Earth Marvels

IMG_1117ed

If ever I were to begin to pin down my beliefs, then I might say they relate to earth, the planet, the universe, the creative forces that we humans scarcely understand, although that doesn’t stop us from telling ourselves plenty of stories about them. Indeed, throughout our short existence on the planet, it seems we have always told such tales, and it’s probably worth considering how many of them have proved false and fanciful.

And so when it comes to taking photographs, these are the kinds of thoughts that may be drifting through my mind. I mean, really – existentially – how do you explain this peacock butterfly – its form, colours and intricacies of behaviour? Of course for taxonomic purposes, entomologists may have a great deal to say on all these aspects, but in the natural scheme of things this organism simply IS, albeit occupying its own very particular evolutionary time and space.

Through my human eyes, then,  I see it as a marvel, because I also judge it to be beautiful and so worthy of my full attention. It is also very pleasing, exhilarating even, to see it, take its photo and then to share it. So in this sense it is also a celebration. At the same time I note that I am, as most people would be, uneager to similarly celebrate housefly larvae, dust mites, garden slugs or sooty mould; yet they all have their place in the biosphere. All of which is to say we humans are very selective when it comes to the things we ‘see’ and don’t ‘see’. I also think it’s worth thinking about this proclivity when it comes to our earth stories.

For now though, more celebratory earth snaps from today’s August garden. It’s bee and bug heaven out there…

IMG_1080

IMG_1072

IMG_1050

*

And yesterday I discovered a newcomer to the garden. This is one of a host of tiny bees presently foraging on the tansy flowers over the fence in the guerrilla garden. They are less than a half inch/centimetre long with banded abdomens of yellow or bluey-grey tones. I think they are a Colletes species/plasterer bees and therefore fairly recent arrivals in the UK.

IMG_1043

IMG_1063ed

IMG_1099ed

IMG_1035

*

Lens-Artists: What’s your photographic groove?  Anne at Slow Shutter Speed  wants to know. Please pop over to her blog.

In Case The Flood Comes

attenuation pond ed

Our small and ancient town of Much Wenlock sits in a hollow beneath Wenlock Edge. The Edge itself is an uptilted Silurian seabed, formed some 400 million years ago, and the farm fields around the town rise steeply to the Edge top. In consequence, flash flooding has long been a problem and in recent years (after the 2007 storms when the town centre was badly inundated) our locality has been designated a rapid response flood risk zone, the danger coming mostly from field run-off feeding onto roads and lanes that run into the town.

And so finally in 2017, after much humming and ha-ing, the Local Authority commissioned engineers to excavate two flood attenuation ponds at either end of the town. They are basically reverse reservoirs in that they remain empty with the aim of catching up the worst of any flood should a particularly bad rainstorm hit the Edge.

One of the ponds is at the top of Townsend Meadow, behind our house, and given the upward slope of the field, I found myself much taken with the sight of the big digger and dumper on my horizon  as the work was underway. I think I’m also happy to have the pond above our house, although the Farrell domain did not flood in 2007, and some experts have equivocal views about the utility of attenuation ponds in rapid-run-off situations. Anyway, so far so good. Besides which, the guerrilla garden behind the garden fence is on a small rise and forms something of bund to protect us.

Now for more digger views, far and near:

attenuation pond digger

attentuation pond 1 ed

Cee’s Black & White Photo Challenge: Busy with purpose

Trio Of Photo-Favourites From ‘The Old Africa Album’

Mzee Lali

This first photo of Mzee Lali having a nap, with three full-sail Lamu dhows  in our wake  has to be my absolute favourite photograph. It was sheer chance that a) the scene composed itself so beautifully, b) I was alert enough to snap it and c) my Olympus-trip was not on the wrong setting.

It was Boxing Day and we had been out cruising the Manda Strait for several hours. In the morning some of our small party went in for a spot of snorkelling out on the reef. Next, using baited lines, we caught a few little fish which Lali and his nephew Athman scaled and cleaned. At noon when we were moored off Manda Island, Lali waded ashore and knelt down on the beach to pray. Then lunch was prepared, the fish grilled on a portable charcoal (jiko) stove and served up with freshly chopped coleslaw. Delicious.

In the afternoon we meandered back along the strait between the mangrove forests, waiting for the wind to pick up. We passed a large dhow taxi, utterly becalmed, engine stalled. It was brimful with laughing, chattering passengers, all hopeful  that some time or other they would finally reach Lamu mainland to visit their relations.

*

Robert Omondi ed

This photo was taken a few years later. It’s a favourite because it was a chance meeting that pretty much sums up all that is so powerfully positive about young Kenyans. We were staying at Safariland Lodge on  the shores of Lake Naivasha. Graham was hosting a conference of international crop pest scientists, and I was spending the days wandering around the place, bird watching. One afternoon I met Robert Omondi on the hotel mooring. He sold me one of the hand written booklets he had made, its topic the ecology of Lake Naivasha and the water sources that fed into it. He was visiting all the hotels and lodges along the lake, selling copies where he could, and so raising funds for his next term’s school fees.

*

And finally a photo to prove to myself I was actually there, although even at the time I took it, it was hard to believe. Besides which, the Great Rift Valley is almost impossible to photograph and give any true sense of scale or depth. If there isn’t a heat haze, there is often a fog. I was standing somewhere north of Nairobi, on the east escarpment highway which runs up to 9,000 feet above sea level. Below, in the foreground, is Escarpment location, a community of smallholder farmers. The bright green of the plots suggests it must be the main growing season after good rains. In the Rift bottom are the wheat and barley fields of larger-scale farmers, the crater of defunct volcano, Longonot on the left. The low road to Lake Naivasha runs north beneath it along the valley floor.

Escarpment

Lens-Artists: picking favourites This week Sarah at Travel With Me  invites us to choose three favourite photos (not necessarily absolute favourites). Please go and see her three stunning choices.

Roadside Creations

Harare soapstone carver mono

It’s back to the old Africa album for Cee’s ‘made by humans’ theme because it was while I was thinking what to post, that I suddenly remembered here was something I really missed from our years living in Kenya and Zambia: the roadside artists and artisans who, day in and day out, made some truly wonderful creations.  In fact we did most of our best shopping on the pavement – from the decorative to the solidly functional.

The header photo is a young soapstone sculptor in downtown Harare, taken during a road trip to Zimbabwe from Zambia. Meanwhile in Lusaka, here are the furniture makers who made beds of every kind, including ours, from repurposed air freight cases:

Kamwala roadside furniture market mono

*

And while I’m here,  a more recent shot of one of my favourite baskets, made by the Tonga women of Zambia’s Southern Province. I use it for storing sewing and knitting bits and bobs.

mono

Cee’s Black & White Photo Challenge: Human-made

Stranger Than Fiction

P1080542ed

And Shropshire’s Stiperstones with its brooding Devil’s Chair outcrop has indeed provided the setting for several works of fiction: the novels of Mary Webb, Malcolm Saville’s still popular Lone Pine adventure stories for children, and also D.H. Lawrence’s novella St. Mawr. And naturally, given its dramatic looks, it also features in local myths and legends, particularly those associated with Wild Edric, the Saxon earl who refused to surrender his lands to the Norman invaders and stirred up rebellion, allying himself with the Welsh princes of Gwynedd and Powys just over the border.

In real life it is an utterly strange place. These photos were taken on a summer’s day, but somehow, when we reached the hilltop, the light leached away. Even so, the grey-white quartzite outcrops seemed to have an unsettling luminosity.  The photos I took using the monochrome setting on my camera are especially other worldly. There also appears to be an odd patch of mist on the next photo. I can’t explain it.

P1080574ed

P1080557ed

*

And in colour, too, the landscape’s disturbing presence is scarcely diminished:

P1080552ed

*

Lens-Artists: Surreal This week Tracy challenges us to post some surreal images, and believe me, she has her own very original take on the topic. Go see for yourselves.

Regaining Our Cool

IMG_0983ed

Well, it was pretty hot in Wenlock on Tuesday – 33-34C (bottom 90sF), this being the temperature given for Telford, our nearest big town. But then on Wednesday we were dropped back to 22C (72F) max and deeply gloomy skies. The breeze was back too. In fact yesterday afternoon when I took this photo, it was positively draughty walking along the Linden Walk; also very dry. You can see the wind blowing up a dust storm from the grass mower on the left.

At midday, as I write, my PC says it’s 14C (57F), and the forecast from our local weather station at RAF Shawbury indicates top temperatures of 17-24C (62-75F) for next nine days: https://www.weatherhq.co.uk/raf-shawbury/10d  The main thing though, we should have some rain tomorrow. Fingers crossed.

But, one asks, where did all that 2-day heat wave go? And how did it come in the first place? The explanations I’ve read state it was a burst of hot air out of North Africa pushed across Europe by a high pressure zone, a congruence of  events caused by a change in the jet stream, that mysterious air current whose meanderings appear to be responsible for all sorts of weather anomalies.

Of course in the Northern Hemisphere, this kind of heat wave has happened quite a few times over the past century. Such weather events not only came with extreme temperatures, but were often brutally long. The 1930s were particularly bad for overheated summers. This was the Dust Bowl era on the North American Great Plains, a time when (according to this Nature paper) there were 22 heat wave days per summer in Central US, and the maximum record temperatures reached then still stood at the time of 2019 US heat wave.

In Britain in August 1930 temperatures reached 34C, building over four days but, as seems to have happened this year, the high suddenly retreated allowing cool weather to move in.

Earlier, in 1911, people in Europe and America were not let off so lightly. The New England Historical Society HERE documents graphic accounts and photographs of the 11 days of sweltering heat that hit 44C/112F in the shade, said to have driven some people mad. Meanwhile in Britain the Wikipedia entry says the heat wave built from July through to September with a top temperature of 36.7C/98F. And in France, the 70-day broiling resulted in a horrendous death toll (scroll down for the English text.)

So all in all, uncomfortable as it was for many, it seems we got off lightly with a two-day baking. But many thanks to all fellow bloggers who expressed good wishes and concern. Much appreciated.

Cool Cool Convolvulus But Hot On The Plot

IMG_0957ed

We’re having a two-day heatwave here in the UK, temperatures in the 30s. That our summers for the last few years have been fairly heat-free seems to have erased memories that in times past we also had heatwaves. I remember baking to a crisp day after day on a Welsh beach back in the mid-1950s, and that was in May. And then there was the prolonged drought of 1975-76 when, due to severe water shortages, bathing with a friend was the catch phrase du jour. Wikipedia says this about that year:

Heathrow had 16 consecutive days over 30 °C (86 °F) from 23 June to 8 July[ and for 15 consecutive days from 23 June to 7 July temperatures reached 32.2 °C (90 °F) somewhere in England. Furthermore, five days saw temperatures exceed 35 °C (95 °F). On 28 June, temperatures reached 35.6 °C (96.1 °F) in Southampton, the highest June temperature recorded in the UK. The hottest day of all was 3 July, with temperatures reaching 35.9 °C (96.6 °F) in Cheltenham.

Whatever the weather, this gardener usually tries to avoid going away during the main growing season. At the best of times, watering the allotment vegetable plots and polytunnel seems too big an ask of fellow allotmenteers, and especially so during a dry spell. Summer for me, then, means garden watch. And so with the promise of a hot day ahead, this morning I was off to the allotment at 6 a.m. to see what rescue remedies might be needed after yesterday’s heat.

I needn’t have worried. The polytunnel (a sweat-inducing structure even in coolish weather) was fine. I’d left both doors open and the tomatoes, cucumbers and aubergines, lettuce and herbs looked happy enough. Meanwhile out on the plot, and since I was there, I damped down the mulch around the climbing peas and beans, courgettes and sweet corn, then picked raspberries that were looking a bit cooked, and gave vulnerable beetroot and leek seedlings a good soak.

IMG_0892

IMG_0919

IMG_0942ed

IMG_0929

IMG_0913ed

IMG_0910

*

And then I wandered around and took these photos, and was home by 8 a.m., by which time it was definitely warming up.  The BBC forecast says 35 C now at midday, though the Norwegian Met Office site YR (which I usually follow as it’s pretty good) says 34. In any event, it will be a much cooler 22C max tomorrow, and in the 20s for the rest of the week. I just hope we get some meaningful rain showers along with the returning coolness.

*

IMG_0956ed

*

Back in the home garden, the borders are definitely struggling  through lack of rain. I can’t begin to water everything. The driest area is over the back fence in the guerrilla garden. Plants there simply have to take their chances, but even so, the tansy and golden rod are running rampant, towering over my head, and the late flowering Michaelmas daisies and helianthus are catching up. Meanwhile Ann Thomson geranium is holding her own against the lot of them. She may get cooked each day, but she’s still comes back flowering each morning. Oh, for such repeat resilience.

IMG_0970ed

IMG_0969

IMG_0966ed

And this summer in the garden I’m really pleased to find that one of my favourite  wild flowers, yellow toadflax, has decided to colonise the upstairs path. I grew it from seed a couple of years ago, and now it’s taken off. I first fell in love with it as a child, on trips into the Shropshire hills where it grows along the lane verges in high summer…

IMG_0961ed

*

And talking of the Shropshire hills, I’ll leave you with summer views of the Shropshire-Wales borderland, taken a week or so ago on a visit to Mitchell’s Fold prehistoric stone circle.

IMG_0865ed

IMG_0862ed

Lens-Artists: Summer Vibes

This week Solaner has set the challenge.

Reflections: Looking Back On Tiwi Reef

sea and sky on the reef at Tiwi ed

Today in Shropshire we are having a heatwave – 26 C which is hot for us. It’s making me think of Kenya days when we used to spend Christmas (the hottest season) on the South Mombasa coast. We took all our best friends and family there. So: fond, if long ago, thoughts of grilled reef fish and lobsters bought from the local fishermen, and daily visits from the vegetable seller who pushed his sturdy Chinese bike along the coral paths, the black frame slung with raffia panniers, the contents garnered from his shamba – pawpaws, tomatoes, red onions, tiny hen’s eggs, warty lemons, a pepper or two.

Of course it was steamy there beside the Indian Ocean, but breezy too, and the verandaed beach cottages, following the local style, were built to catch it – tall makuti thatched roofs, large unglazed windows shaded by louvered shutters with moveable slats. Billowing mosquito nets over the beds. The outside sounds blowing in, crickets in the hot grass, finch chatter in the Madagascar flame trees, plangent call of the water bottle bird emptying its flask, a descending doo-doo-doo-doo…then waft of frangipani, and further off, the ocean crashing on the reef. The smell of the sea. Aaaah! Tusker beer, anyone?

sunrise on the lagoon ed

dawn over Tiwi lagoon ed

ed

Lens-Artists: seeing double This week Jez has set the challenge. He has some stunning reflections on show.

Centred At Wenlock Priory

p1000494

Of course for centuries Much Wenlock Priory was the centre of things for the ordinary folk who lived along Wenlock Edge and across the River Severn beyond Ironbridge. And I don’t only mean for the saving of their souls or temporal spiritual guidance. Successive priors were effectively CEOs of a large agricultural and industrial business enterprise. They ruled over an extensive landed estate in much the same way as powerful feudal lords of the manor ruled over their serfs and villeins.

The Priors laid down the law. They exacted rents, tithes and substantial death duties from the community, while the peasant smallholders, who were their rent-paying tenants, were obliged to provide a considerable amount of their labour –  ploughing, harvesting, transporting goods. The Priory was also a big wool producer and it was involved in industrial enterprises such as quarrying, milling, extracting coal, operating an iron-making bloomery in Coalbrookdale, and so presumably relying on members of the 18 local serf families to do much of this work.

The Priory also did very nicely when anyone died. One third (a terciar) of the value of the deceased person’s moveable goods would be claimed. In 1377 when John Brice a local lord of the manor died, his executors had to pay out 5 oxen, plus a further third in value of 5 cows, 7 horses, 132 sheep, 90 ewes, 75 lambs, 2 silver spoons, and 3 drinking bowls with silver decoration. Other terciar records indicate that people’s every last possession was weighed up (in all senses). This might include the value of meat in the larder, the iron parts of a plough, corn in the barn, pans and axes, a worn out harrow all converted to monetary worth and paid in coin (Wenlock in the Middle Ages  W F Mumford).

It is thus pleasing to know that there were moments when the Prior’s powers were well and truly challenged. In 1163 the villeins rebelled and ‘threw down their ploughshares’, calling for the repressive Prior to be deposed. The monks’ response was to excommunicate the lot, a truly horrifying penalty at the time. This only led to a riot. The church was besieged and knights called in to save the monks. But in the end the Prior was forced to hold an enquiry before a committee of knights and monks who, it seemed, listened to the villeins’ grievances and effected a compromise. In the following centuries, as the villeins’ own economic power grew, they were more and more able to demand payment for their services (A History of Much Wenlock Vivien Bellamy).

But with all this taxing and tithing, you can well see why in 1540 Thomas Cromwell wanted to get his hands on, as in liberate, the accumulated wealth of nation’s monastic houses. And here in Wenlock we still have the end result, nearly 6 centuries on – the dissolved relics of one of Europe’s most prestigious monasteries.

P1100067ed

Cee’s Black & White Photo Challenge: Centred

The Changing Seasons: This Was June

IMG_0777cr

A Horse Chestnut sun-catcher, as spotted on the old railway line below the Linden Walk. Such a cool and bosky spot on warm summer days, not that we have had very many of those. And we’ve certainly not had ‘flaming June’ except for a couple of windless days when it was warm enough to eat out in the upstairs garden.

IMG_0775ed

All the same, those few warm days did seem excessively hot to those of us still clinging to our winter underwear and especially to the MacMoo lads in their shaggy coats. They were driven to the shadow-margins of the Cutlins meadow to try and keep cool.

IMG_0807

*

While out on the Linden Field, human lads stripped off for a spot of football practice.

IMG_0790ed

*

In Townsend Meadow behind the house, this year’s crop of field beans is thriving. Early in the spring the plants struggled mightily due to lack of rain, but June’s cycle of showers and intermittent sun and cool temperatures has seen them shoot up and burst into flower. They are a variety of broad bean that produce masses of pea pod sized pods, each packed with several haricot sized beans. In Britain we mostly use them for animal feed and the bulk of the crops are exported to countries like Egypt where they are in great demand for human consumption.

Maybe as a nation, we should be rethinking this. The plants grow well in lacklustre weather, though wind can be problematic. And although the beans are fiddly to pod (I’ve grown my own good crop at the allotment), they are delicious, nutrient rich and only take a minute to steam or boil. The only problem was, this year they were ready all at once, and while I was hoping they would precede the main broad bean crop, the broad beans started cropping early. Upshot: eat the broad beans, freeze the field beans for making refried beans later in the year. But just look at the flowers. Aren’t they extraordinary?

IMG_0755ed

IMG_0759ed

IMG_0794ed

*

In the Farrell garden all is getting above itself – especially the cat mint. I don’t know what’s got into it this year. It’s the sort of plant I tend to ignore, nice enough as a wafty foil for more showy plants in summer borders, and that’s about it. But now it seems intent on taking over the upstairs garden, and what with the blue geranium joining in, Graham is having to fight his way through the encroaching undergrowth to reach the shed.

IMG_0799ed

*

Meanwhile Rose Teasing Georgia has been and gone. Lovely while she was with us looking in at the kitchen door. She should flower again later in the summer:

IMG_0769ed

*

Over the garden fence in the guerrilla garden where all the late summer bloomers are busy putting on stems metres tall, Geranium Anne Thomson is fighting her corner. She’s such a worthwhile garden plant – flowering her socks off all summer:

IMG_0804

*

And on the downstairs terrace the ruby red Centranthus has been the main June attraction, along with Penelope rose who this year has been growing us huge single stemmed  bouquets, now sadly past their best. She’s a lovely sweet smelling rose – a shrub variety that can be trained to be a climber on shortish walls.

IMG_0797ed

 IMG_0796ed

*

At the allotment, beans and peas and spuds and beetroot are growing well, tomatoes and salad stuff in the polytunnel, but I’ve not taken many photos apart from ones of the flat-pack cat and the wildflower plots of moon daisies:

IMG_0832ed

IMG_0827ed

*

Oh yes, and this evening view of the town as I’m heading home to make supper:

IMG_0840ed

The Changing Seasons Ju-Lyn and Brian are the hosts. Please pay them a visit.