Some fungi you remember from their smell, some from sight and just a few from their sound.
This yellow morel was under an open hedge and was already broken, so I picked it up and as I did so the honeycomb shape made the oddest dry hollow sound, unlike any fungi I have ever heard . I have never even considered the sound of fungi before, but on retrospect I expect a largish mushroom to sound solid and sturdy but this was light and reverberated to the touch.
Yellow morels are apparently very good to eat, but I am very wary of eating fungi as they are so astonishingly different at each stage of their development . The only thing I have ever confidently eaten was a giant puff ball as it simply cannot be anything else once it has reached football size!
Foraging for fungi is very fashionable but I was once nearly killed by a forest mushroom sauce at my favourite French restaurant. I have never been back and I have never eaten mushroom sauce again, much better to admire them and even to listen to them then ever to actually eat them!
The pear blossom is over, the cherry blossom is still splashing down and the pink edged perfect apple blossom is just showing between the twin green leaves that seem to offer up the simple flowers to an April morning.
In the thicket a real Nightingale sang. Her song is so rich, so varied, so burbling, so beautiful it needs Keats to do it justice. This poem seems so apt and poignant today, just as it did for Keats struggling with TB and still transported by the astounding beauty of the bird’s song. It is a long poem, but well worth reading again, or for the first time.
“Immortal bird” indeed.
Ode to a Nightingale .
John Keats- 1795-1821
My heart aches, and a drowsy numbness pains My sense, as though of hemlock I had drunk, Or emptied some dull opiate to the drains One minute past, and Lethe-wards had sunk: ‘Tis not through envy of thy happy lot, But being too happy in thine happiness,— That thou, light-winged Dryad of the trees, In some melodious plot Of beechen green, and shadows numberless, Singest of summer in full-throated ease.
O, for a draught of vintage! that hath been Cool’d a long age in the deep-delved earth, Tasting of Flora and the country green, Dance, and Provencal song, and sunburnt mirth! O for a beaker full of the warm South, Full of the true, the blushful Hippocrene, With beaded bubbles winking at the brim, And purple-stained mouth; That I might drink, and leave the world unseen, And with thee fade away into the forest dim:
Fade far away, dissolve, and quite forget What thou among the leaves hast never known, The weariness, the fever, and the fret Here, where men sit and hear each other groan; Where palsy shakes a few, sad, last gray hairs, Where youth grows pale, and spectre-thin, and dies; Where but to think is to be full of sorrow And leaden-eyed despairs, Where Beauty cannot keep her lustrous eyes, Or new Love pine at them beyond to-morrow.
Away! away! for I will fly to thee, Not charioted by Bacchus and his pards, But on the viewless wings of Poesy, Though the dull brain perplexes and retards: Already with thee! tender is the night, And haply the Queen-Moon is on her throne, Cluster’d around by all her starry Fays; But here there is no light, Save what from heaven is with the breezes blown Through verdurous glooms and winding mossy ways.
I cannot see what flowers are at my feet, Nor what soft incense hangs upon the boughs, But, in embalmed darkness, guess each sweet Wherewith the seasonable month endows The grass, the thicket, and the fruit-tree wild; White hawthorn, and the pastoral eglantine; Fast fading violets cover’d up in leaves; And mid-May’s eldest child, The coming musk-rose, full of dewy wine, The murmurous haunt of flies on summer eves.
Darkling I listen; and, for many a time I have been half in love with easeful Death, Call’d him soft names in many a mused rhyme, To take into the air my quiet breath; Now more than ever seems it rich to die, To cease upon the midnight with no pain, While thou art pouring forth thy soul abroad In such an ecstasy! Still wouldst thou sing, and I have ears in vain— To thy high requiem become a sod.
Thou wast not born for death, immortal Bird! No hungry generations tread thee down; The voice I hear this passing night was heard In ancient days by emperor and clown: Perhaps the self-same song that found a path Through the sad heart of Ruth, when, sick for home, She stood in tears amid the alien corn; The same that oft-times hath Charm’d magic casements, opening on the foam Of perilous seas, in faery lands forlorn.
Forlorn! the very word is like a bell To toil me back from thee to my sole self! Adieu! the fancy cannot cheat so well As she is fam’d to do, deceiving elf. Adieu! adieu! thy plaintive anthem fades Past the near meadows, over the still stream, Up the hill-side; and now ’tis buried deep In the next valley-glades: Was it a vision, or a waking dream? Fled is that music:—Do I wake or sleep?
Today was warm and the cones on the pine trees started to crack open, slow releasing their tough seeds onto the ground.
Green woodpeckers yaffled, spotted woodpeckers drummed and the greenfinches sneered their wonderfully adolescent long single whine from the branches.
Butterflies woke up . There were brimstones, comma, red admirals and small tortoiseshells, bright against the brown mud in my garden as they shook colour back into the world.
In doors I sat at the kitchen table and watched the images from Mars on a laptop.
The rover descending and filming the surface as it came closer and closer, I saw the ridges and the red craters, the tantalising aquamarine shapes and then the sand of the very surface blown by the rover landing, engulfed it all.
I listened to the sound of Mars.
A wind blew between the clicks and bleeps of the machine that had travelled so far to hear it. In my kitchen, as the pine cones split open, I heard the wind on planet Mars and existence was astounding again and again.
I was listening to a program about the importance of the written word: the really written word, made by a human being pushing a pencil along a sheet of paper . I was inspired to share a poem I wrote this morning after listening to bird song from the garden through an open window.
The physical words have an added significance for me, as they are increasingly hard to make. I have Multiple Sclerosis and hand writing can be almost impossible for me some days, likewise typing . Voice dictation does not allow for poetry . The whole point of the unexpected word perplexes the machine and it will change and change it again until it has made dull prose out of something that I wanted to catch the light unexpectedly, like the song of the blackbird.
I hope my writing is good enough for you to read is all senses of the word!
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”.
The heartbeat, ethereal sound of the first cuckoo, heard and almost not heard in the echoing quiet of our lockdown world. No easy jet roars tearing up the air and stitching us in with trails of pollution. It is now so quiet that I can hear the call of the first cuckoo right over in the valley along the alder stream where I remember them last spring time.
What a long time ago last spring seems!
Walking where we wanted, seeing whom we pleased, being unafraid.
And yet this spring I have heard more birds than I ever had before. I have spoken to more neighbours over the garden fence and wall than ever before. And most remarkable of all; a neighbour tells me he has seen a lynx in the forest for the very first time! My neighbour has cut timber in the forest for 30 years and he knows how rare and remarkable this sighting was.
This spring is so different.
Delius was inspired by the sound of the first cuckoo and so please take a moment to catch a little calm and listen to this gentle music in celebration of some normality.
For me they call the day into being and they settle it to rest at night. Their song is the first thing I hear and blackbird’s rich burbling waterfall of notes is strong enough to be heard through sleepy double glazed bedroom windows and irresistible enough to draw me out into every falling garden dusk.
Each bird has its own sound kingdom ruled from a roof top or tall tree and it proclaims its ownership not in battle or borders, but by pouring the rich cream of its delicious notes over everything that can hear it.
In my garden the blackbird announces the start of the day from the tallest birch tree. Each phrase of its wonderfully complex and satisfying song so round and light they seem to hang on the thin birch twigs like jewels .
At dusk the notes are more defined and the bird chuckles them out like comfortable gossip about the day gone by.
It is always the very last bird to stop singing and the very last to roost: afraid to miss out on anything .
In high summer its final notes are often the prelude to the appearance of the bats and their silhouettes against the gathering dark are sometimes merged as silence finally falls.
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 fieldfare are here and the starlings too. They have a lot of catching up to do since last autumn and they never stop talking.
I thought brouhaha was a children’s word for a lot of noise until I watched a film with French subtitles for the hard of hearing and saw the noise of many voices in a crowd rendered simply as brouhaha. It is the right word to also describe the racket coming from a pear tree laden with ripe fruit this afternoon. No one had bothered to pick it, the fruit was too small, but the birds were loud in their appreciation of the owner’s forgetfulness.
There seems no limit to the variety of sounds that starlings can make. They pop, wheeze, exclaim, whistle and shriek and they shout over one another with a wonderful lack of inhibition. Add a flock of fieldfare, half drunk on the fermenting fruit and the result is as cacophonous as a bar when the football is on. I love this raucous sound of autumn; everyone has something to say and are determined to say it.
The first snow has fallen on the Black Forest in Germany and on the Grand Ballon in the Voges; tonight there will snow here in the Jura, but today the sun in shining and the birds are making merry in the pear tree!
I love the sun and I love the rain. We have been blessed with a bright Indian summer and sometimes it seemed like the sunshine would never end and it was frankly just too bright and too intolerably shiny.
In the endless good weather my tom cat went decidedly crazy. He stayed out all night and disappeared into the white full moon. This may sound frisky and fun, but we couldn’t sleep when he was out for foolish worry and when we managed to entice him home, him seemed frantic, hunted and frankly deranged! So we have kept him indoors, bought new catnip toys and tried to make friends with him again. He has slowly reintegrated into domestic life, allows strokes, occasionally purrs and kicks the life out of the cat nip toys.
Now it is raining properly . The gutters are running and the roof is pattering. The water butts are bubbling over. We have lit the stove again and everyone (cats included) is calming down in front of the fire. Ahh that’s better!
We didn’t know it when we bought our house. We bought the place because it just felt right, as soon as we arrived and we weren’t really looking, but we bought it anyway. Ten years later we are still here and all you have to do is look up on a day like today to know why we really choose it.
Tens of thousands of birds have passed over our garden today. Their wings are rustling above our heads. Flock after flock, flinking and beating. The first time you see them you just grin with astonishment; the second time you try to really listen and the third time you decide that the dry sound is like a rain shower through summer trees, almost gone before it reaches the ground.
They are pigeons coming out of Central Europe and flying west across France and into Spain and Portugal. Thousands and thousands of birds crossing right over this odd intersection of Germany, France and Switzerland and over my back garden on a still sunny Sunday afternoon.
It appears we unwittingly bought a house on a major migration route for birds.
Spring and autumn birds flow over us. Down the lane serious birders set up telescopes and send in records of raptors and rarities to international migration sites. My husband scans the skies from the comfort of the porch and convenient cups of tea. I look up when I hear the birds: air pushing, confident beats of stocky powerful wings and he indicates that the whole sky from edge to edge is black with the improbable smoke of the migrating pigeons.
So that’s why it has always felt like the right place!
I like listening to the radio in French because I cant really understand it. I like reading in Spanish for the same reason. I like living surrounded by marvellous unfathomable bugs and silent fungi because I can just look and admire and cannot communicate with them.
Scientists have recently found that a plant which turns each day to a regularly timed source of bright light, which is also accompanied by the gentle blowing of a fan, will also turn to the blowing of the fan when there is no reward of light. Pavlov first proved that a dog rewarded with food when a bell rang would, salivate for food as soon as the bell rang, whether there was food or not, thus proving dogs could learn. This new research shows that plants can do the same thing.
Pavlov’s name has gone down in history for his work with dogs. The researcher who found this extraordinary evidence is Monica Gagliano . I think we will have to work on a catchy link for her second name, any idea? https://www.monicagagliano.com.
The intelligence of plants is just beginning to be appreciated and is an amazing field.
It is just possible that in fact I speak plant and the reason that all the other languages dont make sense is that I am tuned into a very different wave length. What do you think?
It is still summer and glittering. Jewels hunt amongst the rose petals and the perfume of heat is strong.
But the night is cooler and the dawn later. The bats are coming into roost over the apple trees when I have to leave for work, their tantalising trails of clicks and whirls are caught by the bat box and then forgotten in the blur of noise and traffic and faces and faces and faces that fill the working day.
This swallow was nesting above the cutlery shelf in a busy English beer garden. Drinkers clattered by collecting knives and forks, ketchup and vinegar and bar staff plonked down ploughmans’ lunches, Sunday roasts and Branston pickle sandwiches on their way to tables ringed by hungry drinkers. The swallow ignored them all and safe between the electrical wires and heating ducts brought butterflies and bugs back to its brood of hatchlings .
I have put up artificial, purpose made nests for swallows and house martins all round my house, just above my garden which is heaving with insect banquets and the birds have spurned them all. I have laughed at the improbability of my neighbour ever populating his huge new house martin monster hotel as he insists on constantly shaving the grass beneath with noisiest lawn mower known to creation. However, it seems I have been totally wrong about what these birds want, as this picture proves. To attract swallows to nest in harmony give them chatter, clatter, the smell of cooking and the fumes of plenty of good bitter beer!
( For those of you who have to study this poem for an exam – trout are fish that make a circular ripple on the surface of the water as they come up for air hence “trout ringed pools”)
Watching fat flanked trout flick in a clear stream as evening fell, reminded me of the lines from the Kipling poem The way through the woods:
“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..)”
I love the repeated oo sound, which makes the line so wonderfully peaceful and elongated like a sigh of satisfaction.
As with all poems worth loving, you should read this aloud to yourself, just to feel the words roll in your mouth. Enjoy!
The Road through the Woods.
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.
Squeals of delight come easily to children and rarely to the truely grown up. Adult life consists of such profoundly dull things that an unforced squealing is considered an audible anomaly. That is why bramblings are so wonderful.
The odd jaunty red brambling amongst the chaffinches or sparrows in the garden is a smile inducing pleasure, but a wintering flock streaming overhead as the darkness falls evokes a real squeal.
Some years they don’t come. Apparently the prevelence of beech mast has to be just right to tempt them south from their Scandinavian homes in such numbers: they dont take wing in their millions for nothing. But when the conditions are right they arrive in huge numbers and feed voraciously in the woods of Southern Germany, Eastern France and northern Switzerland. We were once in the forest when they descended to forage and every leaf was alive with flicking, delicately rustling birds, as thousands and thousands fed quietly around us.
This year we have seen few on the ground, but suddenly the air has been fabulously full of them. Somewhere relatively close, the bramblings have been roosting on mass and the skies right above our muddy garden have been filled with their sturdy determined silhouettes returning at dusk to their temporary roost.
The first flock flying over make you stop what you are doing and shout for others to look. The second flock makes you shout louder, the third, the forth and the fifth flock leave you rooted to the earth in immobile delight. When the flocks streaming overhead are indistinguishable and there is no sky between them, then you realise you are seeing millions of birds and squealing is the only possible response!
We tried in vain to find the roost, but by the time we had time to give up doing the dull things that grown ups do, the bramblings in their extraordinary, unbelievable millions, had gone somewhere else.
Loss is the sound of a skirt shaken; long hair tossed; snow shrugging from a dark winter pine and whispering down to the ground.
I walked in the thawing wood.
Everything was movement and sound and I felt as if I was walking in the company of multitudes shivering and sliding softly around me. At first the thaw was disorientating, too much movement and unexpected sound and then I became accustomed to the slippery urgency of snow falling into water, everywhere, all around, sliding.
Across the forest path: pigs, little ones, middle ones, aunties, mothers, utterly silent on tiny delicate feet. Fifteen wild boar passed noiselessly right in front of us and followed their line out across the damp snowy field: a line of black piggy perfection against the waning white slush.
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.
It has been raining here. Wind in the fir trees, wind rattling the shutters and soft, almost incessant rain.
The summer and autumn were long, hot and dry. The neighbours were noisy and open windows let in little cool air and plenty of racket; so when the temperature finally dropped it was a pleasure to close the windows and listen the gentle drum of rain on the roof.
My favourite stream in the woods has been dry for months, but after so much rain I felt sure it must be running again.
Today we squelched up passed the bare trees and luminous moss to find clear water running over scoured rocks.
The sound was deliciously simple and clean. The great sponge of the forest had soaked up enough rain to allow the stream to flow above ground again, sweeping away the dark autumn leaves of the bed to reveal the bright pale limestone beneath. The rain patered on the brim of my felt hat. The harts’ tongue ferns glowed green in the winter gloom; a whirl of chaffinches shook water from the smooth beeches and the ravens laughed high over head : “there will come soft rains…”
There will come soft rains and the smell of the ground,
And swallows circling with their shimmering sound;
And frogs in the pools singing at night,
And wild plum trees in tremulous white,
Robins will wear their feathery fire
Whistling their whims on a low fence-wire;
And not one will know of the war, not one
Will care at last when it is done.
Not one would mind, neither bird nor tree
If mankind perished utterly;
And Spring herself, when she woke at dawn,
Would scarcely know that we were gone.
From The Language of Spring, edited by Robert Atwan, published by Beacon Press, 2003.
It was cold. The winter sun was rising reluctantly and shafts of sunlight momentarily threw the fog into tangible white blocks. Sounds in the woods were muffled. Invisible ravens called overhead and the planes took off one after another; their roaring lingering in layers above the mist.
Into this soft cotton wool world someone threw a grenade and the tree tops exploded in noise. I craned my neck back to see what bird or animal was responsible. A flock of small birds was whirling in the highest branches. The fog was too thick to make out colour and marking, only their size was discernible : blue tits? Chaffinches? Bramblings returning from the north? However numerous they were, such small birds could not be making this ear splitting cacophony. And then I realised, I knew this noise. This was mistle thrush turned up to 11! The crackle of mistlethrush is a sound of winter in the forest as they work through the mistletoe that grows on the high pine trees, but I had never heard them so loud.
They are highly territorial birds and will defend an apple tree covered in mistletoe from all commers, but I never knew they could repel a huge flock of finches deep in the forest by the sheer force of their voices. There were hundreds of finches foraging for seeds and insects in the tree tops, but they didn’t stand a chance against a couple of loud mouthed thrushes, who had this patch of woodland staked out for their own winter larder.
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.
I open the bathroom window, the cat leaps onto the window sill, huge eyed she surveys the black garden. The houses are dark, the shutters are down. Above the hill a crescent moon reclines on thin clouds.
A tawny owl calls soft and is answered, soft, soft. Bat, or is it bird, black against grey, very close. One cluck, another and then an indignant coal scuttle of falling notes clattering hard against the leaves: the blackbirds are awake – there is orange in the sky.
The church spire appears and a black redstart ticks the waking minutes from the rose arch. The Rome flight takes off and the plane leaves a dirty streak of noise across the sky followed by another and another. The pale blue morning is now tartan with orange vapour trails.
Two crows weave through, chatting companionably together against the immense sky. The sparrows are awake, a car hisses by.
The donkey, that I have never heard in my entire life, brays to the crows.
This has been a real autumn. The grapes have loaded the cottage eves heavy enough to fill bottle after bottle of sweet grape juice. Last autumn there was nothing at all after a terrible frost struck following a precociously early spring. There were no apples, no plums, no walnuts and no grapes. The apples press next door was utterly silent and the wine growers of the Alsace said the couldn’t cover their tax bills.
This year has been a wonderful contrast. The clink of bottles filling with apple juice has been continuous since the pressoir opened a week early. Thanks to the generosity of a friend with apple trees, we have 70 litres of cider bubbling in the garage . This weekend we harvested our own seedy red grapes. I got spectacularly stung by a wasp that hit me between my fingers as I picked and put my swollen hand in a sling for two days!
The real grape harvest started three weeks earlier than usual in the proper vinyards and it promises to be an excellent year for wine.
Here on the coldest edges of the wine country, we have enjoyed a lovely pass the parcel of plums and apples, mirabelles, and blackberries as each neighbours passes their lucious surplus on across the hedge.
Nine o’clock at night and it is night, as the end of summer darkness has come quickly. The commuters have all gone. The swishing tyres are silent. On the curve of the hill a tawny owl calls . Again and again more distant now as the darkness thickens.
My near neighbour is clearing the dinner plates. Her voice is full of urgent news and chatter. There are no spaces for replies. Through the lighted window her daughter stretches up her arms after a full meal. The chatter disappears, the owl returns. In the street a car drives away. The daughter and her boyfriend leave her parents to a quiet, tidy house.
Madame Charlotte’s feral cats appear: quiet, black, quite aware that I am no threat to them, they drink from the hedgehog bowl and delicately sniff out the cat food discarded by my pampered hygienic moggies. I think I can hear earthworms slithering. An apples falls heavy from a tree onto the cooling grass behind me.
In front, Madame Charlotte’s 45 year old son parks up under the eves of the old barn. He lets out a prodigious belch and fumbles into the house. The lone bat leaves the high eves and goes out across the orchard to feed.
The mosquitoes are feeding on me. Time to go in: the autumnal kitchen door slams behind me.
I love being on holiday and having the time to spend whole days in the garden, not just snatched moments between work and sleep!
Evening primroses are wonderful flowers that uncoil themselves in the twilight and become luminous saucers of pale yellow in the darkness. Watching their opening from a garden seat, as the blackbirds fuss themselves down to sleep, is one of the great pleasures of high summer. The flowers are open all night and as soon as the bees and butterflies wake up in the morning, they throw themselves into the generous feast of pollen and nectar .
In the early morning, there is time to explore the fields that we usually blurred by in the morning commute.
Green finches wheeze companiably from the hedgerows; sparrows explode in raucous flocks from the ripe wheat and poured over everything, like thick cream, is the complex beauty of the blackcap’s song.
On the edge of the yellow wheat, poppies are starting to open. The green calyx of the bud is being shrugged off like an uncomfortable hat. The flower stem is vibrating visibly with the effort of releasing the petals. A moment’s waiting as the sun rises and the poppy is open; crimson petals still frilled with the shape of the bud. A moment more and a bumble bee has found it and vibrates in ecstasy in the brand new black pollened centre of this poppy, that will have dropped every scarlet petal by the mid day sun.
The opening of the flowers mark each wonderful, transient day of our holidays and of our lives. Enjoy!
Along the stream crack willows grow. Planted generations ago to provide wands for basket weaving, periodically the willows are still cut back hard and I fret about the birds that used to feed and nest in them.
And then they grow back thicker and lusher than before, noisy with black caps, loud with lovely yellow hammers and wheezy with green finches.
And then they set seed and a blue May morning is filled with down shaken from a pillow and impossible snow flakes drifting down, caught on a breeze, confusing the eyes with delight.
Look hard at the blue photo and you can follow their transient trajectory too!
Today there was real sunshine and my willow tree was absolutely covered in bees. The sallow just self seeded behind the compost bin a couple of years ago and we decided to let it grow, as attracting wildlife is not just about the things you decided to plant! This wild willow made pearl white pussy willow flowers all winter and when the spring finally really arrived she erupted into a three dimensional banquet for the bees, as each blossom furred over in thick yellow pollen. This morning there were comma butterflies, tortoise shells and peacocks and hundred upon hundreds of wonderful noisy, noisy, noisy bees.!!
I am so glad we didn’t trim the tree in the autumn, but left this feast for the bees and the soul in the springtime .
As there is nothing to do in the garden except morn the flowers buried under the snow I thought I would share a poem instead.
By Edward Thomas
Yes. I remember Adlestrop—
The name, because one afternoon
Of heat the express-train drew up there
Unwontedly. It was late June.
The steam hissed. Someone cleared his throat.
No one left and no one came
On the bare platform. What I saw
Was Adlestrop—only the name
And willows, willow-herb, and grass,
And meadowsweet, and haycocks dry,
No whit less still and lonely fair
Than the high cloudlets in the sky.
And for that minute a blackbird sang
Close by, and round him, mistier,
Farther and farther, all the birds
Of Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire.
Source: Poems (1917)
This is a great favourite. It is a poem about nothing; about a delicious absence of unwanted noise and movement and about the great beauty of the sound of blackbirds.
Blackbirds are the first to sing in the morning and the last bird to chuckle down to sleep in the evening. Gardens are plotted and mapped out by the territories of singing blackbirds : ” all the birds of Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire” and all the places beyond are the kingdoms of blackbirds.
Some words are worth saying just for their sheer beauty – murmuration is one.
Try saying it out loud and enjoy the rolling, soothing sound.
The word describes one of the great unexpected delights of bird watching: the huge, sweeping, boiling cloud that starlings form before they settle to roost in enormous numbers.
If you want to remind yourself of this magnificant fluid aerial spectacle, click on this link.
The last time I watched it was at Llangorse Lake in Powys Wales. For thirty incredible minutes the sky was alive with the twisting and blooming shapes of thousands upon thousands of noisy starlings wheeling and dancing before stettling suddenly in the reeds to sleep. Not only was it visually extraordinary, but the noise that starlings make is as raucous and sociable as teenagers squealing with supressed news on the first day back at school .
My garden is still covered in snow and loud with competitive bird calls, as they squabble over apples and the last of the bird seed. The blackbirds cluck and fuss, the field fare hiss and stamp, but they all step back for the 30 boisterous starlings that periodically descend from the winter skies to hoover up everything going.
Starlings were once very common, but are now on the UK red list of endangered birds due to a dramatic and not fully understood decline. I can’t imagine they are doing any better just over the water here in France, so I am delighted to share my bumper bags of cheap Coop ugly apples with them.
They chatter, wheeze, pipe and trill to each other: a Twitter storm in the real world of real, beautiful birds in a cold early spring!
The strangest place I have ever tried to garden was Kazakhstan.
Our first apartment had two balconies. The first faced into the courtyard of the concrete blocks . It had a washing line and you could glimpse the steppe from the top floor as it rolled out, brown and flat to distant Russia. I realised that growing things here would be difficult when after a couple of seeringly hot months my washing froze to cardboard cutout stiffness over night.
The other balcony was boxed in with wooden sides and glass. On the shelves there were still pickles and jams, left by some previous tenant, making use of the cold space to store carefully preserved food, as everyone used to do before the supermarkets came. There was no window sill for plants, but there was an extraordinary view of the Tian Shan mountains . This was Almaty, at the far south east tip of Kazakhstan, the old capital and the most stunningly located city sprawling between the snow capped mountains linked to the Himalayas in the south and the central Asian steppe to the north.
When I lived there remnants of the former USSR were every where, but so too was the newly independent Kazakhstan rediscovering its nomadic and Muslim roots.
In our first year we managed to grow nothing, but the school had a remnant apple orchard, which was so perfumed and perfect in the spring it made me cry. Almaty is supposed to be named after the father of apples and the genetic parent of all apple trees does apparently originate in the country.
Bonkers the magnificent came with us from Zambia and after a lot of bribery and some crying, we got him through customs in one piece. He hated the apartment, there were no chameleons to chase and indoor life did not suit him. We put him on a cat lead and took him to the orchard, but he collapsed as though his back was broken and then escaped up a tree, only to be retrieved with a broom.
We found another apartment in the centre of the city . It had another boxed in balcony full of pickles under which trams rattled and shuddered. This was in the same street as the magnificent state opera house, which broadcast its music for free on summer evening to those who could not afford the tickets to the plush boxes, but who could listen to the outstanding performance on the street, cooled by the great glaciers fed fountains . Bonkers preferred this apartment, as the balcony that faced the courtyard was laticed with bird cage wrought iron and he could catch a breeze while watching the bats plunge out of the plane trees and listen frustratedly to the scops owls calling in the summer time.
He was never allowed out, as he would not have found his way back up to our top floor home and there were rats bigger than he was by the bins. The rats grew plump on the bread left out by my neighbours who considered it a sin to throw bread away and so it was left carefully off the floor for whoever, or what ever may need it.
To assuage his terrible yowling I ocassionally carried him down to the courtyard, where he would be admired by neighbours who would bring their own imprisoned moggies to their own windows to be introduced in a mixture of Russian, Kazakh, English and German.
On the bird cage balcony I grew red geraniums; hung spider plants and tradescantia and grew the best sweet peas ever, trailing up the iron work until the summer heat burnt them off . French marigolds grew well and a jasmine reminded me of Zambia and of Greece. Everything had to come in before the temperatures crashed for the long cold winter, the double glazing closed and the city wide heating turned our sunny kitchen into a greenhouse.
I remember tiny bunches of the first real flowers from the steppe: miniture tulips and irises sold by old ladies infront of the cathedral on my birthday and wishing I could explore more of the steppe myself, and feeling the cold air falling from the mountains on my back and wishing I could really explore them too.
We explored the balcony and watched an extraordinary city instead.