He is thinking about the smokey sunshine, about pictures, about the black perfection of his own paws, but mostly he is thinking about food.
There might be little bits of chicken when they prepare dinner; there might be morsels of cooked salmon if is Friday ( what ever that might be. ) There might be the right flavored packet food, not the one he has just gone off and will not eat. There might be dried snacks to run after in the sitting room in the unseasonably hot afternoon.
There might be peace on earth and every one fed and safe including the mice and the birds, but for now Winston is just stretching his paws in the sun and waiting.
The garden turning autumnal. Plenty to do and the migrant birds massing over head. Eventually I stopped. The late afternoon sun still hot in the sitting room and I slowly drank a glass of pastis and listened to Radio France .
It was a Shostakovich string quartet, that irresistible mixture of fear and beauty and for once I listened with all my heart.
The final movement ended and you could hear the needle coming to the end of the record in a delicious crackle . I sat still and waited in warm relaxation for the next piece of music, but it didn’t come. I sipped to the end of my drink, listened to the door bump in the breeze, the clock tick, the commuters driving home in the sunshine.
I imagined what was happening in the radio silence; had someone decided to kiss their lover in the store cupboard instead of changing the record? Had someone fallen asleep in the warm afternoon? Had the great idea finally struck and was it being scribbled down on the back of an envelope or noted on a phone? Had someone finally left and walked quietly down the stairs and out of the building?
The music never started again. The radio eventually took matters into its own hands and shut off. When I turned it back on there was something lively playing.
I think I preferred my unexpected moment of silence.
This dragon fly laid her eggs on a mossy stone . I always assumed they deposited their eggs into water and if anything should know the difference between stone and water, then a dragonfly should. She choose the stone. Maybe their life cycle is more complex than I imagine. I could look it up. I could read about it in books and on line, or I could just watch and wonder. Sometimes that is all I want to do: just watch and wonder.
It rained and hailed this week. The pot of basil was shredded, but the broken leaves were preserved in a bed of hail under the stalks. They were cooked in spaghetti bolognese for dinner.
The first migrating warblers are turning up in the garden, feeding for a while on their way home to Africa.
After the rain, the heavy phone cables strung across the road,glittered with rain drops sliding along the cable like iridescent jewels on a dowager duchess’s necklace.
I swear I could hear the soil absorbing the sweet rain and the cracks healing.
It has been brutally hot and it is going to get worse, so while we wait and pray for our leaders to wake up to the reality of climate change, what can we do personally to stay cool?
1. Wear light clothes. Loose cotton dresses are much cooler than shorts as the air can move around your waist. Men look great in kaftans, which are what men wear in the hottest countries, for good reason!
3. Get up EARLY when it is cool and open every window to get the cool morning air in. Use a room fan to blow cool air into the room from the window. Warm air rises, so open any window that you can up high and suck cool air in from the basement or lower rooms. As soon as the temperature outside is warmer than inside, close and shutter to keep the cooled air in.
2. Close your windows and keep your shutters or curtains closed, when the sun is out. Open the windows only when the temperature outside is cooler than inside. Buy a little indoor outdoor thermometer to check.
4. Don’t put the oven on! Don’t cook anything that needs a long time. When you have cooked put the hot pan outside to stop it heating up the kitchen. Couscous is brilliant, as it needs just a small kettle of boiling water to cook it and left over couscous is great spiced up and eaten cold.
5. The simplest way to get cool is to wet your arms and face and sit in front of the fan. Soaking a t-shirt, wringing it out and then wearing it will keep you cool for ages. Wetted top sheet will help you sleep if it is really bad. Sitting with your feet in a basin of cold water helps swollen ankles .
5. Air conditioning is the obvious choice for many, but it eats electricity and that drives the problems that make the world hotter, so if you can: avoid.
Long term cooling solutions involve planting many many more shady trees . Trees can drop the temperature by 10 degrees and are of course beautiful. Painting roofs white make a big difference and not laying black tarmac everywhere makes urban areas more liveable. Fountains that people can splash in and walk through are wonderful.
Homes and offices need to lose all that glass that makes living in them literally like living in a green house. The fashion for endless glass is insane. Every new home I see with huge glass windows, has to quickly spend a fortune on blinds and curtains that are never never opened. A wall, is much cooler!!
A) a bottle of water left over night in the freezer and then sat in your lap.
B) a gel neck scarf. The gel swells up in water over night and then cools your neck all day as you wear it. It isn’t wet on the skin, you can get all sorts of attractive patterns and it is definitely the best cheap cooling device.
C) a snap towel. I don’t know how these little towels work, but they certainly do. You wet the little towel a bit, shake it to make it snap and put it on your head or neck – very cool!
D) a neck fan. This is my latest acquisition. It looks like a pair of hipster ear phones around your neck. It charges with a usb lead and works for hours blowing air round your face. It is very light and brilliant when you are moving around.
High temperatures generally mean a lack of rain and water shortages. To keep your plants alive, reuse your washing water!!
Bowls of water, that have washed dishes or hands, can be collected in a pail and used to water everything. Plants do not mind a bit of detergent/soap – in fact they love it!
Collecting shower water is difficult, but bath water is easy to collect if your bathroom is upstairs. Every evening, after a bath , I lower a pump connected to a hose pipe into the bath and pump the water straight out onto the vegetable patch or into a water butt for use later. I use bubble bath and the veg are fine! You need one person to keep an eye on the pump upstairs to turn off the electricity when the bath is empty.
I am sure many of you know all of these tricks, but this blog might just contain a new idea to keep you cool and keep your garden blooming in the dry and the heat.
Covid hasn’t gone, but maybe we have changed instead.
Everybody has had their own adaptations to the new reality that nobody wanted, everybody has had their own privations, some small, some fatal. Work, family, school, friends the list goes on and on of the things changed by the pandemic that seems to never end. The things we miss seem endless too, but in a world turned upside down, we have maybe learned to see things differently and not to miss the things we took for granted before.
My cat is perfectly happy upside down on the sofa. He is warm, there will be food, maybe someone will dangle that left over Christmas ribbon close enough for him to play with. He has lost one of his lovely long front teeth, but he doesn’t seem unduly worried by it.
He quite likes the world upside down, he can get used to anything.
It used to be that sex was the thing no one talked about and now not talking about it is considered weird, but still no one wants to talk about death. My theory is that somehow we consider that just by thinking or talking about it, this will make it more likely to happen. Well, just like taxes it is the only inevitable thing in life and I do think about the practicalities of it occasionally.
I don’t want my last action to be pollution of the earth, or sky so I am delighted to find out about Dutch mushroom coffins that turn your body into compost swiftly and with style!
I also love that the company calls purchasers of their idea ” future trees”.
The dahlias are dug up. The gladioli that just out flowered the first frost, but never put on any weight around the corm, are drying in the sitting room and hoping that the cat won’t wee on them.
The pumpkins are now safe in the cellar. I thought the cat had weed on one of them, but in fact I had maligned the poor cooped up beast and the unexpected moisture was just the result of rot. The other pumpkins are fine and soup will soon be made.
The last beetroot are being eaten cold with vinegar and flower seeds are being distributed to any one that I can persuade to take them.
It may seem time to sit back and do nothing as the year rolls in, but there are vines and roses to prune; bird feeders to fill; pine needles to sweep and that bag of onion sets that is about to sprout, to be finally planted out.
“Haa, haa “, crow the ravens as they pair up in the cooling November air.
Between the tropical down pours there was sunshine for a whole hour. The dandelion seed heads, that have been waiting for so long, took the water from the soil and pumped up their tall stems. In the strengthening sun light they pushed open the protective sepals.
Baby hair tufts of blonde seed parachutes slowly appeared like a crown . There was time to get my phone, to write this and time to watch as slowly, so slowly the parachutes made the perfect circle of seeds and the sun dried them out and the wind blew them away and the dandelions started all over again, all over again.
I promised to tell you how my attempt to grow my own loofas went.
I bought the seed last winter when cutting down on plastic seemed the most important thing in the world. Well, the seeds germinated well and
the seedlings grew. I identified a good place against a wire fence to plant them out and watered them in. Then it turned wet and the cats were both sick and the slugs came out and ate the plants down to the ground when I wasn’t looking!
End of story.
What is astonishing about this little tale is that a whole year has gone by since I bought the seeds and the whole world has grown so strange since then.
I feel as if I haven’t been out of the garden or house since then. Time has folded in on itself so much since then that I am not sure I ever planted the loofa seedlings at all, or what I was hoping to achieve by growing them.
I have spent an inordinate amount of time this covid year staring at my two cats Winston and Pixie and marveling at their markings. They are brother and sister who were living in a neighbor’s greenhouse as kittens. We took them in and have always been fascinated by how many wild cat genes they might carry.
There are wild cats here in the edge of the Jura and I have seen cats on the edge of the forest with the tell tale fat banded tail and the black Pom Pom on the end.
Pixie has the classic wildcat tail, when she is being really agressive or scared, it quadruples in size and my little affectionate Pixie becomes a fluffy monster. Her larger brother Winston has some of the wildcat markings, but no where near as many as his sister, he has sleek velvety fur and classic tabby cat stripes. They both have wildcat cat ear tufts.
This useful illustration of the markings on a cats back is the best I have found for telling a tabby from a real wild cat.
It could be Pixie A (wild cat) and Winston B, ( tabby cat ) but as they are sister and brother I think all that it proves is that cats, just like humans are a bit of everything and wonderfully mixed up like us all!
We may feel cribbed and confined by a world on hold, but the clouds still race by and the seasons turn and turn again even though we can’t believe the calendar has moved on.
It turns out that the beautiful is much closer than we realised and that clouds fly by with even greater freedom unentangled by the nets of jet vapour trails.
There are flocks of chaffinches arriving already from the north to feast on the mast from the beech trees. The bend of the road, by the cow pasture, is greasy with the walnuts crushed by cars tyres. The apple press next door is working ten hours a day to crush a bumper crop of apples into juice and sweet cider from the heavy laden trees of the three countries that touch branches just here .
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.
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.
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”.
What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.
No time to stand beneath the boughs
And stare as long as sheep or cows.
No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.
No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars like skies at night.
No time to turn at Beauty’s glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance.
No time to wait till her mouth can
Enrich that smile her eyes began.
A poor life this if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.
Well, it seems we finally have time to stand and stare, as the world has stopped in an unimaginable way . This favourite poem has come into its own, but I am painfully aware that what we have to stare at during lockdown is not the same for everyone.
I have a little garden and orchards to walk in, but writing glowing descriptions of the birds and butterflies that I can see seems unconscionably smug when most people are stuck in flats with only concrete and asphalt to admire .
Beaches and woodland paths are closed. Parks are padlocked and in Japan they have had to cut the heads off the roses, to stop people going out to admire them and spreading the virus . People are worried sick about not being able to earn money to feed their families and the leisure of not working does not feel like a holiday for long.
I understand why it has to be this way and if staring is all that I can do to help get the virus under control then it is no hardship, but I still feel profoundly guilty that not everyone can get out to enjoy this wonderful spring and “ turn at Beauty’s glance”.
I hope that everyone, wherever they are, can find something beautiful to look at and can and stand and stare for a few minutes and forget their worries this afternoon.
It’s snowing here, but soon the sun will be out again and the dandelions will be in flower again – such is the fickle nature of spring. Faffing about flowers when the virus has us all enthralled seems absurd, but we must stay sane and nature turns unperturbed by our concerns.
Those of us fortunate enough to have lawns are watching them grow and as the world beyond the garden seems increasingly unsafe, we attempt to impose order on our own small patch. I think the first blog I ever wrote four years ago was a plea not to mow the lawn in the spring time and here I am again with the same plea for peaceful inaction!
Dandelions are beautiful.
Their huge golden flowers are the first food for so many bumblebees, honey bees and butterflies. If you are home instead of the office, then lie on the grass and watch a bee burying itself in the profusion of pollen that dandelions offer up. Watch the bee revel in the yellow gold, its whole body dusted in it and the pollen sacs on each back leg bulging with the riches it will take back to the hive.
Then put away the mower for a few weeks and let the dandelions be.
The English name for them is a corruption of the French “dent de lion” – lion’s teeth and they are “ lowen Zahn” – lion’s teeth in German too. Both names come from the shape of the seed, not the flower. The common French name is “pissenlit “ which literally means piss the bed, which is the diuretic result of eating too many of the delicious leaves!
I am eating a lot of dandelion leaves at the moment. I am eating them Greek style which is boiled or steamed for a few minutes and then dressed in olive oil and salt. You will be relieved to know they have not lived up to their French name so far!
So enjoy the spring flowers on your lawn: feed the bees: eat free greens and stay healthy!
We are staying home to save lives as the COVID-19 virus rips through Europe.
I take inspiration from the solitary bees that have made a home under the ripped roof of our shanty shed in the garden. When I peeked under the flapping plastic sheeting I found every hole had been made into a home by masonry bees with dark red tails. They are collecting pollen from the willow tree to lay their eggs on, which will feed them as they slowly go through the stages of their lives.
Such solitary bees are better pollinators than sociable honey bees. They carry more pollen than honey bees and do not suffer from the same viruses as their hive living counterparts .
Covid-19/Coronavirus is spreading at an alarming rate and it can be deadly for the infirm and for older people. Younger people catch it just as much, but for them it is much less serious. The problem is that these younger people can spread it even if they are not visibly unwell.
Europe is having to enforce draconian mesures to stop people from socialising and spreading the virus. No one wants to be confined at home for weeks, but if that is what we have to do to stop it, then that is what we have to do, and that means everybody, for the welfare of the whole of society!
If you are in Italy, France, Spain etc I am teaching my grandmother to suck eggs again. If you are in China, we need to learn from how you have dealt with this; if you are in the rest of our beautiful world, then please take notice of what is happening in Italy and beyond and stay away from the hive, stop travelling and stay safe.
I stood a long way from the woman buying fruit in the farm shop and I collected the newspaper from the post box wearing thick yellow marigold gloves.
The tartan crisscross of aeroplane vapour trails is not so dense across the sky today and fewer car loads of sullen children were raced to school. The shops sold less landfill cheap clothes. A man found a board-game at the back of the cupboard and a woman decided to make a slow cook meal that she had never found time for before.
The air was a little cleaner, a cat settled down to sleep in the sun and the spring soil stirred.
There is always conflict for the naturalist when confronted with an alien species. On the one hand we are delighted to see a wild animal or to admire a beautiful plant, on the other hand a creature in the wrong place can push a whole ecosystem out of balance and destroy native life. Every country has its own tales of trouble from European starlings in America to Costa Rican toads in Australia and Japanese knot weed in Britain.
When crossing a road bridge in a local village I was astonished to see a large muskrat peacefully munching on a long frond of water weed, as the traffic rumbled on overhead. It was the best view I have ever had and I spent a long time admiring his white whiskers; delicate dexterous paws and ears sunk deep in his thick, silky fur. That thick fur is the whole reason why he was here, so far from his native North America. Muskrats were brought to this area to be bred for fur. When the fur market collapsed in the 1930s, the fur farmers of the Vosge mountains simply opened the cages and just let the muskrats go free. They didn’t take to find their way to the waterways and now they breed naturally .
I enjoyed watching it going about its business. I find all animals fascinating and was reminded of the pleasure of watching grey squirrels feeding and playing In British parks and in my own back garden (we named a particularly bold one Sharlene). They were aliens, they outcompeted the indigenous red squirrel and they are an official pest. However the movement of flora and fauna has been going on since life evolved, on the wind, on the tides ,on the feet of birds and the life around has always had to adapt. The ethical question of which creature has a right to exist is as complex as the evolutionary question of whether creatures that evolved in one place are more worthy than those who have moved , or been moved, to another place.
And then there are the human creatures, to whom all the same questions apply as to the muskrats under the bridge.
A warm week has sent me out into the garden . The place is wet and the mud weighs down my boots, but the air smells almost like spring and tidying over takes me.
There is plenty of dead vegetation to trim and forgotten leaves to rake and my enthusiasm is intoxicating. However it is only January and there is along way to go until spring. Tidying, trimming and raking wont make the days longer or the earth turn faster, so not only is my decimation of the garden pointless, it is also positively harmful.
Last years growth is full of over wintering wildlife: butterfly caterpillars, lady birds and hedgehogs and tidying up is not the same as emptying a kitchen sink of washingup; this is habitat destruction in my own tiny bit of the planet.
So, I move away from the shears and the pruners, put down that rake and leave the garden in peace! There will be time in the spring to make way for the new growth and rushing the season will just make less space for the wildlife that badly needs somewhere quiet and safe to spend the winter.
Much better for the planet to have a cup of tea and do nothing!