A Delicate home.

I was deadheading purple toadflax flowers to encourage them to keep flowering all summer. Their long thin, needle like flowers spike up through the ripening garden for months and I was keen to stop them setting seed too soon. As I carried back some snapped seed stems , I noticed a bracelet of purple petals that was definitely not a flower.

On closer inspection I realised that it was a delicate dome of spiders web and fallen petals fused to the stem. On turning over the stem, I saw a very small white and black spider hiding in the middle of the dome. The spider was waiting under its improbable sombrero of petals for some unsuspecting ant or ladybird to devour .The camouflage  of petals was the soft home of a killer with a delicate and dainty sense of home decor!

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Quatermass and the Pit.

An enormous grasshopper flew into the house and took a great bite out of my spider plant.

It was so heavy it toppled the plant pot and the huge and the unearthly head reminded me of the terrifying creatures found by Professor Quatermass in the London Underground . The 1950s classic TV series has haunted me as the ancient swarm leapt  through the impossible memory of susceptible humans .

Here was the same head, jade green, monumental, implacably other regarding me over the washing up bowl.

It seems we are all just one jump away from Quatermass’ pit!

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Swamped!

This time of year I can feel a bit like my duck who is being slowly engulfed by an ants’ nest . They found a dry spot under her metal belly and have multiplied until her eyes will soon be filled with earth and perfect ant eggs.

No, I haven’t finally lost it!

There is just such a wonderful profusion of fruit to pick and there is no time to do it. The sun is either so roastingly hot that picking boils the brains, or the heavens have opened and I am in danger of a biblical thunder bolt and electrocution over the raspberries.

It is a pleasant problem to have, but I hate waste and all those red currents, black currants, gooseberries, cherries and raspberries won’t pick themselves, so I put down the ipad and rush back out to the garden.

I might even find time to rescue the duck!

 

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Stoning Cherries.

 Stoning cherries.
10 years ago we planted a cherry tree
Thin stick on an unpromising slope
For the blossom, for the fruit, if it ever came.
Each year the stick thickened
The trunk glossy and banded with fine bracelets of silver,
Yielding just a few small cherries.
This year it is finally heavy with fruit
Little globes, still sour , that explode in the mouth.
I stand by the sink, watch the flies on the pane
And push the stones out of each fruit.
The juice runs through my fingers,
The punctured flesh sticks under my  thumb nail.
My hands are clumsy,
but they slowly find the stone
in every fruit,
The stones are discarded in the sticky sink and,
Left behind  is a heaped bowl of broken cherry flesh,
jewel red and succulent.
Worth the wait.
Cathy Cooper 2020
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On Monday they open the borders.

The virus has done so many things, most of them bad.

Closing international borders has been one of the oddest results of a virus that can be sneezed across a transatlantic airplane or between lovers walking in a forest.

I cross between France and Switzerland six times a day to get to work and back. At the weekend I often cross into Germany and back a few times to buy cat food and to get a kebab at my favourite Turkish kebab shop.  This has all stopped.

Even the crossings in the forests used by cyclists and hikers and runners every day have been boarded/ bordered up!

232F932D-67C8-42B7-933F-D57D19E1CB78Due to the unfathomable decision of the UK to leave the EU, I reclaimed my Irish heritage, so I could continue to be European. The open borders within  Europe seemed to me a slice of sanity, sophistication and friendliness in an increasingly fractured world.

Then the borders were closed.

It felt like a real war, not against the virus, but against each other. If ever there was a time for the EU to work together, this surely was it. All of the countries working together on health policies, quarantine advise, common lockdown could have been so powerful, but instead each country went their own way.

I dont know which country got it right and which got it wrong, but I do know that closed borders have increased unease and even fear for so many people who were  used to living in this open area that used to seem like it was my extended home.

On Monday they open the borders between France and Switzerland and Germany for everyone. I took some photos of the little closed borders between neighbouring villages and even between neighbouring trees.

I hope I never see them closed again.

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Before the rain.

Before the rain the peonies  were perfect.

Before the deluge the roses were pristine,

The lawn was trim and the slugs asleep,

But after the storm, in the snail slimed, dripping quiet,

The perfume was divine.

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Better than plastic!

On the dry woodland path, a plastic children’s toy.  Matt green with a single band of yellow to say snake and then it moved.

As if pulled by an invisible thread it was moving over the soil and stones.

It was tiny, but every minute vertebrae articulated like mercury flowing across the earth. I wondered if I should pick it up to save it from the metal hooves of the passing horses, but it didn’t need me.

This acrobat’s ribbon of improbable life zig zagged, wiggled and shivered into the grass .

It was safe and I wasn’t even sure if I had seen something so light and so alive on the dry path in the woods.

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Pentecost, Whitsun, Cheese Rolling, Roseday!

It is the celebration of Pentecost today and the first day the church bells have rung for a real church service, not just to show solidarity and thanks to all the carers during this strange and awful time.

The extraordinarily, peerless blue weather has continued; linnets have sung from the birch tree; red kites have quatered over the garden and swifts have screamed down the sky for the sheer joy of being alive.

Pentecost or Whitsun has an ancient history and the Christian celebration of the holy spirit descending from God has its roots in the Jewish harvest festival which took place 50 days after Passover.

It is seen as a renewal of life and rose petals are showered from ceilings of some Italian churches and alters decorated with red geraniums, roses or even poinsettias in the Southern Hemisphere as the red is the penetecost colour of the spirit.

Whitsun is the time to start summer outdoor activities. In England Morris dancing should be in pub gardens and village greens. It is the day for Cheese rolling on Cooper’s Hill just outside of Cheltenham in the Cotswolds. This year it was cancelled because of the virus, but I was delighted to hear that a local rolled a proper double Gloucester Cheese down the hill, with no cameras or social media hordes, just to keep the old tradition going.

I didnt use litterpicker tonges to collect the news paper from the box today; my neighbours are sharing Sunday lunch with friends in the garden today and I collected a meal for the first time  from my favourite local restaurant, wearing a face mask, but with a huge smile underneath !  This is virtually the first food, for three months,  that I havent prepared or cooked myself and every single mouthwatering, three course morsel, was magnificent. I had to load the dishwasher, but hey , the sun is shining, the roses are perfumed and spirit is definitely on us all!

Sorry for the bizarre typo ! Spirit, not spitit!! Still thinking about transmission of the dreaded lurgy, I am afraid!!

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Living in Lockdown

The virus has swept like a terrible wave over so much of the world, destroying lives, businesses and mental health. Some places like the UK and the USA are still watching  the waters rise and trying to keep their heads’ above water, some places are still denying that the ground is even wet and a few places are seeing a little dry land reappear and wondering if it safe to put a foot on it at last.

The region of France where I live (Alsace) has been very badly hit by the wave. The government responded well (eventually) and everyone has stayed home for two months so far.

Fasnact carnivals,  evangelical prayer meetings and football matches  did take place when all the signs were there that the infection levels were rising ; but no one was brave enough to call a stop and so thousands of people were infected by being in unnecessary crowds.

Once the infection had been taken back to homes and hospitals and the death toll mounted, suddenly everyone was being brave by staying isolated and slowly, slowly, painfully slowly the infection rate has slowed right down. Yesterday the local paper said our region was very close to being «  green »  which might mean  some normality can return .

It will never be quite the same again, nothing will bring back those who died and the corrosive fear of infection has eaten into so many aspects of life.

However, staying home, closing schools and businesses and bars and restaurants and garden centres and cinemas does seem to have worked here. It hurts like hell and I don’t underestimate the damage done to everyone, but the wave of infection can wash away eventually.

I write this to anyone frustrated or angry that their life has been disrupted or fearful that it will never end: the tide does turn and the sand does start to dry out.

Next stage the sun comes out .

Natural.

Just as we can go out without paper work, the cold rain and fog has kept me indoors again.

On the kitchen table my Goethe salt cellar seemed in illuminated conversation with the dandelion paper weight.

Goethe said “ The unnatural, that too is natural.”

I need to get out more.

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Complicated beauty.

3656AFC1-5DD2-4761-8AD5-6E417FE3B910Capturing complex beauty is so difficult and I have the greatest  respect for those who take  wonderful photos with such apparent ease.

My garden is crammed with columbines at this time of year all of which have come from seeds collected in the woods locally. They cross and cross with one another and the variety they produce is mesmeric. Every May I try to capture them, but I am never satisfied by the result, as they hide in their five petaled whorls and I cannot begin to show the diversity of their colour and petals.

Some are pale, almost white and they stand out in the dawn light. Others are baby pink and innocent; next are the deep, sophisticated , rose-red flowers. Seemingly unconnected in gradation are the purple columbines: a rare few seem actually blue and are the smallest and most shyly flowered; then there are the work -a -day mid purples with the longest spurs;  followed by purples rich enough for an emperor’s robe and finally, the most exotic of all: the midnight purples, so dark that they seem to absorb the very sun light around them .

Some flowers have just a single whorl of five petals: each petal contains a nectary to encourage the bees to visit and to pollenate .  The nectaries are curled over and this has given the flowers their name, as they look like five doves or columbs facing one another in a delicate ring. They have also given columbines the folk names of “ladies in bonnets”and “old ladies” from when women kept warm and modest in complicated lace caps.

Bumbles bees cannot be bothered extending their long tongues into the spurs and they simply bite into the neck of the ”dove” and steal the nectar provided by the flower. Some plants are not satisfied  with just one ring of petal doves and produce natural “sports” of flowers which are crammed with petals, so they look like pom-poms or little floribunda roses.

This variety is absolutely glorious.

I understand Gregor Mendel started our understanding of genetics by studying the way peas crossed with one another . I am glad he studied  such a visually dull flower, as I think he would never have gained such important insight, if he had studied columbines – their beauty is just too distracting!

 

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The bee-loud glade.

The Lake Isle of Innisfree

I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made;
Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honey-bee,
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.
And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight’s all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet’s wings.
I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,
I hear it in the deep heart’s core.
n/a
Source: The Collected Poems of W. B. Yeats

 

It rained heavily here after weeks and weeks of  bright sunshine and the bees were driven in under the shelter of the dripping patio. Luckily there were enough tangled wall flowers half in the  rain and half under the cover to provide them with nectar and pollen away from the falling rain. Listening to the bees I thought of Yeats lovely line of poetry and of all the wonderful sounds of the “deep heart’s core”.

 

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May Day in lockdown.

The leaves have come dark and green, green, green filling in the gap where the wind blew.

The longed for rain fills the flowers and bends the petals down to the grass.

A chaffinch sings the single note of its rain song  green, green, green, time, time, time rolls in the cool, wet garden.

Beyond is the daily Sunday quiet and the leaves fill in each gap while the air lies still and heavy.

 

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Sweet Tico magic.

I was lucky enough to teach and to live in Costa Rica for four years, many years ago.

There was so much I loved and admired about this country: the complete lack of military spending; the emphasis on education and the great respect Costa Ricans had for teachers; their unashamed search for peace and most of all, their protection and love of wildlife. When we lived in Costa Rica it had the highest percentage of its land mass given over to nature reserves of any country on the planet and the diversity of habitats in this tiny beautiful country is breathtaking.

All my Gardens -Part 4: Costa Rica and the big world.

San Jose, the capital, is not the most scenic city in the world, it has pollution and ugly malls, but my attention was caught by this article on one of its satellite towns : Curridabat.

Take a read to lift your spirits.

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/apr/29/sweet-city-the-costa-rica-suburb-that-gave-citizenship-to-bees-plants-and-trees-aoe?CMP=Share_iOSApp_Other

 

 

Stand and stare.

Leisure                       by William Henry Davies

 

What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.

No time to stand beneath the boughs
And stare as long as sheep or cows.

No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.

No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars like skies at night.

No time to turn at Beauty’s glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance.

No time to wait till her mouth can
Enrich that smile her eyes began.

A poor life this if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.

 

Well, it seems we finally have time to stand and stare, as the world has stopped in an unimaginable way . This favourite poem has come into its own, but I am painfully aware that what we have to stare at during lockdown is not the same for everyone.

I have a little garden and orchards to walk in, but writing glowing descriptions of the birds and butterflies that I can see seems unconscionably smug when most people are stuck in flats with only concrete and asphalt to admire .

Beaches and woodland paths are closed. Parks are padlocked and in Japan they have had to cut the heads off the roses, to stop people going out to admire them and spreading the virus .  People are worried sick about not being able to earn money to feed their families and the leisure of not working does not feel like a holiday for long.

I understand why it has to be this way and if staring is all that I can do to help get the virus under control then it is no hardship, but I still feel profoundly guilty that not everyone can get out to enjoy this wonderful spring and “ turn at Beauty’s glance”.

I hope that everyone, wherever  they are, can find something beautiful to look at and can and stand and stare for a few minutes and forget their worries this afternoon.

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On hearing the first cuckoo of spring.

The heartbeat, ethereal  sound of the first cuckoo, heard and almost not heard in the echoing quiet of our lockdown world. No easy jet roars tearing up the air and stitching us in with trails of pollution. It is now so quiet that I can hear the call of the first cuckoo right over in the valley along the alder stream where I remember them last spring time.

What a long time ago last spring seems!

Walking where we wanted, seeing whom we pleased, being unafraid.

And yet this spring I have heard more birds than I ever had before. I have spoken to more neighbours over the garden fence and wall than ever before. And most remarkable of all; a neighbour tells me he has seen a lynx in the forest for the very first time! My neighbour has cut timber in the forest for 30 years and he knows how rare and remarkable this sighting was.

This spring is so different.

Delius was inspired by the sound of the first cuckoo and so please take a moment to catch a little calm and listen to this gentle music in celebration of some normality.

 

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The moths are back!

I’ve missed the moths. They don’t like very cold nights and they dont like full moons, but finally the conditions are right and the wonderful and wooly creatures of the night are back .

I’ve been putting my moth trap on for a fair few weeks previously,  but the visitors have been few: lots of faithful hebrew characters, a few powdered quakers, the odd dotted chestnut and not much more. Now the moon is waning and the nights have turned warm and opening the trap this morning was full of seasonal delights.

176CA9F6-AB4F-4B16-81CD-1EFE80096B8BFirst the lobster moth with its pearly pink coat and odd paper dart extra flaps which is named for the strange caterpillar rather than the adult.

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Then the pale tussock with its wonderfully furry claspers lying out in tactile supplication .

Then the brindled beauty, garden carpet, an engrailed and finally the lovely Swallow Prominent that crept into my battered panama hat and spent the day there sheltering out of the sun. Her name comes  from the ridge on her back, but her French name is Porcelain, which must be inspired by the lovely patterning on her wings.

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I need something beautiful and absorbing at the moment. In my boredom I had started a jigsaw of an owl, which was so disturbing we had to break it up and put it back in the box.

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Thank goodness for the moths!

 

 

Greedy for Beauty.

This strange and terrible spring has been so beautiful.

The blossom has been unshaken by wind and untroubled by late snow or shrivelling frost.

In the soft, warm air each fruit tree has unfurled the most extraordinary foam and frill of blossom in its turn, against an eggshell blue sky.

First the blackthorn in the hedge, then the cherry, then the pears and now, the most lovely of all: the pink and white of apple blossom.

Each in its turn stirs the heart.

I understand the biology: I know the flowers are beautiful by chance and their purpose is to bring the bees, to fertilise the fruit, to set the seed, to grow the next tree; but that does not explain how my heart turns over; how they make my face turn up to smile and how my arms want to to embrace them, to enfold them, to be part of them.

This visceral response to beauty is part of our soul. We feel it when we want to pick up a child, to hug a lover, to scoop up a cat and when a whole tree is so lovely that our arms do not feel wide enough to embrace the whole extraordinary, heartbreaking beauty of its glory.

We are greedy for loveliness, greedy for beauty.

Happy Easter.

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Blossoming.

This pear tree was full of starlings in the autumn gorging on the ripe fruit and the sound was a riot of clicks, whirrs and chirrups.

Brouhaha in a pear tree.

The world is so much quieter now. The hiss of tyres has gone and the roar of easy jet overhead has faded. I can hear the tawny owls at night and the  colony of jackdaws on the church tower is audible from my garden for the very first time ever.

It is impossible not to enjoy this peacefulness, but impossible too to ignore that the quiet has come at the price of loneliness, fear, economic crisis and terrible illness.

I listened to The Queen addressing Britain and the world beyond today and her calm, compassionate dignity suddenly made me cry.

The brouhaha tree is in full flower today. It is absolutely covered in bees and their buzzing is loud, sociable and full of life, as will all our lives be very, very soon.

 

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