This story caught my eye and made me hopeful. Using refillable liquid products is really difficult because you have to get your container to the shop to fill it up.
Single use plastic bottles for water, shampoo and detergents are a grotesquely unintelligent way we personally make pollution.
I have moved to solid bar shampoos and soaps without any difficulty at all, but some liquids still defeat me. This clever woman has found away to deliver “top ups” from an old electric milk float. What a shame Amazon didn’t think of it and use old milk floats for their deliveries now that everybody wants them!
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Today was warm and the cones on the pine trees started to crack open, slow releasing their tough seeds onto the ground.
Green woodpeckers yaffled, spotted woodpeckers drummed and the greenfinches sneered their wonderfully adolescent long single whine from the branches.
Butterflies woke up . There were brimstones, comma, red admirals and small tortoiseshells, bright against the brown mud in my garden as they shook colour back into the world.
In doors I sat at the kitchen table and watched the images from Mars on a laptop.
The rover descending and filming the surface as it came closer and closer, I saw the ridges and the red craters, the tantalising aquamarine shapes and then the sand of the very surface blown by the rover landing, engulfed it all.
I listened to the sound of Mars.
A wind blew between the clicks and bleeps of the machine that had travelled so far to hear it. In my kitchen, as the pine cones split open, I heard the wind on planet Mars and existence was astounding again and again.
I was listening to a program about the importance of the written word: the really written word, made by a human being pushing a pencil along a sheet of paper . I was inspired to share a poem I wrote this morning after listening to bird song from the garden through an open window.
The physical words have an added significance for me, as they are increasingly hard to make. I have Multiple Sclerosis and hand writing can be almost impossible for me some days, likewise typing . Voice dictation does not allow for poetry . The whole point of the unexpected word perplexes the machine and it will change and change it again until it has made dull prose out of something that I wanted to catch the light unexpectedly, like the song of the blackbird.
I hope my writing is good enough for you to read is all senses of the word!
February is the longest month for me as we wait for Spring, so I cheat and go out and buy it!
This selection of bulbs and plants is from a wonderful nursery over the border, where rows and rows of perfumed primulas, cheeky pansies and thousands of other plants thrive in perfect conditions under atifical lights and modulated heat.
They will cheer up my kitchen table for a few weeks and the bulbs will go out into the garden to maybe flower again next spring, if they survive.
The borders of France are officially closed to stop the spread of Covid, but this time they are open to neighbouring Switzerland for those who live within 30 kilometres of the frontier. This means that I can shop over the border and the awful sense of severance and dislocation that happened during the great lock down of the spring 2020 has not been repeated. It seems incredible that Covid should still be dominating our lives, but it is. The virus is not political and it is not nationalistic: it is a horrible fact that we have to deal with with patience and fortitude, though I often lack both.
One thing that has changed for me since the great lockdown of 2020 however, is the purchase of a wonderful electric bubble car which has given me mobility again. My tiny Citroen Ami, goes a maximum of 45 kilometres per hour, is so cute people wave at it and can be recharged at an ordinary plug in garage!
I adore it and I feel confident and free after years of hating driving and feeling intimidated and inept.
Spring will come!
The photo also shows Winston investigating the Ami after its delivery. He also approves mightily,
In January there really is little to see except cold, hungry birds and so I return to my records of the moths that I have seen during the better part of the year.
One of my strangest photographs was of a very distinctive black and white moth which I could not identify from my moth books.
I had sent the record in to the LPO as an an unidentified specimen knowing that the moth recorder checks such a unnamed moths in the depths of the winter and may well provide an identification for me.
When the days were suitably dark and moths were suitably absent, a positive ID came back: it was a wonderful rare Lycia zonaria the Belted Beauty !
These moth are extinct in mainland Britain. The last records were from the sand dunes of costal Cheshire, but golf courses and the heavy tramp of healthy walkers have done for them and they are now only found in Orkney. The females are flightless home bodies, who cannot stray far from the right sandy grassland and they are not plentiful anywhere .
We live about as far from the sea as you can get in Europe and our ground is not at all sandy, but somewhere a female belted beauty must have found the right spot to hatch and to send out her perfume on the night air to this lucky male. His feathery antenna are designed to detect her subtle sent and I very much hope that they guided him safely to his mate the next night. I like to think that some new Belted Beauties were made last Marchand that that they just might return this spring to tantalise and gladden the heart with their very rare beauty.
I slept late this morning. I hate waking up when it’s still dark and today I took the luxury of sleeping the darkness away.
There’s been heavy snow here, pretty but crushing , it has bowed down the bushes, cracked open the rosemary and flattened the wallflowers that were waiting gamely through the winter for the spring.
However, while I
slept a wonderful warm wind rattled the house, bangle the shutters, whistled through the door jambs and gave me vivid spring dreams full of light. The thick snow slid from the roofs and crashing roars of noise that would normally have me jumping with fear, were intertwined with my dreams to produce formless exhilarating sensations .
I went to sleep in the winter and woke in spring time.
In the garden the sky was huge and racing blue and white. Everything smelt of growth and possibility. The cats were afraid of the scurrying leaves and the howling trees, but I just filled my lungs with the warm air and rejoiced.
2021 has started and rarely can a year have been so happily discarded as 2020.
A year of loss and fear and exhaustion for those fighting the virus first hand and of limbo and anxiety for those of us watching with our carefully washed hands folded in our laps.
The wonderful scientists across the world who have worked flat out to develop vaccines will liberate us all eventually and we just have to be patient and wait our turn to be inoculated against Covid 19, but something will be missing in 2021 that won’t come back.
There is a hole in the heart of Europe where my country used to be. Britain is no longer part of Europe and the vision that was formed after the destruction of the Second World War no longer includes my country.
I know I am haunted by metaphors, but when I saw this fruit tree in the green field inexplicably burnt out, the significance was not wasted on me .
The limbo time between Christmas and New Year feels very like the whole year has felt. Waiting to start again, but still enjoying the quiet and expanded sense of time between the tinsel and the fireworks of hope: safe and separate and too much time to listen to the unexpected silence.
In the quiet there are always the barrel rolling ravens and a flurry of bright goldfinches hanging on to the long birch in the wind.
In an unploughed field a single chaffinch does what gave her her name and pecks amongst the stalks for spilt grain.
A mole has pushed up a soft hill on the edge of the field and there is a definite line across its peak as if a playful walker has drawn a walking stick across it . I bend down to examine the mud and realise that the track has in fact been made by the passage of tiny vole feet. There is a vole hole between the mole hill and the field edge . The vole, like the chaffinch has been gleaning the spilt grains of corn and pulling them into his burrow to feed on them in muddy safety.
The year is coming to an end and we stay warm and fed underground with the moles and the voles . Spring will come, but winter has its own quiet virtues too.
I promised to tell you how my attempt to grow my own loofas went.
I bought the seed last winter when cutting down on plastic seemed the most important thing in the world. Well, the seeds germinated well and
the seedlings grew. I identified a good place against a wire fence to plant them out and watered them in. Then it turned wet and the cats were both sick and the slugs came out and ate the plants down to the ground when I wasn’t looking!
End of story.
What is astonishing about this little tale is that a whole year has gone by since I bought the seeds and the whole world has grown so strange since then.
I feel as if I haven’t been out of the garden or house since then. Time has folded in on itself so much since then that I am not sure I ever planted the loofa seedlings at all, or what I was hoping to achieve by growing them.
I have spent an inordinate amount of time this covid year staring at my two cats Winston and Pixie and marveling at their markings. They are brother and sister who were living in a neighbor’s greenhouse as kittens. We took them in and have always been fascinated by how many wild cat genes they might carry.
There are wild cats here in the edge of the Jura and I have seen cats on the edge of the forest with the tell tale fat banded tail and the black Pom Pom on the end.
Pixie has the classic wildcat tail, when she is being really agressive or scared, it quadruples in size and my little affectionate Pixie becomes a fluffy monster. Her larger brother Winston has some of the wildcat markings, but no where near as many as his sister, he has sleek velvety fur and classic tabby cat stripes. They both have wildcat cat ear tufts.
This useful illustration of the markings on a cats back is the best I have found for telling a tabby from a real wild cat.
It could be Pixie A (wild cat) and Winston B, ( tabby cat ) but as they are sister and brother I think all that it proves is that cats, just like humans are a bit of everything and wonderfully mixed up like us all!
Waiting for the year to be over and for better times to come, waiting for the vaccine, waiting for the solstice and the world to swing back to the light, waiting for just a little break in the cloud, waiting with the ravens, waiting.
Being alive is all the colours in between and simplification is so often trivialization, however fervently we may yearn for the comforting separation of thought and experience .
The hunters have been shooting the wild boar in the forest with what sounds like elephant guns. The hunters wave to us as they pass us in their vehicles because they see us in the woods so often. We wave back, pleased to see that they are wearing masks, appropriately socially distanced as they drive off to kill.
When we head for home there are two pigs hanging on hooks behind the lodge, waiting to be butchered . Their feet dangling in the air are so tiny, so elegant it seems improbable that they could have ever have carried such muscular weight .
The next day we see ravens when we walk to the woods and then more and then more. Ravens are always in pairs and they talk to one another raucously when the winter comes. I think of bickering and companionable married couples as they roll overhead in a sky that is ready to snow.
There are so many ravens and they are so close to us and so loud, that we realize there must be meat near by to make them so excited .
Of course there is: the hunters’ lodge is very close and the entrails of the butchered boar must have gone somewhere.
The ravens were uproarious with delight . The couples were contented and after feasting, they descended into the stubble to clean their gory great black beaks in the clean winter field.
Covid is raging across the world and life can seem to have shrunk to a penny piece, but there is still wonderful good news to hold onto.
Here on one of the busiest and most polluted rivers in the world , ospreys are returning to breed. A huge international rewilding project is returning a little bit of the river Rhine to its natural state and wildlife is moving straight back in to rebalance the world.
At the other end of our astonishing planet blue whales, which were nearly hunted to extinction, are reappearing again after hunting was outlawed.
I have been keeping a close eye on the research about the usefulness of face masks to protect us from Covid infection. Unfortunately the cloth masks we have made, are not very effective at filtering out the virus . Disposable masks with pinch-able nose bridges are much better, but it seems terrible to use something once and then throw it away and it goes against all my green principles!
By mistake I have often machine washed a disposable mask that has been left in the pocket of clothes. I have been surprised by how the process has not harmed it all and how fresh and intact it was after a long wash. I was delighted therefore to read that studies have shown that a disposable mask can be machine washed, tumble dried and even ironed 10 times before its filtration of covid virus is impaired.
This is really good news to keep more of us safer and doing less harm to the environment while we wait for the vaccine to restore normal ( what ever that is! ) life!!
Today sounds of robins, their rich round burble of music rolls from the hedge and is answered in kind by their mate hidden in the tall tree . Robin song always sounds like Britain and is a relaxing link with home. Here in France they are much rarer in gardens and I can go a whole year without seeing one in the garden. They remind me of my garden in Wales, which was a damp suburban slice in the shade of a magnificent oak tree.
We loved the tree as soon as we saw it and owning the tree was as exciting as owning the little bungalow that sheltered under its bows .
The oak was pollarded periodically and then we left it to go and see the world and the bungalow and guardian oak was rented out to a long succession of tenants.
At the very end of this summer, when the tree was thick with green leaves there was a huge storm and the wonderful tree was uprooted. It walked like an ent from Tolkein across the lawn and it threw itself onto the little bungalow and crushed it utterly .
The house in boarded up now and there is a temporary roof on. It will be rebuilt, we had insurance, the tenant is OK and rehoused, but the oak is gone forever. It was all very shocking.
When the tree was still lying across the house it appeared as if the foliage had simply finally engulfed the upstart house, but when it was sawn up and hauled away by a crane, the full extent of the devastation was apparent.
This was the house we (and the bank) bought when we were first married and we always considered that it was the home we could return to when our wandering was over.
Brexit, Covid and a huge storm has made even knowing where home is anymore , more more difficult .
So when I hear the robins sing I think of our lost oak tree and hope it set plenty of acorns in the hedge for when and if, we ever go home.
This little garden spider came in on a colis plant that will be livening up my window sill this winter. I think that spider webs are lucky and if she avoids my cats, she might just make it to the spring with the rest of us.
The following link will take you to a really good news story about the rediscovery of the wolf spider that was thought extinct in the UK for years. It is also inspiring to see what dedicated amateur naturalists can discover by perseverance.
They shut the road through the woods Seventy years ago. Weather and rain have undone it again, And now you would never know There was once a road through the woods Before they planted the trees.
It is underneath the coppice and heath, And the thin anemones. Only the keeper sees That, where the ring dove broods, And the badgers roll at ease, There was once a road through the woods.
Yet, if you enter the woods Of a summer evening late, When the night-air cools on the trout-ringed pools Where the otter whistles his mate, (They fear not men in the woods, Because they see so few.) You will hear the beat of a horse’s feet, And the swish of a skirt in the dew, Steadily cantering through The misty solitudes, As though they perfectly knew The old lost road through the woods… But there is no road through the woods.
As Europe goes back into lock down for everybody except for front line workers ( which now includes school teachers as well as health workers!), maybe Rudyard Kipling’s famous poem should be adapted to –
when the sun came out , the air was improbable with ladybirds. Everywhere I looked there were ladybirds landing fatly on the walls of the house, on the chairs, on my trousers. Before I can get close they disappeared slipping and into cracks , easing their fat ways in between the door frame and the door – all looking for somewhere to spend the winter where they will be warm and safe.
I will find them all winter long and in the spring they will emerge from the safe cracks and if they’re lucky will be liberated to start the spring. If they’re unlucky they die of exhaustion and get swept up in the winter.
Out in the countryside the farmers are harvesting the maize and the noise is tremendous. Fuming about man-made disruption, I walked into the forest and acorns rained down all around me from the oak trees. It sounded like hail and I was glad of my hat as they pinged around me and clattered down heavily from the branches overhead.
In the countryside the farmers were harvesting maize with a roar of machinery that sent me into the forestin search of peace. Acorns were raining down as loud as hail: ricocheting off branches and trunks and I was grateful for my bike hat as the acorns whizzed passed my ears.
When I was out of the woods there was a new noise as a great flock of migrating pigeons made a cloud of sound over my head. Their wings pushed stockily against the breaking clouds and I could hear the very rattle of their feathers .
They are off to find a place to feed and fatten away from the coming winter , just like the ladybirds.
I took my cue and turned home to light the fire in the stove which always makes me feel as safe and as snug as a bug in a rug!
Covid is still keeping guests away and me inside, but I can still step over it and go into the garden.
The delivery man is amused by it, the cats are bemused by it and it just keeps on growing.
If it is a metaphor for the insidious growth of the virus, then when winter eventually kills it, we will all be set free . If it is a metaphor for theresilience of nature, then I shall leave it to grow. If it is a metaphor for my sloth then I should hack it back.
As planning for the future seems impossible these days, I shall live the metaphor and do absolutely nothing at all and just wait and see what the tendril does next.
We may feel cribbed and confined by a world on hold, but the clouds still race by and the seasons turn and turn again even though we can’t believe the calendar has moved on.
It turns out that the beautiful is much closer than we realised and that clouds fly by with even greater freedom unentangled by the nets of jet vapour trails.
There are flocks of chaffinches arriving already from the north to feast on the mast from the beech trees. The bend of the road, by the cow pasture, is greasy with the walnuts crushed by cars tyres. The apple press next door is working ten hours a day to crush a bumper crop of apples into juice and sweet cider from the heavy laden trees of the three countries that touch branches just here .
So much that is vaunted as huge technological advance is just an excuse for us all having to buy and use yet more machines.
This is especially the case in education.
A simple class quiz on the whiteboard, or even blackboard, that children needed a pen and paper to take part in, now requires every child to have a smart phone or tablet, the teacher to be able to project the quiz onto a very expensive smart board and the results to be generated and stored on an electricity guzzling cloud .
We are told this is environmentally better because no paper is used and we are supposed to be stupid enough not to recognise the enormous environmental impact of requiring every child/teacher/classroom to have a computer and to be using google or any of the thousands of other platforms/ browsers that store and send information, at real cost from cloud to heat belching super computer, across the whole globe.
This does not make children smarter or happier. It just makes money for the technology giants and we have all been suckered in. It is the ultimate emperor’s new clothes and teachers have been too afraid to point out the pitiful nakedness of the emperor for fear of being called old fashioned and ultimately of losing their jobs.
I am soon to leave the teaching profession after a very long time teaching English literature and language and there is nothing at all that electronic technology has added to the teaching of my subject.
It is however useful for protecting turtle eggs on tropical beaches.
I watched huge leatherback turtles deposit tiny translucent ping pong ball eggs in the sand in the wonderful dark of a Costa Rican beach years ago and I was delighted to read that technology is helping track those who steal and eat the eggs today.
I read “The Map of Knowledge” by Violet Moller and it blew me away, as the Americans say.
I was blown away because I was conscious yet again of how stunningly little I know and how much there is to know and how little time there is in a puny human life.
Moller encapsulates all of the lost ancient knowledge through the cities that valued it and protected it after the destruction of the Greek world. She follows Gallen, Euclid and Ptolemy texts as they escape the flames of the library of Alexandria , the Mongol destruction of the Abbasids culture and the Christian attempts to bury ancient learning in Western Europe.
Reading this wonderful book inspired me to watch the film “Agora”about the female philosopher and mathematician Hypatia who never stopped working on the true circulation of the planets even as bigotry and fundamentalism closed in on her and finally killed her as the Hellenic world took to Christianity.
I then read “The Swerve” by Stephen Greenblatt by which is a wonderful exploration of the survival of a single pre Christian book, which was neither about medicine nor mathematics. To my great ￼shame I had never even heard of the original text which is “The Nature of Things “ ( De Rerum Natura) by Lucretius , but I had heard at least of the philosopher who inspired it: Epicurus.
“The Swerve” is an account of how a 15th century scholar called Poggio trawled through the libraries of European monasteries deliberately looking for forgotten ancient books. He struck gold when he discovered a copy of “The Nature of Things.” This poem written in about 50 BC explains that all life is made of atoms, that the Gods, if they exist at all, have not the slightest interest in humanity; that there is no reward in the afterlife and that our bodily atoms just return to be reused in the cycle of life.
This does not seem so remarkable an idea now to many people, but for more than two thousandyears these ideas were incendiary and the survival of the book at all is extraordinary. Goldblatt shows how the discovery of this lost book made possible the rebirth of scholarship that is known as the Renaissance and how this laid the foundation for our modern world.
Of course I had to try reading “The Nature of Things “ for myself. It is written in wonderfully sinuous poetry and this was so unexpectedly beautiful that I almost could not take it seriously. When the poetry gives way to denser science I find myself giving up and returning to “Just William” but between these two poles of experience I will keep reading, stay sane and use that breathless perspective of learning and history to weather the coming winter .
This grape vine tendril has grown right across my front door step. This is vegetable testimony to how few people have stepped across the threshold and how rarely I have been out this way.
When the vine started budding it was early spring and we sat drinking tea in the sunshine, enjoying the lockdown and the luxury of working from home and watching the garden come to life for once. The bat came back to roost in the eves as summer started and the grapes began to set.
Now it is autumn : Being home is still a pleasure and the garden is still amazing but venturing beyond the garden still seems foolish . Covid has not gone away and so the grapes have fattened unadmired by guests and visitors.
I wish there was a reason to trim the wayward frond , I wish the vine shoot was in anybody’s way: but it isnt, so it curls indolently over the door mat.
I wonder if the door will be completely overgrown by the time a vaccine liberates us all back into normal life, or if I will have simply learnt to make my own wine and there will be no reason to ever go out again!
I was peering at the bus stop display when something flew by and landed on the glass.
It was a large green praying mantis. I know them from Greece and Southern Europe but had never seen one in urban Switzerland.
Global warming perhaps?
I looked up mantis in Basel to send in the record in case anyone was interested, but instead of a wildlife recording site, I found papers from Basel University on how praying mantises have been observed eating humming birds and sucking their brains out!
To say I was surprised was an understatement . Apparently bird eating mantis are not the mantis religiosa of my bus stop encounter, but another species of mantis that has been introduced as pest control and are now actually eating North American hummingbirds.
The rain washed the soil from the field and it made the most delicate image of the tree that should be growing there, just to remind us of what we loose when we let the soil leach away and we treat the earth like a factory floor.
I took the curtains down They have hung unwashed against the glass for too long. The window was bigger, filled from frame to frame with sunshine and a perfect blue sky And then the sky erupted: Swallows and martins exploded, flung exuberance , flight and life, Careering, tumbling , screaming, A great cloud of birds in all of the sky giving depth to the flat perfection of the blue day : calling calling calling. I could not hear them behind the glass but I know the sound The screaming chattering essence of flight, of movement , of freedom – Oh swallow, swallow!