Marvel of the Day.

I love the names of moths: heart and dart;   setaceous hebrew character; cloth of gold; delicate; uncertain; scalloped beauty; ruby tiger and so many more.

This year has been cooler and wetter than previous years, and though I infinitely prefer it, the moths have been late appearing and many nights have been too rainy to capture anything. However, last night was a wonderful night of mothing and I found twenty different species waiting amongst the egg boxes under the UV light.

My favourite name is a French one, used by English speakers the merveille du jour – the marvel of the day, coined by a French observer for the marvellous and unexpected new moth found that night. My merveille  du jour today was a beautiful lace border, which was luminously white and delicate and perfectly named.

I was particularly surprised to see it, as it is moth of limestone meadow and although we live on limestone, most of the moths I see are woodland species. Then I remembered that I have allowed my front drive to grow over and it is now covered in wild marjoram and scree flowers, and maybe after enough years of careful neglect, I have made just the right home for this beautiful and elusive moth in my own garden – a real  merveille  du jour!

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Rose Bower

I have always wanted a rose bower.

The very word bower sounds secret and enclosing.

I have trained  roses up wrought iron arches with varying degrees of success, but our wild dog rose has produced the longest, most exuberant arms of flowers to wrap around the old wheel barrow and make marvellous the compost corner.

Its simple pink blossoms are transient, perfumed and perfect. No dog ever wagged so      wonderfully!

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What a difference a month makes!

Can there be a bigger seasonal change than that between spiteful late winter and full blown, sleeping with the windows open,  hot summer?

4th of May was snow. I ran around the garden knocking it off full leaved willows and birches bowed down to the ground with the weight of it. As the first sprinkle of snow in the photo became a blizzard I closed the blind, unable to bear the sight of my my newly flourishing garden disappearing under the ever thickening blanket.

It lay thick for a night, but the next day it was gone like a bad dream and this 4th June it is 33 degrees and too hot to go out until the sun set.  The roses are thick clustered and lip stick pink, the columbines are extraordinary in their variety, the irises are perfect and perfumed with sherbet, the peonies are exploding from their tightly encircling buds, the hedgehog is out feeding in the dusk and I even heard a cuckoo calling unmistakably from the meadows.

This evening is perfect and would have been my mother’s 90th birthday. Happy birthday Mum, all these flowers are for you.

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To the flaneurs of the world.

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.

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Taking it slow.

The media tells us to exercise, meditate, bake, clean, detox, declutter, buy stuff, make a noise, tree bathe, twerk, be our best selves, post it, like it, share it.
This Roman snail says its raining, I shall move inaudibly from under this stone.
That’s it.

Goodbye to the Ice Saints.

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!

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Telling Time.

I have half an hour before the chicken needs carving, in which to contemplate time.

I understand that there is clock time and internal time. The clocks stuck on church towers and round our wrists were made imperative by the invention of trains and the necessity of time being the same everywhere and tracks being cleared and so we slice up our life into internationally recognisable fragments, so that now the planes can fly and the computers can whir. The time in our heads works on a more complex level, where the present is composed of memory and potential future and moves to the rhythm of the thinker.

And then there is seasonal time: never the same, always the same, always the future.
The year progresses at its own pace, different in each village, different in each shadow that cools the flower or delays the germinating seed. You need to know a place well to compare the seasons. This year the celandines were late, but the ravens bred early. This year swifts were late, but the cuckoos(who had been absent for two years ) returned and called over and over from the hedgerow.

This morning we watched the young ravens,already fledged and learning to fly, tumbling over the cool, tall pilling clouds. White throats are singing their territories, storks are walking on improbably long legs through the buttercups, spearing slugs to feed their nestlings. The house martins have just arrived.

Ahh ! I can smell that the chicken is cooked!

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Spring snow.

Slip slushing snow whomping and whispering from the green leaves.
The stems are plump with life, turgid with sap. This white weight of winter is a foolish incumbrance to be shrugged away.
Hours of heavy snow bowed down the saplings and the tall nettles, it filled in the open tulips and blurred the gooseberries ripening on the prickle fringed bushes.
But enough is enough.
Spring slept under the heavy cold wet blanket for a night , a long night, of fatuous fretting about peonies and potatoes.
In the morning, spring time slowly stretched her arms, straightened the birch sapling bowed down to the wet ground and flung the unseasonable nonesense of snow off out into a surprised May morning!

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Plant Blindness

This fascinating article from the BBC explores how important plants are and how most people don’t even see them.

In my experience children and young people are fascinated by plants if you take to the time and effort to talk to them and to show them what is all around them. From quirky names to folk stories, edibility, seed dispersal and smell, plants are endlessly fascinating as we all know; but we do have a duty to spend a little time with youngsters ( and the not so young!) to physically show them what amazing richness there is beyond the little world of our smart phones.

http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20190425-plant-blindness-what-we-lose-with-nature-deficit-disorder

What ho!

Spring rain plumps the flowers, germinates the seeds and also brings out some very strange creatures to make the beast with two backs!
In the forest there are great deep ruts left by felled tree trunks. After sufficient rain they fill with water and the newts that have spent the winter in crevices and warm piles of leaves creep slowly out to find each other and to coldly embrace in their waters.
This photo was taken through the shallow water of such a local pool and the difference between the sexes is very obvious (the female is large, green and mottled). These are alpine newts, native to this part of Europe, but also found in the UK, where they were probably introduced by a PG Wodehouse inspired newt fancier.
I love their slow, waddle; their stocky inelegant bodies and their secretive, ephemeral lives. Just call me Gussie Finknottle!

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“A licking of his thumbs…”

On watching my cat reclining with such an expression of wicked indolence on his furry face, I was reminded of TS Elliot’s “ Macavity The Mystery Cat.” It is hard to think of the writer of the anguish of the twentieth century who created “The Waste Land“ in a whimsical mood, but it must have happened and this wonderful poem ( best read aloud) is the wonderful result.
Relish the word “suavity”, Elliot invented it!

Macavity’s a Mystery Cat: he’s called the Hidden Paw—
For he’s the master criminal who can defy the Law.
He’s the bafflement of Scotland Yard, the Flying Squad’s despair:
For when they reach the scene of crime —Macavity’s not there!

Macavity, Macavity, there’s no one like Macavity,
He’s broken every human law, he breaks the law of gravity.
His powers of levitation would make a fakir stare,
And when you reach the scene of crime —Macavity’s not there!
You may seek him in the basement, you may look up in the air—
But I tell you once and once again, Macavity’s not there!

Macavity’s a ginger cat, he’s very tall and thin;
You would know him if you saw him, for his eyes are sunken in.
His brow is deeply lined with thought, his head is highly domed;
His coat is dusty from neglect, his whiskers are uncombed.
He sways his head from side to side, with movements like a snake;
And when you think he’s half asleep, he’s always wide awake.

Macavity, Macavity, there’s no one like Macavity,
For he’s a fiend in feline shape, a monster of depravity.
You may meet him in a by-street, you may see him in the square—
But when a crime’s discovered, then Macavity’s not there!

He’s outwardly respectable. (They say he cheats at cards.)
And his footprints are not found in any file of Scotland Yard’s
And when the larder’s looted, or the jewel-case is rifled,
Or when the milk is missing, or another Peke’s been stifled,
Or the greenhouse glass is broken, and the trellis past repair
Ay, there’s the wonder of the thing! Macavity’s not there!

And when the Foreign Office find a Treaty’s gone astray,
Or the Admiralty lose some plans and drawings by the way,
There may be a scrap of paper in the hall or on the stair—
But it’s useless to investigate – Macavity’s not there!
And when the loss has been disclosed, the Secret Service say:
It must have been Macavity!’—but he’s a mile away.
You’ll be sure to find him resting, or a-licking of his thumb;
Or engaged in doing complicated long division sums.

Macavity, Macavity, there’s no one like Macavity,
There never was a Cat of such deceitfulness and suavity.
He always has an alibi, and one or two to spare:
At whatever time the deed took place —MACAVITY WASN’T THERE !
And they say that all the Cats whose wicked deeds are widely known
(I might mention Mungojerrie, I might mention Griddlebone)
Are nothing more than agents for the Cat who all the time
Just controls their operations: the Napoleon of Crime!

Sit back and enjoy your dandelions!

It is so peacefully easy to do something for the bees. Just leave the mower in the shed and let all the dandelions flower! The lawn is bright yellow with sunburst flowers and the air is loud with the humm of bees, that are so covered in pollen they are almost as golden as the flowers.

Inaction is a much underrated art. We don’t have to be improving ourselves, tidying the garden, living “our best lives” ( what ever that improbability should be! ) often the best thing is delicious sloth, quiet, environmentally friendly inaction: just letting the garden go. I have managed such masterful lack of movement  that a  dandelion is now poking through the slats of the garden seat. The only danger to it will come when I sit on the bench for a peaceful cup of tea!

 

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Breaking free.

Spring is a liberation for the heart and the soul: the return of life is everywhere at this time of year.

On the path, a blackbird’s delicate egg shell speaks of something set free and in the air above, black caps cascade music against white clouds. At my feet, beneath the still bare trees, there are tiny white oxalis flowers, bruise blue lungworts, splatters of seven leaved cardamines and whole slopes of improbable violets, such as I have never seen in an April wood before.

There is herb Paris and wild strawberries, sweet woodruff and dogs’ mercury, oxslips and celandine, lords and ladies and bachelors’ buttons and more and more and more pushing up from the moist earth under a confetti of wild cherry petals; all for this apparently inauspicious, inelegantly sounding, miraculous year of 2019!

Complicated.

The world is very simple and very complicated. Every breath we take is a  marvel and the memory of some music that we still hear.

This morning is snowing. White flakes are mixing with the falling petals of the plum tree. The cat is outraged and runs in and out of the kitchen, snow flakes melting on his dark warm fur, mewling for explanation.

I am reading about my home city of Liverpool and its role in the slave trade, that leaves its echos in the street names and in its faded riches. One of the sea men who worked on the terrible ships trading human beings for money  was John Newton, who was infamous for his profanity and disrespect, which was so intolerable that he himself was left by his captain in West Africa and was enslaved before being rescued by his family.  This man finally understood the horror in which he had been complict and became a clergyman in England. He wrote the hymn Amazing Grace, which has been sung in churches, fields and homes ever since, encompassing in such moving words and music how human life can move from darkness into light.

 

I was sent on my trail back to Liverpool by a wonderful book that I have just finished called John and Elvis by Mathew Langford.

The John is John Lennon and the Elvis needs no explanation.  It was so readable that I devoured it in a couple of days. The plot is an imagative interweaving  of their respective biographies, that echos with their music and the places that they inhabited and the need for us all to make some sense of this extraordinary, contradictory, amazing world.  I recommend it, as the snow falls on the cherry trees and my snow flake cat looks out on the garden with existential confusion .

 

 

 

Thermogenesis

Spring snow is always such a shock. Just when we are getting used to sunshine a  front sweeps in and brings wet cold, cold snow.

Thankfully it is short lived and most plants are little the worse for it. Some plants even seem to shrug off the snow before the thaw begins and they are the ones that catch my eye. The photo is of daisy flowers closed shut, but quite free of the just fallen snow. The only explanation can be that they produce their own heat that actually melts the surrounding snow. They are not alone: tulips, cabbages and winter wheat and many other plants are capable of  making heat to protect themselves from frost and snow. This phenomenon has been well studied in a few  plants world wide, but it is a remarkable ability that is shared by so many plants, which we only get to actually appreciate and recognise after pesky, shocking spring snow!

Starting Early.

The leaves are not yet out, but the sunshine is dazzling. So much extraordinary, unmitigated light is flooding me in a kind of shiney March madness. Everything is bare and beautiful, raw and stark and shadowless.

The bright early spring has tempted me to start mothing earlier than usual. The nights are still frosty, but some wonderful moths are flying already. Most early moths have over wintered as adults and tend to be restful shades of brown and grey to avoid  predation. I have found modest quakers, hebrew characters and brindled beauties. This speckled specimen reminds me of a garibaldi biscuit as it scuttles quickly under  the few emergent leaves to wait out the bright spring sunshine until peaceful night time.

When the time is right.

Acorns have waited all winter to be in the right place at the right time and today the brown shells split, the simple leaves began to swell and the powerful root began to push down into the soil. A drift of acorns half trodden into the mud decided today was the day and erupted into life.

I couldn’t resist picking up a handful of nuts that were not yet attached to the soil and I took them home in my pocket. I have laid them in a pot of soil from the oldest part of the garden, where hopefully the good things that trees need will bind with the emerging roots and seedlings will grow.

Like most people, I have never grown an oak tree, but I have a feeling that it really is about  time to try!

Winston and the slow worm – again!

The garden is waking up. There are bees on the willow flowers, daffodils braving the frosty clods and Winston the cat has caught another slow worm. These warm, smooth, legless lizards spend the winter, safe in compost heap, but when the sunshine rouses them, my cat is waiting to pounce.

The good news is that he doesn’t hurt them. With gentleness unusual in a feline killer, he picks them up in his mouth, brings them to the nearest human and drops them unmolested at our feet. The slowworm stays very still, is happy to be picked up and Winston mewls and yowls proudly until he is praised and petted for his “ catch”.

The reptile is returned to the warm rotting heap; Winston frisks about full of the joys of spring and the sun shines on!

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“Dusk and shiver”

The Lady of  Shallot      by Lord Tennyson 

On either side the river lie
Long fields of barley and of rye,
That clothe the wold and meet the sky;
And thro’ the field the road runs by
To many-tower’d Camelot;
And up and down the people go,
Gazing where the lilies blow
Round an island there below,
The island of Shalott.

Willows whiten, aspens quiver,
Little breezes dusk and shiver
Through the wave that runs for ever
By the island in the river
Flowing down to Camelot.
Four grey walls, and four grey towers,
Overlook a space of flowers,
And the silent isle imbowers
The Lady of Shalott.

…….

In the summer a stand of aspen trees quiver, their leaves dusk and shiver in the slightest breeze and I always think of these lovely lines from Tennyson’s famous poem. I saw the first wild cherry blossom today in a sheltered bend in the river, but we are still a long way from leaves, so I thought I would share a photo of the unexpectedly bright green catkins of the aspen sharing a branch with mistletoe, as winter and spring swap places.

 

 

Dancing with Kites.

 

Over the garden a red kite mewling like a kitten, so close I could reach out my hand and brush the polished perfect feathers.

Kite silhouette again the racing  blue sky, the cat crouches low and the bird is gone, piping and laughing into the clouds.

And now another and another.

They twist around each other, wings touching the roof tops delighting in the fitful wind, hail flung after them and the sunlight chasing them.

Flame forked tails angle and the birds turn, quartering the spring sky into slabs of changing colour. Four birds over my tiny garden, calling to each other for the whole spring day.

Flirting, testing partners, laughing: dancing.

 

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