April evening bright, cold and clear

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Gosh, but the April air is chilly here in Wenlock, even when the sun shines and distracts us. I gather it’s all the fault of the North Atlantic Oscillation which has dropped into negative zones and is drawing cold air from an unusually frigid Arctic. The weather people say there’s more cold air to come so it looks like spring, here in the northern hemisphere, might be late this year.

I took these photos from the kitchen door the other evening. As ever, the teasels up in the guerrilla garden continue to catch my eye, and I’m putting off cutting them down. At this time of year the garden-over-the-fence does not look promising. Very flat and wintered. But then it’s also just the moment to discourage some of the more tenacious weeds which are popping up there – couch grass and ground elder in particular. Except now the allotment plot is calling and that’s where all my effort is being deployed. So many compost heaps to turn over, and bins to turn out in hopes finding enough of something useful to spread on the raised beds.

Climbing peas and broad beans have been started off in pots, the onions and the first early Swift potatoes are in the ground, and it’s time to start clearing the polytunnel of winter greens to make space for the tomato and cucumber plants which are presently in the conservatory at home, along with trays of cabbage and cauli and perennial flower seedlings. They will all need hardening off, but not yet.

And there we have a problem. He-who-binds-books-in-winter-and-lives-in-my-house is now set on the outdoor pursuit of dismantling said conservatory (which though presently useful to this gardener, we both agree is hateful) and erecting in its place against our other back door, a lean-to greenhouse whose parts are presently lying in boxes in our sitting room.

It’s one of those projects that will be wonderful when done, but the getting there is fraught with many acts of plant juggling, issues of meteorological conflict and potential domestic unrest between gardener and demolition man. Prickly times ahead. I will  keep you informed.

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Bright Square #15

Jackdaw Jack With An Eye For The Bright

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The telegraph pole over our garden wall provides a handy look-out for jackdaw-kind. These, the smallest of Britain’s crow family, are renowned, like magpies, for their thieving ways and proclivities for bling. But they are companionable birds. They mate for life, and form large flocks. They also gather with rooks and starlings, joining in their aerial sundowner displays.

The common name derives from their call: tchak-tchak, but they have many other apt descriptors including ‘chimney-sweep bird’. Anyone who has ever had to remove a jackdaws’ nest in their chimney will never forget the astounding deluge of soot and sticks and bird detritus. So if you have an unguarded chimney be warned. They do like the pots to nest in; also holes in trees and nooks in castle ruins.

I’m wondering what this one is thinking about. It looks like a bird with a plan.

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Bird Weekly #42  Lisa at Our Eyes Open wants to see what we’ve seen bird-wise in the past fortnight

Bright Square #13

This is not an osprey…

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…it’s a reed bunting, but it’s the only good bird photo I managed to take when we visited the marvellous Dyfy Osprey Centre  a summer or so ago. The osprey nest was too far away for my little zoom lens to cope with and the light was poor.

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But the good news is the ospreys are back to breed in the Dyfy estuary, and an egg is expected any day now. Since last year the project has upped its game on the live streaming and camera quality. You can tune in here and check on progress:

Dyfi Osprey Project: 2021 Live Stream – YouTube

Bright Square #11

Bright Water, Wild Breakers

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The coast in winter is a special place. When we came to Port Wrinkle beach on a late December morning we found the seascape lived up to its name. From the clifftop at least the incoming tide looked scenically ‘wrinkled’.

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But down on the shore it was another story. Those ‘wrinkles’ reared and unravelled with such force they left you breathless. This was Cornwall where for centuries past communities had depended on the sea, and not only for fish, but for smuggling and the harvesting of washed up cargos from wrecked ships. Soon you were wondering how it would be if life and livelihood meant the daily taking on of such seas. Would you have the heart for it?

You know you wouldn’t. But never mind. We were only there to look. And spectators can afford to be thrilled. And so thrilled we were. Bring on the white horses!

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copyright 2021 Tish Farrell

Cee’s Black & White Photo Challenge: words beginning with B and W

Bright Square #9

Of Windflowers And Pileworts

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That would be wood anemones and lesser celandines – the bright stars of English wildflowerdom. The celandines have been flowering for weeks and weeks and usually are among the first spring bloomers. It’s hard not to smile when you first spot their mini-sunbursts popping out the dreary over-wintered grass.

This year they have also colonised our front flower bed that runs down to the road. There must have been hosts of seeds among the wood chippings that I gathered up last year after tree and branch felling in the Linden Field. A double bonus then: first the autumn mulch, then an unforeseen spring flowering. They grow very low to the ground in coronets of lush green leaves, and so have most discreetly filled gaps between the daffodil clumps. I expect I’ll let them stay. The pilewort common name of course denotes an old herbal application.

I’m not expecting any wood anemones to emerge from the front garden mulch. As their name suggests, they prefer wooded terrain, or at least ground where woodland once was. I found the one in the photo growing beside the path between the Linden Field and Windmill Hill, under the oaks and conifers, keeping company with primroses and violets and dog’s mercury and wild arum. Legend has it that only the wind will make them open their delicate petals. I beg to differ. When I took this one’s photo it was embracing the sun full-on, as you can see. The next day when I returned to the same spot, the anemones were all hanging their heads and shivering in the cold wind. With no sunshine on offer, they looked like bedraggled waifs, much hard-done-by.

Today in Shropshire the snow flurries have stopped. We have sun and wind. A good moment then to check on the plant life in the Linden Field, and also to gather supplies from a fresh cache of wood chips from a felled oak tree. They chips are brilliant for allotment paths and dosing the hot compost bin. The things one does!

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Copyright 2021 Tish Farrell

Bright Square #8

“…the bright day is done…

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…and we are for the dark.”

The back of our cottage looks towards the edge of Wenlock Edge, we atop the twenty-mile escarpment, the land dropping off to the west, falling straight, many hundred feet,  through hanging woods of beech and ash, oak and yew, wild cherry and service trees, hornbeams, whitebeams, wych elm, field maple, chestnuts, holly, hazel and lime; these the trees that settled here, each species in its own time as the ice sheet retreated from Shropshire some ten thousand years ago and the new soils built up on our 400 million-year-old upthrust seabed.

This thought of departing ice and arriving soil and trees reminds me that the climate has always changed, and is ever changing; even during ice ages there were warm periods. In one such warm phase 125,000 years ago, animals that we of the north now associate exclusively with Africa – hippos, lions, elephants, hyena inhabited the Thames basin where the city of London now sprawls. It’s quite some thought. Another is, and not so flippantly either, that today’s wind across the Edge is so bitingly frigid, that it rouses the suspicion in this gardener’s mind that we might actually be heading for colder times.

All of which is to say that the congruence of time and climate and geology have much to do with the fine skyscape displays behind our house. That the land drops away beyond the Edge provides us, on this side, with a false horizon, and thus expansive views of atmospheric activity, ever shifting and endlessly absorbing. This particular sunset (header photo) appeared during our recent brief warm spell. A few days ago it came instead with ice-pink ribbons.

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Quote from Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra act V, sc 2, l 192

Copyright 2021 Tish Farrell

Bright Square #7

“And imitate the stars celestial…

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Magnolia stellata in yesterday’s spring gale

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“Learn then to dance, you that are princes born,
And lawful lords of earthly creatures all;
Imitate them, and therefore take no scorn,
For this new art to them is natural.
And imitate the stars celestial;
For when pale death your vital twist shall sever,
Your better parts must dance with them forever.”

 

Stanza 60 from Orchestra  or Poem of Dancing by Sir John Davies English poet, lawyer and politician (1569- 1626). You can find the full work HERE.

And more about Sir John Davies HERE.

But for now, why not do as the poet and Mr. Bowie says: Let’s Dance…

 

Bright Square #6

“Loveliest Of Trees, The Cherry Now…

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Loveliest of trees, the cherry now

Is hung with bloom along the bough,

And stands about the woodland ride

Wearing white for Eastertide.

 

Now, of my threescore years and ten,

Twenty will not come again,

And take from seventy springs a score,

It only leaves me fifty more.

 

And since to look at things in bloom

Fifty springs are little room,

About the woodlands I will go

To see the cherry hung with snow.

A E Housman A Shropshire Lad

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The Loveliest of Trees is the second poem from the Shropshire Lad  cycle, and probably the one best known.  It is easy from today’s perspective to dismiss the apparent simplicity, sometimes ditty-like quality of these poems. But Housman was a scholar of Olympian proportions, an atheist too and, it is said, suffering in love for a man who could never love him in return. Sensibilities run deep here.

The verses speak of love and loss and going to war; the fleetingness of things; all set against landscapes seen only in the mind’s eye, or as if looking from a long way off across time and space. There are many voices too, even ghostly ones, the sense of old country airs remembered. It is not surprising that they spoke so compellingly to composers who then set many of the poems to music: George Butterworth (Bredon Hill and Other Songs), Ralph Vaughan Williams (On Wenlock Edge), Ivor Gurney (The Western Playland), Samuel Barber (With rue my heart is laden ) to name a few.

Here is Butterworth’s evocation of the cherry tree, sung with perfect poise by Roderick Williams. If you choose to listen you may imagine Shropshire here today. As I write this we are having flurries of light snow just like falling cherry blossom.

Butterworth: Six Songs from ‘A Shropshire Lad’ (Excerpt) – BBC Proms 2014 – YouTube

 

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