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!

February (thinking of Wilfred Owen’s “Exposure”)

Thick white muffling snow outside, a hotel duvet of down and cotton.

Inside the house is loud with quiet.

The stove ticks, the metal expands and contracts as logs burn hot and then down splutter down into jewel crusted ash.

The cuckoo clock ticks, comfortable and confident in time passing that will be undisturbed even by the Amazon van lost in drifting uncleared roads.

The cat wheezes and turns over again in his sleep .

But nothing happens.

Spring on the Table

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,

Belted Beauty

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 March and that that they just might return this spring to tantalise and gladden the heart with their very rare beauty.

Thaw.

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.

Scribbling life

A lichen is colonizing my step.

The autumn had been wet and by winter the concrete had decided it was time to show some life while everything else died down.

The garden is just hanging by a thread between snow falls and bone cracking hard frosts, but the lichen sensed that this was just the time to colonize and to spread out.

It might be the shape of a beating heart, or it might be just the shape of a lichen. The smallest satellites look like tentative kisses on a mirror .

The concrete has never looked more lovely or full of possibility under a snow filled sky.

Something missing

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 .

Year ending

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.

Rash promises in Covid year.

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 and her huge tail.

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.

Winston with his tabby stripes.

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!

Notice the markings on the head and the spine. She has 5 bands on her tail and a black line across her shoulders. Wild cat!

Waiting

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.

Monochrome.

Nothing is ever monochrome.

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.

The raven is in the bottom left hand side.

Lead days

Some days are cold

The sparrows won’t feed

The smoke lies in flat Sunday lines

Then there is good news :

a friend will be vaccinated in two weeks time.

It can stay grey, the sparrows can hide in the leaves for just a little longer

The sun will return!

Retirement squirrel

Today is effectively the first day of my retirement and I celebrated it by making this cut out squirrel from the back page of the LPO ( the French Bird and wildlife protection organisation) magazine.

It is silly, flimsy, unplanned and potentially metaphorical . Outside is a hard frost and bright sunshine in a cold blue sky.

The squirrel is profoundly impressed!

Bird bath just after I poured boiling water in. You can just see the steam!

Holding on to the good news.

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.

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/nov/19/blue-whale-sightings

Good people who shout loud enough and who care, can make a difference. Wildlife just needs a hand and it will come back: things can get better for us all!

Photo by Sue Round

Disposable masks can be reused 10 times says French group

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!!

Disposable masks can be reused 10 times says French group
— Read on www.connexionfrance.com/French-news/Disposable-masks-can-be-reused-and-washed-up-to-10-times-says-French-group-UFC-Que-Choisir

Today sounds of robins and catastrophe.

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.

No

November in the northern hemisphere is well known for its lack of light and hope.

The last remnants of autumn flowers are defeated by rain and wind and the firework of turning leaves are swirled into the mud.

But robins still sing round bubbles of song and siskins jangle their pocketfuls of keys over the grey sky.

A skein of cormorants is waylaid by the low fog, but still pushes on through and from a wet apple tree, a dozen red kites lift off at midday to catch the upward air.

Their wings are sharp against the gloom and their sissor tails cut out a wedge of grey sky as they wheel slowly, magnificently upwards .

November
by
Thomas Hood

No sun — no moon!
No morn — no noon —
No dawn — no dusk — no proper time of day.

No warmth, no cheerfulness, no healthful ease,
No comfortable feel in any member —
No shade, no shine, no butterflies, no bees,
No fruits, no flowers, no leaves, no birds! —
November!