Yellow Morel

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!

Ode to a Nightingale.

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.

2.

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:

3.

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.

4.

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.

5.

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.

6.

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.

7.

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. 

8.

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?

Shadows in sunshine

Today the sun shone and I went exploring. The cherry trees that waited until the snow had gone, were in full flower and the apples trees that had slept the frost away were just unwrapping their pinkest, white petals.

In a local village I stopped to look again at the history of the Jewish community that once lived here. They are gone now. Their names are on the war memorials, but nothing else remains.

The community thrived for a long time, built schools and synagogues until in the 19th century, locals ripped the roofs from their homes and destroyed their houses.

Some stayed: their lives were intertwined with France until the very last families, old and young were deported by the Nazis and died in concentration camps.

Their story has not been forgotten in Durmenach and the village commemorates them, but the people are gone and their memory is just glimpsed in the photos and in the spring sunlight.

So Much.

In spring there is so much to notice, so much to hear, smell and to see that writing about it all seems an unprofitable use of this wonderful time of year; but somehow I still like to try to capture a little of it in words, so here I go.

The woods are full of fighting wrens. Tiny balls of feathers explode out of the undergrowth and cascade down in furious brawls over mates and territories. These secretive birds are suddenly everywhere and they don’t care if you notice them in their brief spring bruiserish personas . They will soon melt back into the leaves to raise their tiny brood of chicks in quiet and anonymous safety.

It has been a good year for cowslips and for the shiny yellow stars of lesser celandine. The celandine are slowly colonising the corners of my garden and the late spring has allowed their flowers to shine for weeks . It’s country name is pilewort as it is good for curing piles apparently!

The tree leaves are appearing like a green smoke and wild cherry blossom in the woods is thin and unexpected like a lace curtain hastily pulled over an indiscreet window. Before the leaves join into the screen of summer some couples are still visible. I noticed these two trees growing into each other a few days ago. The smooth bark I think belongs to a hornbeam and the fissured bark is a robinia . The bark is melding and there is something ludicrously romantic about their unlikely and supportive intimacy.

The blackcaps have returned to the garden and so have the redstarts with their electric crackle of song. One of our nest boxes that has been spurned for years due to our ( and many, many others) cats may finally be home to some blue tits and the kestrels are back to nest in the barn opposite. My husband heard a cuckoo yesterday morning and in the evening I saw the first swallows racing over the garden and all the bright, bright unfurling leaves.

Sunshine : gold and black!

This bright daffodil was growing on the edge of the wood and maybe wild or may be not.

The wild daffodils I have seen in Gloucestershire and Wales have paler outer petals, so the uniform yellowness of this flower made it seem more like a hybrid of some description. Wild or not, the most remarkable thing about the flower was the myriad of tiny shiny black beetles all over it. I have never noticed them in my life, but Meligethes aeneus or pollen beetle is a common beetle in gardens and farmland apparently. They love yellow flowers and clothes and yellow tennis balls. They eat pollen and can be a problem on rape seed crops, but are no cause for alarm in a garden. They were as beautiful and remarkable as the flower that they were feeding on.

This morning I braved the garden centre and was cheered by the plants and depressed by the row upon row of chemicals on sale to kill “weeds” moss, insects, moles in our gardens.

The link between Parkinson’s Disease and farmers and gardeners who have been in close contact with glyphosate /paraquat such as Roundup herbicide is becoming stronger and stronger and legal cases are being amassed against the manufacturers of such chemicals. We have to find beauty in all aspects of nature and crucially to find a balance between our need for bountiful crops and our need for good human health and a healthy ecosystem . Not drenching our own backyards and gardens with perniciously noxious chemicals would seem the obvious place to start!

We have to find space for the daffodil and the bug!

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.

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.

Spring on the window sill.

Outside the dead twig is king. We are weeks away from  buds breaking here, but the kitchen window is a good place to tempt the flowers to appear at eye level right now.

Forsythia is the most forgiving of bushes. All year it is sturdy and green, but in spring time, the bare wood is covered in simple lemon green star flowers that erupt for every knarly inch.

I never knew you could pick forsythia twigs months before they flower in the garden and enjoy them inside. Thanks to the generosity of bloggers I read about how you could plunge them into water for 24 hours and leave them some where cool before bringing them into the house and waiting for them to flower. I was delighted when I tried this and watched an unprepocessing bunch of twigs burst into flower on the kitchen window sill  in darkest winter.

Since then I have become lazier and realised that that the cooling transitional phase isn’t needed, I just select the twigs from my lovely leggy shrub, shove them into a tall  vase and wait for the stars to come out!

Cat high.

In a muddy winter the passage of kitty paws has made feline motorways across my garden. The deepest ruts run from one hedge hole to the next, as my cats and the feral hordes from over the road go off to hunt mice and birds or to snooze under the hedge; but one track seemed to lead nowhere until I remembered the cat crack lurking in the innocuous corner of a flowerbed.

Last summer I realised my cats were rubbing themselves obsessively against a wild white valerian plant that had seeded itself in the garden. In the winter the plant had died down to nothing, but the narcotic allure of the root remained. Every cat in the neighbourhood had been slithering  themselves against the root, digging the earth away to expose it and yesterday I spotted Winston the cat actually licking and swallowing the mud around it. I have tried to protect the root of the valerian with a cage, but in their drug crazed  frenzy, the cats just knock it down and roll across the memory of the plant, mouths open, eyes closed; getting their daily fix of unexpected kitty herbal high!

 

Valerian and cats.

 

 

Sound scape.

I wake up to rave music.

The sickening machine deep thump like my own heart about to explode. I take deep, deep breaths. Windows kept shut,  the rumble of the kettle and the calming sound of a teapot filling, restores some equilibrium, until the loathsome perpetrator of this insult  lapses somewhere into unconsciousness and the cacophony stops.

Outside is birdsong.

The sparrows chattering companionably. A great tit proclaiming his territory. A marsh tit tapping open a sunflower seed on the the trellis. The electric cackle of a redstart . A chiffchaff. The first deep pollen furred rumbles of bumble bees.

The neighbour’s dog Harry is let out and barks . The first horse from the stable ambles down the road and Harry barks again. The horse shys and his hooves clatter sharp on the tarmac. Harry smiles.

In the garden the hum of bees is louder. The pear tree is in full bloom and every single tiny flower seems covered in honey bees. Blink and the tree seems still, squint and it is writing with pollinating frenzy.

Overhead a buzzard mews plaintively swinging  into a swoop to impress his mate hanging in the paintbox blue sky.

A couple of frantic and obilivious cyclists whoosh by on thin wheels shouting . Another neighbour retrieves the beer can he left last night in the garden before his elderly mother peers out to admire her pink ribboned Easter rabbit decorations.

After lunch there is laughter under the trees over a cigarette. A desolutotry teenager bounces a basket ball for a few minutes.

Magpies cackle and four black kites glide over head in total silence, their universe so huge, so distant and unbounded.

 

 

 

 

LBJ

No, not a new sexual orientation acronym, but little brown jobs: the birds that are hard to tell apart on sight, due to unremarkable plumage.

Chiffchaffs are definitely LBJs , but there is no mistaking their call, the onomatopoeic  “chiff -chaff” simple double note that gives them their name. To German ears they sing “zilpzap”and they have seem to have arrived here in the Alsace this very morning. They winter in Africa and summer in Europe. Redstarts seem to have arrived too along with a smattering of dunnocks.

While we listened a large hare loped out from under the hedge and sat a while on his long haunches, ears up to hear and admire some new sounds of spring and a brimstone butterfly that has survived the winter found a primrose.