Keeping Community Is Important This Season

Feeling a bit nutty? Or just have a good sense of humor? This tin sign is sure to bring smiles.

We seem to have been adopted by a family of endangered and protected native red squirrels who have decided that our peanut feeder is just the best kind of dining out. They vie with the great tits and finches for the peanuts. They are super entertainment value as they do acrobatic turns and eat upside down, or chase each other through the trees.

Given the expense of peanuts, the squirrel’s diet is outstripping the budget line item for the little deaf dog’s special GM free, gluten free, organic-for-dogs-with-sensitive-skin-and-delicate-digestions diet, we were really excited to see that you can grow peanuts in Ireland.

As part of a global inclusiveness initiative, the Organic Centre here is giving courses on how to grow peanuts, lentils and chickpeas – Third World staples which would have seemed impossible to grow in Ireland a few years ago. So we will be off to the course and living in hope that we can become self-sufficient in squirrel food next year.

Taking the course also underlines the importance of getting out and about as the days get darker and we draw in towards the hearth. Country living can be isolating, especially in the winter months. It is important that no matter how self-sufficient you want to become, remember you really are part of a larger world. Getting out and meeting people is vital, especially in farming communities which have been hit by the economic downturn.

One line item in the family time budget that is sacrosanct is choir. Last spring we linked up with some neighbours and decided that we would car-share and join the One Voice Choir in Enniskillen. Choir singing is especially good for us according to some psychological studies. It’s not just the singing that gets our endorphins going, what is important is that we are engaging in a communal activity. All that working on four and five part harmony is really good for the mind, body and spirit. It’s not all earnest and po-faced. We laugh a lot at choir especially when we try to coordinate singing with some simple choreography!  We manage to make Dennis blush at least once every evening. Susie likes to get in a hug or two. It’s a social event as much as a communal activity.

What is unique about this choir is that it has no religious or sectarian affiliation. In Ireland, which has been heavily identified along religious lines in the recent past, this is a rare but welcome opportunity for ‘cross-community’ interaction. The facilitator, Valerie Whitworth, runs groups in Manorhamilton in the Republic of Ireland and three other choirs in Counties Derry, Tyrone and Fermanagh. And we all get the opportunity to join together for at least a couple of concerts each year. Last June the concert was a fundraiser for Water Aid. Later this month, singers from the Northern Ireland choirs are turning out at the Leitrim group’s fundraiser for their choir.

No matter how self-sufficient or independent we may wish to be there is always the need to reach out and be connected. As I type this, I have one eye on the red squirrel doing its form of exotic yoga to eat the last of the peanuts in the feeder. Between the introduction of the American gray squirrel, mink, native pine martins and domestic cats, they have hard work hanging onto the thread so their species doesn’t fall out of the web of this one world. It makes me realize all need one another, as much as my choral members all need one another to put together a good performance.  In this winter season, make a little extra effort to stay connected to your local and greater communities.

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