This is a great selection of poetry, some familiar some new to lift the spirit in November. Unfortunately a few of the links take you frustratingly to pay sites, but pass swiftly on and enjoy the selections.
This nature reserve is close to my sister in law’s village . A complicated project has opened up part of the Thames to fish to swim and spawn in for the first time in 130 years . How is that for righting a wrong after such a long time?!
Thanks to the EU for funding and local wildlife trusts for having vision and determination to make something better!
This article has really set me thinking again about my own flat garage roof, which could be home to more wild life. The bus shelter roof idea is really taking off and this is the way to go across the world !
This tiny perfect sliver of life was under the bucket. At first it was coiled like a bracelet in a golden knot, but by the time the photo was taken it was warm and lithe, sliding over my fingers. The sight of one slow worm used to be astounding in our garden ten years ago, but as the garden has grown up and the wild spots and compost heaps have been cultivated, they are increasingly common.
It is heartening to think we must have done one small thing right in our little corner to visibly increase this bit of wildlife.
By the way my hands are not usually so dirty, but they are currently stained from picking up walnuts without any gloves on!
The blossom trees held their breath in the snow and the storm and today they exhaled.
The white cherry blossom studs the forest tops and in the orchards, the perfect pink of apple blossom opens out on to the clean pale centre of this most lovely of flowers on this the most perfect of April days.
Things are not always perfect, but in the brief moment when they are, we can rejoice.
These are the last cabbages of the season. They have hung on all winter and have now been picked so the vegetable plot can be rotivated for the new growing season.
I love their tenacity, how they stay green in snow and frost and the complexity of their texture and colours .
The Alsace was once famous for growing huge cabbages, which were shredded for making choucroute or sauerkraut on the other side of the Rhine. The fields were also home to the wonderful Giant Hamster of the Alsace which is just surviving by the skin of it’s rodent teeth in the face of industrialized agriculture: protected from complete extinction in a few tiny reserves.
My best friend, when I lived in Kazakhstan, was a Russian lady with a wonderful garden behind her small house. She grew cabbages and pumpkins and walls of flowers and roses and I often think of that productive and beautiful patch of earth on the edge of the city, where we ate shaslik from the bbq with Uighur friends in the shade of a plum tree.
The Emperor Diocletian was the only Roman emperor to voluntarily abdicate power and to step down before he was killed in war or was assassinated . He decided to give up the power of his vast empire and to retire and simply grow cabbages in his garden.
When asked to return to lead his people again he is said to have replied that if you could see my cabbages you would understand the impossibility of the suggestion.
I think some current emperors could learn from this. Growing cabbages is far more noble than going to war, as history has proven. And if no one else will thank you; then maybe the Giant Hamster will.
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 .
I know winter is far from over, that February is the coldest, hardest month and is yet to come, but today there was a change of the light . There was a breath of spring somewhere, even if it was only in the blue sky behind the snow clouds and I thought of Edward Thomas’ lovely short poem.
Thaw Edward Thomas 1917?
Over the land freckled with snow half-thawed The speculating rooks at their nests cawed And saw from elm-tops, delicate as flowers of grass, What we below could not see, Winter pass.
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”.
Bees have had a tough time in Europe, so it is excellent to read about this uninfected wild colony. I especially like the fact that these bees are so peaceful they can walk on your hands without stinging !
There are so many environmental problems facing the world that I have to admit to feeling often overwhelmed . The news gives us the big picture and our own eyes and ears show us the reality in our own backyard. My safe place is the garden and so I nurture it and I celebrate it, but it is so very small .
I can’t even protect the hedgehog that feeds in it, or the blackbird that sings over it, as they need more space than I can ever provide . When they leave my garden they can be strimmed or shot or just go hungry. The moths that I identify so diligently need places to pupate and leaves to eat. The red kite that soars overhead needs voles to eat and the voles need rough ground to burrow in and the bats that weave the night together, need old trees to sleep in and safe roofs to bring their babies up in.
The sky and the earth do not belong to everybody, what ever magical thinking we may indulge in. The earth can be covered in concrete, sprayed with poisons and ploughed to dust. The sky can be emptied of the trees that should be swaying in it and the clouds can be full of unbreathable pollution.
So, shall I just plant taller hedges? Stay sane by staying small? Plug my ears to the sound of encroaching construction, chain saws and crop sprayers?
I have started with my husband and very knowledgeable neighbours to catalogue every hedge and tree in the village . We hope this might eventually stop the grubbing up and chopping down that happens on daily basis in the name of tidiness and profit.
The whole plant is now locked away in the tiniest of seeds.
Sometimes they will germinate in Autumn rains and survive the winter, but most often the seed will just wait it out until the spring comes and conditions are right to explode into life.
Seeds are so tiny in comparison to the plant they may become. All that complex information for life is locked away safely in the dry seed and it’s survival is so improbable that it makes collecting the autumn seeds seem like the most important thing I can do . I know seed catalogs are full of technicolor promise for the spring, but these are seeds that I know will grow again. I collect nasturtiums, sweet William, dames violet, wall flowers and lettuce. Some things will just seed without needing to be collected like roucoula , columbine and marigolds. Some will need the lure of the seed catalogue like chard and pumpkin and fennel, but all will be an astounding testimony to what can grow out from the locked away life!
I forgot my binoculars again, so I had to listen instead.
First there was the conversational croak and squark of frogs. Heavy flops into water and ripples covering the commotion with quiet again. Then there was hissing of ducks, flapping and bell beat of swans wings pushing away invaders. Then a scream like a stuck pig from the reeds. Water rails are rarely seen but unmistakable in their piercing indignation.
Then I was convinced we were being followed as there were rustles behind us but no footsteps. Leaves flinked against the sunlight, branches just moved. Finally we saw the twisting dark line of a red squirrel, so little and so lithe, jumping from hazel branch to hazel branch, stripping the green nuts as she went.
Down on the ground, she looked for the dislodged nuts, but was pulled back up into the leaves by any disturbance, as fast as a children’s toy whipped along by a thread.
Planes growled out of the airport (the covid silence is long gone) . A strimmer ripped up the quiet and then a golden oriole called and its rich exotic tropical note soothed the natural sounds back to the foreground again.
This limestone outcrop is an implacable stone face that seems to guard the path to the very edge of the Jura mountains .
My village faces the Alsace valley, but the woods climb up to the very first folds of the Jura mountains which form a great arch of peaks between France and Switzerland. Everyone has heard of the Alps : awe inspiring sheer faces for skiing and climbing, but the Jura is less well known, it is less flashy and very beautiful. I like its anonymity and I am always surprised by how extensive this international range is and I love the cool valleys and its hardworking history of saw mills, watchmaking and engineering. Rivers pour through the gaps in the limestone and this rock lowers over a small stream that sinks into the rock in the summer to flow underground .
Every time I look up at the face I see something different . Sometimes it is an Easter Island idol; sometimes it seems crumbling and undefined, sometimes the ferns are Denis Healey eyebrows beetling above me, but always it seems to have weathered a storm that has just passed.
I am fortunate enough to have had two anti covid vaccinations and feel as if my personal storm of fear is passing . I know not everyone is so lucky and the pandemic is still a terrible danger in so many countries and I can only hope that like my totemic rock they too can weather it out.