Dara McAnulty was bullied a lot at school. He was different. Touched by autism. A teacher once told his parents that he would never be able to write proper sentences. Now his diary observations of nature have been made into a book.He says he is inspired by Seamus Heaney, the Irish poet whose Death of a Naturalist is ripe with the sensory experience of frogspawn in the dam.
“All year the flax-dam festered in the heart
Of the townland; green and heavy headed
Flax had rotted there, weighted down by huge sods.
Daily it sweltered in the punishing sun.
Bubbles gargled delicately, bluebottles
Wove a strong gauze of sound around the smell.
There were dragonflies, spotted butterflies,
But best of all was the warm thick slobber
Of frogspawn that grew like clotted water
In the shade of the banks.”
“ The walk is easy and I’m chatting with Mum because I’ve promised myself, and her, that I won’t hold things in to fester any more. First, I tell her how much I’m missing our Fermanagh places, and that everything here is so strange and different. “It smells different,” I explain. “Not in a bad way, it just does. It sounds different, too, in a good way. There are definitely more birds here, more insects…
… “We watch in wonder as countless silver Y moths feast on the purple blooms. Some rest, drunk with nectar, before refilling, whirling and dancing in constant motion. The feather-like scales, brown flecked with silver, are shimmering with starry dust, protecting them from being eaten by our other nocturnal neighbours. I find it fascinating that silver Y fur can confuse the sonar readings of bats, and even when they are predated they can escape, leaving the bat with a mouthful of scales.”
Dara McAnulty reads and re-reads JR Tolkein’s book, The Lord of the Rings. I’m reminded of Dylan Owen Buoy, a young man with autism, also influenced by Tolkein, who I wrote about for Every Australian Counts.
I want to encourage parents of children with autism or other disability to bring good books into the home and make the effort to get out of the house and into nature.