Bright in the sun.

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.

Basho , the great Japanese poet famously wrote:

It is with awe

That I behold

Fresh leaves, green leaves

Bright in the sun

Cabbages and Kings.

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.

It’s still Fasnacht here!

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.

Thaw.

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.

The last taboo

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 future really can be green!

Here is an article to

https://edition.cnn.com/2021/11/17/europe/loop-mycelium-mushroom-coffin-eco-funeral-spc-intl/

Small World.

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.

We have to have faith . That is all we have.

It’s easy to feel pessimistic about the climate. But we’ve got two big things on our side | Bill McKibben | The Guardian

One is the astonishing fall in the cost of renewable energy. The other is the huge growth in the citizens’ movements demanding action, says academic and climate campaigner Bill McKibben
— Read on www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2021/oct/15/climate-crisis-cop26-bill-mckibben

We have to keep believing in a better future. Technology is helping and the push of intelligent people to make our leaders listen is helping too!

Locked away

This time of year I collect seeds.

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!

Hearing the world

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.

Weathering it out

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.

Singapore Shows What Serious Urban Farming Looks Like

I found this article in the reasons to be cheerful site, which is a great place to lift the global spirits .

Covid has made many of us realise how vulnerable cities are and how we cannot take food/ pharmaceutical / or even family links for granted any more.

I am deeply impressed by how hard some people are working to make urban gardens produce food and beauty for us all.

In a city-state that imports 90% of its food, rooftop gardens are a matter of national food security.
— Read on reasonstobecheerful.world/singapore-urban-farms-food-security

Pixie’s view of my Chili attempt to save the world!

A little bit of good news for Earth.

This story caught my eye and made me hopeful. Using refillable liquid products is really difficult because you have to get your container to the shop to fill it up.

Single use plastic bottles for water, shampoo and detergents are a grotesquely unintelligent way we personally make pollution.

I have moved to solid bar shampoos and soaps without any difficulty at all, but some liquids still defeat me. This clever woman has found away to deliver “top ups” from an old electric milk float. What a shame Amazon didn’t think of it and use old milk floats for their deliveries now that everybody wants them!

https://www.reuters.com/article/idUSKBN2AP0V6

Scribbling life

A lichen is colonizing my step.

The autumn had been wet and by winter the concrete had decided it was time to show some life while everything else died down.

The garden is just hanging by a thread between snow falls and bone cracking hard frosts, but the lichen sensed that this was just the time to colonize and to spread out.

It might be the shape of a beating heart, or it might be just the shape of a lichen. The smallest satellites look like tentative kisses on a mirror .

The concrete has never looked more lovely or full of possibility under a snow filled sky.

Holding on to the good news.

Covid is raging across the world and life can seem to have shrunk to a penny piece, but there is still wonderful good news to hold onto.

Here on one of the busiest and most polluted rivers in the world , ospreys are returning to breed. A huge international rewilding project is returning a little bit of the river Rhine to its natural state and wildlife is moving straight back in to rebalance the world.

At the other end of our astonishing planet blue whales, which were nearly hunted to extinction, are reappearing again after hunting was outlawed.

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/nov/19/blue-whale-sightings

Good people who shout loud enough and who care, can make a difference. Wildlife just needs a hand and it will come back: things can get better for us all!

Photo by Sue Round

They shut…….

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.


I

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 …..“

Big world.

It is such a huge world out there.

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 .

And over all of it, the sky and time flies by.

Technology is an environmental disaster in education, but good for turtles.

I am a technophobe.

So much that is vaunted as huge technological advance is just an excuse for us all having to buy and use yet more machines.

This is especially the case in education.

A simple class quiz on the whiteboard, or even blackboard, that children needed a pen and paper to take part in, now requires every child to have a smart phone or tablet, the teacher to be able to project the quiz onto a very expensive smart board and the results to be generated and stored on an electricity guzzling cloud .

We are told this is environmentally better because no paper is used and we are supposed to be stupid enough not to recognise the enormous environmental impact of requiring every child/teacher/classroom to have a computer and to be using google or any of the thousands of other platforms/ browsers that store and send information, at real cost from cloud to heat belching super computer, across the whole globe.

This does not make children smarter or happier. It just makes money for the technology giants and we have all been suckered in. It is the ultimate emperor’s new clothes and teachers have been too afraid to point out the pitiful nakedness of the emperor for fear of being called old fashioned and ultimately of losing their jobs.

I am soon to leave the teaching profession after a very long time teaching English literature and language and there is nothing at all that electronic technology has added to the teaching of my subject.

It is however useful for protecting turtle eggs on tropical beaches.

I watched huge leatherback turtles deposit tiny translucent ping pong ball eggs in the sand in the wonderful dark of a Costa Rican beach years ago and I was delighted to read that technology is helping track those who steal and eat the eggs today.

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/oct/05/decoy-turtle-eggs-put-in-nests-to-track-trade-in-costa-rica

We may have been colossally duped into swelling the coffers of computer companies on a global scale, but at least a few more turtles might make it to the sea.

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