Opportunistic

Four Blackberries
Four Blackberries

We were just passing the railway crossing this morning when we were beset by a sudden shower of rain. We hurried on along the road that passes the rookery, hoping to find some shelter under the beech trees that border the road (don’t try this at home children – it is dangerous to shelter under trees in a storm). By the time we had reached a dry patch of road, the shower had passed on, but while we stood there we heard the tok, tok, tok  of a woodpecker in the trees above. Trying to pinpoint the source of the sound we caught a glimpse of a woodpecker sized bird in the branches not far away. The next part of the story will be familiar to anyone who has read any of our previous witterings. By the time we had the camera lens cover removed and the camera switched on –  the bird had flown. So, no picture of a woodpecker for you today, I’m afraid.

Moving on up the road, we thought we could make out the shape of a white horse in the field ahead. Well, a horse isn’t a woodpecker, but horses can be quite chatty, so we hoped a snapshot of the equine aspect of rural life might give us a discussion point for today’s epistle. When we reached the field gate, there was no sign of any livestock whatsoever. So no horse photograph either, I’m sorry.

On the way home we saw a bunch of blackberries gleaming in the sunlight. We loitered along and picked a half a pound or so.

I tried to convince The Dog that Jackie’s apple and blackberry crumble would be well worth the effort, but she remained unconvinced.

The Long and the Short

Common Oak
Common Oak

Going up the hill yesterday, we passed an oak tree and something about it caught my eye. Now, the road snakes its way up the hill from the level crossing with some quite tight bends, so it isn’t easy to stop and take a picture safely. The Dog is used to the quiet lanes of our normal route and is inclined to sit down in the middle of the road while she waits for me to engage in my artistic activity. Occasionally, when the mood to explore takes her, she might even decide to investigate the verge on the other side of the road – this stretches the lead right across the road and we have, in the past, been embarrassed by the silent approach of a cyclist. Because our level crossing is one of the few places that gives access to the world on the other side of the railway line, this section of our route is fairly busy – as in, we will usually see two or three large trucks or a car or two on our way up or down.

With all this in mind, I suggested, quite firmly, that she consider the delights of the verge at the base of the tree in question, while I focused on focusing on the acorn in the photo. Did you notice that it was dangling at the end of a long stalk? All the other Oaks I’ve spoken to around hear have had acorns with a short stalk. According to The Woodland Trust, they are Sessile Oaks, They have long stalks on their leaves and short stalks on their acorns. This guy is a Common or English Oak and like us, he’s a southerner.

He looks to young to be retired though.

Socrates the Knife

Wild Rose Thorns
Wild Rose Thorns

We have been feeling a bit cooped up lately. You know how it is. Over summer you get used to having decent weather to wander around in, then things start to go downhill and you start to wait for a break in the clouds before you venture out. Thinking back to winter, when The Dog and I wandered far and wide whatever inclemency of the elements, put me to shame. So, today we set off determined to ignore mere hail, sleet and tempest, of which luckily, there was none.

At the level crossing we turned and went up the hill to see if the alpacas were up and about, they were at the farther end of their paddock, so not available for comment. We decided to carry on round the block and give our legs a proper stretch. At the bottom of the hill we came across a guy with a fancy theodolite. In response to our greeting he replied that yes, he was surveying for a new motorway and that he would probably have to move the railway line too and no, it wasn’t a GPS, the prism thing on the pole worked with that laser over there. He was busy, so we left him and carried on down past the olfactory experience of the pig farm.

In the hedge, just upwind of the piggery, we noticed this wild rose climbing around amongst the bushes. Does this  reminded any one else of the first few lines from Mac the Knife – in The Threepenny Opera?

Socrates on the other hand, is a tame, pink blend tea rose.

More Haw

Hawthorn Berries
Hawthorn Berries

As I sit here writing this, the sun is shining and the wind, while still quite blustery, is nothing like the howling gale we had earlier in the day. I don’t have to tell you do I, that earlier in the day, as The Dog and I set out for our circadian constitutional, the sky was so low that it needed the washing line prop to keep it from dragging on the ground. It was also a very unattractive grey, they need to look into which washing powder they are using up there – it certainly isn’t making their whites whiter.

The rain was busy watering the plants first thing this morning so, by common agreement The Dog and I put off our exercise – ‘until later, when it clears up’. Well, later happened and the rain was replaced by a sort of heavy mist, so we thought we had better make a run for it while the going was good. We made ready for a quick dash down to the beck to check that the water was still following our instruction to make its way downstream. Outside, we found the trees very grumpy, with the wind pushing and shoving them about, calling them rude names and throwing handfuls of last years leaves around. The Dog suddenly remembered that there was something she wanted to watch on television, but I insisted.

We made it back just before the rain came down in bucketfuls but we did manage to get a quick pic of some Hawthorn Berries for you. Very good for your heart, you know.

Potty Training

Three Acorns
Three Acorns

Here in the UK, babies wear nappies, in America babies wear diapers, so I wondered how we managed to keep the babies on both sides of the Atlantic dry at night. Wikipedia knows of course, but he was much more interested in discussing how environmentally kind and courteous the reusable versus the disposable types were.

Most of the disposables were developed by and for women who, in the equal opportunity, hard times following World War II, wanted to get on with the work and not spend their entire life kneeling over the bath tub, washing soiled garments. The buyers at the big companies were all men however, and they just didn’t see the point. Women are persistent though – and the men soon changed their minds.

A diaper is a diamond shaped piece of cloth or to be more precise it is the name of a type of cloth with repeated diamond shapes all over it. But it’s just the stuff to use for nappies so the two became one – so to speak. Diapers went off to America with the Pilgrim Fathers, while here in the UK, it became posher to refer to the smelly squares of white towelling as Napkins. Now napkins, or little tablecloths, were also serviettes, to be used to wipe your fingers at meal times but we managed to stay posh and keep our fingers clean by reducing the infant version to a nappy.

It’s hard to imaging that these three, looking so cute lying there in their nappies/diapers, will one day be sixty foot, football playing Oak trees, isn’t it?

We’ll keep this photograph, just to bring out when their girlfriends come round.

Birds of a Feather

Robin
Robin

Houston, we have a problem. You see, these last few days we quite definitely have autumn in the air. Spring is full of suppressed emotion as everything is busy getting dressed up for their first grown-up dance. The air is heavy with anticipation. Will the object of our fixation be in attendance? Will we be able, at the critical instant, to pluck up the courage to speak? Will they have the courage to answer? It is all so full of promise, so full of angst.

Autumn on the other hand, brings with it a different kind of excitement. Big changes are coming and everyone is old enough to appreciate them this time. Summer, so full of the stresses and pressures of modern life, the constant need to be somewhere, do something – or to be back home in time for whatever is next on the agenda is, thankfully, over. The children have either flown from the nest, the seed-head or they are just about ready to drop off the twig. It is a time of plenty, a time to refill the store cupboard. A time for some ‘me’ time.

Which brings me to the Robin, who defends our garden from his station in the Silver Birch tree by the gate, he has started singing again. The problem, of course is that people in America have a different Robin to us. You guys have a kind of thrush – ours isn’t. I’ve made a recording of our Robin singing – you’ll find it at the end of the post.

Does it sound anything like yours?

A Twist

Hazel Nuts And Catkins
Hazel Nuts And Catkins

I have this nice picture of the Hazel tree from just down the lane. If you look you’ll see that, even though the nuts are not yet ripe, we have nice new catkins starting to form. I wondered what I could tell you about the Hazel today. We’ve looked at Hazel two or three times, so it needed to be something we haven’t touched on before. So I asked Google to have a look around and see what he could come up with on coracle building.

Well, it turns out that, as a general rule, coracles are built of whatever is to hand but mostly willow. So no Hazel there then. But while I was looking at those funny, flimsy cockleshells that our hardy ancestors put to sea in, I came across Prince Madoc, another Celtic hero, but a Welshman this time.

Prince Madoc came from a large family and when his Dad died civil war broke out amongst the siblings – to decide who’s turn it was to play king. Eventually he became bored with all of this or maybe he noticed he was loosing more than he won, so he decided to sail away and discover America before Columbus got round to it. Apparently he did that – and he sent back for more of his folk. They went off and disappeared into the pages of myth and legend. In spite of the fact that no one knows anything about his actual destination, we have a large body of literature covering his adventures in America.

Maybe he sent a text.

Pack Mentality

Buzzard
Buzzard

A word about Buzzards, in particular ‘our’ Buzzards. There are around a half a dozen of them and they hang around The Rookery. In spite of their size, they are wimpy birds and allow themselves to be bullied by the Crows, who are not quite as big. The Rooks often gang up on the Buzzards and will chase them away at every opportunity.

At one time, I wondered if the area that includes The Rookery, was large enough to support six or seven Buzzards but I have realised that there are two mitigating factors.

First must be: For several months of the year it is necessary to drive with great care along the local lanes as they become inundated with Pheasants. I can’t imagine that the Buzzards haven’t noticed this. I should think any number of the silly birds find it quite simple to run into a car – and the Buzzards are good at tidying up road kill.

Second, and more interestingly: The Buzzards hunt as a pack. I have watched as a couple of them, mewing piteously, flap clumsily round the edge of the copse that contains The Rookery. They are immediately set upon by all The Rookery’s occupants so they pull their heads in and flap off – being careful not to outdistance their harassers. Once the decoys are a decent distance away – the raiding party swoops in.

I’m afraid the Rooks never learn.

Decisions

Dandelion Puff
Dandelion Puff

The year is definitely on the turn. At this point I think I’d better mention that Ptolemy was one of Alexander The Great‘s generals and when Alexander died he was given Egypt to look after. Which his family did for nearly three hundred years until butterfingers Cleopatra dropped the ball in about 30 BC. Claudius Ptolemy, on the other hand, lived a hundred years later around 60 AD. The nice thing about Claudius Ptolemy is that he sorted astronomy out, once and for all – or at least for the next 1400 years. He sorted through odd bits and pieces going back 800 years and worked it all into formulae and tables. This made the whole thing very straightforward and it became really easy to foretell eclipses, the horoscopes of the king’s family, etc.

So, it was 1400 years later, people started picking holes in Ptolemy’s work. There’s always someone, isn’t there? The fact that the earth had stood still, in the middle of the Universe, for all that time irritated some Middle Aged mathematicians and they grumpily started doing things – like making the world turn – and before you knew it, the world, very out of condition from sitting in front of the television for all that time, had been elbowed out of the middle and had to run, panting, round the outside, like any common planet without a Company gym membership.

So you see the problem don’t you. The year is definitely on the turn – but is it the year that’s turning?

You could try blowing the Dandelion and see if you get a ‘Yes’ or a ‘No’.

Just Teasing

Teasle
Teasle

As I mentioned yesterday, we’ve been away. We’re back now and today we have the last of the ‘Archive’ pictures that I’ve been subjecting you to, to make it easier to keep the postings coming while we were out and about.

On 7th. October last year, I set myself the task of posting every day for a year. It hasn’t been easy to find a nice picture everyday for you. Still we’ve struggled through this far and I didn’t want to spoil our record just because we weren’t here. So I scoured the thousands of pictures that litter my computer and found a few that I thought would be easy to write about in an odd minute of peace and quiet. I then uploaded them to my Library ready to be clicked on when the need arose. As the year of a-post-a-day draws to a close, I’m feeling quite sad about it in a way but as I mentioned in the post last year – time moves on and I’ve lots of other things needing my attention – and I’ll talk to you about them over the next few weeks.

Oh yes, the picture. It’s a Teasel or a Teasle or a Teazel, suit yourself. Its name comes from the use of its spiny flower head in woollen cloth making, as a brush to tease or raise the nap of the cloth.

Its lower leaves clasp the stalk tightly and dew and rainwater collect there – and for which the plant collected the name Venus’ Basin. Someone thought of dropping dead insects into these basins and found that there was an increase in the seeds in the flower heads of the plants involved.

People do strange things, don’t they?

Can We Bring the Children?

Spear Thistles
Spear Thistles

The last thistle I found for you was a bit of a disaster. Chris over on WildAboutBritain had a look at it and pointed out that it was in fact a Bush Thistle and not a Spear Thistle at all. Now, you might think that once bitten twice shy might be the appropriate response here and under normal circumstances you would be quite right. However, as you know, we do not normally do normal, and as autumn is fast approaching we move into the ‘any port (photo) in a storm’ season.

So once again, we present, for this performance only, the Fabulous, the Amazing, the Unique, the World Renowned, the One and Only. The Spear Thistle! You can, of course, insert a drum roll or a fanfare – or indeed both if you so wish, at this point. If Chris comes past again and leaves me a note to the effect that we have once more been guilty of attempting to spread misinformation and delusion, then I must beg your indulgence as at the moment Neptune is parallel to Venus and the Moon is in Libra and this lends itself to the far-fetched.

Isn’t it strange that we have one old and grizzled adult Spear Thistle and a babe in arms, together on the same stalk. Did you ever get one of those wedding invitations with a small note at the bottom saying “No Children Please”

It’s a problem, isn’t it?

Another One

Privet
Privet

Here we have another One of Those. This is Privet and you might wonder what can possibly be wrong with something that has been used as a hedge in thousands of gardens for hundreds of years. Pliny the Elder, that Roman General and Naval Commander who collected wild flowers in his spare time, mentions it in his encyclopedia Naturalis Historia (in around AD 60 or so). In England it was mentioned in the Oxford English Dictionary of 1542 and in 1777 it was recommended to people planting gardens in the smoke filled suburbs of London, as it tolerated this highly polluted environment well. Not much changes, does it?

It is found at its most diverse in China and the Himalayas – they say, and it is on a round-the-world working holiday, trying to fit in as many countries as possible.

So, you might think that we and the Privet are on good terms and get along well together. Come on, you know humanity better than that. The leaves are very poisonous to horses, the scent from the flowers is unpleasantly strong, the pollen causes skin complaints and the berries are poisonous to people. Moreover it out competes many bee-friendly native plants, while not being particularly bee-friendly itself.

Naturally, we have surrounded ourselves with the stuff and use it as a remedy for stomach ulcers and a tonic to improve the appetite. Kill or cure is alive and well.