Posts Tagged ‘nature’

Small things

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Sometimes it’s the little things that make my day. Like the passionflower which I bought from Morrison’s for £3 flourishing on the side of the woodshed. I thought it would die during the winter, so buffeted did it get on our exposed hillside.

Like our wasps’ nest. They’re squatting in the bird box on the side of the garage. The hole you can see in this rather fuzzy picture (I was holding the phone above my head with rather shaky hands – see previous post) is where I poked the crepe bandage-like structure inside with the end of the shears because I was wondering what it was. I’d never seen one before.

I soon knew. They all came flying out to have a look at what was attacking them but they didn’t seem very aggressive. I left them to calm down and go back inside, which they did quite quickly. When I went back later to check, the hole I made seemed to have been mended or to have mended itself. I will have to do some research into wasps’ nests now to find out how.

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Like my ‘exciting’ 15 minutes in the garden one night. While I was standing there waiting for the motion-activated outside light to go off so that I could well and truly lurk in the dusk, an owl turned up and sat on the telegraph wires. I could only see its outline but it was obviously an owl with its massive round head and silent, swooping flight. It’s my first owl sighting, although I hear them quite a lot from the woods nearby. From the calls I’d say it was a tawny.

rainbow over country scenery

And like the rainbow that was so complete and huge that I couldn’t fit both ends of it into the picture. There was a rainbow on the day I moved into the cottage and I’ve always thought of them as a good omen, although they usually signify an impending shower.

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When is graffiti vandalism and when is it art? When is it tradition?

I found myself thinking about the distinctions between different kinds of graffiti the other day when I saw a local tree that had been tagged “LASER” in spray paint. It’s a West London tag and I’ve seen it in lots of places and styles – some more elaborate than others. Normally I wouldn’t have done more than notice its recurrence.

Why did I feel that the tree had been spoiled by the spray paint when knife-cut graffiti (ultimately the longer lasting of the two) doesn’t offend me at all? Was it the very urban use of spray paint on something as natural as a tree? Possibly, because I don’t mind spray-painted graffiti in an ‘appropriate’ location at all (see pictures below), although I completely appreciate that what is appropriate is a value judgement.

I think I tend to forgive the cutting of names or initials and dates into wood – whether living or not – because it (generally) has a life that continues developing as time passes. I also like the directions that my mind is sent in by by the addition of dates.

I don’t have the answers to any of my questions. Nor do I have a picture of the spray-painted tree as I was in a car at the time. But here are some trees and their adornments and some urban graffiti that I’ve enjoyed, as well. There’s also some helpfully labelled graffiti of a tree, which I found very pleasing.

And, yes, I have done it myself. I carved my initials into the woodwork of my school’s sixth form garden on the day I left school. I wonder if they’re still there and what they look like now.

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As a child I visited Boston Manor Park frequently with my father but nothing apart from the children’s playground had stuck in my memory. I often catch sight of the Jacobean manor house when driving along the M4 motorway’s elevated section; the bit that links Heathrow airport with London. If you’re travelling towards London, the house is visible on the left-hand side at around the same time as the shiny GlaxoSmithKline monolith appears ahead of you on the right.

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Curious to see what it’s like, I decide to take Nora for a walk there. Expecting more or less an ordinary park, I am first rather disappointed and then surprised. Disappointed because the grounds appear very small, with only a small lawned area and a large pond immediately behind the compact house and stable block. I almost regret having paid for an hour and half’s parking. But we are surprised and rewarded by the discovery of a ‘nature trail’ leading down under the motorway into a mysterious other world that co-exists with the impatient roar of the traffic over our heads.

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The trail is really only a hint of a dirt path that descends out of a flowerbed into a boggy, overgrown mass of ivy and untended greenery. It’s quite off-putting. However, we persevere, with me cursing a lack of waterproof footwear, until we see what I suspect is the Grand Union Canal but turns out later to be a canalised bit of the River Brent, complete with barge and lock (I’m not showing you the side of the lock with the graffitied penises all over it).

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Despite the filthy water, a swan swims up to greet us and we are surrounded by the echoing calls of hidden waterfowl. Nora finds the inevitable pile of human poo and what looks like the skin of a fish and evades my attempts take it away from her. The smell makes me gag and I worry that she will get ill from eating it.

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A cyclist passes on the other bank where there is a well-maintained path but our side seems utterly desolate until a brown-haired man in his thirties wearing a striped tee-shirt wanders by looking aimless. I wonder if he’s a part of this place where nothing looks official or managed. There’s a ramshackle, padlocked, chicken wire gate that leads to more wasteland littered with old bits of tractor and more rubbish. It seems odd to fence in such abandonment. I wonder if the barge people have claimed it for their own since no-one else seems to care.

Beneath the motorway itself stretches an underworldly tarmac paradise, spacious and deserted. It feels strangely liberating to be somewhere so hidden from the mainstream of city life. It occurs to me that I should feel frightened but I don’t. However, I also don’t investigate further under the motorway. Not on my own with a rather unpredictable young dog.

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Looking at a map later, it appears that we might have found more open parkland had we gone on further towards the Glaxo building but, drawn in by the atmosphere of dereliction and isolation amid the busy-ness overhead and in the light industrial areas round about, this seems enough for one day.

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We resurface and return to the car, feeling mildly astonished to have been so close to tennis courts resounding to the noise of a game and council employees working in the children’s play area.

It turns out that I don’t even actually remember the playground.

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Misty walk

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Low, low clouds, in a masquerade of mist, sit squatly up on the hill,

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amidst trees furred with moss and lichen.

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Branches bowed and cracked in the snow’s wake litter the soft footbed of mulching leaves.

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Transplanted beasts, shaggy pelts damply waved, turn quizzically towards passers-by.

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And the great king of trees, rooted here for centuries, waits patiently

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to be gently taken for a ride.

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From the silhouettes of Italian trees to the spectacular giants of Lydeard Hill in Somerset, they are under threat and I am worrying about them; capturing their beauty while I can.

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I seem to have lost the power of words. In my third year at Spring Cottage, I’m finding that I want to post images rather than write anything. So here are a couple of things I snapped last weekend.

I took this picture of some deer from my bedroom window. I rarely see so many at once, partly because they don’t hang about in the field all day waiting for me to come along and partly because I don’t hang about in my bedroom all day waiting for them to appear. Sometimes, we happily coincide.

About an hour later this happened:

I’m so struck that this picture of the clouds just doesn’t seem to have any colour in it. But it’s a colour shot.

That was followed about half an hour later by this amazingly baroque bit of rapidly moving cloud. I almost expected some putti to appear:

wonderfully baroque sky with clouds

Now, I think that’s more interesting than hearing that I’ve got to have the boiler serviced next week, or that I still haven’t managed to get my chimney fixed, but am hoping to get the guy Rachel recommended to come by on Friday and have a look.

I worry sometimes that I’m only happy when I’ve achieved everything on my To Do list. Which means I’m never happy because that that never ends, does it?

Have a nice weekend.

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Sometimes you see something just have to photograph. Sometimes over and over again. I just couldn’t decide which of these pictures I liked best. There was just something about the light and the colour of the trees. If I were a fabric designer, they would become a pattern.

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Spring is definitely in the air but here in the hills high above sea level, there are only some very small signs.

And a very few tiny flowers.

The snowdrops ares still the most obvious presence.

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There is still some fine winter colour in the leafless hedge.

And some things that have been around quite a while.

And others that are very new.

Someone told me today that snow is forecast for tomorrow. There’s certainly a strong, chilly wind blowing. We shall see. But when I stroked the heather here, I disturbed two bumblebees.

heather

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I was in the woodshed filling up the bird feeder, when I gradually became aware of an unusual, gentle, repetitive sound. “Swish-swish. Swish-swish.” I tracked it down to the basket where I keep the kindling. “Swish-swish. Swish-swish.” And there, unexpectedly, on the basket’s underside, was a butterfly – a peacock – slowly opening and closing its wings.

I couldn’t get my DSLR camera to focus properly on it, while it was opening and shutting its wings. The camera’s mechanism felt as sluggish in the cold as the butterfly’s movements. I probably just had it on the wrong setting but, as so often, my wits desert me when I’m trying to take a picture where the subject is not inanimate.

It didn’t try to fly away when I moved the basket into the light to see it better, so I managed to get something slightly better with my phone camera.

As I’m writing this, I’m feeling guilty that I didn’t rescue it but I just hadn’t the faintest clue where to start. I don’t suppose it will have survived very long, poor, beautiful thing – I haven’t had the heart to check.

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The snow’s all gone now but for the brief day or so that we had it, it revealed new textures in the patchwork of the hills.

The garden was suddenly full of the evidence of the birds and animals that traverse it when I’m not looking.

Of the flowers, only the snowdrops seemed to be relishing the sub zero temperature. Everything else – primulas, hellebores, crocuses, euphorbias – all were bent to the ground, crushed by the frost.

And the frozen pond had claimed another frog; suspended in ice so thick that it will have to wait many days until the thaw.

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The ‘winter’ banner picture at the top of the blog is completely inaccurate. It’s been neither cold nor snowy this year. Of the three winters I’ve known here, this has been the warmest, with scarcely a frost.

It’s almost exactly three years since I first saw Spring Cottage. It was snowy then. Now it’s balmy and the garden, although still bare, is getting on apace, even though we’re high in the hills.

The moss, for instance, has been galloping ahead and has now almost completely taken over one of the areas of what used to be lawn. I’m going to have to read up on what to do about this. Although I kind of think life’s too short. It’s green, isn’t it?

There’s one budding daffodil. Just one.

Loads of hellebores.

Masses of heather. In fact, I’ve never seen this looking so good.

This lovely thing that I can never remember the name of. I am going to look it up. [It's lonicera fragrantissima or winter flowering honeysuckle – two very kind readers told what it was last year]

And a few primroses and snowdrops. All very timid still but they are out. It’s not even the end of January yet.

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Over the reassuring hum of the boiler, the wind hisses its wild way across the Quantocks. Anything loose is sent flapping. As the birds try to fly, they are suspended in the frustrated sky, then suddenly released. The yellowing leaves that remain in the hedge across the lane quiver continually, as though planted in jelly. From time to time, huge gusts batter the windows and come draughting down the chimney. There is shooting in the distance. My nose is cold. The lane runs red with mud.

Title — from a poem by John Milton 1608-74.

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The other week I walked across from Manor Farm to the cottage and caught sight of this:

I had never seen anything quite a vibrant and somehow un-English with it’s bougainvillea-like colouring. As I didn’t know what this was, I took a few pictures, carried on my way, intending to find out more, and then… forgot all about it.

However, yesterday my last post was read by Bridget from Arignagardener, so I visited her blog and saw that she had written a post about what was blooming in her garden recently. She had posted some pictures of her spindle tree (Euonymus europaeae), which I’ve never heard of before or seen (despite the fact that I planted some other kind of euonymus in my garden about 20 years ago). Clearly, it’s the same thing. Apparently it’s a common hedging plant. I must have been going around with my eyes shut, or perhaps just never walking at quite the right time of year to see this brilliant display of colour in the hedgerow.

The hedgerow concerned was planted only fairly recently (within the last 10 years or so) by my neighbours as part of the Countryside Stewardship Scheme. Sadly the scheme now seems to be rather falling to pieces, with the council having next to no money to spend on luxuries like making the local area more accessible to walkers. The scheme made the upkeep of the countryside in traditional ways affordable for farmers, who would otherwise have chosen cheaper methods. Isn’t this prettier than holey hedges, their gaps filled with barbed wire and old rusty junk?

Sadly my neighbours decided to close the scheme’s walks across their land recently because they couldn’t be sure of the insurance arrangements as the funding wasn’t likely to be forthcoming in the future. Lovely John said: “Of course, that doesn’t apply to you…” but it’s no good for others, who don’t know them personally, is it?  Thanks, bankers.

But on this case, it’s real thanks to Bridget for providing the clue to my mystery plant. Isn’t blogging great?

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Everyone’s heard of displacement activity, right? Well, this is it. What you do when you’re supposed to be doing something else that you really have to be doing. In my case, I have a deadline on Tuesday and an awful lot of stuff that needs to be done before then. So, obviously, I’m blogging about my new curtains, which are of massive importance to no-one at all.

I have mentioned these before here and here. So I thought perhaps, now that they are installed, I should complete the picture. I should add that they’ve been up for about three hours, I haven’t yet seen them in daylight and, at the moment, I rather preferred the room before. But there you go. It was an expensive way of finding that out, but it will be warmer.

No, you can be sure that this isn’t one of those pretty house blogs of which I follow a couple, where someone posts lovely pictures of their delightful ‘home’, as these are workaday snaps. But now that I see it on screen, I rather like how it’s looking.

Other momentous things to write about:

a) are that the house is overrun, or rather, overflown by winged insects: flies, huge wasps, ladybirds. You name it, we’ve got it. They must like the curtains.

b) today I saw an actual huge toadstool with a red spotted top and white stem – I thought I was in a nursery rhyme for a moment – but sadly, I didn’t think my horse would approve if I stopped it to take a picture.

c) I have learned that horses can poo while they walk but not wee.

d) I am entertained by the fact that the use of the word ‘curtain’ in this post, makes WordPress suggest that I tag it ‘Berlin Wall”.

Better get back to work. Oh, and by the way, the countryside is looking beautiful, if a bit damp. A bit like this:

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I thought I knew what desert was – rolling sand dunes, Lawrence of Arabia-style – but that’s not it at all. Not in the United States. Think of every western film you ever saw, from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid to Blazing Saddles. That’s where I’ve been. In that desert. The gravelly, bright, unexpectedly colourful and sometimes rainy, mountain ringed desert of the Palm Springs area in California.

It’s tempting to say there’s nothing there as you look out over the wide, wide expanses of flat, sandy ground stretching away in from of you until it comes to a sudden halt against mountains that rise up steeply out of nowhere.

Yet what seems to be an expanse of nothing is full of life. Life that has adapted to the arid conditions in which it has to exist. With the exception of the palms, the trees – such as they are – have hundreds of tiny leaves to reduce the surface area from which moisture can be lost. In some cases, they just ‘don’t bother’ to have leaves at all – having adapted to doing all their photosynthesis through their twigs and branches.

Things grow low and scrubby. Sometimes it feels that you’re at the bottom of the ocean, surrounded by coral but without any water. It’s not a place where flowers are abundant but they are everywhere, in little bright clumps and sudden explosions, like next to this horse hitching place.

Where there is water, palms grow and vegetation is lush and sometimes unexpected, like this pyracantha which would be more at home in my front garden.

When we tracked a stream to its source through small oases of palms, we found the most blissfully peaceful, crisp and clear pool that couldn’t have been a bigger contrast to the surrounding area. So beautiful.

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