Instructions on Not Giving Up

The walnut trees and the ash trees and the little red Japanese maples that were so cruely fried by the late frost and snow are coming back into leaf and this poem sums the sense of relief I feel perfectly.
You can hear the poem read aloud at:


More than the fuchsia funnels breaking out
of the crabapple tree, more than the neighbor’s
almost obscene display of cherry limbs shoving
their cotton candy-colored blossoms to the slate
sky of Spring rains, it’s the greening of the trees
that really gets to me. When all the shock of white
and taffy, the world’s baubles and trinkets, leave
the pavement strewn with the confetti of aftermath,
the leaves come. Patient, plodding, a green skin
growing over whatever winter did to us, a return
to the strange idea of continuous living despite
the mess of us, the hurt, the empty. Fine then,
I’ll take it, the tree seems to say, a new slick leaf
unfurling like a fist to an open palm, I’ll take it all.

Copyright © 2017 by Ada Limón. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 15, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.ied

About this Poem
“It was a hard winter. My whole body raged against it. But right as the world feels uninhabitable, something miraculous happens: the trees come back. I wanted to praise that ordinary thing as a way of bringing myself back too.”
—Ada Limon-

Storm riders

Last week a huge storm brewed over the garden and the sky was black with towering clouds. A wall of warm air swept over us and riding the tumult, the unmistakable black scimitar of returning swifts. Twenty four birds were blown in screaming and screeling in the high clouds above us with an outriding guard of buzzards and kites to usher them in.
Swifts ( martinet noir) are always the last hirundine migrant to return to our area. First come the house martins ( hirondelle de fenetre) with their stumpy white tails, then the swallows (hirondelle) trailing their beautiful tail streamers and finally the largest of all: the swifts.
One swallow may not make a summer, but a swift really does and their arrival has marked the start of summer after such a fickle spring that veered between bright sunshine and devastating frost and snow.
Swifts and swallows will make their nests in the eves of houses, but despite putting up the right sort of bird boxes they have unfortunately never chosen our house. I fear the reason is that there are just too few of them and like so much of our wildlife their numbers are in decline.
The LPO (French equivalent of RSPB) has a nationwide survey of house martins this month and we are going to walk every lane and street of our village looking for signs of nests, to enable ecologists to get a real picture of numbers. I was very heartened last week to sit in a friend’s garden where a cloud of house martins swooped between the houses catching insects. Many of them are obviously nesting close by on new buildings and as long as their hosts don’t mind a little mess, the martins can raise their young in peace and raise our spirts with their freedom and beauty.


The elusive catch of sweet lilac blossom spilling into rain washed morning air; the spicy cloves of pinks and carnations redolent of weddings and button holes; the unexpected tang of soapy irises caught in a cloud on a still afternoon; the honey sweetness of tiny alyssum flowers foaming unnoticed around a warm stone.   An English bluebell wood shouting heavy luxuriant hyacinth to a slope of spring sunshine; the cacophony of exotic orchid voices spilling from marvelous and manifold flowers pressed and sprawling against the glass of a hot house.

One of the hardest things to describe is the perfume of a flower and yet so often it is the most wonderfully intoxicating thing about it!

The Hidden Life of Trees

I have just finished reading The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben and I have to share it with people who love wildlife all over the world.  This book is the most extraordinary insight into the complex life of a forest and of trees everywhere.

Peter Wohlleben was a forester in Germany and his writings are based on 20 years of the daily observation of trees and wide reading in all of the latest scientific research. The result is an outstandingly  readable, humane, erudite and even witty book and like the blurb says on the cover  “a walk in the woods will never be the same again.”

I am going to resist the urge to simplify or summarise this wonderful book, as the digital world has a tendency to reduce the multifarious and complex into banal sound bites and snippets and this deserves real reading. It doesn’t have to be read cover to cover in one sitting, it can be dipped into and out of whenever the clouds roll over and you want to be indoors, but you will want to finish it and I have even decided where I want to buried based on this lovely, life affirming book!

Published 2016 by Greystone books

Mind the Gap.

The hedgehog is back.  All prickly bristles and soft button nose, she trundles through the flower beds rooting out slugs and bugs. She also likes the odd hand full of cat biscuits and I have found her blinking in the lights under the bird feeder enjoying a few discarded seeds.  I love her muscular wriggle and the low tank of her little body pushing through the long grass and waving the flower stalks as she trundles on by.  Hedgehogs have an excellent sense of smell, but tiny eyes and so if the wind is in the right direction and I move slowly, I can get very close to her before she gets a whiff of me and shoots off with surprising speed.

Hedgehogs need to be able to roam over quite a large area to find food and I am sure my hedgehog visits many gardens in one evening and this is their problem.  Many gardens have fences and wire enclosures set in concrete all around them and no gap at all for a prickly slug killer like the hedgehog to squeeze through and without this freedom to roam they starve.

A few years ago my neighbor filled in a perfect gap under the fence. For two years we had no hedgehogs, so I did a little digging of my own and opened up the gap and now she is back!

We all need to mind the gap in our gardens and remember to leave a space for wildlife to get in and out and leave “untidy” corners with weeds and leaves, where bugs will be found and hibernation and nest sites will be made by these useful, delightful nighttime visitors.

(Photo from Hedgehog conservation soc  who are encouraging people in the UK to make whole hedgehog streets, where hogs can wander from one garden to another in safety.)

On Sunnier Days

As it has all gone  Pete Tong Two in my garden and we wait for a third day of heavy snow and the sound of apple tree branches cracking off under the wieght of wet snow on full leaf and blossom, I thought I’d share pictures of wall lizards who like it hot and sunny, to encourage the spring to return again.

A couple of weeks ago we watched this pair of wall lizards catching a few rays on the crumbling walls of a local castle. Lithe and elusive as a good idea, they slipped in and out of the cracks in the stone work, flicking their tails and jutting their chins. This is a limestone area, so the majority of the stones are white, but one stone was different and dark and as it absorbed the heat, the tiny lizards competed with dragon like ferocity to lay their scaly bellies on the warm rock and absorb the heat.

I know just how they felt!

Warhammer 40k – Emperor of the Tau!

This is the real Tau Emperor!

This magnificent specimen was the first find in my brand new moth trap. I don’t normally bother trying to attract moths so early in the year, but I could not resist lighting up my new Watkinson and Doncaster birthday present and this stunner was the first to be found on the egg boxes under the lamp in the morning.

She is like a very large oak eggar, but with brillant blue mirrors and  white arrows dotting her soft cinnamon coloured wings. When disturbed, she raised all her feet like a real pugilist and brandished them with admirable defensive aggression.

I think she would make it, in the on-line world of Warhammer with no problem at all!

Feathering your nest.

A soft feather pillow to sink into engenders peaceful  sleep and it seems sparrows know it too!

I had been shaking out an old feather pillow on top of the potato peelings on our compost heap and some the feathers escaped. They caught on the dry earth and within minutes our local sparrows were down stuffing their beaks with pillow feathers to line their own new nests. They continued to visit all afternoon until every feather was gone and a small trail of white duck down floated down the quiet street in their wake.