Sit back and enjoy your dandelions!

It is so peacefully easy to do something for the bees. Just leave the mower in the shed and let all the dandelions flower! The lawn is bright yellow with sunburst flowers and the air is loud with the humm of bees, that are so covered in pollen they are almost as golden as the flowers.

Inaction is a much underrated art. We don’t have to be improving ourselves, tidying the garden, living “our best lives” ( what ever that improbability should be! ) often the best thing is delicious sloth, quiet, environmentally friendly inaction: just letting the garden go. I have managed such masterful lack of movement  that a  dandelion is now poking through the slats of the garden seat. The only danger to it will come when I sit on the bench for yet another cup of tea!

 

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Breaking free.

Spring is a liberation for the heart and the soul: the return of life is everywhere at this time of year.

On the path, a blackbird’s delicate egg shell speaks of something set free and in the air above, black caps cascade music against white clouds. At my feet, beneath the still bare trees, there are tiny white oxalis flowers, bruise blue lungworts, splatters of seven leaved cardamines and whole slopes of improbable violets, such as I have never seen in an April wood before.

There is herb Paris and wild strawberries, sweet woodruff and dogs’ mercury, oxslips and celandine, lords and ladies and bachelors’ buttons and more and more and more pushing up from the moist earth under a confetti of wild cherry petals; all for this apparently inauspicious, inelegantly sounding, miraculous year of 2019!

Complicated.

The world is very simple and very complicated. Every breath we take is a  marvel and the memory of some music that we still hear.

This morning is snowing. White flakes are mixing with the falling petals of the plum tree. The cat is outraged and runs in and out of the kitchen, snow flakes melting on his dark warm fur, mewling for explanation.

I am reading about my home city of Liverpool and its role in the slave trade, that leaves its echos in the street names and in its faded riches. One of the sea men who worked on the terrible ships trading human beings for money  was John Newton, who was imfamous for his profanity and disrespect, which was so intolerable that he himself was left by his captain in West Africa and was enslaved before being rescued by his family.  This man finally understood the horror in which he had been complict and became a clergyman in England. He wrote the hymn Amazing Grace, which has been sung in churches, fields and homes ever since, encompassing in such moving words and music how human life can move from darkness into light.

 

I was sent on my trail back to Liverpool by a wonderful book that I have just finished called John and Elvis by Mathew Langford.

The John is John Lennon and the Elvis needs no explanation.  It was so readable that I devoured it in a couple of days. The plot is an imagative interweaving  of their respective biographies, that echos with their music and the places that they inhabited and the need for us all to make some sense of this extraordinary, contradictory, amazing world.  I recommend it, as the snow falls on the cherry trees and my snow flake cat looks out on the garden with exsistential  confusion .

 

 

 

Thermogenesis

Spring snow is always such a shock. Just when we are getting used to sunshine a  front sweeps in and brings wet cold, cold snow.

Thankfully it is short lived and most plants are little the worse for it. Some plants even seem to shrug off the snow before the thaw begins and they are the ones that catch my eye. The photo is of daisy flowers closed shut, but quite free of the just fallen snow. The only explanation can be that they produce their own heat that actually melts the surrounding snow. They are not alone: tulips, cabbages and winter wheat and many other plants are capable of  making heat to protect themselves from frost and snow. This phenomenon has been well studied in a few  plants world wide, but it is a remarkable ability that is shared by so many plants, which we only get to actually appreciate and recognise after pesky, shocking spring snow!

Starting Early.

The leaves are not yet out, but the sunshine is dazzling. So much extraordinary, unmitigated light is flooding me in a kind of shiney March madness. Everything is bare and beautiful, raw and stark and shadowless.

The bright early spring has tempted me to start mothing earlier than usual. The nights are still frosty, but some wonderful moths are flying already. Most early moths have over wintered as adults and tend to be restful shades of brown and grey to avoid  predation. I have found modest quakers, hebrew characters and brindled beauties. This speckled specimen reminds me of a garibaldi biscuit as it scuttles quickly under  the few emergent leaves to wait out the bright spring sunshine until peaceful night time.

When the time is right.

Acorns have waited all winter to be in the right place at the right time and today the brown shells split, the simple leaves began to swell and the powerful root began to push down into the soil. A drift of acorns half trodden into the mud decided today was the day and erupted into life.

I couldn’t resist picking up a handful of nuts that were not yet attached to the soil and I took them home in my pocket. I have laid them in a pot of soil from the oldest part of the garden, where hopefully the good things that trees need will bind with the emerging roots and seedlings will grow.

Like most people, I have never grown an oak tree, but I have a feeling that it really is about  time to try!

Winston and the slow worm – again!

The garden is waking up. There are bees on the willow flowers, daffodils braving the frosty clods and Winston the cat has caught another slow worm. These warm, smooth, legless lizards spend the winter, safe in compost heap, but when the sunshine rouses them, my cat is waiting to pounce.

The good news is that he doesn’t hurt them. With gentleness unusual in a feline killer, he picks them up in his mouth, brings them to the nearest human and drops them unmolested at our feet. The slowworm stays very still, is happy to be picked up and Winston mewls and yowls proudly until he is praised and petted for his “ catch”.

The reptile is returned to the warm rotting heap; Winston frisks about full of the joys of spring and the sun shines on!

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“Dusk and shiver”

The Lady of  Shallot      by Lord Tennyson 

On either side the river lie
Long fields of barley and of rye,
That clothe the wold and meet the sky;
And thro’ the field the road runs by
To many-tower’d Camelot;
And up and down the people go,
Gazing where the lilies blow
Round an island there below,
The island of Shalott.

Willows whiten, aspens quiver,
Little breezes dusk and shiver
Through the wave that runs for ever
By the island in the river
Flowing down to Camelot.
Four grey walls, and four grey towers,
Overlook a space of flowers,
And the silent isle imbowers
The Lady of Shalott.

…….

In the summer a stand of aspen trees quiver, their leaves dusk and shiver in the slightest breeze and I always think of these lovely lines from Tennyson’s famous poem. I saw the first wild cherry blossom today in a sheltered bend in the river, but we are still a long way from leaves, so I thought I would share a photo of the unexpectedly bright green catkins of the aspen sharing a branch with mistletoe, as winter and spring swap places.

 

 

Dancing with Kites.

 

Over the garden a red kite mewling like a kitten, so close I could reach out my hand and brush the polished perfect feathers.

Kite silhouette again the racing  blue sky, the cat crouches low and the bird is gone, piping and laughing into the clouds.

And now another and another.

They twist around each other, wings touching the roof tops delighting in the fitful wind, hail flung after them and the sunlight chasing them.

Flame forked tails angle and the birds turn, quartering the spring sky into slabs of changing colour. Four birds over my tiny garden, calling to each other for the whole spring day.

Flirting, testing partners, laughing: dancing.

 

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..Mad March

I could be in  Tenerife right now. I’m sure the sun is shining and the waves are glittering, but I’m not there, and I’m glad!  The problem with other places is the getting to them. Hours of checking in and checking out, passports, cramped seats and jampacked flights full of people you hope never to see again are just the prelude. Then there is the location of the hotel. Then there is the finding of the place you so hopefully booked, so long ago, which looked such a great deal, but turns out to be hours away again from where you expected, adjacent to a motorway and next to a noisy bar and under some piledriving construction.

I know where my houses is, and I like it. The wind may be roaring, the sun intermittent, fretful and only momentarily  glorious, but the bed is comfortable, the food and wine to my taste, and  the cats on the sofa are relaxed and purring, purring.

The mad March  wind blows the first spring flowers up and away into a noisy maelstrom . Rain splatters against the windows and into my face as I race into the garden to chase a flying garden chair, but I right now I wouldn’t rather be anywhere else and I don’t regret my cancelled holiday for a moment.

There goes the bin over again, but here comes the sun and I think that was a rainbow!

 

 

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Spring on the kitchen table.

TS Elliot said « April is the cruelest month » as it stirs dull desire, but I dont think he was a gardener. Shoring up the ruins of Western civilisation in his poetry must have left him little time  to appreciate that March is a far crueler month, as the anticipation of spring is so sharp it hurts.

I am impatient by nature. After the first snow drops and catkins prove winter is dead, then I want full leafed, green pulsing life back in my garden and in the fields and fast! I want long grass and swaying trees, butterflies, birds and moths, but must make do with worm casts and buds that seem clenched as tight shut as a fist.

To compensate I turn to the garden centre and buy spicey perfumed pinks and heady jasmine to speed things along. I know they will languish before long for lack of light, but for now I can bathe in thier perfume between the pepper pots and salt cellar, as I wait for the fists to unfurl.

Spring on the window sill.

Outside the dead twig is king. We are weeks away from  buds breaking here, but the kitchen window is a good place to tempt the flowers to appear at eye level right now.

Forsythia is the most forgiving of bushes. All year it is sturdy and green, but in spring time, the bare wood is covered in simple lemon green star flowers that erupt for every knarly inch.

I never knew you could pick forsythia twigs months before they flower in the garden and enjoy them inside. Thanks to the generosity of bloggers I read about how you could plunge them into water for 24 hours and leave them some where cool before bringing them into the house and waiting for them to flower. I was delighted when I tried this and watched an unprepocessing bunch of twigs burst into flower on the kitchen window sill  in darkest winter.

Since then I have become lazier and realised that that the cooling transitional phase isn’t needed, I just select the twigs from my lovely leggy shrub, shove them into a tall  vase and wait for the stars to come out!

While the sun shines….

After the grey of winter,  the sunshine of the last weeks has been like mana from heaven. Cloudless skies, glittering light; the lid has been taken off and we all breath more freely. However, heat in February is fundamentally wrong, and the news of temperature records being smashed across Europe, makes this early sun disturbing, however welcome it may be right now. Children are leaving their classrooms to protest about adults lack of concern about global warming. Their future is being frittered away while we hum and haa about ugly wind turbines and expensive fuel taxes. It is hard not to close our eyes to the uncomfortable truth of what global warming will do to our lovely earth. It is much easier to just lie back and feel the heat on our faces.

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Yes!

What a shout! What a yell of life and light, after so much winter!

Spring is wonderfully early, the sky is scoured blue and burnished in sunshine.

Catkins of expanding hazel are pulled out in the unexpected heat and the bees appear from no where.

Pollen clouds of sherbet yellow are  thrown up into widening, widening, wonderful opening sky!

For Mum.

For Kathleen 1929 –  31st January 2019.

 

 

Snow at the end of winter

High heaped, brittle,

Chaffinches fiddling for grain

In stunted grass.

And then –

Flight –

Strong, short wings,

A sound of flight

A movement of the air

A flash of complicated colour.

Blue, blue, bright sky

A flat,  simple palette of love

Lightens their escape.

 

A Green Wall.

Walls don’t all divide, some are beautiful, give us oxygen to breath and are a hopeful sign of a better future.

This was in a modest hotel, near the back door. I have seen fancy green walls before that look as if they need an army of staff to maintain them and water them, but this was manageable, functional and as pretty as any picture.

I think soon all our walls will look like this. Just as most of our roofs are covered in solar panels generating electricity right now , soon all our walls will be used to grow food, replenish the oxygen in our homes and restore our deep, deep need for green.

 

 

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Rambling bramblings.

Squeals of delight come easily to children and rarely to the truely grown up. Adult life consists of such profoundly dull things that an unforced squealing is considered an audible anomaly. That is why bramblings are so wonderful.

The odd jaunty red brambling amongst the chaffinches or sparrows in the garden is a smile inducing pleasure, but a wintering flock streaming overhead as the darkness falls evokes a real squeal.

Some years they don’t come. Apparently the prevelence of beech mast has to be just right to tempt them south from their Scandinavian homes in such numbers: they dont take wing in their millions for nothing. But when the conditions are right they arrive in huge numbers and feed voraciously in the woods of Southern Germany, Eastern France and northern Switzerland. We were once in the forest when they descended to forage and every leaf was alive with flicking, delicately rustling birds, as thousands and thousands fed quietly around us.

This year we have seen few on the ground, but suddenly the air has been fabulously full of them. Somewhere relatively close, the bramblings have been roosting on mass and the skies right above our muddy garden have been filled with their sturdy determined silhouettes returning at dusk to their temporary roost.

The first flock flying over make you stop what you are doing and shout for others to look. The second flock makes you shout louder, the third, the forth and the fifth flock leave you rooted to the earth in immobile delight. When the flocks streaming overhead are indistinguishable and there is no sky between them, then you realise you are seeing millions of birds and squealing is the only possible response!

We tried in vain to find the roost, but by the time we had time to give up doing the dull things that grown ups do, the bramblings in their extraordinary, unbelievable millions, had gone somewhere else.

I hope they will be back next year.

“Flashing like tinsel” – for Mary Oliver.

“There’s Oliver, still standing around in the weeds. There she is, still scribbling in her notebook… but at the center: I am shaking; I am flashing like tinsel.”

Little Owl Who Lives in the Orchard

by Mary Oliver

His beak could open a bottle,
and his eyes – when he lifts their soft lids –
go on reading something
just beyond your shoulder –
Blake, maybe,
or the Book of Revelation.

Never mind that he eats only
the black-smocked crickets,
and the dragonflies if they happen
to be out late over the ponds, and of course
the occasional festal mouse.
Never mind that he is only a memo
from the offices of fear –

it’s not size but surge that tells us
when we’re in touch with something real,
and when I hear him in the orchard
fluttering
down the little aliminum
ladder of his scream –
when I see his wings open, like two black ferns,

a flurry of palpitations
as cold as sleet
rackets across the marshlands
of my heart
like a wild spring day.

Somewhere in the universe,
in the gallery of important things,
the babyish owl, ruffled and rakish,
sits on its pedestal.
Dear, dark dapple of plush!
A message, reads the label,
from that mysterious conglomerate:
Oblivion and Co.
The hooked head stares
from its house of dark, feathery lace.
It could be a valentine.

Thaw.

Loss is the sound of a skirt shaken; long hair tossed; snow shrugging from a dark winter pine and whispering down to the ground.

I walked in the thawing wood.

Everything was movement and sound and I felt as if I was walking in the company of multitudes shivering and sliding softly around me. At first the thaw was disorientating, too much movement and unexpected sound and then I became accustomed to the slippery urgency of snow falling into water, everywhere, all around, sliding.

Across the forest path: pigs, little ones, middle ones, aunties, mothers, utterly silent on tiny delicate feet. Fifteen wild boar passed noiselessly right in front of us and followed their line out across the damp snowy field: a line of  black piggy perfection against the waning white slush.