On Mars.

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.

Spring on the Table

February is the longest month for me as we wait for Spring, so I cheat and go out and buy it!

This selection of bulbs and plants is from a wonderful nursery over the border, where rows and rows of perfumed primulas, cheeky pansies and thousands of other plants thrive in perfect conditions under atifical lights and modulated heat.

They will cheer up my kitchen table for a few weeks and the bulbs will go out into the garden to maybe flower again next spring, if they survive.

The borders of France are officially closed to stop the spread of Covid, but this time they are open to neighbouring Switzerland for those who live within 30 kilometres of the frontier. This means that I can shop over the border and the awful sense of severance and dislocation that happened during the great lock down of the spring 2020 has not been repeated. It seems incredible that Covid should still be dominating our lives, but it is. The virus is not political and it is not nationalistic: it is a horrible fact that we have to deal with with patience and fortitude, though I often lack both.

One thing that has changed for me since the great lockdown of 2020 however, is the purchase of a wonderful electric bubble car which has given me mobility again. My tiny Citroen Ami, goes a maximum of 45 kilometres per hour, is so cute people wave at it and can be recharged at an ordinary plug in garage!

I adore it and I feel confident and free after years of hating driving and feeling intimidated and inept.

Spring will come!

The photo also shows Winston investigating the Ami after its delivery. He also approves mightily,

Belted Beauty

In January there really is little to see except cold, hungry birds and so I return to my records of the moths that I have seen during the better part of the year.

One of my strangest photographs was of a very distinctive black and white moth which I could not identify from my moth books.

I had sent the record in to the LPO as an an unidentified specimen knowing that the moth recorder checks such a unnamed moths in the depths of the winter and may well provide an identification for me.

When the days were suitably dark and moths were suitably absent, a positive ID came back: it was a wonderful rare Lycia zonaria the Belted Beauty !

These moth are extinct in mainland Britain. The last records were from the sand dunes of costal Cheshire, but golf courses and the heavy tramp of healthy walkers have done for them and they are now only found in Orkney. The females are flightless home bodies, who cannot stray far from the right sandy grassland and they are not plentiful anywhere .

We live about as far from the sea as you can get in Europe and our ground is not at all sandy, but somewhere a female belted beauty must have found the right spot to hatch and to send out her perfume on the night air to this lucky male. His feathery antenna are designed to detect her subtle sent and I very much hope that they guided him safely to his mate the next night. I like to think that some new Belted Beauties were made last March and that that they just might return this spring to tantalise and gladden the heart with their very rare beauty.

Thaw.

I slept late this morning. I hate waking up when it’s still dark and today I took the luxury of sleeping the darkness away.

There’s been heavy snow here, pretty but crushing , it has bowed down the bushes, cracked open the rosemary and flattened the wallflowers that were waiting gamely through the winter for the spring.

However, while I

slept a wonderful warm wind rattled the house, bangle the shutters, whistled through the door jambs and gave me vivid spring dreams full of light. The thick snow slid from the roofs and crashing roars of noise that would normally have me jumping with fear, were intertwined with my dreams to produce formless exhilarating sensations .

I went to sleep in the winter and woke in spring time.

In the garden the sky was huge and racing blue and white. Everything smelt of growth and possibility. The cats were afraid of the scurrying leaves and the howling trees, but I just filled my lungs with the warm air and rejoiced.

Year ending

The limbo time between Christmas and New Year feels very like the whole year has felt. Waiting to start again, but still enjoying the quiet and expanded sense of time between the tinsel and the fireworks of hope: safe and separate and too much time to listen to the unexpected silence.

In the quiet there are always the barrel rolling ravens and a flurry of bright goldfinches hanging on to the long birch in the wind.

In an unploughed field a single chaffinch does what gave her her name and pecks amongst the stalks for spilt grain.

A mole has pushed up a soft hill on the edge of the field and there is a definite line across its peak as if a playful walker has drawn a walking stick across it . I bend down to examine the mud and realise that the track has in fact been made by the passage of tiny vole feet. There is a vole hole between the mole hill and the field edge . The vole, like the chaffinch has been gleaning the spilt grains of corn and pulling them into his burrow to feed on them in muddy safety.

The year is coming to an end and we stay warm and fed underground with the moles and the voles . Spring will come, but winter has its own quiet virtues too.

Lead days

Some days are cold

The sparrows won’t feed

The smoke lies in flat Sunday lines

Then there is good news :

a friend will be vaccinated in two weeks time.

It can stay grey, the sparrows can hide in the leaves for just a little longer

The sun will return!

Disposable masks can be reused 10 times says French group

I have been keeping a close eye on the research about the usefulness of face masks to protect us from Covid infection. Unfortunately the cloth masks we have made, are not very effective at filtering out the virus . Disposable masks with pinch-able nose bridges are much better, but it seems terrible to use something once and then throw it away and it goes against all my green principles!

By mistake I have often machine washed a disposable mask that has been left in the pocket of clothes. I have been surprised by how the process has not harmed it all and how fresh and intact it was after a long wash. I was delighted therefore to read that studies have shown that a disposable mask can be machine washed, tumble dried and even ironed 10 times before its filtration of covid virus is impaired.

This is really good news to keep more of us safer and doing less harm to the environment while we wait for the vaccine to restore normal ( what ever that is! ) life!!

Disposable masks can be reused 10 times says French group
— Read on www.connexionfrance.com/French-news/Disposable-masks-can-be-reused-and-washed-up-to-10-times-says-French-group-UFC-Que-Choisir

Good news!

This little garden spider came in on a colis plant that will be livening up my window sill this winter. I think that spider webs are lucky and if she avoids my cats, she might just make it to the spring with the rest of us.

The following link will take you to a really good news story about the rediscovery of the wolf spider that was thought extinct in the UK for years. It is also inspiring to see what dedicated amateur naturalists can discover by perseverance.

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/oct/31/huge-spider-assumed-extinct-in-britain-discovered-on-mod-site-aoe

Good luck Wolfy!

The tendril goes on …

Just thought I would show you how far the grape vine has grown across my front door, as there is no new reason to cut it back.

( Sliding on By ) https://cathysrealcountrygardencom.wordpress.com/2020/09/17/sliding-on-by/

Covid is still keeping guests away and me inside, but I can still step over it and go into the garden.

The delivery man is amused by it, the cats are bemused by it and it just keeps on growing.

If it is a metaphor for the insidious growth of the virus, then when winter eventually kills it, we will all be set free . If it is a metaphor for the resilience of nature, then I shall leave it to grow. If it is a metaphor for my sloth then I should hack it back.

As planning for the future seems impossible these days, I shall live the metaphor and do absolutely nothing at all and just wait and see what the tendril does next.

Living in Lockdown

The virus has swept like a terrible wave over so much of the world, destroying lives, businesses and mental health. Some places like the UK and the USA are still watching  the waters rise and trying to keep their heads’ above water, some places are still denying that the ground is even wet and a few places are seeing a little dry land reappear and wondering if it safe to put a foot on it at last.

The region of France where I live (Alsace) has been very badly hit by the wave. The government responded well (eventually) and everyone has stayed home for two months so far.

Fasnact carnivals,  evangelical prayer meetings and football matches  did take place when all the signs were there that the infection levels were rising ; but no one was brave enough to call a stop and so thousands of people were infected by being in unnecessary crowds.

Once the infection had been taken back to homes and hospitals and the death toll mounted, suddenly everyone was being brave by staying isolated and slowly, slowly, painfully slowly the infection rate has slowed right down. Yesterday the local paper said our region was very close to being «  green »  which might mean  some normality can return .

It will never be quite the same again, nothing will bring back those who died and the corrosive fear of infection has eaten into so many aspects of life.

However, staying home, closing schools and businesses and bars and restaurants and garden centres and cinemas does seem to have worked here. It hurts like hell and I don’t underestimate the damage done to everyone, but the wave of infection can wash away eventually.

I write this to anyone frustrated or angry that their life has been disrupted or fearful that it will never end: the tide does turn and the sand does start to dry out.

Next stage the sun comes out .

Greedy for Beauty.

This strange and terrible spring has been so beautiful.

The blossom has been unshaken by wind and untroubled by late snow or shrivelling frost.

In the soft, warm air each fruit tree has unfurled the most extraordinary foam and frill of blossom in its turn, against an eggshell blue sky.

First the blackthorn in the hedge, then the cherry, then the pears and now, the most lovely of all: the pink and white of apple blossom.

Each in its turn stirs the heart.

I understand the biology: I know the flowers are beautiful by chance and their purpose is to bring the bees, to fertilise the fruit, to set the seed, to grow the next tree; but that does not explain how my heart turns over; how they make my face turn up to smile and how my arms want to to embrace them, to enfold them, to be part of them.

This visceral response to beauty is part of our soul. We feel it when we want to pick up a child, to hug a lover, to scoop up a cat and when a whole tree is so lovely that our arms do not feel wide enough to embrace the whole extraordinary, heartbreaking beauty of its glory.

We are greedy for loveliness, greedy for beauty.

Happy Easter.

302A3E0F-AB6B-40B6-B9AA-7A6E1E4B3EFC

 

Reasons to be Cheerful.

It is easy to think that the world is going to hell in a hand basket. The terrible fires in Australia, the destruction of the Amazon and the extinction of species in every corner of the globe, makes pessimism natural; but I am not alone in believing that things can be improved.  There are millions of people who care about the environment and millions more who care primarily about themselves, but are realising that their life also depends upon the quality of the air that they breath, the food that they eat and butterflies that amuse them.

So I share this article with you about the city of Ghent that has gone car free. As I read the testimonies from the people who live there about what a profound improvement this has been in their lives I found myself grinning from ear to ear. Change for the better can really happen, things dont have to always get worse, politicians and voters can make intelligent and brave choices and we can make our cities (and our suburbs!) green and pleasant places.

Take a minute to read it and consider what the future could be .

Reasons to be cheerful part 1!

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/jan/20/the-streets-are-more-alive-ghent-readers-on-a-car-free-city-centre?CMP=Share_iOSApp_Other

 

ps I dont have any photos of Ghent, so this  is Basel on wet day at Christmas!

 

4C1042E3-FDCD-4241-A283-204ADBAA2147