This Tom cat, in the quiet church yard , was fixated on the mice in the ivy below. The gravestone on which he perched was oddly blank . I assume he would engrave it eventually with the names of his quietly rustling victims!
They shut the road through the woods
Seventy years ago.
Weather and rain have undone it again,
And now you would never know
There was once a road through the woods
Before they planted the trees.
It is underneath the coppice and heath,
And the thin anemones.
Only the keeper sees
That, where the ring dove broods,
And the badgers roll at ease,
There was once a road through the woods.
Yet, if you enter the woods
Of a summer evening late,
When the night-air cools on the trout-ringed pools
Where the otter whistles his mate,
(They fear not men in the woods,
Because they see so few.)
You will hear the beat of a horse’s feet,
And the swish of a skirt in the dew,
Steadily cantering through
The misty solitudes,
As though they perfectly knew
The old lost road through the woods…
But there is no road through the woods.
As Europe goes back into lock down for everybody except for front line workers ( which now includes school teachers as well as health workers!), maybe Rudyard Kipling’s famous poem should be adapted to –
“they shut the road to the city
Seventy years ago …..“
I am almost over my horror of fungi.
This autumn has been extraordinary in the rich variety of mushrooms coaxed up by the rain, but I will never be tempted to eat any of them again.
This particular mushroom cap was thin and as smooth as porcelain. The edge was lined, as if it had shrunk back with delicate avoidance of the falling leaves pattering down all around it.
The aspen leaves were yellow and then black – no warming russets or browns to lull you – they know winter is coming and lay down to die with minimal fuss.
They only leave behind an unexpected perfume without the slightest a hint of decay . Something soft left lingering in the air.
Baudelaire coined the word flaneur to describe the detached strollers in Paris streets who simply observe the world as it passes them by. I am uncomfortable in cities, but find just as much to ponder on in the countryside as in any crowded city street.
This seat is in a wood. The forest behind is a broad leafed mixture of beech and hornbeam, but right in front of the seat is a closely planted stand of young conifers. The seat is sturdy, concrete ended and relatively modern. It must have given a fine view once of the abutting meadow, but now it is quite blockaded and cut off.
Was the close planting an act of neighbourly spite? Was it to obliterate the painful memory of a loved family member, who once admired the view? Did the tree planters simply never notice the bench at all? Has the bench miraculously placed itself in this inaccessible place?
I walk on into a meadow flooded with light and the bench watches me and holds its lichen covered tongue.
Yesterday was cold Sofia, the last of the ice saints day. May 15th is the fest day of Saint Sofia and traditionally the last really cold night of spring.
In this part of the world mid May is often surprizingly cold and no one who understands anything would put out a tender plant before that date for fear that frost would kill it. We have had hot February and March, warm April, but the first half of May has been true to the folk calendar: cold and wet!
The grass and the potatoes are loving this weather and the spring flowers have lasted spectacularly well, but I am watching the moon which seems full tonight. Full moon always heralds a change in the weather. The ice saints have had their season, Pixie the cat watched them go and now the warm weather can begin!
There was ice on the path, the shape of a horse hoof in the half thawed mud and a broken twig of mistletoe. A tractor growled far away, a kite mewed over head.
In a very old church, a skeleton lay exposed to the infrequent congregation, oddly indecent amongst the pews. A prankster stole his skull a few years ago. They say.
On the altar spiders strung their careful webs between the wings of the praying angels and on the spotted altar cloth there was a delicately tied bundle of vine cuttings. Medieval faces of devoation, chipped off by irreligious revolutions, watched impassively as the year turned.
Outside, the churchyard is plump with the granite graves of gilded lettering and pyramids of winter flowers and unlit candles.
As I walked; (careful not to go withershins ) round the old church, brief sunlight illuminated an extraordinary scene on the exterior church wall. This opulent scene must have been covered over for hundreds of years. The old church has just been replastered as this scene of Constantinople, Rome, Jerusalem or heaven its self has just come to light again.
Everything is tantalisingly unclear. I can find nothing to explain it.
What do you see in it?
When the leaves are gone, there is less to distract us from the enormity of winter skies. Little, colurful birds cluster around the seed feeders and the fat balls, but the blank, cold skies are left for black birds: for the crows and for the best of all birds : the pitiless raven.
As the flowers shrivel in the first frosts, she bristles out her throat, throws back her head and laughs long and loud into the empty air. The dreariest time of year is the ravens’ flirtation . While we fret and fart with wretched leaf blowers in our tidy corners of the world, the ravens shout into the wind, roll extravagantly, over and over with the sheer joy of aerial mastery, wings heavy bell beat in the frozen air. Their’s is delight in cold; delight in dark. This is their time to pair, to impress with improbable devilry; to call to their mate and to slice out a piece of sky for their own winter territory . In their magnificent racous laughter, they wait for the carrion that will feed their young in the months before spring returns.
The autumn leaves were falling in a dry rustle around us as the trees slowly, reluctantly gave into the darkening days and sighed down to the woodland floor. My eye was caught by something bright red: careless trash, I assumed, but stopped a moment to check.
Among the leaves was something far odder, older and much fouler than a discarded sweet wrapper. Spongy, fleshy, organic and disturbing, on an October afternoon I had stumbled upon a witch’s heart lying decomposing on the forest floor.
Clatharus ruber has many names: witch’s heart; stinking basket; Stinking cage and it is found in Europe and also in the Americans. The cage of rubbery bright red life erupts from a white egg and the first naturalist to describe it in the 16th century thought it was a marine animal . This fungus appears and decays into a stinking mass in 24 hours. This film clip shows the whole gruesome process:
It took the contents of my water bottle to wash the stinking fungal spores off my fingers. The smell is utterly repellent. You would have to be a carrion fly to appreciate it, but I am glad I got to hold the heart of a witch for just a few jellified, soul shuddering moments!
Deadly Night Shade has a beautiful name in English and in Latin. It’s English name ushers us in to dark oblivion, but the Latin name shows us something more dangerously seductive. Atropa Belladona, used as a poison works quickly and effectively, but used in very small doses it apparently dilates the pupil of the eye and makes the user strangely attractive to the viewer – she becomes the bella donna.
Blossoming and fruiting together on its long stems, this Deadly Night Shade seemed well hidden by the forest. The fruits are black and disturbingly luscious, but I think no eyes dilated on seeing them here beneath the cool beech trees. Atropos, the fate who can cut the thread of human life, held her breath. Everything was quiet and innocent in the woods: only the names of the flowers breathed murder and lust.
The year is turning and the shadows creep up the wall.
These saplings pattern a chapel in the forest nearby. This chapel is all that remains of a village that was never rebuilt after plague and invasion wiped out the inhabitants. A local history buff has carved its named on a picnic bench, where hikers might pause for a moment to wonder who lived here as they chomp down their energy bars amongst the quiet of the trees.
Only the name and shadows remain.
Today is the autumn equinox and a day to sing the praises of michaelmas daisies
In my garden I have showy purple michaelmas daisies and simple white ones and I think I prefer the white ones for the way they blaze light against the dark bushes. Their latin name comes from the Latin for star and the simple flowers sparkle and are absolutely covered in hungry honey bees.
Their English name is an abbreviation of St. Michael’s mass and the prince of angels who is credited with defeating Satan, is celebrated on 29th September, when the flowers are in full bloom. I like the idea that such a biblical warrior should be commemorated in this unassuming flower. Old St. Michael’s day was celebrated on 10th of October and when St Michael threw Satan out of heaven, the devil landed in a blackberry bush and spat in disgust on the fruit, which is why traditionally you should never pick or eat blackberries after that date. The fact that they have gone mushy and taste bad has nothing to do with it!
On a French note, St Michael made an appearance in Normandy on a rock which is now the famous sea-girt Mont Saint Michael.
I wonder if they grow michaelmas daisies there?
Most of the flowers of summer fade, but some can be kept all year to decorate the house during the dark winter months.
I have already written about my favourite dried flower: Lunaria annula or honesty , which is really the lovely delicate silver inner seed case stripped and revealed, but other garden flowers will also maintain their beauty for months.
Hydrangeas come in many shapes and sizes and all of their flowers can be picked, hung up and dried, or if like me, you have no time for dangling plants on a line, you simply pick a few fresh heads and put them in a vase with no water and they will dry themselves – no effort required at all!
Yellow Yarrow , Achillea millefolium is equally easy. Just pick some wonderful sturdy yellow flowers and put them in a vase without water where they dry, unwilted and stay colourful for the whole year. You can get fancy and make arrangements by combining white hydrangeas and yellow yarrow, and make surprisingly elegant gifts in no time at all.
I have had a bunch of yellow yarrow in a vase next to my bath and when lying soaking in some bubbles and gazing up at the underside of the flowers one afternoon, I had an extraordinary revelation about how the medieval builders of Europe came up with the idea of gothic fan vaulting. The supporting stems of the flowers reach up under the flat head of fused flowers in exactly the same way that fan vaulting spreads out from column in the cloisters of Gloucester cathedral.
I wonder which master builder lay drowsing in a garden and looking up into the yarrow, decided to recreate this botanical masterpiece in stone?