, as the opera of the sea is captured in snapshots inside this remarkable monument. It is shaped like an old, Irish round tower. Seashells from the most capacious seas and distant beaches speckle the walls, covering them entirely. Conches, cockles, clams and very rare shells jostle with the light spearing through the slits, making the room sparkle like Solomon’s mines.
A walk around this 2,500 acre estate shall give you a sense of peace and isolation rarely found in the modern world. Like the faint, dying call of a trumpet, it is the last echo of an Ireland that no longer exists. When the heaven-leaking light begins to fade, the stars can be seen scattered like diamond dust on black velvet. There is no light pollution in Curraghmore. In fact, there is no pollution of anything, including its spirit. Its Tolkien-esque dimensions ensure that.
When your day ends there, you are left with a sense that your footfalls are merely dust in the vast hall of history that is Curraghmore House. You ache for more of its grandeur, more of its spaciousness, more of its wildness. And then you find yourself silent on the journey home, reflecting on the memory house it has given you.
Such is its magic. Such is its sorcery.
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