Sunday, 21 August 2016

The Closing Of Summer

There is still heat in the air but the days are turning now. The wind is blowing, buffeting the leaves, reminding them that ahead lies the tumbling time, when they turn golden and drift down from the bough.

Yesterday, I went out searching for Dormice. Of the fifty boxes checked, not a single one yielded a Dormouse. Apparently, numbers are down this year so far. Perhaps due to a long wet cold Spring. It is a worry. We did find a Pygmy Shrew though (see pic above). Relatively rare, I have never seen one, so it was a joy to find him, scurrying about inside one of the boxes. They are smaller than regular shrews with longer, more triangular snouts. Shrews have to eat their bodyweight in a 24 hour period to stay alive. They are busy, busy, busy.

We found a couple of Dormice nests in the boxes. These are told apart from those constructed by Woodmice by the addition of green hazel leaves among the brown. Nature leaves so many clues to help us understand things, if only we take the time to listen and to learn the language.

The Cinnabar caterpillar was a pleasure to find. I have been searching Ragwort and not found any until this solitary chap appeared.

The Pheasant is by middle son F. A gift for his grandparents who, this September, celebrate fifty years of happy marriage. My ma in law is an artist and my pa in law spent his working life on the land, so they will both feel the specialness of the gift.

I have been sewing steadily through the summer and my sewing area has evolved along with my ability to tackle more complex projects. I like to stand and admire all the fabrics in their boxes. So many colours and patterns. It inspires and encourages and draws out creative energy. I am far happier giving vent to this than trying to fit life into rational squares. I am writing too, the book I metioned at the start of the year. It comes, slowly, but well I think and I am enjoying doing it.

I've picked what look like the last of the Sweet Peas today. They have given me huge pleasure this summer; their scent, shape and colours. I feel quite sad that the bush is now curling into dry, crisp, brown leaves and the blooms are fading, even though it is timely and right.

Two weeks left here of school holidays before I turn my face properly towards Autumn.  Swallows are lining up along the telegraph wires and all the birds have fallen silent, apart from the Robin who began to sing again a handful of days ago, a sure sign, if any were needed, that the Wild knows the season is turning. However blissful the long relaxed days of summer are, I am always glad of the change into cooler days. It feels like a reaffirmation of life; the changing Earth energy opens up fresh beginnings and new opportunities, and that is Good.

Hope all are well?

CT x

Monday, 15 August 2016


I wandered out onto the lane this afternoon to photograph the Light, which is bright and hot and vibrating today.

Our lane winds down through trees that were once, long ago, part of an ancient forest. As far as they are concerned, they still are. Owls live among them, badgers tunnel beneath them and the wind sighs through them in the same way they did before the trees at their backs were cut down.

The lane is a mile and a half long, with a handful of houses scattered along it, and it has its own entry in Domesday Book, which records it in 1086 as being 'once worth 10s but now waste'. Traces of the ancient forest remain in the trees that line the tarmac, in the botany that grows along the verges and in the old forest boundary ditch that can be traced through gardens about half way along the lane.

I know the plants that grow here well, having spent many happy hours in their company, but as is only right and proper, they still have the capacity to surprise me. Witness the Star of Bethlehem which opens briefly before 5pm and is invisible at all other times, giving it its country name of 'Betty Go To Bed At Noon'. That one was a surprise when I saw it earlier in the summer as I walked up the lane after checking on the badgers. I took M back to find it an hour later and it had disappeared. I haven't seen it since.

The plants that grow along the lane are all woodland plants, dark green and leafy, for the most-part close-coupled to the earth with the exception of a few willowy beings, and faithful to their forest past. I suspect, if we were to stop managing what grows in our garden, the forest fauna would reassert itself there too in a year or so. It holds to the edges where I am very happy to see it, and where it draws like-minded souls to its company.

Gardens are our homage to The Wild. A way of keeping faith with our past, an expression of an unconscious need to have the reassurance of The Wild nearby, even if we no longer live quite so cheek-by-jowl with it. We are, after all, only a thousand or so years away from living very cheek-by-jowl with it indeed. It's not long, in the great scheme of things. Not long enough to erode the need away at least.

To sit in a garden is to know Peace and Comfort and Joy, but to walk out in The Wild is to commune with Earth Magic and to feel through it, Alive, to have your wits sharpened and perhaps, sometimes, to feel just a tiny bit Afraid and a little less certain of the rightness of our dominion over the world we live in.

Wandering down the lane time did that thing it always does to me in Woods, where it ceases to operate normally and instead holds you in a sort-of spell that remains unbroken until you leave the fringe of the trees.

I felt irritation with the cars that drove past, as if they were intruding and didn't belong there. I became completely absorbed in the world of trees and plants and dappled light coming through leaves. I was mesmerised by the bright green of the Hazel leaves; by the small blonde circles of paired nuts on the boughs, their elfin green hats perched jauntily on their heads; by two Speckled Wood butterflies twirling around one another as if joined in a permanent Catherine Wheel dance; by the ancient trickle of water as the brook tumbled down the lane; by the took! took! took! alarm call of the Thrush in the bank warning of a fox or a weasel unperceived by my dulled human senses; by the thousand small rustlings of tiny things making their way through the vegetation.

I emerged some time later and came back through our gate slightly mystified as to where the time had gone and to how little I had registered its passing. It does the soul good to escape modern life once in a while and to become submerged in places that still heed the call of The Wild and haven't lost touch with it. We need it more than we realise.


Thursday, 11 August 2016

Ted's Diary

Inspired by the Olympics, Poppy and I have been playing more football. I think you'll agree that I have the more adventurous style. It's thanks to me that the ball gets off the ground at all. Poppy just chews it and makes her gremlin noise.

We've also been doing lots of running with Mum. Ten miles last week. I'm in good shape, apart from my wet eczema which has returned in a patch on my back. This is a) annoying and b) itchy.
Mum has shaved the hair off my back so the air can get to it. Dad calls it my tonsure (which I know is wrong because Monks have tonsures on their heads, not their backs, so really he's just displaying his own ignorance on that one).

UNFORTUNATELY, the return of the WE necessitated a visit to the V.E.T. yesterday. Even the fact that it was the Lovely Louise didn't help and I got the collywobbles as soon as I got on the table. Mum had reassured me there'd be no injections because it wasn't bad enough, but there was! I ended up having my inoculation as well 'to save time'. I ask you! I made friends with a ten year old Westie in the waiting room who had gooey eyes. I didn't like to get too close to be honest. And there was a small fat black puppy who looked very happy to be there. I didn't like to tell him the V.E.T would soon disabuse him of that misapprehension.

After the V.E.T I had to go to a parcel depot to collect some Hobbycraft stuff for Mum. I stayed in the car. And then we went to Waitrose, where Mum did the most speedy in-and-out shopping you've ever seen because she was in a panic I'd get hot in the car (even though all the windows were open and it was cloudy).

When we got home we went out for a walk round the fields to make up for the morning. I got my own back by rolling in some Very Ripe Poo. I made sure I got it on both sides, on my tail, on ear and my nose. I was orange and piquant (my new word. Poppy's new word is antidisestablishmentarianism, which sounds impressive but isn't nearly as useful as piquant because it's much harder to drop into sentances).
Mum was so impressed with the caking effect that she was struck completely silent for quite a while. Unfortunately, I can't repeat what she said when the words come back because I am a polite dog. She lifted me into the car inside a towel (no idea why) and when we got home I had a COLD shower in the garden and a real scrub of shampoo.

It was worse than the V.E.T.

Poppy didn't help by lying on her back with her legs in the air clutching her stomach and laughing till she cried.

The laughter had gone the next morning though, because she'd found something dead in the woods and ate it while mum was talking to a Golden Ringed Dragon she'd found on a nettle leaf who climbed on her finger, and by evening Pop wasn't feeling well at all. By morning she was doing Very Strange Poos Indeed and now she's getting fish for breakfast and supper, which isn't fair AT ALL because it's all her own fault AND what's more, she hasn't even had to go to the V.E.T. I ask you :o(

She's a bit better this morning so I ate some of her fish before Mum could stop me :o). I also tried to cheer her up by catching a rat, but she didn't even want to lick it, so I know she isn't feeling well. I had to lick it instead and Mum made a 'eww' noise when she picked it up to remove it :o).

Things are looking up today- we've already had a delivery and I barked at the delivery man, than a van went past so I had a good shout at that, and finally two people went up the lane so I also barked at them. And now I see a pigeon has landed on the fence so I must quickly tell you about one other thing before I go off for a spot of Pigeon Watching.

A stray dog turned up at Granny's house last week. She was a little white Jack Russell and as Granny's garden is dog proof, it looks like someone might have deliberately put her in there. She had quite big boobies, so Mum and Gran think she may have been used for breeding and dumped when she got too old to have any more puppies. Apparently, the V.E.T said people drive dogs they don't want anymore into the forest (where Granny lives) and abandon them there :o(
She was very sweet and friendly and affectionate and we really hope someone comes to the dog's home to give her a new forever home soon. Granny took her to the V.E.T (poor thing) to check if she'd been microchipped (which is the law here in the UK) but she hadn't. As I came from a rescue centre I know all too well what it's like when no-body seems to love you. Poor little thing.

Right, that pigeon is still there so I must dash.

Hope all are well?

Best regards,

Ted x

Sunday, 7 August 2016

My Own Private Soap Opera

Among the wisteria that grows over the pergola a small drama was played out this week. An ant got hold of a harvestman's leg. The ensuing tug-of-war went on for fifteen minutes. I was convinced the ant would win. It held the leg firmly in its jaws and dragged the harvestman ever forward with grim determination, heading for the leaf stalk where other ants waited. The harvestman seemed powerless to do anything but yield, slowly and inexorably, heading towards the inevitable demise.
Occasionally, there would be a brief remission, when the harvestman gained ground. Once, he managed to drop down beneath the single leaf that provided the setting for this drama. He hung, briefly suspended beneath it while the ant prowled on the top trying vainly to heave him back over. You can see this in the top right picture. The ant got his way and the harvestman was dragged over the leaf and on to the stalk. I steeled myself for the finale, thinking surely now he must give in, exhausted and unable to resist. But then suddenly the game changed, the ant let go and the harvestman scuttled for all he was worth over the leaf, across the stalk, under another leaf, dropping down out of sight of the ant who spent another ten minutes searching for him, futilely as it turned out.
I don't like to interfere, because everything has the right to life and how do you judge? But I have to admit I was rather relieved. It was such a valiant struggle.

In other news, leaf-cutter bees are everywhere in the garden at the mo. We have Willughby's (bright yellow tummys) and Patchwork. We've also got Wool Carder Bees (top right photo of the four below). The Leaf-Cutters are responsible for the all the sickle-shapes that have been removed from the leaves for nest-lining purposes.

Butterflies have also been visiting. Lots of Whites, a few Brimstones and, today for the first time, a female Common Blue :o)

And just in case you needed evidence of the benefit of keeping a patch of nettles in your garden, today I discovered Comma caterpillars of various ages on the nettles we've left up by the pond (top left photo in the set bellow).
The long grasses are also proving their worth, providing shelter for the Common Blue and also home to Speckled Crickets and Short-Winged Coneheads (the female of which you can see on the lily leaf in the bottom left below).

I can feel Autumn stirring in the land. The harvest is on its way here, with combines kicking up plumes of dust and golden burnished stubble fields open again for walking. And in the gloaming the air tastes of change. We ate our first blackberries from the hedges this morning while out for a walk with the dogs, and in the garden, the blackbirds are feasting on apples. It's warm here, but the land is turning.

Hope all are well?

CT :o)

Friday, 29 July 2016

Research Into Neonicotinoids In Garden Centre Plants- How You Can Help

Most of us know by now of the questions raised over the safety of Neonicotinoids, a type of insecticide used on crops which is a neuro-toxin for bees and other insects, paralysing
them at worst and leaving them confused and unable to relocate their hives at best. 

We rely on bees to pollinate the plants that create a lot of the food we consume. Bees all around the world are in trouble due to loss of habitat and exposure to toxic chemicals. There have been substantial efforts made in recent years to raise public awareness of their plight and to show people how they can help combat these declines by planting pollinator-friendly, nectar-rich plants in their gardens and by not using toxic chemicals on their lawns, flowerbeds etc.

The RHS has a 'bee friendly' stamp it puts on plants that are good for bees so people know which ones to buy to help the bees. Dave Goulson, Professor of Biology at the University of Sussex and an expert in bees and flutters who set up the Bumblebee Conservation Trust and who has written two great books on the subject, is setting up a research project to look at the presence and levels of Neonicotinoids in garden centre plants marketed as 'bee friendly'. Many of the plants in UK garden centres come from the Continent, especially the Netherlands where intensive production methods include the use of Neonics. 

He's funding the project using a website called Walacea which links people interested in supporting science research projects with the academics carrying out that research. It's basically a crowd-funding platform for great science projects and I urge you all to check it out. Here is the link to Dave Goulson's crowd-funding platform. You can donate as little as a fiver or as much as you want, it all goes directly towards funding the project. Personally I think it's money well spent. There is only one day to go before the funding closes, so please do check it out.

Because of the intricate connections that ecosystems consist of, if we lose bees the whole countryside will very quickly start to look different. Everything you see in the photos below will ultimately be at risk, so it's important stuff.


Wednesday, 27 July 2016

A Salutary Lesson About Thorns

L and I went out chopping brambles on Monday afternoon. L is edging towards his sixteenth year and currently epitomises teenagerness in all its gory glory. It is a standing joke between us that he is allergic to fresh air and will start to smoke if exposed to sunlight (as in, gently give off steam, not stick a fag in his mouth). Give him a fetid, darkened room, a computer with skype and steam enabled, a tv, an enormous pile of books, a ready supply of food that appears as if by magic, minimal contact with his parents and the requirement to eschew full, sentient and decipherable speech and communicate only with random grunts and he is happy as a lark for hours upon end. Throw in the lack of a necessity to wash, dress or stir far from his pit and you have the perfect recipe for a happy contented teen. This is despite (or perhaps because) being brought up as an outdoor person. His word word for the Great Outdoors  is the Outernet, which I rather feels sums up modern teenagers.

Anyhoo, I have stipulated (now that the holidays are here) that Daily Mandatory Outdoors Time is non-negotiable and he has agreed as long as he could take with him on these excursions, either a) an axe or b) a sickle. The futility of arguing with a teen will be well-known to all who have come within ear-range of one, so, recognising that the more important goal had been achieved with very little effort expended on my part, I agreed.

On Monday afternoon we set off up the lane for a bit of Healthy Mother And Son Bramble Cutting Time. We'd not been out more than five minutes when, tackling a particularly thick and vicious stalk which was covered with Evil Thorns Of Giant Proportions, I punctured my thumb. The thorn plunged in to the joint and boy did it hurt.

I had to go home to administer first aid while L was chuckling to himself all the way at the irony. 

This was at four thirty. By six thirty it had swelled up, gone red and stiff and hurt like crazy. M got home, took one look and told me to phone 111. I thought this was a bit of an over-reaction but did as I was told. I was less convinced of the over-reaction ten minutes later when the lovely lady told me I needed to get to A&E within the hour.

We arrived to be told there was a two hour wait but as we'd come prepared (having had several A&E experiences in recent years with husband and son) we settled in, if not happily then at least with occupation. I filled out the form detailing the injury and within five minutes of handing it in we were suddenly bumped to the front of the queue and found ourselves in with the nurse.

By this time I'd googled thorn puncture wound injuries and rather wished I hadn't. The internet is full of 'death followed within hours of thorn pin-prick' stories. Which I guess explains the medical profession's sense of urgency.

The nurse had a good look and prod (*wince*) and told me it wasn't infected and looked clean so in all likelihood would remain that way (I didn't tell him I'd been smothering it in my homemade beeswax salve which is my cure-all for everything as it likes nothing more than to eat bugs), but that I needed to keep an eye on it, take anti-histamines and come back straight away if I started feeling unwell.

We got home, had a late supper, went to bed, and at 7am the next morning after a good night's sleep I got up and came the closest I've ever been to passing out. Luckily M was there and grabbed hold of me which prevented me crumpling in a heap on the floor. There then followed what was (later in retrospect) an amusing ten minutes of me lying almost unconscious on the floor while he held my legs up to get some blood back in my head. I went green and yellow, couldn't breath properly, felt cold and clammy and sick and sweaty and generally pretty hideous. He had to take the day off to look after me - Lord only knows what his workmates must think, that he's married to a princess who faints when she pricks her thumb and can't cope without him. I spent most of the day asleep, from a reaction to the wound or the fainting or the anti-histamines or a combo of all three.

Coming over faint is something that has happened to me since I became a mummy. I used to be perfectly fine with queasy-making things, even helping out with an eye-op while doing work experience at the VETs when I was fourteen. But now even thinking of things like that make me feel a bit weak. Any other mum's out there found the same thing or is it just me?!

Anyhoo, the message here is simple: if you're cutting thorns wear gloves, because even a non-infectious and perfectly natural body reaction to a puncture wound can be unpleasant and frightening and very painful. This morning the swelling and stiffness is starting to go down, but I still can't really move it and the knuckle is sore and I'm still on marginally-paranoid-infection-watch.

L's reaction to the whole wretched episode was exactly as I'd feared. I told you the Outernet is dangerous. He now has the perfect reason to avoid all future outdoor excursions. In fact, I very much fear he will never set foot outdoors again :o)

I'll leave you with a slightly more positive gardening note. My sweet peas were covered in greenfly a couple of weeks ago and as we avoid chemicals in the garden I wanted a natural treatment to get rid of them. I'd read somewhere that rosemary oil is a good one. So I made up a spray bottle with water and ten drops of oil and sprayed the peas liberally four times a day for two or three days. All the greenfly went. I haven't sprayed them for about ten days and yesterday noticed some had crept back so I'm starting the process again. Give it a whirl if your plants are affected. It certainly worked here.

Hope all are well?

CT :o)

Saturday, 23 July 2016

Not Very Pleased With Ted (don't read if you're snake phobic)

Much as I love terriers, the downside is their desire to grab hold, shake things and not leave go until the life is well and truly gone. This is the second grass snake we've lost this week. The females are more visible in June and July because it's egg laying time and they're looking for compost heaps to deposit their eggs in. Both of this year's casualties were discovered crossing the patio heading up the garden towards the compost heaps. Unfortunately, they didn't escape Teddy's notice and he dispatched them both.

Grass snakes are lovely things. Quiet, self-contained and terribly frightened by people to the extent they usually bolt for cover when they hear us coming, they have no venom and no means of protecting themselves beyond playing dead, making the occasional lunge (which is a feint as I've never heard of anyone being actually bitten by them) and sometimes ejecting a nasty smell from their tale end.

Their numbers are dropping as habitat is lost and amphibian numbers decline, so they could really do without Terrier Teddy's attentions.

I'm putting up the photos because it's rare to see one and certainly not close up like this. If you're in any doubt of the difference between the harmless grass snake and the venomous adder (the UK's only native poisonous snake) have a look at the yellow collar in the photos which is just behind the head of the grass snake. The adder doesn't have a yellow collar. The grass snake also has small black vertical lines on its side, which the adder doesn't have. Instead, the adder has more obvious black zig-zag or diamond markings down the centre of its back. 

It goes without saying that if you're bitten by a snake regardless of what you think it is (unless you really know your reptiles), get down to A&E because an adder will make you feel pretty poorly and can be very dangerous to children. I know of a lass who picked up an adder which promptly bit her hand (don't ask! She knew what it was so Lord know why she handled it) and her arm swelled up, went black and she ran a high fever for a while. While Adders won't usually bite unless provoked, it's wise to give them a wide berth. Adders have sufficient venom to kill a small dog, so I really hope Teddy never meets one, as currently he has no respect for snakes at all :o(

I'm hoping that enough females have got through Operation Ted to make it to the compost and lay their eggs. We won't know for sure till next Spring when we empty it and hopefully discover the shells. Unless I'm lucky enough to find another tiny wee bootlace version baby grass snake in the autumn. 
Grass snakes, and adders, are protected under UK law and it is an offence to kill them. If you find one in the garden let it be- it really won't bother you and will be much more worried about getting and keeping out of your way. If you find an adder it's probably worth phoning your local wildlife trust which will almost certainly have a reptile group and getting further advice, particularly if you have children who play in the garden.

Hope all are well?