Sliding on by.

This grape vine tendril has grown right across my front door step. This is vegetable testimony to how few people have stepped across the threshold and how rarely I have been out this way.

When the vine started budding it was early spring and we sat drinking tea in the sunshine, enjoying the lockdown and the luxury of working from home and watching the garden come to life for once. The bat came back to roost in the eves as summer started and the grapes began to set.

Now it is autumn : Being home is still a pleasure and the garden is still amazing but venturing beyond the garden still seems foolish . Covid has not gone away and so the grapes have fattened unadmired by guests and visitors.

I wish there was a reason to trim the wayward frond , I wish the vine shoot was in anybody’s way: but it isnt, so it curls indolently over the door mat.

I wonder if the door will be completely overgrown by the time a vaccine liberates us all back into normal life, or if I will have simply learnt to make my own wine and there will be no reason to ever go out again!

Utrecht restores historic canal made into motorway in 1970s | World news | The Guardian

The world is full of bad news, so it is important to stay hopeful that things can get better and cities can be green livable places again!

Swimmers and pleasure boats gather as Dutch city celebrates reopening of Catharijnesingel
— Read on www.theguardian.com/world/2020/sep/14/utrecht-restores-historic-canal-made-into-motorway-in-1970s

Praying Mantis

I was peering at the bus stop display when something flew by and landed on the glass.

It was a large green praying mantis. I know them from Greece and Southern Europe but had never seen one in urban Switzerland.

Global warming perhaps?

I looked up mantis in Basel to send in the record in case anyone was interested, but instead of a wildlife recording site, I found papers from Basel University on how praying mantises have been observed eating humming birds and sucking their brains out!

To say I was surprised was an understatement . Apparently bird eating mantis are not the mantis religiosa of my bus stop encounter, but another species of mantis that has been introduced as pest control and are now actually eating North American hummingbirds.

You couldn’t make this stuff up!

Second spring.

In the autumn the swing of light is the same as in the spring,

and in the forest dog violets bloom again.

In my garden the Mock Orange puts out a few perfumed flowers and the rain has coaxed another push of sunshine yellow mulleins from the almost ossified Summer stem.

The Earth is turning, light is fading from this season,

but it can feel the same as the light growing in the spring,

If you want it to,

If you try hard enough

But there are swallows massing on the wires

Socially distancing swallows, but swallows none the less,

And all my wishing will not keep them a moment longer

Stretching out their improbable Pterodactyl wings to preen the summer dust away

Before swinging back on the turning world that never stops,

However much we want it to.

Memory

The rain washed the soil from the field and it made the most delicate image of the tree that should be growing there, just to remind us of what we loose when we let the soil leach away and we treat the earth like a factory floor.

Swallow.

I took the curtains down
They have hung unwashed against the glass for too long.
The window was bigger,
filled from frame to frame with sunshine and a perfect blue sky
And then the sky erupted:
Swallows and martins exploded,
flung exuberance , flight and life,
Careering, tumbling , screaming,
A great cloud of birds in all of the sky giving depth to the flat perfection of the blue day : calling calling calling.
I could not hear them behind the glass but I know the sound
The screaming chattering essence of flight, of movement , of freedom –
Oh swallow, swallow!

Honesty .

The Jasmine has deigned to flower this summer.
Last year there were leaves and no flowers : this year the perfume of the white flowers is intoxicating. It is scrambling up the drainpipe next to where the honesty has flowered  and while I peeled off the dull brown cases of the honesty seed heads, I am bathed in the heady perfume of the flowers.
 Peeling the skins from the honesty seedheads is a peaceful task that never ceases to give me pleasure.
The plants have stayed green all winter, clinging on between the paving stones and often dusted in snow . With the first stirrings of spring , their dark green intensifies and strong spikes of little purple flowers race up in the first hint of warmth.  The early honey bees and the long tongued bee flies pollinate them hungrily and their tiny feasting is often the first sound of insect life returning to a cold garden.
When the flowers are pollinated the flat oval seed head start to form. As the spring races into summer the ovals grow and the green cases starts to turn brown.
By the end of July the real heat of summer descends upon the garden and we retreat in to the shade. The last honesty leaves are long shrivelled and gone and the old plants look dry and ugly. But the seeds continue to ripen between the dark papery cases, while we lie in hammocks and the cats sleep the heat away under the hedge.
When the cases are totally dry and the honesty looks at its very worst , I peel back the first case.
Between the brown pages of the cases is a sheet of silver, perfectly shell luminescent with two flat brown seeds still briefly attached until they fall to the ground leaving  the central portion white and bright , clean and lovely.
My fingers are greedy to peel away the cases and to real the wonderful silver moon of the inside. Such a satisfying transformation of dark, dullness into white light! I rub away all the cases and reveal the beauty inside that has been slowly forming all year.

My mother taught me to peel back the cases when I was little in our garden near Liverpool. I was enchanted then and am enchanted still. I want the honesty to grow everywhere in the garden, but it will only flourish in the cracks between the paving stones that it finds for its self.

It will not grow where I plant it , it will only grow where the wind and the broom push the seeds and the warmth from the wall is enough to sustain it through a cold winter.
My ugly duckling plant has a mind of its own and will find the perfect spot to grow and twist all my metaphors into a slice of moonlight of its own as the thunder storm washes the last seeds into their perfect spot for next spring.
1833A49B-D98B-4E73-BCEE-8C9FADBBD2A3

A solid home…

 

While looking for shade on a sunny day, my eye was caught by a strange clay pot opening on the underside of the kitchen window. It wasnt there before. Made of perfect solid clay with a delicate circular mouth, the colour exactly the same as the painted wall .

I waited. Nothing happened. It was hot and very Adlestrop.

The next day the pot has changed shape some how and then there was a huge, elegantly waisted wasp at the mouth of the pot. The wasp carried a ball of mud and as I watched it carefully rolled it into the opening and sealed up the whole.

760E7566-E9DA-4EB6-AF37-D50776530223

The wasp returned with damp clay and delicately plastered, layer, by thin layer of mud over the pot until eventually the pot had been subsumed into an unnoticeable bump innocuous under the window ledge.

4C048BA9-AE54-4D53-81BF-03AFACBD48F2

 

A guide book helped me identify the workman as a potter wasp Delta unguiculatum……..”…

The pot is home for its single egg which is suspended from a thread inside the pot. The wasp provisions its young with a caterpillar, which the adult has paralysed with poison. The caterpillar is fed into the mouth of the pot to stay fresh until the egg hatches and the the grub falls from its thread onto the caterpillar, which it then devours. When the grub reaches maturity, the new wasp breaks out of its pottery nursery and feeds on nectar from flowers outside.

The shape of the nest has been said to inspire humans to make their first clay pots.

We have used pots to store grain and seeds for millennia. The wasp worked it out first and used them to store food for its young and to house them as they grew.

It may seem as if nothing is happening on a hot day, but all of life and human history is carefully building, mud mouthful by mud mouthful under the kitchen window.

708E0939-06CB-493F-88F6-3B2BBB72AC30

A Delicate home.

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

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

736CA0AD-02BB-452C-A572-013300144D89

Quatermass and the Pit.

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

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

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

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

73531C25-307D-45D8-9F01-3824CD1586EB

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Swamped!

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

No, I haven’t finally lost it!

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

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

I might even find time to rescue the duck!

 

ED5BC924-A821-4AFB-BE2A-A2235F7BC4C7

 

Stoning Cherries.

 Stoning cherries.
10 years ago we planted a cherry tree
Thin stick on an unpromising slope
For the blossom, for the fruit, if it ever came.
Each year the stick thickened
The trunk glossy and banded with fine bracelets of silver,
Yielding just a few small cherries.
This year it is finally heavy with fruit
Little globes, still sour , that explode in the mouth.
I stand by the sink, watch the flies on the pane
And push the stones out of each fruit.
The juice runs through my fingers,
The punctured flesh sticks under my  thumb nail.
My hands are clumsy,
but they slowly find the stone
in every fruit,
The stones are discarded in the sticky sink and,
Left behind  is a heaped bowl of broken cherry flesh,
jewel red and succulent.
Worth the wait.
Cathy Cooper 2020
DE114FA6-EE74-493C-9ECF-0AD107DF060D

On Monday they open the borders.

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

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

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

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

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

Then the borders were closed.

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

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

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

I hope I never see them closed again.

C3FE6533-D91E-4E3A-AE82-F01CC6D96692

Before the rain.

Before the rain the peonies  were perfect.

Before the deluge the roses were pristine,

The lawn was trim and the slugs asleep,

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

The perfume was divine.

CEDAFAF2-8C37-42FD-9639-9581908F628F

 

 

 

Better than plastic!

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

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

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

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

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

71097259-5C39-4328-84FE-9CCD2FE6BF80

Pentecost, Whitsun, Cheese Rolling, Roseday!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

31D7CFC7-172D-4176-896E-466FD9157B7B

 

6594376E-2A90-494F-A9B1-CAC8F4AC5E92

Living in Lockdown

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next stage the sun comes out .

Natural.

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

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

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

I need to get out more.

4EF4D70D-888A-44C8-B8C7-3A05689F606A

 

Complicated beauty.

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

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

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

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

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

This variety is absolutely glorious.

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

 

AECE4E8C-E080-43A7-A22C-C68424E1A9FF

 

The bee-loud glade.

The Lake Isle of Innisfree

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

 

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

 

6A318CE6-9C14-42FA-9932-C4E07681ABC0