Orchids in the grass.

I spent the day in a meadow which flowers above a roaring Swiss motorway and the grass was studded with orchids. Only rich countries can divert a motorway under such a wonderful habitat; but the wealth that paid for the diversion has been created by the very trade and the traffic beneath it and so one is struck once again by the seesaw of destruction and construction that is modern life.

So I ignored the sound of the traffic and revelled in the orchids above. The wonderful military orchids were just over and their seed spears showed where they had flowered just weeks before. However, the grass was now jewelled with the lipstick pink spikes of pyramid orchids, so bright they fluoresced in the sunshine. The first painted lady butterflies flew amongst them but refused to settle for a photograph.

We knew there were other orchids here, but missed them in the riot of colour of the red bartsia and the blue spiked speedwell. Just when we weren’t looking, or our eyes were turned to the side, we saw the little bee orchids.

Their flowers imitate the female bees to which the male bees are irresistibly drawn. Instead of bee copulation, the bee gets an undignified deelybopper of orchid pollen stuck on his head, which he then unwittingly carries to the next bee impersonating orchid and pollination takes place.

These orchids are small but beautiful and remarkably formed: a bit like Switzerland really!

Cats locked at home to save rare birds.

This article is in French about German cats and in the spirit of internationalism and Catdom I paraphrase it!

In one Southern German town cats have to stay indoors for months. They are not allowed out to stop them eating the rare crested lark during its breeding season.

I love cats and birds, who is right?!!

Insolite. Bade-Wurtemberg : un passereau menacé, les chats confinés !
— Read on www.dna.fr/insolite/2022/05/18/bade-wurtemberg-un-passereau-menace-les-chats-confines

It’s Columbine time.

The wild columbines in my garden are in their full glory.

I collected a few handfuls of seeds from plants in the forest on the ridge between my village and the border with Switzerland, some years ago. I chose a variety of colours, but they are all on the wild pallet of purple and pink.

Over the years they have self seeded in the shady parts of the garden and the variety of colours is amazing. Every year I try and photograph them and am always dissatisfied with the result. The flowers are down ward pointing and it seems impossible to capture their beauty and delicacy.

Some of the flowers have double and triple whorls of petals and I think their variation would have inspired Gregor Mendel to unlock the secrets of genetic variation in his famous monastic garden.

All types of bees visit the flowers . Here is a fat carpenter bee looking for nectar.

The bumble bees bite into the spurs of the flowers to reach the nectar faster and the next bees use the easy access too. You can see the bite holes in this picture.

The name columbine come from the Latin for dove and the shy down turned flower is supposed to look like a ring of doves’ heads.

Like all of the most beautiful things in life, they are transient. The warm weather will see them pollinated quickly and soon the patio will be painted with the bright confetti of their multicoloured, fallen petals.

For a sore back.

Long Live The Weeds
by Theodore Roethke

Long live the weeds that overwhelm
My narrow vegetable realm! –
The bitter rock, the barren soil
That force the son of man to toil;
All things unholy, marked by curse,
The ugly of the universe.
The rough, the wicked and the wild
That keep the spirit undefiled.
With these I match my little wit
And earn the right to stand or sit,
Hope, look, create, or drink and die:
These shape the creature that is I.

Calendar for your mouthful of the world.

I came across a wonderful article describing how the Japanese seasons are separated in to five day micro seasons, after ancient Chinese segments adapted for the Japanese climate. The segments are such marvellously subtle slices from the time when deer shed their antlers to when the bears go into their dens . From when the wheat germinates under the snow, to when the first cherry blossom opens.

It made me think about a calendar for my corner of the world from when Madame Charlotte’s walnut tree finally breaks into leaf ( third week of May ) to when the snails climb up the plant stalks ( driest time in late August) . There is the time when the first crickets sing at night, to the thickest dew on the ladies mantle leaves; the full moon when the moths don’t fly ( tonight !) to the time when the first slugs devour new the iris flowers ( tomorrow!)

I think I will work on my own 72 divisions, but it can’t be done right now as this season is undeniably the busiest of them all. It can wait until the garden seems asleep and there is nothing else to do. In the meantime, take a look at this wonderful list and maybe start to plan your own version for your own corner of the world, or maybe wait until the winter when the ice forms!

Happy Rikka.

https://www.nippon.com/en/features/h00124/

Changes ( for Carol)

Nothing stays the same and at this time of year the changes are so rapid that a blink and it seems as if you are in another country.

The blossom comes, the blackbirds sing ,

The leaves come and the blackbirds sing.

The grasses flower and the blackbirds sing,

Crickets puncture the night , after the blackbird sings:

And the first bat scissors the dusk,

And tomorrow the blackbird still sings .

On the waiting windowsill

I was inspired to photograph my window sill today by Flighty at flightplot.Wordpress.com . So here it is : two overwintered geraniums, two small trays of seedlings and an absurd sunflower .

The sunflower found its way from the bird seed in to the vegetable seedling trays and very soon out grew the chilli seedlings that were supposed to be germinating there. I have given it its own pot for fun and have been astonished by how much it has grown. I turn it every day and soon it will be taller than the window frame.

Of course it should be in the garden and that is the tension of this time of year. I want to plant everything out, but it is still cool at night and if I go too early , the seedlings will be stunted or worse still, frosted by the ice saints. Saint Sophia’s feast day is May 15th and it often coincides with a few days of really cold weather in this part of Europe . She is known as Kalt Sophie and can be the last frost of the spring and it isn’t advisable to put anything tender out before this date.

So my window sill is still is groaning under geraniums that have kept me cheerful all winter and flower seedlings ( cosmos) for later on the season and gherkin seedlings for tiny cucumbers harvesting when it is hot .

Two more weeks seems a long time to wait when the sun is shining and my fingers are itching to plant them outdoors. It is such a wonderful time of renewed life . Everything is far from perfect in the world, the news from the Ukraine is appalling and Russia seems to want to start World War Three, so I turn to my laden window sill; to faith in goodness and to the glory of the garden.

Night time

I fall asleep to “Just William “ books. Gentle escapism of the most perfectly dated nature allows me blot out the world and while I sleep, the moths reclaim the night.

The first wonderful specimen is an emperor moth. It is the only European member of a family which is much more wide spread in the tropics. The huge eyes are to scare away birds and other predators and when it flies in the day, it is often mistaken for a butterfly.

The second moth perched on my finger is a purple thorn . It’s Latin name is tetra luna which refers to the four half moon shapes that just catch the light from the window in this shot (at the top edge of the jagged wing.)

The third moth is a peach blossom. The improbable pink blotches on the wings look like the delicately coloured flowers of that fruit tree.

The last moth is most prized because it is new to me. It is called a pine beauty and I had great difficulty in identifying it as I was mistakenly convinced it was a type of swift moth ( due to the way it sits) . Unsurprisingly, it lives in pine trees and it’s gingered, pink appearance apparently allows it to hide in yellowing needles ( though I find that hard to believe!)

So while we sleep, some beautiful things fly free, even if it is just our dreams!

Bright in the sun.

The blossom trees held their breath in the snow and the storm and today they exhaled.

The white cherry blossom studs the forest tops and in the orchards, the perfect pink of apple blossom opens out on to the clean pale centre of this most lovely of flowers on this the most perfect of April days.

Things are not always perfect, but in the brief moment when they are, we can rejoice.

Basho , the great Japanese poet famously wrote:

It is with awe

That I behold

Fresh leaves, green leaves

Bright in the sun

Swerve.

From sun and shining glitter of spring light

To snow sound absorbing grey

From the gurgling water of blackbird fountain

To the thick unexpected silence of smothering snow

So the world swerves,

From plenty to penury.

Last brambling of the winter knows he was right to stay

Finding a seed in the snow

The precipitous apple blossom turns from pink to brown,

unopened, above his heedless head.

Finding love.

If you are a masonry bee, finding love needs some patience. These amorous bees have taken up residence in my bee houses and are very obvious at this time of year, but I really understood very little about their life and love cycle ( and probably still don’t!)

In March, apparently, the male grubs hatch and bite their way out of the mud blocked bamboo canes . They are distinguishable from the females by their white hairy faces. They then have to wait for the females to emerge and often back right back into the hollow canes to wait for their date. A line of these whiskered bees reminds me of impatient bearded blokes waiting for their girl friends outside of the ladies’ changing rooms in a clothes store .

When the long awaited ( and larger) female bee finally emerges, they buzz around each other and finally mate, sometimes wrestling her to the ground and fighting off other males. She then gathers as much pollen as she can and makes a bright yellow bed of pollen food onto which she lays her fertilized egg. This bed is then laid in the empty bee “ room” of the bee “hotel” and grub slowly eats its own bed as it grows in the quiet safely of the plugged up tube.

Some times there is no room in the hotel and the female needs to find somewhere else to lay her egg. I have been most perplexed to find myself unable to put on a gardening glove sometimes and found that the fingers of the glove were blocked by something. When teased out, the blockage was bright yellow and I now realise that I had inadvertently evicted a masonry bee lava and his tasty bed of yellow pollen.

I have put up more “hotels” this season and I hope that all the bees emerging this year will find a comfortable space to start the next generation again!

Waiting for a mate!

Changing the Guard.

The hedgerows are still bare: a few colts foot and celandines have nosed out above the soil and in the woods there are tiny oxslips and lungwort flowers, easily overlooked amongst the dead leaves.

BUT:

The spring migrants are here!

The chiffchaff is throwing his voice like confetti up into the leafless trees. The secretive dunnock has slipped in on the warm air and the electric crackle of the black redstart is fizzing from the barn tops. Every storks’ nest has two gigantic birds stood aloft and they throw back their heads and rattle and clack to one another with insane glee.

In the ploughed fields there are still a few bramblings and in my garden the feeders are covered with siskins, who don’t seem to know that winter is over yet. The cold weather seed eaters are still cautious, but the warm weather insect eaters are already here. They are ready to risk the changing of the guard and for a few days yet they meet in the neutral territory of the early spring.

“Head of English” by Carol Ann Duffy. Notes.


Head of English

Today we have a poet in the class.
A real live poet with a published book.
Notice the inkstained fingers, girls. Perhaps
we’re going to witness verse hot from the press.
Who knows. Please show your appreciation by clapping. Not too loud. Now

sit up straight and listen. Remember
the lesson on assonance, for not all poems,
sadly, rhyme these days. Still. Never mind.
Whispering’s, as always, out of bounds – 10 but do feel free to raise some questions.
After all, we’re paying forty pounds.

Those of you with English Second Language,
see me after break. We’re fortunate
to have this person in our midst. Season of mists and so on and so forth.
I’ve written quite a bit of poetry myself,
am doing Kipling with the Lower Fourth.

Right. That’s enough from me. On with the Muse.
Open a window at the back. We don’t want winds of change about the place.
Take notes, but don’t write reams. Just an essay
on the poet’s themes. Fine. Off we go.
Convince us that there’s something we don’t know.

Well. Really. Run along now, girls. I’m sure that gave an insight to an outside view.
Applause will do. Thank you
very much for coming here today. Lunch
in the hall? Do hang about. Unfortunately,
I have to dash. Tracey will show you out.

Carol Ann Duffy

I love this poem, as an ex-Head of English myself I can hear my own voice and others in her pomposity and her exasperation and rushed insensitivity. It makes me laugh out loud every time I read it.

This blog is a pretty quiet place, as I do absolutely nothing to increase traffic (as I believe it is called). I don’t link it to anything and I don’t do any other social media at all, so I have been fascinated to see how many views I get from India, from Pakistan and from some other WordPress readers on the same poetry posts.

I have two short posts that continuously attract “traffic” and they are about “ The Road Through the Woods” by Kipling and “McCavity the Mystery Cat” by Elliot. I have deduced that they are both on an exam syllabus and many struggling students have stumbled across my posts and used them to help with homework or revision.

I see “The Head of English” is on the IGCSE syllabus at the moment, so this post is by way of an experiment to see if my simple notes attract interest.

Notes on the poem ( feel free to use!)

Carol Ann Duffy is a famous poet and she must often have visited schools and given talks to pupils just like “the real life poet” in this poem. She would have been met by many women like the Head of English ( the head of the English department in the school) and given an introductory talk by her to the students. After the poet had spoken; in this case to “the girls”; she would then have been given a few words of thanks by the Head of English and then usually taken for lunch with the other teachers in the staff room. The poet would have been given a small payment for this talk: in this case “ forty pounds”.

What is original about this poem is that we never hear a word from the actual poet. She is not a character in the poem at all. Duffy speaks entirely through the Head of English and creates a wonderfully small minded, judgmental character who speaks in cliches; likes old fashioned poetry and is obviously very unimpressed by what the real poet has to say “Well. Really”

First Stanza:

The Head of English is addressing her pupils before the poet speaks to them. The Head of English speaks in awful clichés “ note the inkstained fingers” and “verse hot off the press”. She tells the pupils to clap but “not too loud”, she is the controlling and illogical school teacher .

The second stanza runs straight from the first with no punctuation ( an example of enjambement!) which mimics the rush and pomposity of the teacher. The mention of “assonance” is there to impress the poet with her superior knowledge of poetical terminology, but this is spoilt by her lament that “ not all poems rhyme” and her determination to get her money’s worth from the poet “After all, we’re paying forty pounds”

In the third stanza she mentions the students for whom English is not their not their first language. Her curt, throw away line “see me after break” makes these students seem a problem. “Season of mists and so on and so forth” is a mashed part of a line from Keats’ famous poem “Ode to Autumn” which again might be considered old fashioned, as might her studying of Kipling with her older students. She again wants to appear superior due to her knowledge . All English teachers will recognize the “I’ve written quite a bit of poetry myself “ boast and may cringe with embarrassment as they read Duffy’s very clever lines.

The fourth stanza is the funniest. Her “ winds of change” comment is an allusion to a famous political speech, but she is using it to refer to the girls potentially farting during the speech and the need to open the window. She orders the girls to take notes and not write too much ( “reams” ) but somehow manage to write an essay about the poet’s themes at the same time. This is obviously impossible and her glib rhyming of “reams and themes” makes her seem even more foolish and irritating.

As she sits back to enjoy a break from teaching by listening to the poet, her line “Convince us that there’s something we don’t know” is adversarial and the reader of the poem may positively dislike her at his point.

In the final stanza, the talk from the poet is over and the Head of English is not impressed. “Well. Really” these two short words convey her displeasure and shock in a typically repressed polite fashion. School teachers are geniuses at conveying disappointment in the very few words allowed. She is now in a hurry now to get rid of the poet. The implication is that the poet had said something controversial which has shocked the teacher and she does not want her pupils contaminated “ Run along now Girls” The teacher does not want to spend any more time with poet, she does not invite her to eat with her and leaves it to a girl called Tracey ( an unpoetic name) to see her out.

The Head of English has not had her intellect or sympathy expanded by the talk from the poet.

Carol Ann Duffy leaves the reader to imagine for them selves what sort of poems the imaginary poet read aloud to the girls. Duffy leaves the reader to construct what good poetry might be, by setting the views of the Head of English in complete opposition.

This is a funny poem because we recognize our teachers and their prejudices in the character Duffy creates. We laugh at her, but not too cruelly, as no one has been harmed in the snubbing of the imaginary poet . Duffy is undoubtedly using her own personal experiences as a visiting poet to create a memorably foolish character in The Head of English.

Cabbages and Kings.

These are the last cabbages of the season. They have hung on all winter and have now been picked so the vegetable plot can be rotivated for the new growing season.

I love their tenacity, how they stay green in snow and frost and the complexity of their texture and colours .

The Alsace was once famous for growing huge cabbages, which were shredded for making choucroute or sauerkraut on the other side of the Rhine. The fields were also home to the wonderful Giant Hamster of the Alsace which is just surviving by the skin of it’s rodent teeth in the face of industrialized agriculture: protected from complete extinction in a few tiny reserves.

My best friend, when I lived in Kazakhstan, was a Russian lady with a wonderful garden behind her small house. She grew cabbages and pumpkins and walls of flowers and roses and I often think of that productive and beautiful patch of earth on the edge of the city, where we ate shaslik from the bbq with Uighur friends in the shade of a plum tree.

The Emperor Diocletian was the only Roman emperor to voluntarily abdicate power and to step down before he was killed in war or was assassinated . He decided to give up the power of his vast empire and to retire and simply grow cabbages in his garden.

When asked to return to lead his people again he is said to have replied that if you could see my cabbages you would understand the impossibility of the suggestion.

I think some current emperors could learn from this. Growing cabbages is far more noble than going to war, as history has proven. And if no one else will thank you; then maybe the Giant Hamster will.

It’s still Fasnacht here!

A long week.

Fasnact face to scare away evil spirits.

At the start of the week the madness of the invasion of the Ukraine became apparent and by the end of the week it has intensified in a way that is almost unbearable. And yet I am not Ukrainian and no one is shelling me, so the very, very least I can do, is to get on.

It has been glitteringly sunny here. Cold and cuttingly bright and at night it is unusually star filled and cloudless. The nighttime temperatures are very low and each morning I awake to a hard white frost.

March is the start of the mothing season for me and on the first night above freezing, I put out my moth trap. There were two Hebrew characters and an Early Grey in the trap . The Early Grey was a new species for the garden and I start 2022 with 315 recorded moth species in my garden since I started to keep records. This moth eats honey suckle and like the Hebrew character ( named for the distinctive marking on the wing that looks like a letter) has furry tummy to keep in warm in these cold early days of spring.

Hebrew character

“There are decades where nothing happens; and there are weeks where decades happen.” Lenin.

In dark times

In dark times, we turn to the sun and the spring to give us hope. After two years of Covid, things looked a little better and then Europe plunged into war again and the winter has returned.

I look at the photos of the terrified mothers and exhausted children. The faces of the men who are defending their country are not so easy to photograph, but I can imagine their fear and their courage as they face an onslaught from their neighbours. There is no reason and no justification for this invasion of the Ukraine by Russia.

We are all brothers and sisters with everything in common . I hope I never have to decide to fight for peace as the men and women of the Ukraine are doing right now.

The spring is coming , may the Ukrainiens eventually enjoy it too.

🇺🇦🇺🇦🇺🇦🇺🇦🇺🇦🇺🇦🇺🇦🇺🇦🇺🇦🇺🇦🇺🇦🇺🇦🇺🇦🇺🇦🇺🇦🇺🇦

“I planned to plant tulips and daffodils on my backyard today. Instead, I learn to fire arms and get ready for the next night of attacks on Kyiv,” said MP Kira Rudik on Twitter. “We are not going anywhere. This is our city, our land, our soil. We will fight for it. So next week I can plant my flowers. Here.”

Brilliant.

Word press can achieve some remarkable things. It has introduced me to a poet that writes about places I have never seen but in the language that I can understand, in the scruffy messed up edge of the wild in which we we all inhabit .

When you go to this post you can read his collection in the link. You don’t need to be his nationality or gender or age to feel these poems, just kick through the discarded rubbish and feel the sublime.

http://peterfrankiswrites.blog/2022/02/22/here-it-is/

Seen from a car.

We went driving today along the Rhine river. The Rhine is the artery of industrial Europe: on one side Germany and on the other France and all along this stretch there are vats of hydrochloric acid, vast cement works, gigantic silos of grain, parks of containers full of goods from China and Bangladesh and factories making glass and airplanes and shopping trolleys and everything that we take for granted in our 21st century lives, but don’t want to actually see.

In the water were some swans, pochard and mallard. A canny heron and a few tufted ducks and above was a very early spring sky blowing though a beautiful cloud scape before the storm struck.

Three vignettes stood out.

Before the motorway a small group of people were lifting a wreath of flowers over a memorial to some one killed in the traffic. An elderly lady with two younger men were momentarily frozen in a very private moment of remembrance as we drove on by.

Much further on a tall, dark young man with a large backpack walked very quickly along the motorway verge. He looked tired but purposeful and I wondered how very far he had walked , from where and which side of the river he actually wanted to be on.

On the edge of a village a pétanque court was actually in use. There were dozens of men playing in the normally abandoned sand. Their faces were unmasked and they were animated with competition, excitement and humour .

The great old river is still very much alive.