Up and down

The teasels are flowering.

The circle of purple flowers opens both up and down the flower heads and they remind me of the wonderful lines about the candle burning at both ends.

“My candle burns at both ends;

It will not last the night;

But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends –

It gives a lovely light.”

Edna St. Vincent Millay

Thistles: 1918.

When the brief firework of flowers are over, the seed heads will ripen and the dried heads will stand all winter long to feed the meticulous goldfinches when there seems nothing left to eat in the world.

The prickly, unpromising Teasels really are a “lovely light” at both ends of the year.

Cosy in compost

This wonderful shining knot of slow worms were coiled up together in the warm compost bin. They aren’t worms or snakes, but harmless legless lizards that share our garden and eat the slugs.

We used to be delighted if we saw one basking on a sunny day all golden smooth in the bright light. Winston the cat used to bring them to us occasionally, unharmed but tailless where they had dropped their wriggling tail in the hope of distracting a predator while they escaped. He seems to have grown out of that habit and the slow worms have happily raised families in the warmth and safely of the lidded plastic compost bin. There were at least six when the lid was raised to deposit the daily offerings of tea leaves and potatoes peelings and most just slid away amongst the cuttings and warmly decomposing compost. You can see three heads of the ones who were slower to move.

Apparently they can stay intertwined when mating for 10 hours, so there may have been good reason for their sluggishness!

I like to think of our kitchen “rubbish” breeding such beauty!

“Eye Eye”

Some mornings the moth trap produces a real wonder.

While noting the usual suspects ( footmen, yellow underwings, magpie etc etc ) I saw a hawk moth on the egg boxes. At first I assumed it was a poplar hawk moth, but it’s body was curled up like a convulous hawk moth so I took a closer look . As I gently took out the egg box on which it was sitting , it flashed two extraordinary blue and pink eyes at me.

The eyes were startling and bright and were unexpected enough to deter most predators. Just as quickly they were hidden again under dull coloured fore wings and the eyes were closed.

Many moth names are expressive or simply odd, so it was a little disappointing to find that this wonderful creature has been given the pedestrianly obvious name of Eyed Hawk-moth Smerinthus ocellata

Maybe you can suggest something more fitting to this eye catching beauty!

Suggestions please?

Adam Zagajewski

This is the only lily that survived the hail storm . It is damaged but it’s perfume is undiminished and breathtakingly lovely.

It made me think of this wonderful poem by the Polish poet Adam Zagajewski. I was looking for a copy of the poem on the Poetry Foundation Website and I found that he had died only a few months ago. This poem has circled in my head since I first read it . The poem is universal , deeply human and the author was a great poet .

Try to Praise the Mutilated World

By ADAM ZAGAJEWSKITRANSLATED BY Clare Cavanagh

Try to praise the mutilated world.
Remember June’s long days,
and wild strawberries, drops of rosé wine.
The nettles that methodically overgrow
the abandoned homesteads of exiles.
You must praise the mutilated world.
You watched the stylish yachts and ships;
one of them had a long trip ahead of it,
while salty oblivion awaited others.
You’ve seen the refugees going nowhere,
you’ve heard the executioners sing joyfully.
You should praise the mutilated world.
Remember the moments when we were together
in a white room and the curtain fluttered.
Return in thought to the concert where music flared.
You gathered acorns in the park in autumn
and leaves eddied over the earth’s scars.
Praise the mutilated world
and the gray feather a thrush lost,
and the gentle light that strays and vanishes
and returns.

While I wasn’t looking.

Nearly a year ago, on a very hot day, a solitary wasp built a mud nest under my kitchen window sill. It filled the mud dome with food for it grubs and then it sealed the young in and flew away.

I have checked on it periodically, hoped it was still alive after a very cold winter and an icy spring. It was well sheltered from the hail by the overhang and while I was busy doing something else , the young bit their way out of the rock hard dome and literally flew the nest.

I wonder if a new wasp will be back to build again. It is cool and wet this year and these wasps are on the edge of their range, so maybe they will not venture north again this year.

The moths are about three weeks late this year. I have been mothing in this garden for so long now that I know when each species should appear. The yellow underwings are here: the large and the broad bordered: the first fan foots are here, the ubiquitous hearts and darts are here in proper numbers and the uncertains are definitely on the wing. Dark arches are appearing, common footmen and little magpie moths are in the moth trap and on the windows. Oracle moths have turned up and today a lovely furry headed poplar hawk moth took a liking to my pencil and sat on it all rainy day. You can see my note book of species noted each day under his wings as he sheltered the endlessly rainy day away on the dry garden table.

Lemonade

If the world gives you lemons make lemonade.

Just over a week from the devastating hailstorm that trashed the garden, there is some regrowth .

One courgette plant and one pumpkin plant survived and have put out very small new leaves. A few bush bean plants are still growing despite being splashed with mud. The stumps of lettuces have inspired a new ring of leaves and the bush fuchsia is making buds at the apex of each smashed stalk.

The roses are shocked out of summer and only a few undamaged buds have opened in stunned smallness . The peonies are long gone and even the stalwart ladies’ mantle is an unretrievable broken mass on the grass. I have been most surprised by the havoc reeked on the lavender, which was just budding and really shooting up. The hail has pockmarked virtually every flower stem and over the passing week they have slowly wilted and finally collapsed over the foliage.

I was going to throw a party to celebrate that fact that we are both now retired and survived many years of teaching. The garden has been my personal refuge, from the digitised soullessness horror of modern education. Now the garden gives me less pleasure, so I went to the co-op and bought some hanging fuchsias and begonias, new tomatoes plants, fennel and cabbage and parsley.

I thought trying an actual lemon plant would be pushing the metaphor way beyond its climatic boundaries.

I think the party will have to wait, until there has been more regrowth, but the lemonade jug is ready and waiting just in case!

In the shelter of a hedge.

This rose grows in the shadow of a thick hedge. It flowers each summer mostly ignored.

When a catastrophic hailstorm destroyed my garden a few days ago it was sheltered from the devastation and now its lone bloom is the most valued thing that there is left.

When we moved to our house 12 years ago, our new neighbours warned us about the hail storms that can trash everything in minutes and sighed at our desire to grow soft fruit and grapes. We listened politely and went ahead with planting raspberries and currants and vines. There were a few hail storms and one year we lost our potatoes, but nothing was too bad.

The thunder started early in the afternoon and went on for so long I just thought it was part of the music that was playing.

The hail stones were 2-3 cm in diameter. They broke plant pots, roof tiles and chipped off the plaster from the walls of the house. They bounced like ball barrings or frozen gob stoppers and smashed foliage as they fell. The lettuces were pulverised, the pumpkins, courgettes and green beans were pounded into the mud and the potato plants shredded into skeletons.

After spectacular lightening and yet more thunder, the heavens finally opened . Hail thundered down with a size and ferocity I have never encountered in any tropical country.

There is a single bud left on my lovely lilies . The peonies were atomised and my best ever year of roses were over in ten minutes of ice and biblical vengeance.

I have been clearing up as best I can but my garden is a very sorry sight.

The rose by the hedge was protected by the thick overhang and while the rest of the garden is broken and battered, this neglected rose escaped completely unharmed .

Gardens grow metaphors like weeds.

Hearing the quarter moon.

It is warm and still. I forgot to water my two tomato plants and the half row of beans that have shouldered above the soil.

My neighbour sneezes: the sweet chestnut is in flower. Somewhere a food processor churns, or is it a washing machine or a heat pump? Someone calls in a cat who wants to hunt the light night away. The cars have gone, a lone motorbike rips through the silence . Curfew is an hour away and the air is sweet.

Very small white moths appear. The hobby sheep bleats in the bottom of his lucky garden .

A mosquito whines along the gathering darkness, shutters are descending and the last blackbird fusses out of the cherry tree, a half eaten fruit in his yellow beak.

I think there is still a glass of wine undrunk indoors, so I leave the watering can by the butt, bow to the brightening moon and go quietly inside.

Sherbet

I wish I could write about smell in the way I can write about sounds and sights .

This iris is astounding in its colour and fabulously complex symmetry, but the part that delights me the most and that I cannot capture is it’s perfume .

All I can manage is that it smells of sherbet and fizz and something just sensed and then lost. It smells of limestone and bath salts and it instantly makes me smile.

The roses are just starting to blossom but that is a whole nother symphony of perfume; each one deserving of a post to its self as they unfurl between sunshine and deluge.

The rain that jewels each petal magnifies their beauty and scent and threatens to lump them into crumpled heaps of rotten blossom before their time.

I think I will just have to stand in the rain and revel in the unexpected sherbet while I can!

Spider Babies

I was drinking tea on the bench outside (unbelievably it was warm enough!) and I noticed a couple of little moving balls in a web slung between bench and wall.

On closer inspection I saw that each ball was composed of hundreds of minute spiders. Some were huddled together closely and others were venturing slowly off along a maze of fine web. Each tiny spider was newly hatched and off to find a place to spin its first web in the garden. They were utterly perfect in their tiny ness .

Their mother had laid a cocoon before she died in the winter and her off spring had waited patiently for the warmth before they emerged. If I blew gently on them they scurried, so I left them to themselves and by the next day they were all gone.

It reminded me of that childhood classic “Charlotte’s Web” by E.B. White and I thought how extraordinary it was that I should have lived so long and never seen this marvellous event before.

A garden is always full of wonders!

wanted and not wanted.

Without the rain nothing grows, when it is dry we fret, when it is wet we moan.

It has been endlessly wet and very cool. The trees are loving it. There have been too many dry years and the stress has left them vulnerable to disease, but not this spring.

This spring has been full of rain and now it seems full of baby birds. In the cold, wet months they have managed to hatch and to rear their sodden young and now the foliage is full of hungry, demanding fledgelings and frantic feathered parents .

There were lines of fluffy sparrow chicks in the feeder house this morning waiting for mother to transfer the sunflower kernels into their beaks. In the wet cherry tree marsh tit chicks scolded and whined as they demanded food. Hidden in the spindle bush are baby blue tits also waiting for their share and on the grass a harassed male blackbird yanks half drowned worms out of the yielding earth for his enormous off spring. The young blackbird is as lumpen and unhelpful as a teenage boy, but his father dutifully crams him with food nonetheless.

My presence is disturbing them, rearing young in the rain is not easy.

They want the food I provide, but they don’t want me round.

We want the life that the rain gives but we don’t want the clouds.

Chicken of the Woods

This wonderful fungi specimen was growing on an old willow tree. Unmistakable, the Latin name Laetiporus sulphureus refers to its sulphurous colour and the country name chicken of the woods, refers to the taste of the flesh. Anyone who reads these blogs regularly will know my feelings about actually eating fungi . This seductive fungi can cause gastric upset in some people, but not often. If it grows on yew it can contain the poisonous chemicals of the tree.

This beauty was growing on a huge willow and willows give us the Salic acid from which aspirin are made. So, if you ate this chicken of the woods, could it cure your headache at the same time?

Today I watched a dandelion clock emerge.

Between the tropical down pours there was sunshine for a whole hour. The dandelion seed heads, that have been waiting for so long, took the water from the soil and pumped up their tall stems. In the strengthening sun light they pushed open the protective sepals.

Baby hair tufts of blonde seed parachutes slowly appeared like a crown . There was time to get my phone, to write this and time to watch as slowly, so slowly the parachutes made the perfect circle of seeds and the sun dried them out and the wind blew them away and the dandelions started all over again, all over again.

Military Orchid

The weather here is unseasonably cool and wet, but the grey skies and rain have brought some wonderful orchids up in the grass.

It is somehow easier to see flowers in dull light, their colours are more bright in contrast and details are fine when not flattened by glare.

These Military orchids Orchis militaris, get their name from the shape of the flowers, each one looking like a soldier with arms, legs and a helmet on his head. In German they are helm orchids and these lovely flowers were in a limestone meadow in Switzerland growing with a motorway under their feet.

This lucky meadow is so precious that the thundering road to Delemont has been put in a tunnel beneath ( where it should be!) and the meadow is used by joggers, buggy pushers and amateur botanists admiring the flowers from the path.

Military orchids are very rare and one of the reasons for their rarity is a drink that was once more popular than coffee. Orchid roots are dug up and boiled to make a drink called Salep or Salop depending on where you are in the world. It is still popular in Turkey and was an important part of Ottoman cuisine which spread around the world. It is drunk where ever orchids are (were) plentiful and was supposed to plump up young women and give fire to men! Orchid roots and testicles have the same shape and have given their name to each other, hence the aphrodisiac link .

The drink was sold widely in cafes in Britain and only declined in favour when it was used as a treatment for syphilis ( that visual simple link again!) and no one wanted to be seen drinking it in case it looked like they had the clap!

So, these particular little soldiers with their big helmets have just survived through a mixture of prudery and Swiss engineering!

Weathering it out

This limestone outcrop is an implacable stone face that seems to guard the path to the very edge of the Jura mountains .

My village faces the Alsace valley, but the woods climb up to the very first folds of the Jura mountains which form a great arch of peaks between France and Switzerland. Everyone has heard of the Alps : awe inspiring sheer faces for skiing and climbing, but the Jura is less well known, it is less flashy and very beautiful. I like its anonymity and I am always surprised by how extensive this international range is and I love the cool valleys and its hardworking history of saw mills, watchmaking and engineering. Rivers pour through the gaps in the limestone and this rock lowers over a small stream that sinks into the rock in the summer to flow underground .

Every time I look up at the face I see something different . Sometimes it is an Easter Island idol; sometimes it seems crumbling and undefined, sometimes the ferns are Denis Healey eyebrows beetling above me, but always it seems to have weathered a storm that has just passed.

I am fortunate enough to have had two anti covid vaccinations and feel as if my personal storm of fear is passing . I know not everyone is so lucky and the pandemic is still a terrible danger in so many countries and I can only hope that like my totemic rock they too can weather it out.

Wag the dog.

These unearthly things are greater horse tail spore bodies. They erupt out of the earth and look oddly like lawyers’ wig ink cap mushrooms.

They are in fact the last hurrah of a plant kingdom that once dominated the earth and towered over dinosaurs: tumbling down in their multitudes to form the Carboniferous geological layer that gave us coal and oil.

Now they are just one plant amongst many. A relative is an annoyingly tenacious weed in my garden and the silica in horse tail leaves made them handy pot scourers and wood polishers in other times. The greater horse tail likes damper places in woods and can indicate a spring line underground.

The spore bodies have no chlorophyll and die as soon as their ancient spores are shed. The leaves of odd whorls that inspired the concept of fractals come later and they can form great stands of plants.

They are oddities that momentarily surprise us before sinking back into the herbage

Maybe our reliance on the fossil fuels they left behind so long ago will seem equally surprising and unimportant one day. We can hope!

Yellow Morel

Some fungi you remember from their smell, some from sight and just a few from their sound.

This yellow morel was under an open hedge and was already broken, so I picked it up and as I did so the honeycomb shape made the oddest dry hollow sound, unlike any fungi I have ever heard . I have never even considered the sound of fungi before, but on retrospect I expect a largish mushroom to sound solid and sturdy but this was light and reverberated to the touch.

Yellow morels are apparently very good to eat, but I am very wary of eating fungi as they are so astonishingly different at each stage of their development . The only thing I have ever confidently eaten was a giant puff ball as it simply cannot be anything else once it has reached football size!

Foraging for fungi is very fashionable but I was once nearly killed by a forest mushroom sauce at my favourite French restaurant. I have never been back and I have never eaten mushroom sauce again, much better to admire them and even to listen to them then ever to actually eat them!

Ode to a Nightingale.

The pear blossom is over, the cherry blossom is still splashing down and the pink edged perfect apple blossom is just showing between the twin green leaves that seem to offer up the simple flowers to an April morning.

In the thicket a real Nightingale sang. Her song is so rich, so varied, so burbling, so beautiful it needs Keats to do it justice. This poem seems so apt and poignant today, just as it did for Keats struggling with TB and still transported by the astounding beauty of the bird’s song. It is a long poem, but well worth reading again, or for the first time.

“Immortal bird” indeed.

Ode to a Nightingale .

John Keats- 1795-1821

My heart aches, and a drowsy numbness pains
  My sense, as though of hemlock I had drunk, 
Or emptied some dull opiate to the drains 
  One minute past, and Lethe-wards had sunk: 
‘Tis not through envy of thy happy lot,
  But being too happy in thine happiness,— 
    That thou, light-winged Dryad of the trees, 
          In some melodious plot 
  Of beechen green, and shadows numberless, 
    Singest of summer in full-throated ease.

2.

O, for a draught of vintage! that hath been
  Cool’d a long age in the deep-delved earth, 
Tasting of Flora and the country green, 
  Dance, and Provencal song, and sunburnt mirth! 
O for a beaker full of the warm South,
  Full of the true, the blushful Hippocrene, 
    With beaded bubbles winking at the brim, 
          And purple-stained mouth; 
  That I might drink, and leave the world unseen, 
    And with thee fade away into the forest dim:

3.

Fade far away, dissolve, and quite forget 
  What thou among the leaves hast never known, 
The weariness, the fever, and the fret 
  Here, where men sit and hear each other groan; 
Where palsy shakes a few, sad, last gray hairs,
  Where youth grows pale, and spectre-thin, and dies; 
    Where but to think is to be full of sorrow 
          And leaden-eyed despairs, 
  Where Beauty cannot keep her lustrous eyes, 
    Or new Love pine at them beyond to-morrow.

4.

Away! away! for I will fly to thee, 
  Not charioted by Bacchus and his pards, 
But on the viewless wings of Poesy, 
  Though the dull brain perplexes and retards: 
Already with thee! tender is the night,
  And haply the Queen-Moon is on her throne, 
    Cluster’d around by all her starry Fays; 
          But here there is no light, 
  Save what from heaven is with the breezes blown 
    Through verdurous glooms and winding mossy ways.

5.

I cannot see what flowers are at my feet, 
  Nor what soft incense hangs upon the boughs, 
But, in embalmed darkness, guess each sweet 
  Wherewith the seasonable month endows 
The grass, the thicket, and the fruit-tree wild;
  White hawthorn, and the pastoral eglantine; 
    Fast fading violets cover’d up in leaves; 
          And mid-May’s eldest child, 
  The coming musk-rose, full of dewy wine, 
    The murmurous haunt of flies on summer eves.

6.

Darkling I listen; and, for many a time 
  I have been half in love with easeful Death, 
Call’d him soft names in many a mused rhyme, 
  To take into the air my quiet breath; 
Now more than ever seems it rich to die,
  To cease upon the midnight with no pain, 
    While thou art pouring forth thy soul abroad 
          In such an ecstasy! 
  Still wouldst thou sing, and I have ears in vain—
    To thy high requiem become a sod.

7.

Thou wast not born for death, immortal Bird! 
  No hungry generations tread thee down; 
The voice I hear this passing night was heard 
  In ancient days by emperor and clown: 
Perhaps the self-same song that found a path 
  Through the sad heart of Ruth, when, sick for home, 
    She stood in tears amid the alien corn; 
          The same that oft-times hath 
  Charm’d magic casements, opening on the foam 
    Of perilous seas, in faery lands forlorn. 

8.

Forlorn! the very word is like a bell
To toil me back from thee to my sole self!
Adieu! the fancy cannot cheat so well
As she is fam’d to do, deceiving elf.
Adieu! adieu! thy plaintive anthem fades
Past the near meadows, over the still stream,
Up the hill-side; and now ’tis buried deep
In the next valley-glades:
Was it a vision, or a waking dream?
Fled is that music:—Do I wake or sleep?

Shadows in sunshine

Today the sun shone and I went exploring. The cherry trees that waited until the snow had gone, were in full flower and the apples trees that had slept the frost away were just unwrapping their pinkest, white petals.

In a local village I stopped to look again at the history of the Jewish community that once lived here. They are gone now. Their names are on the war memorials, but nothing else remains.

The community thrived for a long time, built schools and synagogues until in the 19th century, locals ripped the roofs from their homes and destroyed their houses.

Some stayed: their lives were intertwined with France until the very last families, old and young were deported by the Nazis and died in concentration camps.

Their story has not been forgotten in Durmenach and the village commemorates them, but the people are gone and their memory is just glimpsed in the photos and in the spring sunlight.

Simon Armitage’s poem on the funeral of Prince Phillip and his generation.

The Patriarchs – An Elegy

The weather in the window this morning
is snow, unseasonal singular flakes,
a slow winter’s final shiver. On such an occasion
to presume to eulogise one man is to pipe up
for a whole generation – that crew whose survival
was always the stuff of minor miracle,
who came ashore in orange-crate coracles,
fought ingenious wars, finagled triumphs at sea
with flaming decoy boats, and side-stepped torpedoes.

Husbands to duty, they unrolled their plans
across billiard tables and vehicle bonnets,
regrouped at breakfast. What their secrets were
was everyone’s guess and nobody’s business.
Great-grandfathers from birth, in time they became
both inner core and outer case
in a family heirloom of nesting dolls.
Like evidence of early man their boot-prints stand
in the hardened earth of rose-beds and borders.

They were sons of a zodiac out of sync
with the solar year, but turned their minds
to the day’s big science and heavy questions.
To study their hands at rest was to picture maps
showing hachured valleys and indigo streams, schemes
of old campaigns and reconnaissance missions.
Last of the great avuncular magicians
they kept their best tricks for the grand finale:
Disproving Immortality and Disappearing Entirely.

The major oaks in the wood start tuning up
and skies to come will deliver their tributes.
But for now, a cold April’s closing moments
parachute slowly home, so by mid-afternoon
snow is recast as seed heads and thistledown.

Singapore Shows What Serious Urban Farming Looks Like

I found this article in the reasons to be cheerful site, which is a great place to lift the global spirits .

Covid has made many of us realise how vulnerable cities are and how we cannot take food/ pharmaceutical / or even family links for granted any more.

I am deeply impressed by how hard some people are working to make urban gardens produce food and beauty for us all.

In a city-state that imports 90% of its food, rooftop gardens are a matter of national food security.
— Read on reasonstobecheerful.world/singapore-urban-farms-food-security

Pixie’s view of my Chili attempt to save the world!

Browned off.

So, this is the second Covid spring.

In the first it seemed impossibly beautiful and the skies were peerlessly blue to frame such cherry blossom as I have never seen before. The contrast between the beauty of the mild spring and the awful news of deaths and disease swirling around us seemed absurd.

Covid ebbed and flowed. By the time the cherry blossom was ripening into fat luscious cherries, it seemed maybe there would be summer holidays and life would continue, but after the reprieve of summer the winter was long and cold and Covid spiked again and again, although we were all told it was going to be fine and over by Christmas . Vaccination was going to save us all and the next year would be fine and this would all be bad memory.

But then came the new variants and people kept dying. The vaccines have trickled out so slowly and the shops and restaurants and cinemas and clubs have closed and it seems like they may never re – open again.

It is our second spring in lockdown in France. It seems like no one has been vaccinated and in Switzerland it is even worse. They even closed down the vaccination centres during Easter so as not to annoy people with appointments.

It is all unprecedented.

It is no one’s fault.

Complaining when one is healthy and not exhausted from caring for the sick seems petulant and selfish, but like the cherry blossom frozen by the late snow, I too am browned off/fed up.

There won’t be many cherries this summer. The record low temperatures have done for the vineyards in much of France this year, so there won’t even be much wine.

I never thought there could be two Covid springs.

So Much.

In spring there is so much to notice, so much to hear, smell and to see that writing about it all seems an unprofitable use of this wonderful time of year; but somehow I still like to try to capture a little of it in words, so here I go.

The woods are full of fighting wrens. Tiny balls of feathers explode out of the undergrowth and cascade down in furious brawls over mates and territories. These secretive birds are suddenly everywhere and they don’t care if you notice them in their brief spring bruiserish personas . They will soon melt back into the leaves to raise their tiny brood of chicks in quiet and anonymous safety.

It has been a good year for cowslips and for the shiny yellow stars of lesser celandine. The celandine are slowly colonising the corners of my garden and the late spring has allowed their flowers to shine for weeks . It’s country name is pilewort as it is good for curing piles apparently!

The tree leaves are appearing like a green smoke and wild cherry blossom in the woods is thin and unexpected like a lace curtain hastily pulled over an indiscreet window. Before the leaves join into the screen of summer some couples are still visible. I noticed these two trees growing into each other a few days ago. The smooth bark I think belongs to a hornbeam and the fissured bark is a robinia . The bark is melding and there is something ludicrously romantic about their unlikely and supportive intimacy.

The blackcaps have returned to the garden and so have the redstarts with their electric crackle of song. One of our nest boxes that has been spurned for years due to our ( and many, many others) cats may finally be home to some blue tits and the kestrels are back to nest in the barn opposite. My husband heard a cuckoo yesterday morning and in the evening I saw the first swallows racing over the garden and all the bright, bright unfurling leaves.

Sunshine : gold and black!

This bright daffodil was growing on the edge of the wood and maybe wild or may be not.

The wild daffodils I have seen in Gloucestershire and Wales have paler outer petals, so the uniform yellowness of this flower made it seem more like a hybrid of some description. Wild or not, the most remarkable thing about the flower was the myriad of tiny shiny black beetles all over it. I have never noticed them in my life, but Meligethes aeneus or pollen beetle is a common beetle in gardens and farmland apparently. They love yellow flowers and clothes and yellow tennis balls. They eat pollen and can be a problem on rape seed crops, but are no cause for alarm in a garden. They were as beautiful and remarkable as the flower that they were feeding on.

This morning I braved the garden centre and was cheered by the plants and depressed by the row upon row of chemicals on sale to kill “weeds” moss, insects, moles in our gardens.

The link between Parkinson’s Disease and farmers and gardeners who have been in close contact with glyphosate /paraquat such as Roundup herbicide is becoming stronger and stronger and legal cases are being amassed against the manufacturers of such chemicals. We have to find beauty in all aspects of nature and crucially to find a balance between our need for bountiful crops and our need for good human health and a healthy ecosystem . Not drenching our own backyards and gardens with perniciously noxious chemicals would seem the obvious place to start!

We have to find space for the daffodil and the bug!

I like decay.

Before spring covers the world with growth and exuberant life, I am strangely aware of the the aged and decaying world beneath.

There are so many old buildings falling beautifully apart around me in the villages and I am irresistibly drawn to the roofs steep and sliding down to the earth.

Roof joists look like the ribs of animal carcasses picked bare by the winter crows and kites.

The roof of this barn came down in the last storm and the wind pulled it apart from the eye of sky that you can see in middle of the shot.

There has been little human to distract the eye during these covid times. Faces are not faces covered by mask (though I wholeheartedly endorse the wearing of masks to keep us all safe!) , but when faces and expressions are shuttered, I look more closely at the buildings and try to read them instead.

It is the older buildings, those with history and character who attract me and the beauty of their ageing, is both poignant and absorbing.

The moths are back again.

This morning there were oak beauties, clouded drabs, dotted borders and Hebrew characters .

Oak beauty

Their names are beautiful and are now more familiar. Identifying moths was once something for the high summer when I had holidays and time to breathe. Last year when lockdown started and covid gave me fear and the time to appreciate it , I started trapping moths much earlier for distraction and escape.

Dotted border.

It turns out moths fly much earlier in the year than I imagined and I found a whole host of new species that would come to the light in surprisingly cold nights. I trapped much later in the year and become familiar with the species who over winter and are found in the late autumn and the spring, bookending the year with unpretentious names like clouded drabs.

Clouded drab

I checked my own photographic records of these glimpses of the night and in between the snaps of transient moths were the others pictures of the year, the garden, the cats, roses and snow and nothing else. It was as if time had stood still – same cats, same sunshine, same peonies.

Hebrew character

Horrors have raged around me. I have been lucky to spend more time than I expected amongst the quiet moths.

A little bit of good news for Earth.

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!

https://www.reuters.com/article/idUSKBN2AP0V6

On Mars.

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.

February: Black bird Singing

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!