Not A Drop To Drink

Ice In Tractor Tyre Tracks
Ice In Tractor Tyre Tracks

Although the roads seem to be free from ice (fingers crossed as I write this) the water lying in the fields has a film of ice on it. Where the water is only a fraction of an inch or so thick – a few millimetres for those whose entire life has to be divided by ten – it is usually quite solid. The interesting thing about ice, of course, is that it is lighter than water, hence the ice cubes floating at the top of the glass rather than sinking to the bottom as, no doubt, they would if they had any sense of style. Just in case you live on that desert island we mention from time to time, ice floats because the same weight of water is larger when it’s a lump of ice – so the same volume of ice is lighter than the same volume of water – so it floats. The really interesting thing is, if it didn’t float, ponds and seas and stuff would freeze from the bottom up, making it impossible for life to survive in the oceans when, from time to time, ice ages wipe out everything that ventured out of them.

It would also make it very hard for Eskimos to chop fishing holes through it.

Apple Pie Order

Apples. Yummy!

‘A bad apple’ is a phrase that is easy to understand. But perhaps not. These days when apples, along with most fruit and vegetables come from the supermarket and people who lay them out in the loft, each individually wrapped in newspaper that the newsprint stayed on, are gone into the dustbin of history, along with the expectation that every boy over ten would have a penknife in his pocket.

Not, for one minute, that I’m suggesting that this particular apple was bad – far from it it would seem. It certainly looks as though is has received a vote of confidence from the local wildlife. I didn’t want to touch it, it seemed as if it was hanging on by its fingernails, to look more closely at the tooth and beak marks inside the fruit. I’m inclined to think that the vote of confidence comes from The Blackbird – he is well known for his love of windfalls.

Was this one just so scrumptious that he couldn’t wait for it to drop? It is just too easily accessible, sitting there, just a few feet off the ground, you don’t need wings to reach it, it could be almost anyone really.

Ahead Of The Game

Gorse In A Sunny Spot
Gorse In A Sunny Spot

Today’s walk took us round to the sunny side of the hill. Well, over the hill and down the sunny side really. The first important thing, of course, is that it was sunny, so there was a sunny side. It wasn’t by any means warm, but the sunlight gave everything a cheerful glow. We didn’t meet anyone today so there was no stopping to chat – but The Dog did find an exceptionally fragrant pile of horse droppings and had to be forcibly removed from the vicinity.

As we came down the hill we chanced to look across at the fields. A large boggy area round the base of the hill rising to a sandy summit covered in gorse bushes in a smooth vibrant green sweep. The gorse, at this time of the year, while it doesn’t lose all its leaves, does have a distinctly grey cast to it, as the leaves have become quite thin and the thorns have become dark dry spines.

Well, surprise, surprise. There in the middle of the clump, at least one of the bushes had put forth a sprinkle of flowers!

For Dr. Edward Bach (who died seventy six years ago yesterday – 27/11/1936) Gorse was about the return of hope to the hopeless – and very uplifting it was to find those bright yellow flowers twinkling at us in the sunshine.

Paddle Your Own Canoe

Birch Tree In Winter
Birch Tree In Winter

As there are no leaves left on the trees, it seemed appropriate to have a picture of a tree with no leaves on. It does seem strange doesn’t it? Here we are in the coldest part of the year and all the trees take all their clothes off and stand around naked like a bunch of sixties hippies at a music festival. It makes you wonder about the evergreen trees, the Pine, Fir, Holly and the Yew for instance, are they considered just a bit prudish by the other trees do you think?

This is a Birch tree. Coleridge, in ‘The Picture Or The Lover’s Resolution’, a long involved litany of trees and plants, the sort of thing you might use to entertain an Ancient Mariner while he waited for a wedding guest to turn up, called the Silver Birch The Lady of the Woods. In America they do things differently and Hiawatha used a different member of the Birch family to build his canoe I’m pleased to report. This worried me throughout my childhood as, I had never seen a birch tree with sufficient girth to have made more than a pair of moccasins. Longfellow has our hero barking the tree using wedges to remove the bark but it seems that the bark, because of the oils in it, it doesn’t rot away as quickly as the wood inside it does, so it is often easier to find a dead tree and knock the rotten wood out of the middle of it.

Back to the Silver Birch. It’s good for making brooms and besoms and in the spring you can collect sap from it and make birch wine. So, there you go, if you are feeling inclined to stand around naked it’s better to wait till spring – at least you can have a glass of wine to get you in the mood.

Islands In The Stream

Island In The Stream
Island In The Stream

The beck has risen to the point where, what was a hook shaped promontory, first became an island, it does this now and again – so that’s not too big a deal, and has now become a waterlogged swamp with just small areas of vegetation showing above the surface of the stream. A bit like Manhattan, I suppose. We keep and eye on the ‘island in the stream‘ because it gives us some measure of how much water there is in the beck. I don’t think our beck has any tributaries, I think it just collects water that runs off the fields – or perhaps, oozes out of the fields would be a more apt description. Trying to walk across them at the moment is like walking over a large, fully loaded sponge. It is still raining and it is going to rain again tomorrow. I don’t normally give weather forecasts too much credence but it’s hard not to believe it at the moment. The sky is low and the horizon is close and soggy.

When the much-married Ernest Hemingway died, his last wife put together ‘The Sea Book’ that he had often talked of writing, from stuff she found in the three hundred odd bits of finished and partly finished work he left behind. She then published it as ‘Islands In The Stream‘ and it did rather well for him.

Our island isn’t very ‘Caribbean’  at the moment.

Hills And Mountains

Mountains Of The lake District
Mountains Of The Lake District

In the old life we either had to look out across the Solway Firth or turn round and look the other way towards Skiddaw. In our new life, as we walk down the hill we can look at Solway Firth over there and a little bit father along Skiddaw rears just above the trees. It is quite possible that when the trees are in full leaf, next spring, our ‘eye-line’ will not have the same reach.

There were three ways of crossing what we now call Solway Firth in the old, old days and they carry the wraith of border raiding and smuggling about them. There’s the Bowness Wath – a ness is a mound or a hillock – from near Annan to Bowness. A Wath is a ford or a crossing or, don’t mention it to any historians could it mean, a walk or a way? The other one is nearer the head of the estuary and was known as the Sandy Wath. Then, there was the shortest and most used crossing, the Sol Wath or Mud Way – or dare we suggest The Soil Way?

Over the years we’ve had the occasional glacier around here and most of the Solway area is made up of all the loose bits that were scraped off the Scottish Hills on that side and the Cumbrian Mountains that make up the Lake District on this side. Then, as if having everyone else’s  cast-offs wasn’t bad enough, when all that ice melted we got dunked in the sea a few times too.

With all the ups and downs we’ve seen around here, it’s amazing that there are any mountains left to stick up on our horizon, but there are.

That’s Not My Sky

That's Not My Sky
That’s Not My Sky

When we woke this morning, after two days of almost continuous rain, driven by a mean and vicious wind, we woke to a gorgeous blue sky and a gentle breeze. There was just enough bite in the breeze to remind us that this fantastic sun filled day was only a few weeks away from the winter solstice, or the last day of autumn, or first day of winter, or the end of the world. So you may, or may not, want to move to red alert once the solstice comes round and we find ourselves with only three days left until Christmas. Of course, if you wanted to be rather safe than sorry, you could advance your Christmas celebrations to say, the twentieth of December. This means you have four days less before you need to have all present buying under control and I’m not sure if even the end of the world is worth that.

By the time The Dog and I set out to make sure that all was in readiness for the end of the world, or the solstice, the world had turned and our bit of blue sky had been passed on to some more deserving area while we were being threatened with this one, full of large black clouds.

Well, I’ve looked under the tablecloth, and behind the furniture, and opened all the little doors on every page – but I still can’t find my sky.

It’s A Hard Knock Life

Beech Tree - been through hard times
Beech Tree – been through hard times

Did you know that the musical Annie has a history that goes way, way back? You could almost call it an American legend.  It has it’s roots in the American Civil War – and you can’t get much more legendary than that, surely.

It all started when Elizabeth Riley, hearing from a friend that Mary Alice Smith who, at only twelve, had been left an orphan when her father was killed in the war (Elizabeth’s husband Reuben, who had joined up on the Union side, was also away fighting) went and brought the young girl over to her house to join her six children. Children in those days were expected to earn their keep and help with the housework etc. This can’t have been easy for parents, as there was no television to use as a carrot to get the work done. Mary Alice, or Allie as she became to the other children, became a very useful television substitute because, in the evening, after all the chores were done they would sit round the fire and she would tell scary stories.

In the 1890s one of those children, James Whitcomb Riley, now an adult and a successful poet and performer wrote a few verses remembering those evenings, called “The Elf Child”. It was printed and became very popular, so popular that it needed to be reprinted. He asked the printers to rename the poem “Little Orphant Allie”. The printers, however, renamed it to “Little Orphant Annie“.

Next stop 1924. Poetry is out of fashion in newspapers by now and the newfangled cartoon strip is all the rage. Enter the “Little Orphan Annie” cartoon, based on the character in the poem, that ran and ran and ran, until 2010 to be exact.

Somewhere in that eighty-odd years, there has to be enough material for a musical.

Greenbacks

Leaves
Leaves

In amongst all the reds, golds, browns, yellows, in all their various shades, we came across a scattering of these paper white leaves. Strangely, the area where I found these pale shadows of their former selves, was in the large cleared area formed by the entrance to a field closed farthest away from the road by a very infrequently used gate. The whole space, from road to gate was deep in beech leaves. The road at this point is flanked by a beech wood and the remains of a very old beech hedge, which has now become a line of half a dozen or so elderly beech trees.

These odd extraneous sycamore or some kind of maple leaf must have blown in recently – and they must have blown in from some distance because try as we might, amongst the beech trees around us, we could see no sign of a maple. Now I don’t want to be dogmatic about it, beech trees and maple trees with no leaves on do have similar looking trunks it’s true, but I did take this into account and we walked up and down the road peering into the woods and searching the ground for more evidence.

The fact that there was already a good thick layer of beech leaves and that the maple leaves were lying on top, leads me, using the principles of archaeology, to believe that these maple leaves are recent immigrants to the beech wood.

Possibly a wandering tribe of nomads trekking through in search of a pile of leaves of deep religious significance.

The Misty Mountains

Over The Misty Mountains And Far Away
Over The Misty Mountains And Far Away

To be open and honest about it, we haven’t quite orientated ourselves yet. The sun, should it ever appear, is at such a low angle that it makes it very difficult to know when it is at its zenith – to be able to pinpoint exactly south. Now, I never made it into the boy scouts but I did do a couple of years as a cub. Dib, dib dib, was it? Or dab, dab, dab? I can’t remember now. Still having been young-ish during the Boy’s Own era I do know that if you point the hour hand of your watch (don’t try this with your iPhone kiddies) at the sun then south was mid-way between the hour hand and twelve o’clock, and most obligingly, north was the other way. At least something of the sort seeps to the surface of the brain whenever I worry it about directions and the like.

The Balrog, in his home deep below The Misty Mountains, didn’t really care too much about north and south. Up and down was his thing, down mostly. Orcs of course, just do as they are told. Tom, on the other hand, suffered from the problem (other than dishonesty) a great many amateur musicians don’t seem to be able to overcome. The only song that he could play was Over The Hills And Far Away and there’s no doubt that Pigling Bland and Pig-wig are still dancing there.

Oh. Yes. As I was saying, I don’t know what mountains these are on the skyline.

Today, Matthew, I’m Going To Be . . . A Telephone Pole

Buzzard Disguised As A Telegraph Pole
Buzzard Disguised As A Telegraph Pole

Here we have one of our resident Buzzards doing an exceptionally good imitation of being in a relaxed and nonchalant mood. He’s very good at this, as he spends most of his time in a relaxed and nonchalant mood. He’s chosen this telephone post because it matches the particular ensemble he selected for himself today. He has just been to the hairdressers but the wind seems to have taken it upon itself to ruffle his feathers. Never fear, he won’t let his irritation get the better of him, a little preening soothes the soul, you know.

I do wonder how they survive as I’ve never seen them actually catching anything – or even appear to catch something. If you watch a Kestrel as they patrol the roads, waiting for some something to break out into the open from the safety of the grass verge, you will quite often see them dive down from their hover. Presumably because they thought that they spied a tasty morsel, who was attempting to leave the party without saying good bye to the host and hostess. But our Buzzards never seem to bother with this hunting stuff – they are very laid back about it all.

Everything comes to he who waits, I suppose.

Silly Goose

Geese Flying South
Geese Flying South

We’ve had the odd V formations of largish birds, making goose sort of noises, flying over for the last week or so – heading in a south-ish direction. Recently they have begun to pick up the tempo. I checked with Google, Google and I are old friends, we go back a long way together, the funny thing is that all he could find about geese migrating seemed to suggest that the geese are inclined to stop in Scotland and wait for the worst of the winter to run its course in Iceland and Greenland – I hope the fact that they are venturing this far south isn’t a sign of a bad winter.

The story goes that Eric The Red, who gets blamed for most things Nordic, occasionally even the Americans are his, or his son’s, fault, was then living in Iceland. At that time, Icelanders were having problems inducing immigrants to leave the comforts of Scandinavia and to move to a region of mist and ice that sounded too much like a trip to Niflheim where Hel ruled over the dead, for even a glossy brochure to overcome. Back to Eric, who had a small problem with the law and sailed off to the west to check on stories of land seen in that direction and where he could kill who he liked without people going over the top about it. When he found land, he decided to call it Greenland.

Spin and hype were alive and well among the Vikings.