A Double Edged Sword

Yarrow - or Milfoil

Yarrow – or Milfoil

As promised, this week we have a picture of Yarrow. It has been used for various things, by almost everyone in the world, ever since we first thought of it.
Google and I explore the internet regularly, looking for interesting facts that would be of benefit to mankind generally – and to you, gentle reader, specifically. We have noticed, on these information-harvesting forays, that the longer humankind has been using a naturally occurring plant, landscape feature, or substance, the more names we give it. I won’t bore you with the couple of paragraphs of ‘folk names’ that are currently synonymous with Yarrow, except to mention Milfoil, which is the alias Yarrow tends to use most often today.
We’ve been eating the stuff as a salad vegetable or spinach substitute for ever – but these days, medicinally, its main use seems to be as an enhancer. It makes whatever else you’re taking work better. It seems to work especially well on normalising blood pressure. So be careful – if you’re taking other medication for that sort of thing.
Just stick to rubbing it on sword cuts – it seems pretty safe for that.

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Robin By The Beck

Robin By The Beck

I have a nice picture of some Harebells – or Scots Bluebells if you live a few miles further north. Then, I have a good picture of Yarrow, currently taking over as the white, umbelliferous blossom of choice on the roadsides and verges. Both these plants have magical associations and I was sure you’d be interested in them.
Then, there is the interesting inference that can be drawn from the fact that both of these ‘power plants’, from the realm of faerie, have appeared as autumn draws near. This led me wonder if this part of the year – with the abundance of nuts, fruit, and seeds – was especially magical.
Looking at it from a strictly business point of view. Now that the harvests are in, customers are more likely to have purchasing power, and – in the dim and distant past, as today – no doubt they were in the market for love charms, relationship advice and personal forecasts for the year ahead.
And speaking of predictions, who would have guessed that this Robin would come and perch not six feet away from us? Not only that, but he sat there, patiently, while I took several pictures. Magical!

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Sweet Chestnut

Sweet Chestnut

There are times when you watch an endless progression of dark grey clouds hurrying past the window, hoping for a glimpse of blue sky. Day after day, waiting and hoping. Surely we must get some decent weather soon!

Then, magically, the skies clear – but it only happens at night.

This Sweet Chestnut tree offers us a similar challenge. We know that, unlike most other trees, it flowers later in the year. Still, we keep an eye on it right through Spring into May and June. Leaves appear and we start to anticipate the arrival of the flowers.

The flowers themselves, are quite difficult to see, they are insignificant, wispy things. Still, the first sight of them peeking furtively from behind the leaves, is a cause for moderate excitement. From this initial sighting we monitor the tree on alternate days, looking for some sign of progress. You know, they’re flowers – they should, actually, flower?

Nothing happens. Weeks pass and nothing is still happening. Surely, soon the tree will burst into flower and we will be able to photograph it in all its glory? Nothing happens again.

Then, suddenly, there are young nuts forming at the base of the flower we have been waiting and watching over all this time.

The wretched tree has gone and had its babies without telling us!

They are quite cute though – twins, I think.

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There are times when rhymes and reasons conspire to produce circumstances that seem, not just reasonable, but imperative. We entered one such vibrationally resonant node as we reached the tee junction, on an otherwise uneventful amble, the other day. It suddenly became clear to us, that this day, the fates had decreed that we should walk all the way round the block – rather than turn around and retrace our steps as we usually would. Nothing loathe, putting all our faith in a benevolent, even beneficent, Universe – we set off.

We pottered along towards the tunnel in the railway embankment – waiting, hopefully, for a train. On this day however, there were no obliging trains, and we made our way through the tunnel. Naturally, we paused halfway to stamp and clap – to wake the echoes who spend most of their day dozing peacefully there in the gloom.

While dawdling close to the tunnel entrance, I came across this flower growing in the rivulet that flows alongside the road. I sent Google off to look around and see if he could find out what it was. He offered me three choices. Field Woundwort, Hedge Woundwort or Marsh Woundwort. As usual, all three looked identical. ‘Yes. But which one is it?’ I asked. He seemed quite hurt. Hadn’t he just spent 0.026 seconds finding me more than five million answers? Surely, I could pick one out of three on my own!

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One Swallow

Swallow - Not Making Summer

Swallow – Not Making Summer

Apparently, we have been saying “One swallow doesn’t make a summer” – or variations, since at least the year 1600. We have to assume that, today, we are talking about a different swallow. It would be unnecessarily cruel to demand that the same swallow not make the summer for more that four hundred years. Google did a quick count, and he reckons there are about 1.4 million swallows in the UK at the moment. So, based on his estimate, allowing for the one swallow who is off duty this year, there are 1,399,999 swallows currently making our summer.

Now, I don’t really want to complain, and I certainly wouldn’t want to risk hurting any swallow’s feelings. After all, what if I upset all the swallows and they decide only to send the one who isn’t making the summer next year? As I was saying, I don’t want to complain but, the fact is that this year, it is painfully obvious that some of those 1,399,999 are not pulling their weight.

I suppose, it is possible, that some of them are busy in the south of the country, but come on, now! How about a few of you focusing on us, up here in the north!

(Not sure if the one in the picture is the one who isn’t making the summer this year – or one of those slackers!)

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Retting And Scutching

Nettle Flowers

Nettle Flowers

Google thinks that people have been making clothing out of nettles for over two thousand years – he found it on the Internet, so it must be true.

Probably, on someone’s time-line from around AD 0 or so, there is a picture like the one we have today. The status says “Must get back to the retting and scutching – that sounds like my hubby’s oxen in the drive!”

First, you need a big pile of nettles. Then we come to the retting. Tie the nettles up in bundles and dump them in the nearest pond or stream. You might need some rocks to weigh them down.

Set the kitchen timer for eight days and go and have a cup of coffee. When the timer goes off, take the nettles out of the water and spread them out to dry. When they are thoroughly dry – bundle them up and put them back in the water for a few more days.

Take them out of the water, let them rest for a while, then run them through the mangle – of course you’ve got a mangle, it’s in the shed behind the kitchen, with the big copper boiler you use to wash the clothes. Now, spread your nettles out and beat the living daylights out of them with a big stick (this is the process, less threateningly, known as scutching). Sort out the longer fibres, spin them into thread, weave them into cloth, and you’re done.

Otherwise, you could just chop the nettles up small and feed them to the chickens – suit yourself.

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Jay Talking

Young Jay

Young Jay

After we’d been here for a couple of years, one day, out of the blue so to speak, a Jay appeared in the garden. Jays are normally shy and retiring birds, not unusual for members of the crow family, who all feel that humans and birds can really only co-exist peacefully, if they lead totally separate lives. As a general rule they tend to go about their business in such a manner as to avoid humanity wherever possible – and to studiously ignore them where avoidance isn’t an available option.
The next scene in the unfolding drama involved, after several months of sporadic visits, the escalation of the investigation from the garden to the bird table. This, too, required a protracted protocol. Presumably this was needed to confirm that the quality of the offerings maintained an acceptable standard, in the longer term.
Then, the day came when not one but two Jays appeared. The plot thickened! They did scrabble half-heartedly in the undergrowth beneath our Oak Trees, but there was no doubt that the bird table was their main target.
This week, four Jays appeared. Obviously, our original two adults – and two youngsters. The youngsters were introduced to the nuts, the fat balls, and the assorted offerings on the table. Then the two adults left.
“That’s the freezer, that’s microwave, you two can sort out your own meals from now on!”

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