Berry Weird Weather

Rosehips

Blackberries

Autumn Leaves

These photos were taken a few weeks ago as the summer turned to Autumn. We’ve been blackberry picking and leaf collecting and appreciating this beautiful time of year.

Today however, it feels like we have gone back to summer. Now it is hot and humid as I sit reading the news about impending ex-hurricane now storm Ophelia. It should not get more than a bit windy where I am in the UK. Poor Ireland is forecast to receive the strongest winds and rain.

Right now here the light is a very strange yellow hue and everything is quite still. There is no birdsong. The humidity is high and I have a summer dress on in mid-October with the windows wide open, while all around me the ground is covered in fallen leaves. I remember the days when you could rely on October to be scarf and gloves and wellies weather. It’s weird to say the least.

If you want a giggle to cheer you up this odd Monday morning the Irish humour over hurricane Ophelia on Twitter is hilarious and had me in stitches.  ‘Always look on the bright side of life’… and take care xx

 

Darling Buds

Snow and hail in late April – I stand outside to feel the white flecks of ice fall and watch the tulips nod their forlorn heads at the onslaught.

High above them, the apple blossom is juxtaposed on the darkest grey of storm filled sky. Just those particular shades of pink and grey that complement each other perfectly.

Then, just a few days later, it is May, and with it comes the sun, and the lawnmowers, and the laughter of the neighbours’ children on their scooters.

The tulips pose regally, charming all who take the time to admire their velvet buds and blooms.

Noticing these small doses – healing doses – of reality. To capture a shape, or a sound, or a colour that lifts the spirit, if only for a moment.

Hope you are all well, and enjoy some healing moments this coming weekend.

Kim x

 

Nature’s Art

Watercolour Leaves

Years ago when I first started blogging, I did so because I had started to learn to draw and paint and I wanted to share my attempts as a way to encourage myself to keep going as well as sharing some of the beauty of nature as much as my beginning efforts allowed.

I’ve kind of veered away from making art over the last year, and I’ve noticed my life is the lesser for it. I miss collecting small treasures of leaves, acorns and stones from the garden or while walking and trying to present what I see with paper, line, shape, colour. Lately I’ve been returning to the practice. I have some beautiful books on botanical and natural history illustration by Rosie Martin that I am working through. It takes continual effort to not get frustrated with my lack of skill and to focus on the process, but I’m getting there.

I intend to return to sharing more of my drawings and paintings here, along with a few words in the form of a nature journal or a poem or short story. I’d like to keep notes on the weather, wildlife, flora, and other aspects of the natural world. There is so much happening that we miss if we don’t pay attention. And life’s too short not to pay attention.

Blackberry-Picking

Blackberries

Blackberry Picking
~ Seamus Heaney

Late August, given heavy rain and sun
For a full week, the blackberries would ripen.
At first, just one, a glossy purple clot
Among others, red, green, hard as a knot.
You ate that first one and its flesh was sweet
Like thickened wine: summer's blood was in it
Leaving stains upon the tongue and lust for
Picking. Then red ones inked up and that hunger
Sent us out with milk cans, pea tins, jam-pots
Where briars scratched and wet grass bleached our boots.
Round hayfields, cornfields and potato-drills
We trekked and picked until the cans were full,
Until the tinkling bottom had been covered
With green ones, and on top big dark blobs burned
Like a plate of eyes. Our hands were peppered
With thorn pricks, our palms sticky as Bluebeard's.

We hoarded the fresh berries in the byre.
But when the bath was filled we found a fur,
A rat-grey fungus, glutting on our cache.
The juice was stinking too. Once off the bush
The fruit fermented, the sweet flesh would turn sour.
I always felt like crying. It wasn't fair
That all the lovely canfuls smelt of rot.
Each year I hoped they'd keep, knew they would not.


The day started cold so we wrapped ourselves in woollies and scarves. It was a little late in the season for berry-picking and I thought all the juiciest fruit might be long gone. It was clear many hands had been here before us, but we were lucky to come away with several bowlfuls.

The dry summer meant the berries were small and bead-like without the rain to plump them up. What remained were mostly ripe though. They fell from the branches as quick as we could catch them, hanging trapped in cobwebs or disappearing into the long grass. Trying not to get our fingers and arms scraped by the thorns we gathered as many as we could leaving the highest – a late summer feast for the birds.

One of my earliest memories is of blackberry-picking while staying with an aunt and uncle. It is a yearly tradition that’s followed me through life including taking my children as they grew up. It is one of those activities that reminds me how the years pass. The berries cycle through change – they flower, ripen and die – again and again, and yet still some things remain the same.

A couple of hours of picking and chatting to the passing dog-walkers we hardly noticed the sun breaking through the clouds and start to warm our backs. We shed some of our layers and set off home.

Unlike the narrator of Seamus’s poem, we collected our berries in tupperware pots. Not so aesthetically pleasing perhaps, but at least now the berries are washed and safely stowed in the freezer and not at risk of rotting.

If you’re looking for some recipes that will make a change from jam, and crumble and pie… nice though they are, of course… I’ve found a couple that I hope to try: this recipe for Blackberry Bread and this one for Traditional Blackberry Cobbler look simple and delicious. I’m off to go nurse my scratches.

 

The Evening Light

Fingernail Moon

In the evenings, I’ve been weeding and clearing the flower and vegetable beds, trying to bring a little order to the wildness and make space for springtime seeds and bulbs. The rain has softened the hard summer soil and the spade slides in with ease.

The air is still. Although I can hear the distant cars, there are fewer now, as most people are home from work and settling in for the night. I hear the slam of a car door and listen to the song of the blackbirds. A robin hops from fence-post to compost bin trying to attract my attention, chirping and flashing his berry breast.

The fruiting cherry tree was pot bound in its container so I’ve planted it out into the garden now and there are daffodils and other bulbs that need bedding before the ground gets too hard and cold. I’m sorry to say I’ve neglected the garden a bit this year – not cared for it quite as much as I should.

Once I get started though, I’m so engrossed in what I’m doing I barely notice the fading light – until I can’t see whether what I’m holding is sage or brambles – then I know it’s time to go inside.

30 Days Wild: Ant Colony

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I lifted my garden parasol the other day to find this intricate ant kingdom beneath it. It’s quite a work of art with its labyrinthine passageways don’t you think?

I did feel guilty for upsetting the hundreds of ants who went a little crazy on finding themselves exposed to the daylight. However, they have since taken up residence on the lawn and seem to have settled into making their new home.

These were black ants or Lasius Niger. If you look closely you can see the larvae. It won’t be long before some of them grow wings and take flight to make new nests elsewhere.

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Vincients Wood

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We recently took a wander through a small ancient wood in the nearby town of Chippenham. It is our nearest wildlife trust site, and I was amazed to have never been there before as it was only about a mile from where I grew up.

Hidden and completely enclosed by dual carriageway and housing estates, it is surprising this little gem of woodland survives at all.

The trees, oak, ash and maple form a canopy, muffling some of the outside sounds. A robin hopped from tree stump to hawthorn as we wandered down the overgrown paths.

Despite the noise of the nearby road, it is still a pleasant place to spend a couple of hours. The air was cool and clean and otherworldly, the wood anemones were in flower and the ground was wet through with the smell of damp wood and crumbling leaves.

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30 Days Wild

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The Wildlife Trust are running the 30 Days of Wild Challenge again this year. Through the month of June we are encouraged to do something wild every day. This is a great way to draw our attention to reconnecting with wild nature and feel happier, healthier and enlivened as a result.

We are, in essence, wild creatures, and we ignore this part of ourselves at our peril. Just taking a little time out of each day to sit, walk, observe, touch, taste this amazing wild world of ours is just the antidote for the stresses of modern living.

Some ideas listed on the website to commit random acts of wildness:

  • Feel the wild landscapes through the soles of your feet – sand, grass, pebbles, water
  • Wear daisies & dandelions to jazz up any outfit – in your hair or round your wrist
  • Switch off all gadgets for a day: no phones, tablets or computers. Tune in to nature
  • Taste sweet wild elderflowers in cordial, soda water or sparkling wine
  • Encourage wild at work with bird feeders, a herb box or outdoor meetings

Many of us already have a close relationship with the natural world, I know there’s rarely a day I don’t go for a walk or spend a few minutes in the garden, but this is a wonderful way to make a more focused effort and join in with a community of nature lovers.

I hope to post some of my experiences on this blog over the next month, if you’d like to join in just tag your posts #30DaysWild and enjoy making room for nature a regular part of your life.

Avebury

Avebury Stone Circle

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These are some photos I took in early Autumn last year, when Emily, my mum, and I visited the prehistoric stone circles at Avebury. We are lucky living so close to many wonderful places like this; Avebury is only 13 miles away so was perfect for a wander on a dry cloudy morning.

There are three stone circles here; the monument is about 5000 years old. Two thousand years before that, this area of Britain was dense oak forest with little human occupation. As society began to change from hunter-gatherers to settling down and producing their own food, the domestication of animals and plants led to the area being cleared for grassland. Instead of building tombs the neolithic people began to build large circles of wood and stone of which there are hundreds of examples all over the British Isles. The purpose of these sites is not clear, but they’re thought possibly to have been erected for ritual or religious purposes.

The outer circle or ‘henge’ at Avebury originally contained 98 sarsen standing stones, some over 40 tons in weight. Within this outer ring are two smaller circles. It takes a couple of hours to walk the full perimeter of chalky grassland which is abundant with  wildflowers.

In the early medieval period Anglo-Saxon tribes following the Pagan religion later claimed the monument for their own, and there are still ritual Pagan celebrations held here.

Later, as most of England converted to Christianity, the Christians feared the monument was associated with the devil and proceeded to destroy the circles by pulling them down and burying them. During the toppling, a man became trapped and crushed. Unable to be removed because of the weight of the stones, his body remained trapped for hundreds of years.

The Black Death pandemic in 1349 would have taken the Christians minds off the demolition and so most of the stones we see today were left standing.

Archaeologists re-erected many of the fallen stones in 1938 and discovered and excavated the trapped skeleton. Along with his body, a pouch was found containing silver coins, iron scissors and a lancet – evidence that he had been a barber-surgeon.

As a world heritage site Avebury is carefully looked after, and the tiny village that nestles among the stones is a picture postcard of thatched cottages and climbing roses. It is a shame that the national trust feel it necessary to charge astronomical car parking prices for local people, even when we just want to go for a couple of hours walk around the stones!

Coming here with my mother and daughter makes the history of this place even more poignant because I remember visiting Avebury as a child. The photograph below was taken about 30 years ago – it is my late brother and I standing against one of the stones. I remember the day like it was yesterday. Though I cannot comprehend the age of the stones – it is too much time to imagine – I wonder how long they will remain here, and how many more generations of my family will come to visit this sacred place.

Avebury stones

The Ichneumon Wasp

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I spotted this eye-catching creature sat on a munched-up rose-leaf in the garden. Dark black with white spots and bands. It looks like someone has gone a little mad with a bottle of Tippex.

I thought it was an unusual variety of fly munching on my roses, but the truth, which I found after some research, was much more grizzly and horrifying. This is one of the species of Ichneumon wasps, a parasitic wasp that injects its eggs into the larvae and pupae of beetles, butterflies and moths. Once hatched, they devour the insides of these poor creatures, eating them alive. The host eventually dies, allowing the larva to emerge and pupate into the wasp you see here.

In a letter to naturalist Asa Gray, Charles Darwin wrestled with the truth of nature’s cruelty:

“I own that I cannot see as plainly as others do, and as I should wish to do, evidence of design and beneficence on all sides of us. There seems to me too much misery in the world. I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent and omnipotent God would have designedly created the Ichneumonidae with the express intention of their feeding within the living bodies of caterpillars, or that a cat should play with mice.”

… a gruesome but fascinating insect… though I do hope I haven’t spoiled your dinner. 😉