Shall I Go or Shall I Stay

Thistledown
Thistledown

“Ooo! Ow! Stop pushing!”
“Stop complaining, you’ve lived here all your life, you ought to know that the leaves are prickly by now.”
“Yes, but it’s been so hot lately, they seem to be more and more prickly every day. Have you noticed things are, sort of, loosening up?”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, now and again, these last few days, I seem to suddenly need to grab hold of something, I’m sort of – loose.”
“Actually, yes, I have noticed. I just thought it was because the sun was so hot.”
“Do you think it’s true, then?”
“What’s true? Oh you mean about the West Wind coming? We’ve had wind from the west before, you know. I can’t really see how it could make any difference to us.”
“Yes, but, well, it’s that whispering, it’s a bit eerie. I know everyone’s doing it – but I just don’t know if we ought to join in.”
“Well don’t join in next time, party pooper. You must admit it gives you a real buzz. The West Wind is coming. The West Wind is coming.”
“Come on. Pack it in! You’ll have the whole bunch at it again. Oh. Crumbs. Now look what you’ve done. You’ve started them off again.”
“The wind is picking up a bit isn’t it? Come on. Sway, sway!”
“Oops!”
“What do you mean, oops?”
“I’ve come unstuck.”
“Hang on to me, then. Oops. Wait, careful, now I’ve come unstuck.”
“Aaaah! We floating away. We’ll never get back now.”
“Who cares. Hold tight. We’re off. We’re off!”

Food for Thought

Rose Bay Willow Herb
Rose Bay Willow Herb

The verge, on the road down to the beck, is quite broad on one side. Once again this year, a huge bank of Rose Bay Willow Herb has appear out of nowhere. What, over winter, had become almost bare ground, with a few wisps of grass here and there, is now a bank of plants three or four feet high.

Google knows a great deal about Rose Bay Willow Herb. As with most of the information on the Internet, many of the sources are contradictory – but all of them are very authoritative. I thought I’d pass on a selection of the wisdom of the world so you could pick out the pieces that appeal to you.

One option is that this is a native of North America. It was brought over to Europe as a garden plant, escaped and made itself at home. Next, we have it as a native of the Russian tundra. Here, they have been using the leaves to make tea and fermenting the pith of the stems to make beer for ever. Then, there’s the opinion that it was known here, in the north of England, before its supposed importation – but was considered very rare.

This is an amazing plant – most of it is edible or drinkable, it can be used medicinally to cure a range of ills – from typhoid to nappy rash, and it grows in huge banks of glorious purple in summer and the leaves turn a fiery red in autumn.

And what do we do with this, natures bountiful largess?

No Yeti Yet

Rhododendron
Rhododendron

Our current home is the top floor of a converted barn. Below us, the barn remains unconverted. The building is built into the hillside, so while our front door leads into a small lobby with stairs up to the main rooms of our home, the back door leads straight out to ground level a good way up the hill. From the back door you step onto a small flat-ish area of lawn surrounded by trees and bushes of various cultivated varieties. Behind that, the steeply rising ground is the home of oak, holly and the occasional beech tree with, at this time of year, a carpet of daffodils.

Both the woods and the garden shrubbery are old established, possibly over a hundred years in the case of the woods. Over time, the shrubbery has climbed steadily up the hill and the woods have edged their way slowly downwards. Now, that terror of the spelling bee – the rhododendron, is from the Himalayas. For them, a steep incline is no deterrent. It seems to me that what is needed to keep them in check is some Himalayan local fauna. Honey made from the rhododendron pollen is toxic to humans. As anything with any semblance of human form is automatically drawn to consume everything that doesn’t actually kill them very often, and lacking any clear evidence to the contrary, I feel justified in assuming that that denizen of desolation, the Yeti, must exist on a diet of rhododendron flowers.

We’re hoping he’ll pose for a photo when he turns up – watch this space.

Cherry Aid

Nascent Cherry Blossom
Nascent Cherry Blossom

Each year, about this time the cherry trees blossom. Cherry blossom means Japan, of course. In Japan they are in two minds about it. The arrival of the cherry blossom heralds the arrival of the hay fever season. While the cherry blossom is the most obvious culprit, it isn’t the main source of the pollen. Most comes from the Japanese Cedar and Japanese Cypress trees that were planted in their thousands as part of the reconstruction and rebuilding programme after the war. The pollen from these two trees  is maximised once the tree reaches the ripe old age of thirty. Most of the trees are now thirty to forty years old and well into the swing of it.

At this time of year a range of ‘anti-hay fever’ products appear – after all, on a nice day who wouldn’t want to picnic in the park amongst the cherry blossom. This year, the most popular seems to be a sort of bee keeper helmet, with a small battery powered fan in the top that draws in air through a filter. I presume that the air in Japan, realises that it isn’t supposed to come in through the gauze covering your face, and makes its way round to the fan independently – perhaps there are signs showing the correct path.

Our cherry trees, down by the beck, are doing their best. Every time we pass that way we stop and have a chat. Obviously, we’re concerned that all these negative vibes may put them off.

We’ve taken to passing on those ‘inspired quotes’ that litter the Internet every time we’re round that way.  Today we tried ‘It doesn’t matter if the glass is half full or half empty – as long as you have a glass with something in it’. I’m not sure if it hit the spot, though.

An Embarassment of Riches

Yellowhammer at the bird feeder
Yellowhammer at the bird feeder

One of the problems with having nature as the central theme is that, while you are busy admiring the gold and red leaves and the fruit and seed pods of autumn – nature, who, by now, is totally bored by all this growth, expansion and the constant need to maximise income over expenditure, just nods off – and leaves you standing there, with nothing to write about. This leads to the temptation to write insulting and snide comments in an attempt to stir some response. It is as well to resist this, as it is firstly, pointless, and secondly – always bear in mind, not only does Google gleefully cache all slips of the keyboard for ever and ever after, but this cache immediately becomes available to European, American and Chinese security services to be broken up into sound bites and churned into Big Data.

Then, suddenly it’s Spring. This week we have some lovely pictures of our mountains, basking in the morning sun with a crisp clean bedcover of snow. Then, under the hedge on the way to the beck we found some Honesty coming into flower. Our wood is looking magnificent in its bright daffodil yellow jumper. There are hyacinths sprouting among the daffodils on the roadsides. We found some Lungwort with its red and blue flowers by the rookery and the Lesser Celandines are bursting out in the warmer spots.

But, in the end, I decided to show you Jackie’s picture of this Yellowhammer, he is on the RSBP ‘Red List’ – meaning there are not many around at the moment.

So, I thought you’d better see him before things get any worse.

This Year’s Crop

First Lambs This Year
First Lambs This Year

As anyone who has ever kept sheep will lose no opportunity to tell you, sheep are the Houdinis of the animal world. They are escape artists par excellence. This field has had a new gate and new fencing installed recently. We’ll see how long it takes them to find their way out. Once the sheep realise that the all the tasty stuff is actually in the field with them, however, they knuckle down and focus on the job of keeping the grass clipped as short as possible. But this realisation dawns slowly. 

For the first few months, especially, the lure of the wild blue yonder is too strong to be denied, or may be it’s just that the grass has to be greener on the other side of the fence, they’ve read it on Facebook – it had twenty thousand ‘Likes’ – so it must be true.

Driving around at this time of year becomes increasingly hazardous as the lambs become more adventuresome and bolder. Some have taken the trouble to plan their escape route ahead of an emergency, others haven’t. When you drive down the lane, those on ‘Red Alert’ immediately take evasive action and head straight for the hole in the hedge they made on their way out of the field. Those happy-go-lucky types, for whom forward planning is an anathema, scuttle up and down the verge or run along the road in front of the car. Many times I have had to wind the car window down and lecture a bunch who belie Bo Peep’s belief.

Leave them alone and they’ll come home, indeed!

Spring

Dunnock - Singing - It Must Be Spring
Dunnock – Singing – It Must Be Spring

Isn’t Spring a strange word. It must be one of those words that have their roots far back, at the beginnings of speech. You know, just when we had begun to tolerate our teenagers going round saying “Ugh” to each other (and all the thirty and forty something-s had started saying it too – just to prove that they were not really getting old) someone, somewhere comes out with “Spring”. Now, IMHO, all of us who thought we knew where we were up to, are back to having no idea what’s going on, LOL.

Spring, the kind you find sandwiched between winter and summer, not the kind that bounces around, or the kind that is coiled up and used for beds, or even the place where the water gushes out of the ground, has had one try at getting started so far. We had Im Bolg around February 4th. You know, writing was developed as a way of recording the sounds we make – as words, if I tell you that Im Bolg is actually pronounced im molk and it refers to the approximate date that ewe’s come into milk, can you remember how long it is since you had a bolg shake?

Here we are at March 1st and Spring is going to have another go at starting. If all else fails there is still the vernal equinox on March 20th (in most places – might sneak over into 21st in some places) but that really is the last chance.

Some can’t wait while Spring phaffs about, though. This Dunnock, singing his heart out on the hedge as we walked past today, has obviously become impatient with dates and times and has decided to just get on with it.

Surprise!

Agusta Helicopter
Agusta Helicopter

The weather this week has been awful. The RSPB was running its annual ‘Big Garden Birdwatch’ – on particular dates you are supposed to count all the birds you see in your garden over a continuous period of one hour – we didn’t have an hour with any birds in the garden at all on those dates. They were all, very sensibly, sheltering from the ferocious wind and driving rain.

Because the weather dial, upstairs there, is set on ‘Random Selection’ at the moment, we have also had some clear sunny days during the week. We’ve done our best to synchronise our perambulations, we’re too set in our routine for them to be peregrinations, to the sunny periods and we’ve had proved to us, once again – sunny does not equal warm.

It has been hard to find something that would risk a venture out, into even the brightest day, that we could use as a picture for your edification. We’ve seen our robin – we know it’s ours, as two robins are incapable of co-existing peaceably – and a batch of chaffinches who, on the whole seem to be able to settle disputes, vocally, but without recourse to fisticuffs. They appear, grab a beak-full of seed and wing it back to the shelter of the bushes.

Then, on our walk this morning, quite suddenly, out of nowhere, this helicopter appeared. I grabbed the camera, wrenched the lens cap off, and pointed in the general direction (which was up, as it flew low, right over our heads) and pressed the button.

Not a bad shot, hey? We think it’s an Agusta A109

A Hopeful Sign

Gorse
Gorse

I had this nice picture of Gorse. Yes, even in February this bush is producing flowers. So I shook Google awake and sent him off to see what he could find – for me to pass on as if I knew it all along. He found a few things. Did you know that we have three different types of gorse in the UK? One variety grows less than a metre tall and only in the south east, so this isn’t that one. The other two hybridise at the drop of a hat, I blame the bees myself – standards are slipping everywhere, so it is pretty pointless even trying to decide which one is which.

If you look closely at the flower and think it reminds you of a sweet pea or runner bean, you would be quite right, Gorse is a legume. Like the rest of the legume family, gorse is into nitrogen fixing and if you occasionally cut it right back it will release some of its store back and enrich the surface soil. It is also into calcium, it will fish it out of the sub-soil and use it to give its thorns a bit of backbone. When it dies back it drops its thorns, and sprinkles the calcium around.

It is actually, really interesting, if somewhat prickly, stuff. Chris Dixon of Penrhos in Wales, has a very interesting site here, with a whole page on how he uses it in Permaculture.

Then there was Dr Edward Bach (1886-1936) who devised a system of Flower Remedies. Gorse, for him was the remedy for people who had lost hope.

Indeed, a glimpse of the bright yellow flowers at this time of the year does lift the spirits.

Multiple Choice

A Sunny Day in January
A Sunny Day in January

You find me in a quandary. What a strange word that is, do all words with qu sound like relics of a forgotten world to you? Then, there are all those words with gh and ght in them – dinosaurs all, stamping round swinging their massive tails and bellowing at the top of their lungs. You know, writing is just a way of recording speech. Someone, some-when in antiquity, sat there with his quill pen and wrote w r i t t i n g and then he chewed the end of the pen and wrote t h o u g h t.

Now, you can forgive him for adding the w at the beginning of writing, it was, after all the bleeding edge of human advancement, and they all had high hopes for it. Putting a w at the beginning made it special, and writing writing, with its w, made the writer feel special too. But why thought? They may have imagined that they had just invented thinking, every generation seems to do that, but if they wanted to give thinking a bleeding edge spelling, why not apply a little consistency? Surely wthort would have done just as well?

I must confess, for a moment I had considered pondering on whether a quandary had three or four wheels or perhaps a fur-lined collar, but no, the actual problem is – do I claim the brownie points for catching the sheep right in the middle of the gateway or the crow in flight?

That Time Of Year

Christmas Decorations
Christmas Decorations

We’ve been away. I’ve been off to a local rest and recuperation centre. He has been down south visiting relatives. We synchronised our existence again today – and went off for our walk, just as if nothing had happened. I think it’s pretty safe to say, nothing had happened.

I left a few posts in strategic places as we went on our rounds but, from the fragrance of the moment, life seems to have been wandering on, in pretty much the aimless manner it did when I was here to oversee things. I suppose that in winter (or are we still in autumn?) you can’t really expect dramatic developments on a daily basis. The cows have all moved on to greener pastures – or at least a comfortable cowshed with all mod cons to see them through the cold and wet months. The cow I spoke to about this was very emphatic this was an important part of their work ethic, to say nothing of their hooves rotting away in the mud.

The sheep don’t seem to be quite as picky about a little cold and damp. They are out there in their dozens, filling up the fields so recently vacated by their, more delicate, bovine relations. I don’t mind sheep – but I do wish they wouldn’t stand at the gates of the fields and stare at you.

Oh, yes. And did you notice? They’ve put the Christmas decorations up.

Tropical Topic

Log In The Beck
Log In The Beck

 

Well I’m off on my holidays. See you in a week or so. What? Oh. Don’t worry, he’ll write something for you. Who knows what you’ll get, probably a helicopter. See you later.

As you’ve gathered, The Dog has gone off to play with her playmates at one of those, what you used to call summer camps over in America – or so I believe. So I seized control. Then I remembered why I let her take over. There isn’t actually anything to write about at this time of year.

We fought our way, through the sleet and the howling gale, down to the beck today. Here I must digress and assure you that our gales do really howl. I’m not sure if it is the ground contours or just the gap between the buildings but it makes quite a noise. The trees, on the hill behind the house, tend to roar. I think that the wind excites them, it isn’t a ferocious roar or roar of pain – they’re just shouting at the tops of their voices, because they want to. So, with the noise of the wind and the roar of the trees and the hood of my raincoat pulled over up over my head, I often feel quite isolated – it’s a bit like undergoing solitary confinement – but cold and wet as well.

As The Dog has gone off to Summer Camp I wondered if the beck was at all tropical – sure enough, I found a crocodile lying basking in the hail. Of course it could be an anaconda.

Or an anadile. Or a crocaconda. An alliganda? An anagator?

OK. It’s a log.