Borders.

UK Border Agency staff at the ferry port in Calais, France.

From View With a Grain of Sand, Selected Poems, Faber, 1996, translated by Stanisław Barańczak and Clare Cavanagh

Psalm by Wisława Szymborska

Oh, the leaky boundaries of man-made states!
How many clouds float past them with impunity;
how much desert sand shifts from one land to another;
how many mountain pebbles tumble onto foreign soil
in provocative hops!

Need I mention every single bird that flies in the face of frontiers
or alights on the roadblock at the border?
A humble robin—still, its tail resides abroad
while its beak stays home. If that weren’t enough, it won’t stop bobbing!

Among innumerable insects, I’ll single out only the ant
between the border guard’s left and right boots,
blithely ignoring the questions “Where from?” and “Where to?”

Oh, to register in detail, at a glance, the chaos
prevailing on every continent!
Isn’t that a privet on the far bank
smuggling its hundred-thousandth leaf across the river?
And who but the octopus, with impudent long arms,
would disrupt the sacred bounds of territorial waters?

And how can we talk of order overall
when the very placement of the stars
leaves us doubting just what shines for whom?

Not to speak of the fog’s reprehensible drifting!
And dust blowing all over the steppes
as if they hadn’t been partitioned!
Or voices coasting on obliging airwaves,
that conspiratorial squeaking, those indecipherable mutters!

Only what is human can truly be foreign.
The rest is mixed vegetation, subversive moles, and wind.

From View With a Grain of Sand, Selected Poems, Faber, 1996, translated by Stansliaw Baranczak and Clare Cavanagh.

Living roofs.

If it is the fate of the world to keep making people and to shove them into smaller and taller living spaces, then we have to make use of every millimetre of roof and wall to grow green things and make an aerial world, to make up for the terrestrial one that we have so comprehensively scabbed over.

I have written before about green walls and they are becoming more popular, but they are difficult to water and maintain. In Ikea; that shop front of the tiny urban world; so many have to inhabit, the cafe has a huge striking green wall and all the plants are made of plastic.

Most people find even a pocket garden too much work and choose to cover the soil in concrete or decking or even an old bike. When life is a race for time and enough money to keep the wolf from the door, then gardening is a luxury few have the space or energy to indulge in.  That is why I love green roofs.

If the builder has put the right surface on the roof and it collects some moisture, then a carpet of drought tolerant, shallow rooted plants can flourish with no need of   “gardening” at all. Such low input surfaces are never going to support trees or bushes, but they are green, do make oxygen, do clean the air and make a home for tiny creatures and the occasional foraging bird. We are surrounds by surfaces that  could be green. Such roofs on office blocks, schools, bike sheds and shops are just crying out for a little cool green life.

The photo is of a bike shed roof, where even in winter a little line of seed heads adds life and beauty to the concrete apartments beyond. We need to make the best of what we’ve got!

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Dopamine fasting or teaching your grandmother to suck eggs!

Apparently needing the constant dopamine hit of fast food, all the films, series, games, music, social media contact and shopping in the known universe doesn’t actually make you happy.

Well, who would have guessed that one!!

It turns out that our screen fried lives actually need LESS stimulation not more and that the Silicon Valley gurus are actually reducing their over stimulated fried time and ( take a deep breath now! ) trying to remember what day dreaming and just looking up actually feels like.

They call it dopamine fasting.( I call it watching the grass grow.)

Astoundingly it has now been proven that  you need quiet time on your own to have Errr……. thoughts……..!

I am so glad to have lived long enough to see common sense become cutting edge fashion again.

It is sunny today and the dust is dancing in thermal columns of household indolence. I think I’ll contemplate it for a  while as dusting would be to be break my fast with too much exciting activity .

How wonderful it is to see the wheel turn. Pass me another egg!

The bare truth.

I love the shape of winter trees.

Now the tattered remnants of autumn have blown away, the filigree beauty of the trees is revealed shining in a steady cool rain.

In summer all is the soft fur of green leaves, snuggling promiscuously over one another, almost indistinguishable in the pulse of sap and growth.

In Autumn there is some individuality of colour; the different varieties of vines on the hill side are briefly visible as each line of leaves turns a different shade of red in its own time before falling to the ground. Beech and hornbeam flare orange in the woods, before scattering each dry, curled leaf into the wind like sparks from a wildfire.

But in winter, there is no summer hiding, no autumnal showmanship: this is the real shape of the tree. Each limb is smooth, or broken, pruned or leaning slowly out into the sunlight. Each silhouette tells a tale of genes and weather and often the hand of man.

Winter trees are honest, bare and very, very lovely.

 

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Brouhaha in a pear tree.

The fieldfare are here and the starlings too. They have a lot of catching up to do since last autumn and they never stop talking.

I thought brouhaha was a children’s word for a lot of noise until I watched a film with French subtitles for the hard of hearing and saw the noise of many voices in a crowd rendered simply as brouhaha. It is the right word to also describe the racket coming from a pear tree laden with ripe fruit this afternoon. No one had bothered to pick it, the fruit was too small, but the birds were loud in their appreciation of the owner’s forgetfulness.

There seems no limit to the variety of sounds that starlings can make. They pop, wheeze, exclaim, whistle and shriek and they shout over one another with a wonderful lack of inhibition. Add a flock of fieldfare, half drunk on the fermenting fruit and the result is as cacophonous as a bar when the football is on. I love this raucous  sound of autumn; everyone has something to say and are determined to say it.

The first snow has fallen on the Black Forest in Germany and on the Grand Ballon in the Voges; tonight there will snow here in the Jura, but today the sun in shining and the birds are making merry in the pear tree!

 

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Having Hope : 11.11. 2019.

In the forest yesterday we were so close to a deer that I could see the thick, soft fur of her ears; the dark, black iris of her eye and the wet, delicate saucer of her nose, upturned to smell us, to register us and to walk delicately away, unconcerned into the yellowing brush.

A friend sent me a photo of a kingfisher, jewel bright and improbable from the bottom of her garden and suddenly everything is possible, the good and the bad at the same instant, all is lovely and innocent and there is always hope.

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/nov/11/mouse-deer-not-seen-nearly-30-years-found-alive-vietnam?CMP=Share_iOSApp_Other

 

 

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I am not a vegetarian…

I am not a vegetarian, but sometimes I think I should be.

I love the taste of meat, but am disturbed by eating fellow sentient mammals.  Then I consider the fowl and the fish; decide I shouldn’t eat them either and then I am left with the plants. Plants are alive too and are killed so we can eat them. If we eat neither flesh nor fruit, we are left with nothing at all, except our own extinction .

I grew a magnificent  pumpkin from seed. I fed and watered it and then I picked it, sliced it into mighty  chunks and made it into soup. The slices wept moisture and were so beautiful I could hardly bring myself to hack it up. But I did: I cooked it with red lentils, cinnamon and spices , pureed it to creamy perfection and ate it with relish while the rain fell outside. Oh to be human!

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2019/nov/02/trees-have-rights-too-robert-macfarlane-on-the-new-laws-of-nature?CMP=Share_iOSApp_Other

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While the house is burning.

 

 

I wish it wasn’t so, but our beautiful home is under profound attack from pollution of so many types.

Many problems need to be tackled by governments and governments are elected by the people who vote for them in democracies.  Governments are slow moving and frustrating at the best of times, so while we try to get them to even consider the environment in their plans, we have to do what we can to improve matters ourselves.

I am painfully aware of how small the things we can do are, but to paraphrase:  better to light a candle than to just curse the darkness, so here is what I personally do.

If you have more ideas please share them on the blog.

We can all learn from each other (whatever our age!)

This list is in order of the newest things I have learnt on the top.

1. Use toothpaste tablets. You just chew one and brush and rinse as normal.  They work as well as tooth paste and produce zero plastic waste.  These come from Germany, but I am sure you can find them everywhere.
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2. Use rock salt underarm deodorant.  It works 100 percent and has zero plastic waste.  This pretty pink egg of salt can in a wrap of paper from funky soaps, but there are lots of others.
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3. Wrap your sandwiches from home in a cotton bees wax wrap every day for lunch.  Zero plastic waste, moist bread!
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4. Use bamboo toothbrushes.  The handle can be used as a fire lighter or composted as it is wood.  Some bristles are still plastic unfortunately, but at least the great big handle isn’t.
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5. Buy wooden toilet brushes.  Zero plastic waste – burnable.
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6. Use wooden headed washing up sink brushes.  The handle is metal and the head
can be replaced when worn out and composted or burnt. Zero plastic waste.
.
7. Use solid bar shampoo.  It is just as good as liquid shampoo and produces……ZERO PLASTIC WASTE!
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8. Use real soap in the shower, not shower gel in a plastic container.  Zero plastic waste.
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9. Learn to use an old fashioned razor with replaceable metal blades.  Zero Plastic waste.
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10. Buy vegetables loose, not in plastic packages.  You buy much less and so don’t waste food.  Use a cotton bag to put the veg and fruit in to weigh individually.  Stick all the individual labels on the outside of the same cotton bag to take to the check out and show the cashier.  Zero plastic waste.
11. Compost all your vegetable matter – obviously!

I am still producing way too much plastic waste with:

1. Cat food
2. Meat packaging
3. Snack packages
4. Virtually all processed food packages.

I know that there are solutions to all these things, but I dont live near a city where I can buy loose packaging free alternatives.

One day I will have time to make cat food, buy cuts of meat and get the butcher to put them in glass tubs and make all myfood from scratch, but not yet.

 

In the face of so much plastic pollution it is easy to give up and give in, but I am optimistic enough to think that the small changes made by ordinary people will make a difference and while  we wait for the politicians to make the big changes, we should make as many changes to our own lives as we can before we all drown in plastic!

 

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Just don’t ask me to eat it!

I am almost over my horror of fungi.

This autumn has been extraordinary in the rich variety of mushrooms coaxed up by the rain, but I will never be tempted to eat any of them again.

This particular mushroom cap was thin and as smooth as porcelain. The edge was lined, as if it had shrunk back with delicate avoidance of the falling leaves pattering down all around it.

The aspen leaves were yellow and then black – no warming russets or browns to lull you – they know winter is coming and lay down to die with minimal fuss.

They only leave behind an unexpected perfume without the slightest a hint of decay . Something soft left lingering in the air.

Love..

I love the sun and I love the rain. We have been blessed with a bright Indian summer and sometimes it seemed like the sunshine would never end and it was frankly just too bright and too intolerably shiny.

In the endless good weather my tom cat went decidedly crazy. He stayed out all night and disappeared into the white full moon. This may sound frisky and fun, but we couldn’t sleep when he was out for foolish worry and when we managed to entice him home, him seemed frantic, hunted and frankly deranged! So we have kept him indoors, bought new catnip toys and tried to make friends with him again. He has slowly reintegrated into domestic life, allows strokes, occasionally purrs and kicks the life out of the cat nip toys.

Now it is raining properly . The gutters are running and the roof is pattering. The water butts are bubbling over. We have lit the stove again and everyone (cats included) is calming down in front  of the fire.  Ahh that’s better!

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Harvest Home

We have finally lifted all the potatoes; rolled five fat pumpkins onto the back step to finish ripening and picked the apples from our single apple tree: it feels like the harvest is in.

This, however, is very small fry in comparison to the massive harvest of the real countryside and the deeply bizarre manifestation of its bounty in the agricultural extravaganza in local Mulhouse.

In the huge exposition centre thousands upon thousands of people crowd in to look at stands of  arranged vegetables. This is not the type of flower show that I knew well from places like Brecon in Wales, where lovingly grown marrows were judged for weight and gloss and three perfect sweetpea blossoms were awarded hotly contested rosettes for perfume and hue. This was the deliberate piling of fruit and vegetables into improbable and inedible unicorns, dragons and cathedrals and it made me long for the simplicity of the single sweetpea.

The picture above is of the more recognisable offerings of landmarks from the Alsace town of Colmar in mosaics of potatoes and pumpkins.

 

CA9AAA90-8F7F-4621-86F8-976E8812CB35.jpegThe Statue of Liberty in sprouts was a particular favourite. Bartholdi was a son of Colmar and created the monumental statue in France for the American people. I bet  immigrants to The USA never envisaged their welcoming symbol of a new life picked out in green sprouts as they sailed into New York!

 

Reasons to buy a House.

We live on a strange line.

We didn’t know it when we bought our house. We bought the place because it just felt right, as soon as we arrived and we weren’t really looking, but we bought it anyway. Ten years later we are still here and all you have to do is look up on a day like today to know why we really choose it.

Tens of thousands of birds have passed over our garden today. Their wings are rustling above our heads. Flock after flock, flinking and beating. The first time you see them you just grin with astonishment; the second time you try to really listen and the third time you decide that the dry sound is like a rain shower through summer trees, almost gone before it reaches the ground.

They are pigeons coming out of Central Europe and flying west across France and into Spain and Portugal. Thousands  and thousands of birds crossing right over this odd intersection of Germany, France and Switzerland and over my back garden on a still sunny Sunday afternoon.

It appears we unwittingly bought a house on a major migration route for birds.

Spring and autumn birds flow over us. Down the lane serious birders set up telescopes and send in records of raptors and rarities to international migration sites.  My husband scans the skies from the comfort of the porch and convenient cups of tea. I look up when I hear the birds: air pushing, confident beats of stocky powerful wings and he indicates that the whole sky from edge to edge is black with the improbable smoke of the migrating pigeons.

So that’s why it has always felt like the right place!

Picking Raspberries in the rain.

The autumn raspberries are always small.

My fingers fumble for them amongst the yellowing leaves.

There has been just enough sun to ripen a few hard green knots into fragrantly

soft fruit, bowed down now in easy reach of the gleaming slugs.

And now the rain.

A benediction of mist in a quiet grey sky

Makes slippery the sticky handle of the little basket.

My fingers close lightly and tug to loosen the wet fruit from the white stipe

But the raspberry crumbles, the droops bleed juice and rain onto my hand.

I should have picked them long ago.

 

 

“A duck takes flight …”

 

THE POEM

We talk merely to sell the ironmongery
of ourselves. In the marshy pool
of everything we say,
we waste words
like wind that moves the sluggish rushes,
the reed-bed.
But suddenly
a duck takes flight
and its feathers gleam
with colours:
the poem.

Listen to the beating of wings, gaze at it,
your shotguns of silence
lowered, for now.

From Maps of Desire by Manuel Forcano, published by Arc.

Waiting for the plum to drop.

Apparently there is now a whole new, doing nothing, movement.

Having been told to make the most of every second to maximise our potentiality, having been told to reach for the stars, push the envelope, count every step , declutter our souls, curate our on line lives to reshape the paradigm and monetise our influencer profiles, it seems we should now do nothing at all and actually relax.

What a novel idea! What a surprise to find out that spending your time bombarded by social media, bad news stories and trivia doesn’t make you as happy as staring at the sky or watching the fruit ripen!

I admit to fretting about being unable to reach all the plums on the tree. Fretted about them going to waste, fretted about the  falling fruit annoying my neighbours. Then it rained, the wind blew and the plums fell onto the grass of their own volition. They were perfectly ripe and deliciously mealy . I picked them up, put them in a cup and on Sunday I will turn them into a crumble .

All I needed to do was relax and wait, as all good things come to she who waits, even if they have to drop directly onto my head!

Pavlov’s plants.

I like listening to the radio in French because I cant really understand it. I like reading in Spanish for the same reason. I like living surrounded by marvellous unfathomable bugs and silent fungi because I can just look and admire and cannot communicate with them.

Scientists have recently found that a plant which turns each day to a regularly timed source of bright light, which is also accompanied by the gentle blowing of a fan, will also turn to the blowing of the fan when there is no reward of light. Pavlov first proved that a dog rewarded with food when a bell rang would, salivate for food as soon as the bell rang, whether there was food or not, thus proving dogs could learn. This new research shows that plants can do the same thing.

Pavlov’s name has gone down in history for his work with dogs. The researcher who found this extraordinary evidence is Monica Gagliano . I think we will have to work on a catchy link for her second name, any idea?   https://www.monicagagliano.com.

The intelligence of plants is just beginning to be appreciated and is an amazing field.

It is just possible that in fact  I speak plant and the reason that all the other languages dont make sense is that I am tuned into a very different wave length. What do you think?

 

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Sky lace.

The swallows and martins are almost gone.

Over the garden they have poured in their hundreds, companionably calling as they weave their way to far away Africa.

Ted Hughes  wrote that they were stitching the sky and so I have always thought of them, but there were such thick clouds of them last week that I thought maybe they were lace making against the clouds, pulling delicate nets of fine worked lace  behind them.

Our house in on a migration route from Europe to Africa and every year the birds pour over us. Swallows and martins, chasing hobbies, red kites, honey busards, even the odd osprey and flock of blue, blue bee eaters stream over, sometimes high and sometimes low enough to feed from the insects rising from our garden.

The image of the fine lace woven by  the flight  patterns of wings for an instant and then rewoven, reassembled and pulled delicately across the whole world amuses me, something so much lighter and freer than a net : starting in the barns and eves of Europe and then being pulled by the interlacing wings all the way to Africa, a world unified  and beautified by birds!

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Touch

Being alive is a complicated thing.

Our understanding of existence comes from the senses, and our communication of it comes through language. Language can be read, all safely and quietly separate: writer and reader apart; or it can be spoken, speaker and listener together, so dangerously prone to misunderstanding, mishearing and misspeaking.

We understand by seeing. We can capture wonderful images with technology and can share the experience. Just as with the printed word, the image and the viewer are safely separated . When there is no technology between us, we try to understand each other by looking at one another, by reading faces and posture and just like with language we often misread one another.

Touch is a sense so fraught with potential misunderstanding that we restrict it to pets, petals and the smooth, smooth coolness of a stripped stump: smoke grey and strong, a tactile brush that cannot possibly be misunderstood.

Slow Gardening.

After a week away from the shed, the bind weed came in through the window and started using the shafts of the hoes and spades to climb up.

Today is the last day of August, the last of the summer months. There should still be plenty of good weather to enjoy here, but part of me is pleased to slow down as the frantic pace of a hot, wet summer of growing eases off.

There is still plenty to do in the vegetable plot. The cucumbers and courgettes are rioting. The pumpkins have been slow to set fruit, but four whoppers are now growing in an absolute jungle of leaves and runners. Unlifted potatoes are starting to sprout and must be dug up and curly kale seedlings need thinning for winter growth. The patient parsnips have been growing all summer and a few sweet potato plants have crawled between everything, their tubers waiting for discovery.

But they can wait.

Autumn will be here soon enough.

I think I’ll let the bind weed wind round the spades a little longer.

 

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