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!!

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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”.

 

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Sweet Tico magic.

I was lucky enough to teach and to live in Costa Rica for four years, many years ago.

There was so much I loved and admired about this country: the complete lack of military spending; the emphasis on education and the great respect Costa Ricans had for teachers; their unashamed search for peace and most of all, their protection and love of wildlife. When we lived in Costa Rica it had the highest percentage of its land mass given over to nature reserves of any country on the planet and the diversity of habitats in this tiny beautiful country is breathtaking.

All my Gardens -Part 4: Costa Rica and the big world.

San Jose, the capital, is not the most scenic city in the world, it has pollution and ugly malls, but my attention was caught by this article on one of its satellite towns : Curridabat.

Take a read to lift your spirits.

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/apr/29/sweet-city-the-costa-rica-suburb-that-gave-citizenship-to-bees-plants-and-trees-aoe?CMP=Share_iOSApp_Other

 

 

Stand and stare.

Leisure                       by William Henry Davies

 

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.

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Greedy for Beauty.

This strange and terrible spring has been so beautiful.

The blossom has been unshaken by wind and untroubled by late snow or shrivelling frost.

In the soft, warm air each fruit tree has unfurled the most extraordinary foam and frill of blossom in its turn, against an eggshell blue sky.

First the blackthorn in the hedge, then the cherry, then the pears and now, the most lovely of all: the pink and white of apple blossom.

Each in its turn stirs the heart.

I understand the biology: I know the flowers are beautiful by chance and their purpose is to bring the bees, to fertilise the fruit, to set the seed, to grow the next tree; but that does not explain how my heart turns over; how they make my face turn up to smile and how my arms want to to embrace them, to enfold them, to be part of them.

This visceral response to beauty is part of our soul. We feel it when we want to pick up a child, to hug a lover, to scoop up a cat and when a whole tree is so lovely that our arms do not feel wide enough to embrace the whole extraordinary, heartbreaking beauty of its glory.

We are greedy for loveliness, greedy for beauty.

Happy Easter.

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Blossoming.

This pear tree was full of starlings in the autumn gorging on the ripe fruit and the sound was a riot of clicks, whirrs and chirrups.

Brouhaha in a pear tree.

The world is so much quieter now. The hiss of tyres has gone and the roar of easy jet overhead has faded. I can hear the tawny owls at night and the  colony of jackdaws on the church tower is audible from my garden for the very first time ever.

It is impossible not to enjoy this peacefulness, but impossible too to ignore that the quiet has come at the price of loneliness, fear, economic crisis and terrible illness.

I listened to The Queen addressing Britain and the world beyond today and her calm, compassionate dignity suddenly made me cry.

The brouhaha tree is in full flower today. It is absolutely covered in bees and their buzzing is loud, sociable and full of life, as will all our lives be very, very soon.

 

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In the lion’s teeth.

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!

 

 

You cannot confine the spring!

Spring knows nothing of fear.

The lane behind our house is awash with foaming white blackthorn blossom. The bushes are like waves breaking static white tops against the bluest sky – a Japanese woodcut of mountainous water frozen into the spray of spring blossom .

The cherry trees are just starting to flower, balancing sunshine and the forecast of snow in their unfurling buds.

On the kitchen window sill the first seedings are germinating for the vegetable garden. I normally get my seeds in the supermarket over the border in Switzerland, as their varieties do well here; but in the scramble to stock up on food, they were forgotten and I am keeping well out of the shops now.

Luckily I have managed to order seeds online and the second lot arrived yesterday, to my great delight! Some postal staff will not deliver in the Haut Rhin, as the infection rate here is so high and the prospect of an empty vegetable plot for the whole year was very dispiriting. However,  wonderful Spring Seeds have sent a good fist full of seeds to start things going. I have flat leafed parsley and chilli beginning to grow and their first leaves give great good cheer!

The commercial growers of  fruit and veg are asking the French hairdressers and waiters and all the others who have been sent home,  to help pick the spring produce which is growing right now in the greenhouses and fields. Most of the workers who normally pick the vegetables are not ill, they are migrants and they cannot enter the country as the borders are all closed and without their work the food will rot.

The world is very interconnected now. The butterfly wing flap of a closed border is felt in unpicked field. An open postal service allows some leaves to unfurl on a window sill hundreds of miles away and spring progresses one leaf at a time.

 

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Sunlight on the shanty shed.

It has been cold here after a week of such sunny spring weather that made the fear of the virus seem very silly and melodramatic. Everything has been growing and blooming and the birds have been tumultuous, everything must be OK, mustn’t it?

But the news from Italy has been so bad, so many people dead and the hospitals here overflowing with people who need respirators that are already being used by the critically ill.

Replacing the ancient shanty shed has been put on hold, as has so much of life and the tattered roof is now flapping in a cold wind.

But the roof is just keeping out most of the rain and when the sun flashed out for a minute, it lit up the white frothed blossom of the blackthorn bush safely sheltering behind the shed.

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Apricot Blossom.

My neighbour’s apricot tree is in full bloom and if you squint your eyes hard you can  just make out a red kite in the top left corner against the blue, blue sky.

 

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Stay home!

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.

 

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Unexpected time(s)

What a strange place the world seems today.

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.

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Today sounded like spring!

Some days have felt like spring: warm sun and gentle air; some days have looked like spring; early bees and daffodils, but today was the first day that sounded like spring.

The air is still cold, there is snow on the mountains and bad news on the radio, but migrants have come on the wind and their song was lovely!

The edge of the woods were loud with bird song, thrushes and blackbirds, a skirl of starlings that could sing like kites and golden orioles and their own whirling popping selves. A raven chuckled over us, green woodpeckers yaffled, black woodpeckers deep drummed and a long eared owl wheezed unseen . There were blue tits, great tits, wagtails and coal tits and then best of all; most unmistakable and gorgeous a chiffchaff sang with its throat full of spring time and the promise of summer.

Two brimstone butterflies appeared, a fantastically edged comma butterfly found some sunshine and ludicrously, a pair of large ruddy shell ducks landed on the top of our neighbours chimney pot, called companionable to one another and flew away!

I dont have pictures of any of these things. Close you eyes and listen for them,   though you may have to listen very hard to hear the butterflies!

The photos are from the woodland.

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Making a home where you can ….

February can seem a low point for life. The signs of early spring are cribbed with fears of snow and frost to come, so the sun on our back seems fearfully precipitous.

Luckily, other things are not so fearful and flourish in the most unlikely places.

The photo was taken of recent wire fence, ugly in its utility, fencing in a slab of shorn and tidied land. However the lichen and the moss were not disdainful of the plastic coated wire . They sensed opportunity, a habitat in which to grow and each intersection was frilled with light green life, finding a safe and unlikely foothold.

February is full of modest, opportunistic life!

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A future buzz!

Bees show the health of our environment on so many levels. When Notre Dame in Paris burned , we looked on aghast , and the bee keepers on the roof of the ancient cathedral thought the carefully guarded hives on the roof were doomed.  But it turns out that the bees were more resilient than we thought and they have survived against all the odds and are peacefully sleeping, waiting, like us all, for the spring.

I wish all our European bees a busy, borderless 2020!

 

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/jan/31/they-survived-fire-and-lead-poisoning-so-what-happened-next-to-notre-dames-bees-aoe?CMP=Share_iOSApp_Other

 

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Africa leads the way – again!

Producing less polluting rubbish in the world is one of the few things we can personally do to make things better. I have always used synthetic sponges from the supermarket to clean tea cups and sinks, but feel increasingly bad about throwing them away when they are used up, as they are not recyclable.

Turns out you can use cut up loofahs to do the same job and then put the used up sections in the compost bin. Better still, you can even grow the loofah in your own garden from  seed! No transport, manufacture or disposal pollution at all!

I crossed the Luwangwa river into Mozambique  from Zambia some years ago. It was just a river bank above the big muddy river, but we all got out of the little boat, just to say we had landed in Mozambique .  A vine was scrambling over the low bushes and the vine was loaded in long fruit. I was intrigued, pulled a few off and realised that this was a real loofah plant. The centre of the fruit is the light, slightly abrasive skeleton that we know from bathrooms and the once the peel is removed I had two perfect loofahs that I used in my own bathroom for years.

This is how I know what a loofah plant looks like, but I only just found out that you don’t have to be in Africa to grow them. They are easy to grow from seed even in Britain and the National Trust now only uses its home grown loofahs to wash up all those tea cups.  My next task is to buy some loofah seeds and to plant them this spring.

I promise to tell you how they grow!!

https://www.seaspringseeds.co.uk/shop/exotic-seed/luffa-detail

 

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Reasons to be Cheerful.

It is easy to think that the world is going to hell in a hand basket. The terrible fires in Australia, the destruction of the Amazon and the extinction of species in every corner of the globe, makes pessimism natural; but I am not alone in believing that things can be improved.  There are millions of people who care about the environment and millions more who care primarily about themselves, but are realising that their life also depends upon the quality of the air that they breath, the food that they eat and butterflies that amuse them.

So I share this article with you about the city of Ghent that has gone car free. As I read the testimonies from the people who live there about what a profound improvement this has been in their lives I found myself grinning from ear to ear. Change for the better can really happen, things dont have to always get worse, politicians and voters can make intelligent and brave choices and we can make our cities (and our suburbs!) green and pleasant places.

Take a minute to read it and consider what the future could be .

Reasons to be cheerful part 1!

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/jan/20/the-streets-are-more-alive-ghent-readers-on-a-car-free-city-centre?CMP=Share_iOSApp_Other

 

ps I dont have any photos of Ghent, so this  is Basel on wet day at Christmas!

 

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