What does February mean?

A couple of weeks ago my brother came visiting from London. February 10th broke calm and sunny, so the two of us put the canoe on the car and took it down to Lough Mask. I have been told that a place called White Island has sparrowhawks nesting every year, so the idea was to check it out by boat. Meanwhile, Anya went to yoga on her bicycle.

Constant winter storms have made some paths permanently flooded, so we had to float the boat until the floods joined up with the lough and we could paddle through.

The only sparrowhawk we encountered that day was a musket that alighted briefly on an old ivy-covered tree trunk above the path as we were carrying the canoe.


Once on the lake, the slick buoyancy of the water was psychotropic. For my brother and I a dream began in which we were paddling a canoe together across a quiet lagoon. Near the far shore, pairs of goldeneyes climbed long ramps into flight, wings whistling. The sound purified the dream.


White Island and its close neighbour, Big Island, are both tied islands – they are joined to the shore. We paddled the strait between them and rounded Big Island, travelling west. Now we could see the tops of Ben Beg and Maumtrasna, which were white.

Anya texted, yoga was done. We collected her at Petersburg beach. She left her bike on the shore and joined our canoe-dream.

Together we set out for Red Island, which is not tied to anything. I have admired it since our first summer here, when I swam at Petersburg a lot. From there it looks like a bald man’s sunburnt head. There is a central red strip (bracken) and huge Einstein tufts (of beeches and oaks) growing laterally.

In the dream there was a picnic on Red Island: tattie scones, cheese at optimum ripeness, and oranges.

File_000(3)Photo credits: First Mate Joe.

That night Anya cooked two woodcock given to us by a neighbour, who had shot them in east County Galway. I had to be very gentle when plucking, not to pull the skin off. It was the first time any of us had tried it, and it was delicious.


In Polish, February is luty. Anya heard this recently and connected it to the Russian word лютый: fierce. Or severe, if you ask Google. And if you then click the reverse button in Google Translate, it thinks you want a translation for the Russian word severe (севере), which means north. Here in Ireland, fierce can also be an intensifier, as in:

This February has been a fierce good dream.

– Ed.







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