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  • Clare Tindal

Spreading Roots

Updated: Apr 17

Tree Climbing, Free Range Kids, Glamping Ireland
Nature's Playground, Donegal

It’s now Winter. I started this in Autumn. I need to hurry up before it's Spring.

Lough Mardal has been going through a costume change. The trees have shed most of their leaves. The greens have gone yellow, the yellows have gone orange and the oranges are going brown. The ground is crunchy and it’s all very lovely. We’re no longer on wildflower-watch. No more lake dips. No more picnics. No more bilberry picking. No more weeding.

There are now well-trodden paths through the fields on the various walks the girls and I do. Marcus worries that the girls will develop chunky calves from all the walking. (Mine are a lost cause.) Our current favourite ramble is about an hour round-trip depending on toddler whims (many) and the unanticipated sideshows nature puts on for us along the way - animal footprints, a dead earwig, a caterpillar, a stick... Down the sandstone track to the lake, the ritual throwing of things into lake (stones, sticks, oneself) with giddy shrieks. Along the lakeshore as far as the old quarry, up into it for a quick inspection before clambering over it out onto the mossy peatlands. Meandering through the heather to the rise and then down through the long rushes (a problematic section for little legs), through an old fence into the meadow and up to the grove with the old, twisted willows. There we play Horsey, bouncing up and down on low boughs. The two cats who always join us on our walks disappear up into the branches, sharpening their claws. The grove is a magical spot. Sheltered and concealed with its gnarly network of low mossy branches, it’s where the kids will undoubtedly learn to climb trees, build hide-outs, where they’ll disappear to when we’re looking for them. You might even find me hiding there on a bad day.

In a much duller adult world, we are at grant funding application stage for our business. Finally. These things take absolutely ages, we had no idea. I'm sure some friends and family have given up on us. For those unfamiliar with the grant process you need a PhD just to be able to complete the application form. Most of the questions require a thesis length answer. A vast array of accompanying documents are also required; a feasibility study, an operational plan, a financial plan, a business plan, a marketing plan. An applicant without a plan is not slipping through. It's a lot of work - but nothing comes easy. In the midst of our first application not just one but both laptops imploded. For a short spell we were working on an old Mac (I'm a PC girl) with all the menus in German. (We don't speak German.) Then our two in their terrible-twos didn't make it easy either. The ‘office’ is a small desk in a corner of an open-plan kitchen/living room and no matter how stealthily you try to sidle over to it unnoticed you are besieged as soon as you sit down to become a human climbing frame. Balloons, bubbles, crayons, oatcakes, playdoh, etc thrown at them buys you about 5 minutes of extra time. When they both inevitably make it onto your lap it just turns ugly with elbowing and shoving, or wildly disproportionate histrionics when the angle of a hug one has demanded isn't quite right. So, peace and productivity is often best achieved by relocating to the garden shed.

So anyway, we are cautiously optimistic about being in a position to start building next Spring all going well. But then so were the Democrats about winning the US election and look what happened to them. Meanwhile Marcus diligently continues to buy the Lotto once a week with unwavering certainty that we will hit the jackpot sooner or later. Bless.

The year has flown. Lest anyone think we sit around all day on rocking chairs sipping elderflower cordial and watching the vegetables grow, we have been productive. Marcus has kept busy being manly doing manly things - driving diggers, chain-sawing, building. He built a chicken 'tractor' (a mobile coop) - it sleeps six comfortably, fully air conditioned with panoramic views. He also made bigger compost bays. Then a wood shed made from upcycled timber with a tin roof from the 1960's salvaged from his uncle's farm, divided into bays with Swiss ingenuity (thanks Leandre). And a tool shed with a guest compost loo. As for me, the wildflowers appeared in their abundance from May and I became obsessive - disappearing into the long grasses with my guide book trying to identify and photograph them, logging them all in a nature diary. Pleading pointlessly with my 2-year old field assistants not to pick the wild orchids. (While at the same time encouraging them to pick weeds - it's a confusing time.) The vegetable garden thrived and we never tired of celebrating the thrill of cooking everything that miraculously came out of the ground. I explored setting up a butterfly farm - only to realise they are essentially zoos for butterflies which lost its appeal so I settled on a butterfly garden instead, for our native species. Butterfly-friendly plants and shrubbery have been planted in the grass bank above the vegetable garden - tune in several years from now when these have filled out to see how that is going. The sun also shone in May - for two entire weeks. Good times. A great bunch of friends came up for a weekend and camped underneath the stars. There was BBQ-ing, swimming, marshmallow-toasting and, not being an abstemious assemblage, singing around the campfire til the wee hours. Not even the plague of midges which also typically descended that weekend dampened spirits. In October work started on rebuilding the old ruined cottage, a future workshop and volunteer hang-out. And just a few weeks ago much to the cats' annoyance we also got a new puppy, Archie. Another member of the family to house-train, yeay.

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