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.

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“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.”

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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.

Up close

This stellar photo is not Jupiter, but the view down my microscope of a humble tradescantia leaf. The green and purple bands are the variegations and the pigmentation glitters like rubies in mesmeric glory. I am still learning to use this amazing , inexpensive microscope and during a wet afternoon I just looked at the leaves from house plants and the few plants in leaf in the garden. I was struck particularly by leaf hairs.

The thick hairs on a woolly Stachys leaf looked like spun glass and the hairs on a herb Robert leaf look like icicles about to melt in sunshine.

The leaf of scented geranium is downy and irregularly studded with brown globules, which I took to be the oils that give the plant its distinctive perfume. This was confirmed when I looked at the leaf of a thyme plant. This leaf was scurffy with tiny hairs and plastered with brown oil globes where the secret of its much prized flavour lie.

The most surprising of all was the leaf of a wall flower, that has survived all winter in the partial shelter of a lean to. I have never considered them hairy at all, but the leaf was covered in long parallel hairs lying flat to the surface. They did not seem useful to keep it warm , or to hold in oils , or defensive spikes, maybe they were to speed water down from the leaf that might otherwise freeze in winter or to focus water onto the roots in dry times.

I have so much to learn!

Royalty

Pure white, pure black, a defiant stare and gone.

An ermine ran across our path, dived into a jumble of rocks and then sat straight up to watch us stop and stare back.

The morning smelt of spring, but this twist of life was dressed for deep snow or a coronation. It was so totally white with a tail dipped in black ink that it was impossible not to grin.

Then it was gone and I spent the rest of the day reading about stoats ( or short tailed weasels ) and marvelling at the ludicrous link between this vicious shape shifting “rat” and the royalty of Europe.

Ermine are the winter colours of stoats. As the days shorten their coats whiten and the unremarkable brown rabbit killer metamorphoses into this royal creature. Our ancestors were so impressed by the cleanliness of their fur in a winter world of brown mud and sludge, that they decided that ermine would rather die by hunters than foul or besmirch their clean coats. To hunt an ermine all you had to do was lay mud across the entrance to their den and they would rather die than be dishonoured by dirt. This gave raise to the death before dishonour mottos and their purity became linked to the idea of royalty. Having a cloak of ermine pelts with the little black tails dotted against the fur become the badge of kings, queens and emperors throughout history. The most recent European coronation of King Willem-Alexander of Holland saw both King and his Queen wrapped in swathes of ermine to signify their royalty to all the world.

It is of course bad luck for the stoat, but the fall from grace of fur in fashion is bound to be reflected in coronation regalia very soon. Most ermine fur came from Russia though the very name ermine is supposed to be corruption of Armenia where the Greeks considered the ermine to be from.

I wish I had a great photo for you, but I have nothing but the memory of it to share with you. An “ Armenian rat” that cloaked the shoulders of kings and trimmed the crown of queens.

Leonardo Da Vinci’s famous portrait depicts a very large stoat restrained by a very large hand.