“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

 

Bright Square #5

Life In Colour: The Home Front In Shades Of Green

From Wenlock Edge

This month Jude at Travel Words  asks us to explore the colour green. So I thought I’d start with our home landscapes. Here in the English countryside we perhaps take  greenness for granted. Even our over-wintering fields are bright with sprouting wheat and pasture grass. The header shot is a December view, looking across Shropshire from Wenlock Edge.

Closer to home is the long-shot view I see whenever I go to the allotment: Callaughton Ash on the southerly edge of Much Wenlock. It’s one I never tire of – those sky-line ash trees with their ivy cladding.

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Then behind our house is Townsend Meadow. Wheat has been grown along the flanks of Wenlock Edge for centuries, and as proof has left its name ‘The Wheatlands’ in part of it. These days the crop is sown in October-November and is usually well sprouted by Christmas. I like the corduroy effect.

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By summer, after serial dosing, the field looks like this:

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And on our side of the fence, thanks to home-made compost:

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Meanwhile my summer route across the field to the allotment used to look like this – before the farmer cut the ‘wildlife’ reserve back to the ‘path’:

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And when things go well on the plot:

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… we get other ‘greens’:

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Life in Colour: Green

The Changing Seasons: This Was February

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Winter – spring – winter: we have been sorely teased over the past weeks, though it’s true that February may often prove contrary, breaking out in fleeting intervals of unexpected warmth. This year, after hard-frost beginnings, we had several days of sudden spring, and he who is old enough to be more weather-wise started casting clouts and layers with abandon. Too soon, I told him. Winter’s not done. And besides, March can be cruel. Hang on, good sir, to fleecy vests and quilted combinations.

And so here we are, the first days of the new month with much sky-gloom and creeping dankness, again the pressing need for woolly gloves and hats, and that’s just indoors. I joke. Well almost. But in spite of the cold, there are signs of spring: the blackbird singing its heart out just now in the Station Road holly tree, doves on the church tower in close-canoodling-cooing huddles, daffodils fast opening. Reasons to be cheerful. Absolutely!

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The Changing Seasons: February 2021

Uplands: Wenlock In Shades of Brown

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It is rather strange, but when you are wandering round Much Wenlock you are hardly ever aware of its upland surroundings. Yet it sits in a steep-sided bowl between the upthrust strata of Wenlock Edge and various residual hills and hummocks from Ice Age days. It is a place of natural springs and erstwhile saintly wells, with hints, too, from ancient finds that its waters may well have been venerated in Roman times. It was doubtless the reason why the Saxon Princess Milburga established her convent here around 670 CE, ‘cleanliness being next to godliness’ and so on.  She was the subject of many local legends, most of them relating to her fleeing the unwanted attentions or lusty males, while conjuring protective streams and rivers to thwart her pursuers. The water from the town well named after her was believed to restore poor eyesight.

The priory ruins and parish church you see in these photos date from six and more centuries after Milburga, belonging mostly to the Norman era wherein the invaders sought to dominate the local populace with overbearing architecture. Wenlockians, though, knew how to take some advantage from the situation. It was said that the best ale in town was brewed from rainwater collected from the church roof.

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Life in Colour

This month Jude at Travel Words is asking us to consider the beauty of BROWN – earth colours.

Having The Upper Hand…Or Would That Be Beak?

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In recent days there has been a bit of a coup over in the crab apple at the top of the garden. Mama Blackbird has staked her claim to the crop. In fact the other morning I caught her seeing off the male blackbird in a most aggressive manner. No quarter given there then. He went off in a fluster.

Back in early December it was he who was King of the Crab Apples.   There had been no frost or snow to soften the fruit, and he was finding the going tough, adopting a fencer’s lunging stroke to slice off shreds of fruity flesh. Once in a while he’d (accidently) end up with a whole mini-apple wedged in his beak, too hard to scrunch in one pincer movement. Next would come a rapid descent to the garden path to sort himself out. Once or twice I thought he was in danger of choking, and wondered what the procedure might be – to unchoke a blackbird.  But then he hopped back on the fence and, if birds can cough, he coughed a few times and returned to lunging.

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And so now all is clear. There was naturally a very  good reason why Mama Blackbird was biding her time, waiting for wintery weather to make easy pickings of the apples .

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Apple Sorbet on a stalk. Mine! All mine! says Mama Merle.

 

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Signs Of Squirrel-Dupery? Who knew?

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Grey squirrels don’t hibernate, though they are said to do less scampering in wintery weather, and when it is very cold, they will curl themselves up, using their tails like duvets.

These photos were taken before the snow when the big oaks at the top of the Linden Field were alive with squirrel-kind seeking out acorns. They were also pretty busy after the snow, doubtless seeking out their respective stashes. But here’s the thing. It seems they are a sneaky lot and will make a big pretence of burying nuts in particular places to fool other squirrels. The little dupers.

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Square Up #6

Becky has a wonderful sun for us today.

Looking Up Between Mynd And Ragleth

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On Christmas Day we drove over Wenlock Edge to Little Stretton to spend the day with our family. It was a bright and chilly day, but as I climbed the steep steps to my sister’s home I saw the spring bulbs already emerging in her terraced beds and some frisky pink primroses freshly opened. The house is perched on a lower flank of the Long Mynd and overlooks Ragleth Hill. So while the turkey was roasting, I stood out on the deck and took these photos, watched a pair of buzzards who live in the garden’s larch trees waft over in the stillness.

And now I’m thinking that these views are rather apt for Jude’s new challenge at Travel Words. She wants us to think about colour through the coming year, and in January that colour is brown: earth shades.

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The close-up above was a very ‘long shot’, but I like the way the sun glints off the bare branches of the dark wood; the layers of russet leaves and bracken and the deeper soily looking browns among the ash trees. It could well be a candidate for Jabberwocky’s tulgey wood. It also reminds me of one of those ‘heavy’ Victorian oil paintings – Arcadia seemingly overdone with every expectation of rustic maids and shepherds popping up. But here it is. No time-slipped lads and lasses, just a piece of real Shropshire landscape.

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Square Up #5

Becky is keeping us ‘upspired’ during trying times. Interpret ‘up’ anyway you like, but keep it sUPer square.

Life in Colour: brown   Jude at Travel Words wants us to really pay attention to colour. This month she asks us to explore shades of brown.

Looking Up

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Hurray for Becky and her January Squares. There are only two ‘rules’: the image must be square, and this month’s theme is UP – however you choose to interpret it. You can post a square a day, or dip in as and when.

My first ‘up’ is a slightly blurry grey squirrel, spotted by chance in the Linden Field while taking the snow photos I posted yesterday. It was perched way, way up in an oak tree, thus requiring lots of camera zoom and steadiness, both of which were hard to effect with frozen fingers. In fact it was sitting so still, it looked frozen to the branch. I think it must have been nibbling an acorn.

Onwards and upwards, everyone!

Square Up #1

The Changing Seasons: This Was October

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Until today’s storm and bluster ‘the garden over the fence’, aka the guerrilla garden was still doing its stuff on the floral front. The rosy crab apples have of course been stealing the show, followed by the Michaelmas daisies (white, mauve and purple), Anne Thomson geranium (heliotrope) and a scatter of late lemony Silver Queen helianthus. Now all looks blown away, though a few pink cosmos behind the old privies are hanging on.

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Beyond the garden, out in the field, all has been ploughed, and already the new crop, winter wheat again by the look of it, has started to sprout. In fact all around the town the hillside fields are a haze of new growth while the hedgerow trees and woody margins turn to old gold. But then much like last autumn we have had far too much rain, which in turn means us Wenlockians take to country paths at our peril – slithering in Silurian clag that threatens a serious upending at every step. The following photos, then, reflect only the surprise sunny intervals.

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Up at the allotment it’s now the season of gathering in and tidying, mulching and compost turning. This year many garden crops did not thrive as expected. I have no explanation for this, except we did have several weeks without rain in the spring and hand watering never quite makes up for it. But then this has been the pattern for several years now, and I had taken precautions with plenty of mulching.  After the brief hot spell in May the summer was generally lacklustre, often cool and windy, and light levels low.

And this in turn has me wondering that there is more to weather than CO2, on which of course all our plant life, and therefore us, wholly depend for existence. Something’s up with the sun. It seems to be having a quiet phase. We’ve also apparently had an El Nino event out in the Pacific, which usually makes for cold-wet La Nina after-effects. And then the earth’s magnetic field is having a wander across the hemispheres; the jet stream has been meandering all over the place, and lots of geothermal goings on have been happening under the ocean beds at the poles.

All of which is to say the time is clearly out of joint (all ends up), and this an over elaborate excuse for failed sweet corn, rubbish broad beans and a disappointing runner bean crop.

Anyway, failures apart, there is still much to pick – leeks, greens, carrots, beetroot, parsnips outside; salad stuff and a few tomatoes in the polytunnel; lots of apples on communal trees. On my cleared beds the green manure crops are growing well and there are still bumble bees in the flowering phacelia. I’ve broken into last autumn’s stash of fallen leaves and found some brilliant well-rotted leaf mould for mulching the raspberries. And I’ve sown over-wintering field (fava) beans for next year’s early summer picking, and they’re already sprouting. And that’s the great thing about gardening – the onward cycle of growing and nurturing, the continuous big ‘do-over’.

 

The Changing Seasons: October 2020