Cwm, Coombe

Hanging Valley
Hanging Valley

And not just a cwm or a coombe but also, possibly, a corrie or a cirque. You know, once we lived on the edge of a massive ice sheet. Here, I’m tempted to ask, just what is it with humanity? Give them an active volcano and they plant their crops on it, give them a poisonous plant and the use it as a food flavouring and give them an ice sheet and they potter around and make themselves at home on it. In fairness though, I must admit that the ice sheet in question had covered most of what they and their predecessors called home, so wandering up and down the edge of it was something to do while they waited for someone to invent coal mines and get global warming under way.

The minute the ice sheet melted and they could all go home, dozens of them rushed off to climb up and down mountains and scramble about on glaciers, to ask why would be fruitless. Whatever, they gave the sort of valley shown in our photo today all those different names. It’s a sort of a cup carved out of the hills by the snow compacting and piling up layer on layer until the pressure got too much for the poor stuff so it turned into ice and slid its way out of the V shaped hole we have a photo of.

Another glacier happened to be passing just then and our baby glacier was swept along in the euphoria of it all – so we have this valley hanging there, half way up the side of the hill.

A Buddleia by Any Other Name

Yellow Budlia
Yellow Budlia

I know we normally deal in those ferocious denizens of the countryside – wild flowers. So, I hope you don’t mind if we peek out from our safe haven, behind the wooden chair we use to keep them all at bay, take off our top hat and bow tie, and rest on our Laurels for a moment. Just round the corner, as we head off downhill, in the direction of the beck, hanging over the garden wall is a large Buddleia, usually full of bees and butterflies. We often stop to admire them on our way past, but the best flowers, and therefore the most butterflies are at the top of the plant, wrapped around with foliage and outlined against the sky. In other words, not good material for a photo. Then, of course, there is the fact that it is a common or garden, completely tame, well behaved bush, not our sort of thing really.

On the way past yesterday, I noticed a branch with yellow coloured flowers sticking out of the middle of the swathe of purple, so I went over for a closer look. At first I didn’t believe it, but I had plenty of the normal Buddleia flowers nearby to compare with. They looked exactly the same to my unpractised eye, except one was purple and one was yellow. There is no reason that Buddleias can’t be yellow, of course, I just haven’t seen one before. While there were bees and butterflies all over the purple flowers, the yellow blooms only attracted bees.

I wonder what the difference is?

Oak Corn

Acorns
Acorns

If you’ve been following our daily ramblings, of a pedestrian, both physical and written, nature, you will know that I felt aggrieved that the oak trees in the wood behind the house, didn’t seem to be in any hurry to flower in spring this year. I wouldn’t like you to think that this failure to take their responsibilities seriously was widespread in our area, and so today we have a picture of some acorns, from the trees just up the road from us.

I prodded around on Google to see what he knew about acorns and oaks. I wondered, for instance if acorns were edible. Once again, we find ourselves in, you can eat it – but why bother, territory. It seems, in those olden days that we find so valuable for this sort of discussion, acorns were mostly fed to the pigs. This was a more convenient way for humans to eat acorns, as eating them directly was a labour intensive hassle.

William Redhawk over at siouxme.com, offers this advice if you are collecting acorns. If the acorn is lying around on the floor without its cup in early autumn, it is probably because it has a worm in and the worm wriggling around is what has pulled the acorn out of the cup. When the acorns are ripe they fall from the tree complete with their little cups.

Then it’s just a matter of drying it, shelling it, grinding it, leeching the tannins out of the flour and you’re good to go.

Not Enough for a Stole

White Ermine Caterpillar
White Ermine Caterpillar

We were on our way back home and, after crossing the beck, we started up the long hill that takes us back to the lofty heights that we inhabit. Well, I have to confess that our hill isn’t really that high but the beck has been chiselling away for ages and it makes for a brisk pace on the outward, downward, journey, but nothing like so brisk a return.

Halfway up the hill I was pleased to find this chap trundling across the road. He had remembered his green cross code and, having looked in the correct directions the requisite number of times, which I can’t actually remember myself – but I’m sure you can, he was going straight across, not dawdling, at a steady pace. I stopped, to take his picture of course, not to get my breath back, and managed to take a couple of pictures before he disappeared into the jumbled verge on the other side.

On this occasion, I’m sorry to say, Google was no help at all and I was forced to resort to the in-depth knowledge of Wild About Britain. “It’s a White Ermine” came back the answer. As always, once you know what you’re looking for, Google can find you a dozen references. He may look like an ugly black bug in this guise but he is a quite stunning, brilliant white moth with a few small black spots on his wings to accent his chosen colour scheme.

You might wonder how he manages, as a bright white moth, not only to survive but to be quite common, and with such obvious disregard for any attempt to dissemble, for dissimulation or even just a bit of camouflage.

Simple really, once you know – he’s poisonous.

Discard

Beech Mast on the Road
Beech Mast on the Road

Today The Dog and I wandered up to the level crossing. Here I must tell you that the last three or four days have been unbearably hot and humid. I can remove a few of my customary layers of clothing but she is still wearing her full winter outfit. At the level crossing, with both of us approaching dehydration – or possibly even dessication, The Dog pointed out that by carrying on straight ahead, down the road past the rookery, we would be under the shade of the trees. Even though it meant increasing the distance between us and our final destination, the shade ahead was irresistible.

That part of the road is now strangely silent. The rooks have raised what youngsters they were able to protect from the depredations of the buzzards and moved out to forage over a wider area. There is still the occasional disconsolate mewing of a melancholy buzzard reminiscing over the time of plenty, but they too have extended their search area and are now finding that road kill is not as unappetising as they had thought earlier in the year.

The road under the Beech trees is covered with Beech mast. Some of them ground under the wheels of passing vehicles, but many just lying with the prickly husk partially open as if they had ripened and made a break for freedom. The nuts inside the cases proved to be totally undeveloped when we levered the case apart and bit the nuts open.

Far from making a break for freedom, I think that they’ve been specifically asked to leave.

The Forbidden Path

Gate in the Wall
Gate in the Wall

In those days, there was war. War between the unseen things of the Dark and Secret Place, the name of which, even now, is best remembered – but not spoken, and those who dwelt in The Light.

At this time, King Allwyngarth, a leader of men, called upon Daghtwaal the Doughty and Ancient, who was called The Double Headed Axe of the Dwarves, and he came unto him. Unto him also he called Locham Green Leaf who was Oldest Oak of the Fleet Folk. Gathered they three, in a tall tower and well guarded from all sides. There they spake, each one unto the others, of The Dark and Secret Place.

At an instant, came a crash and a flash, the door to the chamber was flung open and stood there, a stranger, where no man should gain entry.

“Wæs Hæil. Kings three. Rise and take just and awful war unto that Dark and Secret Place. Now is the time for deeds not for words. I, Zalwigg, have spoken!”

At this, they arose and went, taking pain and vengeance, to That Place and laid waste all about them. Also went Zalwigg and in his power brought terror to That Place.

Then, when all had seen justice, they went out and stood, all the hosts, once more before the gates to The Dark and Secret Place.

Spoke then Zalwigg at the first. “Wæs Hæil, Kings three! Now must The Gates of Doom be sealed. Never more may Dwarf pass through. ” Then spake he a word of power, such that all fell to their knees and up rose the earth and covered the chasm that gave access to That Place.

Now, spake he at the second. “Never more may the Fleet and Fair Folk pass this way.” Then spake he a word of power, such that all covered their ears in terror and arose up two mighty and tall Beech Trees and between them a barricade of moonbeams that Fair Folk durst not break.

And spake he then for thrice. “Never more may Men pass this way.” Then spake he a word of power, such that all covered their eyes in awe.

After, arose all and saw, where once had been The Evil Way, now was only a hill, two Beech trees and a stone wall. And peace came unto The Three Kingdoms.

A Book by its Cover

Solway Aviation Museum
Solway Aviation Museum

We live in a faraway, forgotten corner of England. In fact we only just live in England, just inches away on the map is Scotland. Gretna Green, no longer that haven from the harsh realities of English marital law but still holding weddings at the Blacksmith’s Forge, is just one stop up the motorway. We have an airport. It was so long since anyone had flown from it to anywhere on a regular basis that, when a large transport company bought it, protests from the locals about the noise of aircraft taking off and landing, means that they haven’t been able to use it yet.In a part of the airport complex is the Solway Aviation Museum. I’ve know it was there for ages but I couldn’t imagined that it would have anything worth looking at. However, the latest batch of family to pay us a visit wanted to go and see it – they’re into aircraft and such like and that should be encouraged.

The first thing we found when we arrived, was a notice saying that the museum existed on donations and was run by volunteers. I personally didn’t feel this was a good start – but we paid our moderate entrance fee an set off on the recommended route.

I will just say that we found a hidden gem. I could say much more but it would be too embarrassing for me to have to admit how far from the mark my assumptions had been. It was brilliant!

The photo at the top is one view of a very large display case full of military aircraft. I think the image below is the description of it – amateurairplanes pops in here from time to time, I’m sure he’d know.

Model Display Text
Model Display Text

Good in a Scrape

Plantain
Plantain

Today we have Plantain. Common Plantain, Greater Plantain, Waybread, White Man’s Footprints, or any of half a dozen other local names in various localities. I’ve noticed, but don’t quote me on this, that whenever a plant has a load of different names, it usually means that it has been found to be quite useful over the years. Once again, this is one of those that fall into the  – you can eat it but why would you bother – category. To the delight of archaeologists, it grows best on disturbed ground and it makes its point by being very tolerant of being walked on. It makes you wonder, doesn’t it? How did it manage before people came along and dug up the ground for it? I suppose that you could point a finger at pigs and other rooting animals as its main benefactors but then that leaves you with the question of who came first man or pig.

But enough unresolvable ancient mysteries – what is it actually useful for? Well, the list of things it does just goes on and on, depending on who you read. If I tell you that one of its names is Snake Weed, would it come as a surprise to you that it is said to be useful against snake bite? Other authorities content themselves with plant and insect stings, blisters and bruises. A common user was the reaper with his scythe, an indication that harvest time was also a time of raw patches on the hands from the gruelling labour.

Then, of course, it was also handy to have around to ward off mad dogs.

Three Leaves For Luck

Red Clover
Red Clover

I came across this Red Clover yesterday. We’d just been talking about how Darwin found that the field mice eat the bumble bees nests and if you had cats around that eat the field mice then the Red Clover prospered – leading him to assume that the bumble bee pollenised the Red Clover.

So, I prodded Google and told him to wake up and go and have a look to see if there were any medical uses for our plant. Well, it turns out that it was used medicinally in days when most prescriptions were filled by the apothecary or local wise woman – but it wasn’t a top tier cure. There were, I gather, other more popular herbs.

It has suddenly become very much sought after and you can now buy it as pills – which saves you the bother of having to venture into the nasty smelly countryside to pick-your-own. However, it isn’t good for just any one and can have serious side effects if it is taken with some modern drugs and supplements – things our apothecary had never heard of.     “It is metabolized by CYP3A4” says Wikipedia – whatever that means. So I looked up CYP3A4 – it’s in your liver and it’s part all the things that you’d expect to be going on in there.

Do you remember, a few years back there was a sudden panic. Someone found out that the world’s favourite breakfast drink – grapefruit juice (suitably mangled by the food industry) – had a strange effect on some medications? Well it’s this CYP3A4 thingy that works with the grapefruit juice to the detriment of the pharmaceutical industry.

So no Red Clover for breakfast then.

Gossip

The Cattle At The Gate
The Cattle At The Gate

Well, you know how it is, you live, up here, in a scenic part of England and most of the family live, down there’ in the dust and grime digging away at the coal-face with nothing but their iPhones between them and starvation.

Every now and then we manage to talk a batch of them into coming, up the long weary motorway, to see us. When you have children – with all the ancillary equipment they require, it takes organisation and focus. So we do really appreciate it when we have a bunch of them around for a few days.

In the field behind the barn, our farmer keeps a small, half a dozen or so, herd of cattle. On some days, he comes round with a bag full of something-in-the-way-of-a-treat for them, a sort of spoonful of malt and cod liver oil each. He goes to the feed trough and shouts and bangs the trough and the animals come running, each eager for their share of the bounty.

When he turned up today the family were busy redistributing the contents of various cars to make the day’s outing a little less cramped. Did I mention that our roof has been removed – it was put up in 1856 so it need a little attention – so, we had added the family chariots to the builders and roofers and their assorted vehicles already in the farm yard, then the postman turned up in his little red van. In and out of all this ran our youngest grandson, closely followed by an even younger granddaughter.

The cattle couldn’t believe their eyes!

Keeping on Track

Train At Level Crossing
Train At Level Crossing

As the countryside eases into autumn, the pace of life and growth slow down and almost all the plant life is beginning to show signs of, at least relaxing a little and in a good few cases, dying back in preparation for the over-winter doze. We do seem to have been waiting for summer for such a long time, it is quite hard to accept that there’s a chance that we’ve had all we’re going to get. Admittedly it hasn’t turned cold on us yet, but it looks as if it is – when you peer out at it from behind the safety of a window.

One of the things that happen, here on the blog, in autumn and winter, is we fill up the space with pictures of trains. There are days when autumn leaves of assorted colours take their place, but trains are our staple diet though the bare times. Over the last year, through thick and thin, sleet and snow, rain and hail, the trains have kept going. Allowing for the slings and arrows that beset any company trying to provide a public service, at around twenty to the hour, the train from Newcastle to Carlisle trundles past our house. Shortly after, usually within five or six minutes, the train from Carlisle to Newcastle grunts, groans, huffs and puffs past, climbing up the long slope that goes to make up our embankment. Over the year we’ve been here, on two occasions, the two trains have actually passed each other as they passed in front of our house.

It’s third time lucky, isn’t it?

Funny Bunnies

Silverweed
Silverweed

There isn’t much around to photograph at the moment and it’s getting harder and harder to keep up the post-a-day habit. It was at the beginning of October last year, after a three week blank spot, that I set myself the target of posting every day for a year. We’ve done all right so far – but I am looking forward to being able to cut down to once a week or so, as I have loads of other things I want to be able to get on with.

The patch of Silverweed has bowed to peer pressure and turned from shiny silver to boring old green but it does still have a few flowers to relieve the paucity of picture possibilities, so we have some Silverweed complete with tiny insects today.

I’ve talked about Silverweed before, so I asked Google if he could find us something new to chat about. He pointed out that there was an unsettling character in Watership Down call Silverweed. Now, I must say here that Watership Down is not a story that I’ve read fully. I’ve tried once or twice but I just can’t stick with it. You know how it is sometimes. I do realise that I’m in the minority here. It’s not just Watership Down either, there are several other, very popular, stories that I have the same problem with. It’s not just about anthropomorphism, more that, because  the authors have gone out of their way to avoid anthropomorphism they end up with something that winds my cynicism selector all the way round.

There’s nothing wrong with anthropomorphism. It is after all, a very ancient technique. Ask Aesop.

Not Mush room

Toadstools
Toadstools

I spent hours looking all over the Internet trying to find out what kind of toadstools or mushrooms these are. They look so ‘almost’ like many both toadstool and mushroom pictures I looked at – that I gave in. I wondered if Fairy Estate Agents (I believe they are called something like Fairy Realtors in America. Is that right?) had the same problems when it comes to advertising a vacancy. Is it important, I wonder? Is it perhaps a status symbol? Would some Fairies rather die than be seen living in a toadstool? Or are Toadstools in fact, the more desirable residences? If I advertised a three bed, two reception, two bath, detached Toadstool, would I have responses from a more up-market selection of purchasers if I offered it as a Mushroom with separate double garage? If the location was identical in both cases, of course.

I started searching for the origin of the idea that fairy folk lived in mushroom houses. So far, Google and I have drawn a blank. We have found that Fairies often live in magical trees, also in the ‘wild-woods’. There are many authorities that hold that they live underground or even that they live all around us but that we just can’t see them. Just who do you believe?

In my opinion, Fairies live at the bottom of the garden. But do they live down there in mushroom or toadstool houses? On a vital question such as this, Google is strangely silent.

The End is Nigh

Rose Baywillow Herb Seeds
Rose Baywillow Herb Seeds

I woke up this morning and looked out on, what has become, a pretty normal scene. In the distance, at about where it would be nice to see the sun shining on the slopes of the Cumbrian mountains, there was a vague grey wall. Here and there the occasional tree faded in and out of view. To say I was tempted to lie straight down and pull up the duvet, is only to tell you the obvious, but it wasn’t to be so. The Dog awaited, impatiently, her opportunity to check all the local canine points of reference – and it’s hard to get any sleep with a dog’s paws dug into parts of your anatomy and a wet nose stuck into any available eye or ear.

By the time I reached the necessary state of readiness, the view through the window had changed, the mountains had thrown off their blankets and were prepared to take on the day. There was quite a wind and the greyness overhead was moving along at a good pace.

Now, a couple of days ago, I took some pictures of the Rose Bay Willow Herb and they were covered in a fine fluff, I could say a fine thistledown, but I don’t want any thistles who read this to take umbrage. The picture we have today is one flower in a vast fluffy, pinky-purple bank of those Rose Bay Willow Herbs, over all of which the white, downy seeds were poised, sitting on the branch outside the nest, chirping excitedly to each other.

Today, the roadside verge is bare – the birds have flown.

Big Fleas

Butterfly With Smaller Fly on its Wing
Butterfly With Smaller Fly on its Wing

I was flicking through some pictures today, looking for something interesting to show you. I almost flipped straight past this pic – we have done white butterflies quite recently and I do try not to bore you with over-much repetition. By chance I twiddled the wheely thing on the mouse and the image expanded – and there was that tiny fly sitting on the butterfly’s wing – I’ve circled it in the photo. How strange is that?

This brought to mind the silly rhyme :

Big fleas have little fleas, upon their backs to bite ’em
Little fleas have lesser fleas, and so on ad infinitum.

I had always thought this came from the master satirist Jonathan Swift so I poked around on Wikipedia to see where he said it. Well, he didn’t, not quite. He did say something similar in a poem he wrote, but it was actually Augustus De Morgan an incredibly clever mathematician who put it into the form I remember it.

Augustus’ daughter Mary De Morgan was an ‘enfant terrible’ and upset many adults in her circle – but children loved her fairy tales. Among those who tripped gaily through her audience were, William Morris the great textile designer and between-the-wars writers, Rudyard Kipling, Angela Thirkel and her brother Denis Mackail.

She told stories to story tellers – and so on ad infinitum, indeed.

Which Witch

Rowan Berries
Rowan Berries

Google thinks Rowan (Mountain Ash) berries are edible, but he doesn’t advise eating them. They taste terrible. They have more vitamin C than Lemons and you can tell straight away. The best I could find was a recipe for Rowan jelly, I assume it’s a bit like Crab Apple jelly. Crab Apples are a fruit that you wonder why the tree bothered. They are hard and bitter. They may not poison you but they try their best. I’m guessing that Rowan Berry jelly will be the same – you need to use loads of sugar and even then it makes a better accompaniment to savouries than a jam. Perhaps like having Apple Sauce with pork, for instance.

But it’s as a protection against witchcraft that Rowan really comes in to its own. A house with a Rowan growing nearby is protected against all sorts of things that go bump in the night. If you want to upgrade to the ‘Pro’ version though, it isn’t so straight forward. Pieces of Rowan tree must be placed carefully over the front door of the house, the door to the cowshed and pigsty too. They must be put there by an unknown person who must not speak to anyone when he comes to do the job. The branches should not really be cut with a knife but a kitchen or other household knife is acceptable. The branches must be cut from a Rowan tree that the branch collector did not know existed and, having found his tree and cut his branch he must return home by a different route.

As all this had to happen on St Helen’s Day, around the beginning of May. The countryside must have looked like Piccadilly Circus on that day.

The Company You Keep

Impatiens glandulifera
Impatiens glandulifera

You shouldn’t really be looking at this picture, so try to just glance at it out of the corner of your eye. I’m very much afraid that it has been known to keep very bad company and you wouldn’t want to be tarred with the same brush now, would you? It hasn’t happened just once or twice either, this unfortunate alliance has been going on for quite a few years. This chap, Himalayan Balsam, Impatiens glandulifera, was deliberately introduced in the UK in around 1839. He came over on the same boat, as Giant Hogweed and Japanese Knotweed. He was recommended to gardeners for his Herculean proportions and his splendid invasiveness. Well, they were absolutely right about the invasiveness. He’s everywhere – across Europe, America and Australia.

Where it grows along streams and rivers, apparently it is best not to try to pull it up, you just tend to make things worse. It’s better to concentrate on improving the quality of the water and it will go away on its own. It really doesn’t like riverbanks that much and it is only there for the free lunch. Remove the excess nutrients from the water and it will wander off. The other thing about it is, although it may out-compete the occasional local plant, it does provide shelter for various local fauna that wouldn’t be there otherwise, so it isn’t all bad.

It really does seem to be trying its best to integrate.

A Bit of a Steel

Railway Line
Railway Line

The other day The Dog and I wandered round to the railway crossing, as we do every other day or so. We found two guys in yellow jackets there, in the middle of the crossing. One of them was obviously keeping watch for trains, while the other was walking backwards across the road, between the railway lines, making chalk marks every so often on the steel of the rail, as he did so. This was too much for both The Dog and I, so we went on down to the crossing to see if either of them were in a talkative frame of mind.

It turned out that they were both pleased to have someone ask them what they were doing, exactly. Several months ago we suffered a weekend of round the clock din and disruption while the track laying machine trundled its way across our embankment. This is a fantastic machine. It pulls up track, sleepers and ballast and replaces it while, itself, running on the track it is rebuilding and replacing. It takes about twenty four hours to to work over a couple of miles of track – and from our own experience, it is a very noisy business.

But apparently, it can’t do level crossings. They still have to be done by hand. My two guys were measuring up the rails at the crossing so that they would be able to put the new lines in exactly the same positions as the old ones. They did the work over a Saturday night – Sunday morning and I’m pleased to say we heard nothing.

As you can see the new rail is just starting to pick up a bit of a polish.

Religious Nuts

Horse Chestnuts
Horse Chestnuts

 

There was a guy out watering his hanging baskets as The Dog and I walked past the other day. We stopped for a chat about the global issues surrounding the need for a more water retaining compost mix, to help hanging baskets to maintain an even internal moisture content, so he didn’t need to water them so often. I mentioned vermiculite, with some conviction. After some discussion we came to the conclusion that it was called something else these days. He favoured coconut fibre, himself.

At this point in the conversation, it became necessary for us both to lean against something, so we took advantage of a convenient wall.  “You see those trees?” he said pointing to a few youngish trees fighting their way through the hedge surrounding the field across the road. “I planted those. They flowered for the first time this year.”

As we were both now comfortably supported by the wall, there followed a fair amount of hand waving and discussion until the trees in question were identified amongst the Hawthorn, Elder and Wild Cherry that occupied the corner of the field just over the road from us. “Yes,” he said “My wife’s sister went on a pilgrimage to Walsingham. When she came back she brought me a bag of Horse Chestnuts. So I planted them.

“Those are Holy trees, those are.”

Long Ago

Long Meg Stone Circle
Long Meg Stone Circle

 

I think that as you get older you become a little more cynical about the world and its people. All right, as I get older I’ve become more cynical, shall we say even more cynical, then? You see, I don’t believe that people are capable of just leaving things alone. The longer things have been lying around, the less, I believe, is our chance of ever knowing what it was originally intended for.

We set out, the other day, to find Little Salkeld Watermill where we believed we would find coffee and cakes. It took us a while to find – but then Cumbria is a lovely place to wander around in. The coffee and cakes were gorgeous. We had decided on Little Salkeld Watermill because we also believed that we would find Long Meg and her daughters nearby, and so we did.

First the facts. Michael Scot, a very clever Scotsman who lived around 1200, and who everyone knew was actually a powerful magician, happened to be passing and came across a coven of witches, (Long Meg and her daughters in this case) so naturally, he turned them into stone. As you do.

Now, on to the more uncertain history of the stones. They may be somewhere between two and five thousand years old. They are built near Eden River.(What a surprise. We are moving massive blocks of stone around and we choose, as their final resting place, a nice flat place by the river we floated them down on.) There are many people who think that over the last five-odd thousand years there have been no changes and that we may be able to work out what use the original constructors intended for the circle. I think we need another magician.

By the way – the photo shows My Sister and Long Meg – you can decide which is which.

Military Milfoil

Yarrow
Yarrow

Achilles, either the one with the heel or an apprentice of Chiron the Centaur , possibly they were one and the same – you know how it is when you’re dealing with mythology – thought very highly of Yarrow. Yarrow is a corruption of the old Saxon name for the plant, which now has a great many names, Herbe Militaris, The Military Herb, for instance or from the Latin, Milfoil or Millefoil, Thousand Weed, a reference to the fact that the leaves are finely divided and have a feathery appearance.

It has a strange affinity for blood, it seems to me. If you roll a leaf up and stick it up your nose – it will make your nose bleed. Apparently, this is useful if you want to know if your lover is true to you. The Achilles who had a spot of bother with the Trojans, used it to heal his soldiers wounds, although it doesn’t seem to be much help in cases of arrow-in-the-heel.

The I Ching makes use of the manipulation of fifty Yarrow stalks to produce the hexagrams used for divination. The process of producing the six lines of the hexagram from the fifty (or forty nine, actually) Yarrow stalks, requires no mean mathematical skill, as well manual dexterity – and knowledge of the necessary formulae.

I prefer to use the coin oracle myself – it’s much simpler.

Humble Bumble

Bee In The Rose Bay Willow Herb
Bee In The Rose Bay Willow Herb

You know how it is, you’re looking through your photos from the last day or so and you see one that looks as if it’s worth writing about. So, you type something into Google and you click on the link to Wikipedia that he offers you.

You read the first paragraph and your heart sinks. “One of approximately two hundred and fifty members of the species . . .” Two things jump out at you. One, there are two hundred and fifty of them – and you can bet anything you like they are completely indistinguishable to the naked eye. Two, that dreaded word “approximately”.

When you are desperately seeking identification, it would be nice to think that the source of all knowledge you have turned to for succour, could provide the information on a definite and sure basis. The concept that the information you are about to use to bolster your Internet presence may be approximately correct is not very comforting.

Today then, we have one of, approximately, 250 different types of  Bumble Bee. They’ve been around for approximately thirty million years, so you might expect that we’d know which is which by now. Darwin once wrote that places where they keep cats, who eat field-mice, who tend to devour Bee nests, always had more Red Clover as only the Bumble Bees pollinate this plant.

Do you know the Bee’s buzz is actually made by their thorax muscles not their wings?

No, but if you hum a few bars I’ll fake it.

Nuts

Hazelnuts
Hazelnuts

Earlier in the year, there were a few trees with catkins. We assumed would turn out to be Hazel. I’m pleased to report that, at least in this case, we were right. Did I mention that The Dog is quite fond of the Wild Cherries? She finds them on the ground and spits the stones out after she’s eaten them. She really doesn’t appreciate my excitement over the Hazel trees. Admittedly the nuts aren’t ripe yet.

Seeking something of interest to pass on to you, preferably in a format that made it sound as if I had known it all along, I looked at what Google knew of the Hazel. He offered me a selection interesting snippets. In America, Oregon to be exact, they are expecting a good crop, slightly earlier than usual, this year. While, in the Upper Mid-West of that same Union of States, one Hazelnut producer has developed a device to shake the nut loose from the bits of tree that usually come with it, using a five gallon bucket, a few odds and ends and an electric drill. This combo does, in twenty seconds, what can take up to twenty minutes by hand.

Somewhere (probably in Ireland but possibly on The Isle of Man or in Scotland) there is a lake with nine Hazel trees growing around it. They overhang the lake and the nuts drop into it enriching the water with all the knowledge in the world.

If you should catch a salmon there, that tall, white haired guy that turns up and offers to cook it for you, is Finn McCool the mythical Celtic hero.

Fine Feathers

Nuthatch
Nuthatch

Spring is such an exhausting time. There is all that angst over selecting a mate – or being selected for a mate. All that sitting at home pretending you don’t care, coiled up like an over-wound spring waiting for a call or an SMS or at the very least a message on one of the ‘social’ sites. Poised to strike, to clutch at the least straw, to be thankful for any port in the storm of our anxiety, ready to feign nonchalance and cool indifference – as soon as we are given the chance.

Then there is all that nest building, exciting in its own way, but merely a precursor to eggs and hatchlings and  the constant demand for food, food, food. There is no time to to do anything that isn’t directly related to the brood. Certainly no time for yourself, you would feel too guilty taking time out to do your own thing. Sometimes it seems as if it will never end and many times you find yourself wondering why you though that it would all be worth it.

It’s no wonder, that by the time summer comes and the kids are finally off your hands that you feel a little frazzled, is it? And just look at you. You certainly look as though you’ve been pulled through a good few hedges backwards.

No wonder we haven’t seen that many birds at the bird feeder recently. Some of them, however, have managed to find a dress that still fits, left over from the glory days of their youth and pop and have their hair done, nothing fancy, just so they look respectable.

We were pleased to see the Nuthatch again, the summer moult is over now, and he no longer feels too embarrassed to come to the bird table.

Out of Reach

Wild Cherries
Wild Cherries

Just what is it about the grass on the other side of the fence? Perhaps that should be rephrased. What is it about the human mind-set that makes us dissatisfied with our lot? There was a time, not so long ago, when, within the rigid class structure, each of us ‘knew our place’. Was it an expansion of the military pyramidal command structure, I wonder? Certainly, we humans have spent most of our history fighting each other.

If there were less of us, do you think we would be happier with our lot and not need to constantly compete? I’m not convinced.  It might mean we had to march a bit farther to find someone to do dreadful war upon, but I feel confident we’d rise to the challenge.

I wondered, for a while if any other animal, lets not forget, we are just another animal on this planet, behaved in the same way. Generally, vegetarian browsers tend to live in herds. They would seem to behave in a reasonably placid way to each other. Things only get serious once a year, around ‘that’ time. Meat powered hunters however, would seem to spend their lives fighting with each other – then go hunting in their spare time. Can we blame Eve o’Lution then? Has the need to expand our ‘tribe’ to fill every available nook and cranny been with us since the very beginning?

I’ve a jar in a dark place, about half full of brandy. I’ve been picking these cherries, as they ripen, whenever The Dog and I pass that way. I collect all the fruit that is ripe and reachable – and pop them in the jar. These are the only ones left on the tree now.

They are too high to reach – and they are, of course, the pick of the bunch.

Just Too Late

Buzzard
Buzzard

I’m not much of an “if only I’d . . . ”  or even a “What a pity I didn’t  . . . ” sort of person. I have this theory, or life image, or concept of the way the Universe works – whichever is the current phrase – about how much control over our own existence each of us has. Perhaps my theory isn’t anything to do with determinism and free will – kismet and all that, perhaps it is actually a theory of time.

Anyway, this seems a good place to whitter on a bit about How Life Works. You see it’s like this. The relationship time has with humanity doesn’t run in a straight line, nor is it a straightforward  sequence of events. Each of us stands in the middle of a gigantic spider’s web of possible futures. Important point here: Radiating from everyone’s NOW are a multitude of possible futures – no pasts. The past is something that humans invented, because we need to learn from experience. It is a mental construct, nothing more.

This is important, because at every step, down whichever of the futures you choose to proceed – you will be standing at the centre of a gigantic spider’s web of possible futures.

The Dog, whose grasp of philosophy is profound, barked at the window. Going over to see what was causing the excitement I found a buzzard sitting on the ridge of the barn roof, not ten yards away. I ran for the camera. Carefully, I poked the camera round the curtain, trying to remain out of view. As I pressed the shutter release – he took off.

Sometimes it’s hard to stay philosophical.

Slow

Small Tortoiseshell
Small Tortoiseshell

I was chatting to Wikipedia, and he mentioned that tortoises are crepuscular. You wouldn’t think that, to look at them, would you? When I gave in and asked him what on earth he was talking about, he explained that it means active during the period immediately before sunrise and immediately after sun set – dawn and dusk to you and me. I can manage the dusk part but not (by choice) the dawn part. This means that I do not have a bimodal activity pattern and, by preference, I am firmly vespertine. I feel much more relaxed now I understand the situation fully.

I’ve always wondered about tortoises and turtles. Wiki P mentioned that a good guide is that tortoises have feet and turtles have flippers. We just won’t go into tortoises with webbed feet. When it comes to Tortoiseshell butterflies, I have to confess that they never looked like a tortoise’s shell to me. This guy, sitting on his thistle, with his wings folded, does actually look a little like the tortoises I remember coming across, as I roamed the wilds of Africa in my youth. Dirty brown, perfectly camouflaged, looking like staggering clods of the dry parched earth – if you were lucky enough to find them up and about. It’s when the butterflies open their wings I have a problem – that black, orange, yellow and blue pattern would look quite silly on a tortoise.

But then I often think that biologists and naturalists would make great fantasy writers.

Squab

Wood Pigeon
Wood Pigeon

Wood Pigeons, here in the UK, have the dubious honour of appearing on the list of game birds that it is legal, for those who go in for that sort of thing, to shoot. I must say that I am not overwhelmed by these pigeon’s intelligence and I can only put the increase in their population, shown in the latest statistics, down to good luck. Or possibly the security through obscurity that everyone is so fond of. It has also occurred to me that, as the Wood Pigeon is smaller than things like Pheasant and Grouse, it may just be that those people who shoot at things, prefer to shoot at things that are big enough to be able to hit, without having to be a particularly good shot. This would mean that the Wood Pigeon relies on insignificance – rather than obscurity, either way, there seem to be a great many, no doubt grateful, pigeons about.

I had thought to find you a recipe for pigeon pie, just in case your Wood Pigeons ever became an agricultural pest, but the one I found was so complicated and needed so many pigeons I gave up on the idea. It was one of those fashionable ‘Haute Cuisine‘ sort of recipes, and reading through it, I just couldn’t believe that real people would go to that much trouble for a mere pigeon.

The Cumberland Sauce looked very nice, though.

Lilly-Bell

Thistledown
Thistledown

Louisa May Alcott (1832 – 1888) lived a strange life even for the those times. Her father was a strict disciplinarian who believed that perfection could only be achieved through suffering and hard work. He tried to bring his four daughters up on this basis. To complicate matters, he tried to establish a school where he could teach these qualities. It takes little imagination to guess that the family struggled along on the edge of poverty. Louisa grew up surrounded by people who espoused unconventional ideas. People like  Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Henry David Thoreau.

Ralph Waldo Emerson’s daughter Ellen, quite some years younger than Louisa needed someone to tell her stories. Louisa was happy to oblige. She wrote a series of tales which she called her ‘Flower Fables‘ to entertain the younger girl.

The fable of Lilly-Bell and Thistledown is a tale that carries all the beliefs imbued from the strange education she received from her father. Lilly-Bell is the kindest of elves imaginable but her friend Thistledown is exactly the opposite. As the story unfolds, all Thistledown’s unkindness comes back to haunt him. In today’s world we would be happy enough for him to see the error of his ways and for the two of them to live happily ever after. Not so Louisa, the poor (mean and nasty) elf has to suffer trial and sorrow after trial and sorrow, until you wonder if she is ever going to forgive him and get round to the happy ending.

I don’t want to spoil the story for you, but it does turn out ‘Happy Ever After’ for Thistledown – eventually.

In my day

Seen Better Days
Seen Better Days

I found him sitting by the side of the road, old, ragged, with every minute of his age showing. He had led a hard life, that much was immediately obvious, and yet there was that something about him that was hard to define, was it his self assurance?  His self possession? Perhaps his air of having been there and done that and now only waiting for them to make the video. His bucket list completed, he somehow gave the impression that he could have easily added many more items to it, but he couldn’t really find anything that he felt strongly enough about, to feel that it was worth adding.

Tattered and worn, but how content. His life may not have taken him to the pinnacle of success. He probably didn’t notice his most important successes. He was too busy with life, with the cut and thrust of day to day living, to be overly concerned with whether he had won or lost. Perhaps it was this, the simple satisfaction that his life had brought him. Perhaps the knowing that his needs were few and easily requited gave him that air of completeness, of having tried it all and of having finally arrived at that understanding that transcends the drive and stress of youth.

All that matters is that you try your best.

The Sky’s The Limit

Cumbrian Mountain Skyline
Cumbrian Mountain Skyline

I thought you might like a picture of the skyline today. It seems like ages since we looked over this way and could see all the way to the mountains. They’ve been working undercover for the past couple of weeks.

Did you ever develop your own pictures, in the old days I mean, before everything went digital? Do you remember that it was because you had to wait up to three weeks before your negatives and their positive results popped through the letter box, that you decided to have a go at doing it yourself? I doubt if they’d let you buy the chemicals these days, I’m sure they must have been poisonous to everything.

Then there was the luxury of a red LED stopwatch. All assembled in a cardboard box, naturally. You see, the red colour of the LEDs (the only colour available at that time) didn’t fog the film. If you think about it, the camera very carefully and precisely exposed the film to daylight so the last thing you needed was a clumsy, bumbling human shining lights all over it.

The tricky part was the transfer of the film from the camera, to whatever vessel you intended to use to slosh the film and chemicals around in. This all had to be done in, as close to, pitch dark as possible, usually under a thick blanket, with only the flickering light of the LED display as it counted away the minutes and seconds until the chemicals and film had been together for their allotted span.

A bit like speed-dating, I suppose.