Archive for January, 2013

At The Top Of The Game

Sun At Its Zenith

Sun At Its Zenith

For some time The Dog and I believed that, when the sun was where it would be around midday, it would be at its zenith. Now, we find that the zenith is directly above your head and not where the sun is at all. Through some convoluted and tortuous semantics, almost too complex to be believable, medieval Latin scholars produced our word zenith from an Arabic phrase meaning ‘directly above the head’. So, while it isn’t correct to talk of the sun reaching the zenith – because it certainly doesn’t, unless you live within the tropics – which we certainly don’t, the sun still reaches a high point above the horizon in its daily peregrinations. When it arrives at this height, it is all right to call this ‘the sun’s zenith’ because that’s what it would be if we lived somewhere where it was.

All of this is interesting of course, but not really the sort of, handy for day to day use information you’re used to finding here. Unless, you happen to be one of the many telescope mounting makers that we meet wandering pensively along the country byways. Knowing all about zeniths, for them, is crucial if they want to avoid the keyhole problem.

Imagine you are following the sun through your telescope. Just a note here – it is not safe to do this during the day, please only indulge in this type of experiment after sunset. As the sun rises your telescope points higher and higher until it is aimed directly overhead. Now, the sun is going to go down the other side, so the whole telescope must turn round. This leaves you with a slot of sky that doesn’t make it into your observation. The dreaded keyhole!

I’m happy to say that currently, the sun does not rise high enough to give us this type of problem.

I’m sure you’re all very relieved.

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Veni Vidi Vici

Vinca (Periwinkle)

Vinca (Periwinkle)

Oh. No! The cruel PlantFathers of P.L.A.N.T. (the Peoples Liberation Against Natural Territorialism) have been round with their whips and sub-machine guns, forcing poor helpless flowers out in the cold, freezing, sub-Arctic weather we’ve been having lately. They have given scant regard to the fact that the plants are orphans, have had a terrible childhood and their grandmothers have swollen knees so are confined to wheelchairs.

P.L.A.N.T. of course, is that multinational sponsored, underground organisation that upholds the right of every plant to grow everywhere, whether the weather suits it or not.

We found this poor, shivering specimen crouched against a hedge on the edge of the village, whimpering with every icy blast of today’s chilly winds. It really should be allowed to creep back into some nice warm bed in someone’s garden. It must have been scared to death to have wandered so far from civilisation. Still we have to confess, we find ourselves making excuses not to interfere, although, we haven’t seen any of those Russian built Cadillacs that the Men In Black drive round in lately.

We suspect that our little flower here, is just an offshoot of their current campaign to spread the Periwinkle round the shores of the Atlantic. It is already the fourth (or fifth or sixth – take your pick) most harvested shellfish on this side.

And it’s not doing too badly on the other side either.

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Small White Flowers

Small White Flowers

Odysseus, or Ulysses, depending on your point of view, was on his way home. Easy to say but not so easy to do. You see, just when the Trojan war was all sorted out and it looked as if this glorified Greek soap opera was going to come to a nice tidy end, Odysseus upset Poseidon. Not a good plan, as it turned out – Poseidon being the God of the Sea and Odysseus needing to sail away from Calypso’s island on a raft. So, fighting pirates, being chased by cannibals and all the normal things you would expect to find in any good Coronation Street plot, he landed on Circe’s island. The name of the island was totally unpronounceable, so he sent half his crew to see if they could find someone who knew how to say it.

As luck would have it, Circe was a witch who’s party trick was turning men into animals. So that sorted out the first half of the crew. Odysseus decided he better do something about it – half a crew isn’t much use, especially if they all row on the same side, so he rushed to the rescue. Half way there, he bumped in to Hermes. Hermes was the messenger of the Gods – this was in the days before mobile phones. Hermes said that he should use moly to combat Circe’s magic. Once the moly had defeated the enchantments, Odysseus was to threaten Circe with his sword so that she would suggest that they hop into bed. Just in case you’re thinking of trying this at home, I should mention that they ended up with three children.

Which is all a long and roundabout way of telling you that moly, turned out to be a small white flower with a black root.

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Black And Blue

Coal Tit And Blue Tit

Coal Tit And Blue Tit

Today we had, for various reasons, to take a trip over the page into Northumberland. Northumberland is just up the road from us. We do indeed live on The Edge, with Scotland within shouting distance that way and Northumberland hardly a stones throw that way. All of these dividing lines are, of course, in common with the Equator and the tropics of Cancer and Capricorn, quite imaginary. We have on many occasions driven over The Edge and felt not the slightest bump as we went over. Nor are the people we encounter in any of these foreign parts in any way foreign. They are who they are, just as in fact, are we.

Coal Tits and Blue Tits no doubt, feel much the same way about each other. They are alike enough to get along and dissimilar enough to be sure of themselves. They will both eat pretty much whatever is going and are happy to share the delights of the bird table. Coal Tits however, prefer the seeds. Their beak is perfectly adapted for removing the seeds from pine cones and other hard to reach places. Blue Tits, on the other hand just love aphids, moths and caterpillars. They will eat seeds but only as a second choice.

We do our best to keep them both happy.

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Yay! Slush!

Our picture today is a photo of slush, in case you hadn’t guessed. You see so many pictures celebrating the snow. Snow on mountains, snow on holly bushes (with and without robins), cars stuck in snow, people digging snow, but when the snow goes, it recycles itself in a magical, totally environmentally friendly way, and yet no-one seems to celebrate the marvelousness of slush. So, look, look, it’s slush! It’s slush!

We set out this morning a little sandy-eyed. The trees in the woods behind the house had held a Burns Night Supper last night – and they had invited the wind. It certainly sounded as if the whisky flowed freely. I must say that the whole thing seemed fairly convivial. They must be old friends. There were times when the merriment appeared to be becoming quite out of hand. Perhaps the entertainment was someone reading some of Burns’ more humorous verses, but from our position on the outskirts of the frivolity it seem more of an adult nature. The woodland version of Billy Connolly, possibly?

As a nod to Robbie – here’s a piece he wrote. It seems to be particularly apt.

The sweeping blast, the sky o’ercast,
The joyless winter-day,
Let others fear, to me more dear
Than all the pride of May:
The tempest’s howl, it soothes my soul,
My griefs it seems to join;
The leafless trees my fancy please,
Their fate resembles mine!
In case you’re wondering it’s the second of three verses from Winter: A Dirge.
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Broad Ladies

Roof Slates

Roof Slates

At the front of the property we live upstairs, over the barns. If you go round the back though, you’ll find that we live at ground level. So, if you walk out of the back door and round to the front door, you then need to climb the stairs to get back where you started from. This circuit can put parts of the various roofs that cover the different sections of the building at eye level. Depending on which door you are using to enter or leave, the patterns of the slate roofing tiles are are like a kaleidoscope that moves round in the corner of your eye as you walk past.

Slate, most likely for roofing tiles, has been mined or quarried in The Lake District for ever. Probably going back way before the Romans. The biggest problem of course, was getting it from the mine or quarry to somewhere from which it could be transported to somewhere useful. This meant – until people took transport seriously enough – the odd mule-full was the best you could expect. We always take visitors from ‘down south’ up over the Honister Pass and past The Honister Slate Mine, if we possibly can – and it’s a difficult enough road even in a modern car.

Slate roofing tiles come in various sizes, such as, Countesses, Duchesses, Princesses, Wide Ladies, Narrow Princesses, Narrow Ladies and these shown here. They are, at a guess, based on a quick dash outside in the rain to take a few measurements, Broad Ladies.

I like to think that they are not just broad ladies but also broad minded ladies.

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A Surprise

A Surprise

This piece of  rural landscape doesn’t look as though there can be anything interesting to say about it, does it? Would you believe me if I told you it was one of the most interesting things around here? As a matter of fact it really is one of those things that you look at for ages without even noticing – then suddenly, while you are thinking about something quite different, there’s a sort of ‘click’ in your head and the part of your mind that has been turning over thoughts that you wouldn’t think are related, is, without you having to do anything to prompt it, semi-transparently overlaid with another thought or perhaps, as in this case an image. Immediately after, it is all perfectly obvious and you wonder how you missed it.

If The Dog and I take the route round to the level crossing, over the other side of the lines, we can look over the fence, where the beck gallops down a steep ladder of assorted small boulders and large stones then hurries off through a pipe under the road. On the other side of the road we look down on where the beck runs through a broadening of its small valley where, now, are several houses, redeveloped from what used to be a mill and its supporting buildings. The mill itself is long gone to the great waterwheel in the sky.

We stopped and looked at the beck, just as we always do. Then we started thinking about watermills and about micro hydro power and then as we stared inwardly at the possible head of water available in our beck and wondering how it was enough to turn a mill wheel. The piece of our mind that was on duty, listening for traffic, looking for something to photograph, etc. noticed this apparently orphaned line of trees wandering round the hill.

Click. Ding. Sproing. Clang. The penny dropped, this is the mill leat or head race. This line is probably the old hedge that marked the channel that brought the water to our mill. Who’d of thought.

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