From a young age, Finn mac Cumhaill knew that he was different to the other youths. And the other youths had always sensed a peculiar outlandishness in the young Finn. Because of this, they shunned him, mocked him, and excluded him from their activities. You see, Finn was different. He preferred nature to people. It’s not that he disliked people. It’s just that he felt a deeper affinity with animals, trees, rivers, lakes, and mountains. And it wasn’t just the great phenomena of nature that he loved. He was just as intrigued and fascinated by the little and commonplace things. A bug was just as exhilarating as a sunset.
Finn was particularly drawn to the sort of wild overlooked places where no ordinary person would ever be found, lest they be considered a fool. But it was a strong impulse that Finn had to go into those uncultivated and untameable places. Into them he ventured alone, seeking a sort of wild wisdom. There was something at work deep within Finn, something that had yet to be articulated, but which drove him further and further into these forsaken regions to discover a wisdom that could not yet be found within the conventions of society.
And so, after many years of wandering, having learned the mature wisdom of trees, the healing wisdom of wild flowers, the enduring wisdom of mountains, Finn ventured into the territory of wetlands until he came to Áth Éigis, The Ford of the Seer, where dwelt a wise old man who had spent his life sitting in deep thought on the margins of lakes and rivers, immersed in bogs, marshes and fens, absorbing the wisdom that these watery places had to offer.
“What”, asked Finn, “can I learn from wetlands that I haven’t already learnt from other parts of nature?” It was then that the seer recited this poem to Finn.
Behold the Dromore Waters
from Béal Átha Beithe
on through majestic Dartrey
A string of paternoster lakes
like a lacustrine prayer bead
each lake a contemplative station
for meditating upon
the metamorphic mysteries of wetlands
Consider the dragonfly
spending much of its life as a lacklustre nymph
beneath the surface
of murky margins
and there will remain
for several years
until some creative stirring within its soul
impels it to clamber forth from the opaque sludge.
And squatting on a common reed
will shed its skin
and emerge tremendously transformed
vernally vibrant and vivacious
and with wings transparent transcends
its darkened past
aglow in the blazon glory
of a splendorous second birth
Apprehend, young Finn,
how years spent
submerged in swamps
contributes to its brilliance
how those darkened waters
hold potential for resplendence.
The seer’s words were not lost on Finn. He perceived that just as there are wetlands without, so too are there wetlands within. Just as the dragonfly is twice born, so too might he be: once from his mother, and then, a spiritual birth from out of the mires of the everyday world. Finn also perceived that to learn from wetlands, to hear them speak, would require a poetical and ecological perception, for which he would need to develop all his senses. For what Finn had learnt from wetlands was that there are worlds within worlds, with which he must become symbiotically attuned. To learn how to render these invisible worlds visible, Finn went off to study poetry with the great old seer Finn Éigis, who lived at Linn Feic, a pool on the River Boyne, within which swam the Salmon of Wisdom.