Is This The End?

Seagull
Seagull

Well, here we are at the end. This time it will really happen – or it has happened already. Of course, if you’re in Australia all this is old news. We’ve had a mild but wet spell recently but as the end draws nigh it’s getting colder again. The sky is clear though so I’m not sure if the snow that we’ve been promised will be able to make it. I have a feeling that it received several invitations for the party tonight and it’s not sure which it will go to.

As you can see, we have a picture of a seagull today. With the Solway Firth ‘just over there’ you’d think that they would be regular visitors but we don’t actually see that many, perhaps there are other, more delightful, delights between us and the sea and they get side-tracked before they reach us. It’s also possible that they’ve heard how important these next couple of days are in Scotland and have decided that it would be better if they left the country until things quieten down. It’s all that singing, you know – seagulls find what passes for song among humans, raucous harsh and outlandish. Not at all like the soft melodious song of the seagull.

Having arrived at this point, I suppose that the only thing left is for me, Jackie and The Dog, to wish you a very happy New Year.

See you, over the page, in 2013.

A Bit Windy

Rook - Made It This Far
Rook – Made It This Far

Here’s a rook, sitting in the top of a tree. I think the trees are rather ticklish – they  are finding the, current fairly strong, winds hilarious and are shaking and roaring with laughter. The noise is loud enough to make it hard to get to sleep at night, and when you step out into the back garden, which is between the house and the woods, the sound hits you like a body blow. It reminds me of walking in front of a loud speaker at a rock festival in the sixties. Today, of course, you’d have to be wearing ear defenders to be allowed that close to the stage. Perhaps the wind should come with a Government Health Warning.

I tried to take some photos of the rooks fighting against the wind as they stagger from tree to tree, thinking that, as they were flying into the wind, they would be easy to keep in the view finder. But no, I think that there just isn’t enough light to do long distance focusing and in the end I had to resort to waiting until they landed to get a shot.

It’s not just the trees that are having a great time in the wind. Notice that little blue bit in the photo. Quite a few of these are dashing round all over the sky today, in and out of the clouds like a bunch of tiny tots at a children’s party who are all on a sugar high.

Or whatever the latest excuse for children’s high spirits is.

Raindrops

Raindrop
Raindrop

Noah, of course, was the expert on raindrops. He only had forty days and forty nights of it – I don’t know how he would have managed with the amount we have had this year. Those poor pigeons would still be flying around looking for an olive branch. Come to think of it, we don’t have that many olive trees around here, I wonder if they are allowed a second choice – maybe a nice bit of oak, or a pine cone, or a piece of ivy?

I seem to remember that the climate was going to change and we were all going to be living in desert conditions and so needed to plant cactii (or cactuses). To help things along they planted olive trees at Kew Gardens, so if you see a pigeon looking a bit lost you might like to point it in the direction of Kew.

I always understood that The Flood was a legend that pre-dated Noah, and that he was modelled on one Gilgamesh of a few centuries earlier. I thought I’d mention it here. When I went to check Gilgamesh’s story, we take as little for granted as possible, I found it to be quite a different kettle of fish.

The story that mentions The Flood is the story of Gilgamesh’s exploits, true. But he did a great deal of exploiting. He killed off monsters and magic bulls and had arguments with assorted Gods and Goddesses. While doing all this he stopped to chat to a guy called Utanapishtim and Utanapishtim told him the tale of how he (Utanapishtim) had been commanded by his God to build a great raft and fill it with people and animals etc.

So it isn’t all Gilgamesh’s fault, at all. Next time I see him I must apologise.

Fun-gus

Common Puffball
Common Puffball

Every now and then, as The Dog and I wander aimlessly along, we find some mushrooms. The first thing that comes to mind, always, is, I wonder if it’s poisonous? So we take a picture and we trot back home to have a word with our old friend Google. Now, Google knows a lot of stuff, but sometimes it is very hard to get him to understand the question. The problem is he just doesn’t listen and he’s in too much of a hurry. You start typing in your question and before you’re more than a few characters in, he starts listing stuff that he thinks is probably the answer. You get the distinct impression that he has important people asking him serious questions that are really interesting – and he just doesn’t have time to bother with these trifling enquiries about puff something or other.

However, we are persistent and we don’t give up and click off somewhere to buy puff pastry or powder puffs or any of the other things he thought we should do first before we bother him with any more of our silly questions. Puffballs was what we typed in and information on puffballs was what we wanted. Quite often, as soon as he realises we are in one of those moods, he will give up and concentrate on solving our problem. In this case, this is a Common Puffball, and it has a hole in the top where the fine mist of spores were blown out by the wind or some passing vibration – like being kicked, for instance. No, it is not poisonous but this one is far too old to be edible. They are edible when they are young. Google did mention that when they are young they are very difficult to distinguish from the young form of various poisonous and highly poisonous types of mushroom.

That’s interesting, isn’t it?

Instinctive Reaction

Party Time For Rooks
Party Time For Rooks

We went out, one morning recently, into a darkly overcast and mist-filled day. Just as we came round the corner my eye was drawn to a cloud of rooks right at the edge of visibility. These are the one and two year-olds. I must mention here that the rookery, or at least the large group of trees where most of the rooks nest, is half a mile or so in the other direction. So this bunch of eighteen to thirtys had chosen to be well away from home. As you can see, the purpose of the meeting was quite simply to be able to indulge in beach barbecues and mud wrestling etc. away from adult supervision. It all happens at this time of year.

Did you see that the latest research at Stonehenge and various other Henges, has turned up a surprisingly large litter of well gnawed pig bones? Those deeply religious processions and services to the Moon or Sun or whoever, beloved of archaeologists, may possibly have taken place but the congregations would have been small, most of the attendees were there to have a party. Serious eating and drinking were the main attraction. If the people in those far off days were anything like their modern-day cousins, there was probably a fair amount of mingling and extending the gene pool going on too.

Then there are all those cast-away amphorae that litter the beaches near the tin mines way down in the south-west of Britain. Some of them appear to date back to the Phoenicians. I’m sure that one of the reasons they came was for the tin.

But after a few thousand years of ‘The Stonehenge Experience’ – we Brits do know how to give a good party, you know.

Happy Christmas

Happy Christmas FromThe Dog
Happy Christmas FromThe Dog

The Dog would like to mention that she thought that The End Of The World was going to be a bit more, sort of, well – she thought that something was going to happen. As it was, we actually missed it. We were busy around eleven o’clock on Friday when the Galactic Centre clicked into alignment and Planet X put in its closest approach, I think we were just finishing breakfast or looking out of the window wondering if it was time for a train yet, or something else that was more important than the mere ending of the world.

I suppose we should make a point of writing down somewhere exactly what we did at the moment it all came to an end. If we don’t, we’ll be sorry in twenty or thirty years when our descendants ask us “What did you do at the end of the world?” In fact, take the opportunity now, and start working on something that sounds really good.

The Maya, of course have been avidly awaiting the great day. They were expecting tens of millions of visitors over the period (I hope they took the precaution of asking them to pay in advance). It’s a bit of an anticlimax for them now, they have to wait until someone chisels out another calendar wheel before they can use up all the leftover tourist tat.

So on that note, it just remains for me to say A Very Happy Christmas from me and A Very Happy Christmas from her.

Keeping Our Fingers Crossed

Ash
Ash

This Ash tree stands between the village notice board and the post box. As you can only tell if it has this ash die-back thingy when it starts to grow next year, we are keeping our fingers crossed for it at the moment. The fungus, or whatever, is spread via the leaf mould and while young trees are being destroyed if they have it, the government has decided that older trees found to be infected should be left alone, as long as they’re safe, as even a dead tree is important to wild life.

Norse mythology has an Ash Tree called Yggdrasil, with humanity living beneath one of its roots, in one of the nine worlds. The whole business is very confused and no one seems to be too sure what the other worlds are. When you think of the way many of the Norse peoples lived, in isolated pockets of aggressive humanity in the company of the wild snow and ice and the, perhaps, even wilder seas, you can easily believe that a coherent theology was probably not at the top of their survival priorities.

Ash wood is not much good in external use as it soon rots away, but it does make very good bows, bats, tool handles, Morgan sports cars and World War One fighter aircraft.

Chilly

Alpaca in the distance
Alpaca in the distance

Now that the under-brush is dying back or being cleared away, a great many things that have been beyond our ken are becoming clear to us. If we carry on over the railway crossing we need to follow the road and climb up quite a steep hill. The nice thing about this, is that when you get to the top of it – every way forward is down hill. Quite often we only go as far as the top of the hill, just for the satisfaction of having no other way to go but down.

Standing there the other day, just enjoying the luxurious expectation of a down-hill stroll – whether we decided to go on ’round the block’ or even if we decided to turn round and go back, down to the level crossing and home the way we had come, looking around at the fields and trees to extend the enjoyable moment as long as possible, we noticed that the gorse and other bushes had been cleared away from the field perimeter. Closer examination revealed a large roll of wire and a wire tensioning tool.  Well, when you’ve eliminated the impossible etc. so we felt justified in assuming that the fence was being refurbished. Looking up the field along the line of the now cleared hedge, we noticed a few alpacas pottering around in a paddock a couple of hundred yards or so away.

Did you know alpacas come in twenty two different colours?

Circular Argument

Fence Post
Fence Post

At this time of the year, any amount of tidying up is going on around here. The verges are trimmed, the hedges are knocked back into shape and fences that have just been a disjointed, pointless conversation are given a new lease of communication. One part of our walk today sported a sparkling new section of fence, replacing the drooping, occasional strands of barbed wire that we’d become accustomed to. We had to stop and admire it. We followed it back to where, via an age blackened, robust corner post, it became integrated with the larger community of fence wires.

We couldn’t resist the newly-sawn tops of the fence posts and stopped and counted the rings in several of them. They, mostly, seem to have been felled when they were about eight or ten years old. No, having just done a little reading on dendrochronology, let me rephrase that, there seem to be eight or ten rings on most of the posts.

It isn’t just the rings, you see. Some years could have no discernible ring and it’s even possible to have two rings in one year. An average ring shows lighter, softer wood that relates to the early part of the year when the tree is doing most of its growing, and a darker part that relates to the part of the year when growth slows and stops.

If you think about it this means that the tree grows just underneath the bark. No wonder you have to remove the bark to stop fence posts turning into trees.

Georgia On My Mind

A Survivor
A Survivor

We were pleased to see our local pheasant pottering around the feeder recently. The previous weekend had been marked by a great hullabaloo and the sound of gunfire and we were a little concerned for him. Here he is however, looking perhaps a little subdued, but obviously still alive and kicking. He popped past to do a little tidying up for us. He doesn’t like to think of us having that mess all over the garden. Our pigeons seem to have deserted us – or maybe they too, are just keeping a low profile.

He comes from Georgia, the one on The Black Sea, along with that other homespun, back country boy Joseph Stalin, who also hailed from the region. The old name of the river that runs through, what is today, the port city of Poti was The Phasis and this is where his name is derived from – if you care to believe the things ‘they’ say.

‘They’ say, for instance, that Jason and the Argonauts came to Georgia looking for the Golden Fleece. The tale of how the Golden Fleece came to be in Georgia is a typical wicked stepmother story. The Greeks, of course, do things with style. To save the poor step-children the King of The Gods sent a magical ram to carry the children off – before the wicked step-mother could get to them. He was frolicking around as a ram himself, at that time, so he kidnapped a beautiful nymph and turned her into a ewe so he could have his wicked way with her, so producing the golden ram to send to the rescue.

All in a good cause, I guess.

All Change

Old Beech Hedge
Old Beech Hedge

Here’s a hedge that isn’t a hedge any more. For a varied catalogue of reasons it hasn’t been trimmed for a while. This happens.

People look around and think to themselves “Well, a hedge would be nice along there. It will . . . ” and so the ground is prepared, bits of stick are hammered in in a nice straight line and strings are tied on to them. The plants are planted exactly eighteen inches apart and fed and watered regularly. Once a year or so, around August, someone comes along and gives it a trim, looking at each of the bushes individually to decide what to cut and what to fold inside. Come the spring they walk along it patting its compactness and thinking how nicely it’s coming along.

And then, other priorities intrude. Perhaps the reason for the hedges existence no longer exists, or maybe it just isn’t that important any more. May be the person who was the driving force behind the idea that a hedge was needed is no longer around – we all shuffle off this mortal coil in the end, or emigrate, or move house. Somehow, those we leave behind just don’t see things in the same way and our hedge, which once took up so much of our time and attention, is left to its own resources.

I wonder if it misses us?

This Way Up

Blue Tit
Blue Tit

Here’s a tiny acrobat in the middle of his performance. What made him sit still at a time that synchronised with the time it takes the camera to get round to take the picture from the moment I pressed the shutter release? Who knows? I’ll just count my blessings. I have any number of pictures of blurred Blue Tits who just couldn’t get it right. I think they don’t relate to these newfangled digital cameras yet. Perhaps this guy is one of the younger generation so he is into digital. He probably doesn’t more than half believe those stories his parents tell, of how there used to be milk deliveries in the old days and how you could peck a hole in the top of the bottle for a beak full of cream.

It used to be a real treat to have the top of the milk poured off, for you to spoon on your porridge. All you needed for breakfast was a bowl of porridge with a good dollop of golden syrup on it, a little milk (and the cream,of course) poured carefully round the sides – you didn’t want to wash the syrup off the top, now, did you, and you were set up until the next meal came along.

Wonderful childhood memories! I can’t imagine how any of us actually survived through to adulthood, we didn’t get many of our five a day from that meal.